30 years later, the gratitude remains

I had the honor of writing both my dad’s obituary and his eulogy after he suffered a fatal heart attack while driving 65 miles an hour up Highway 75 during Super Bowl weekend 30 years ago.

He has been gone now two years longer than I was alive in 1993.

Those numbers and others like them – he died just 15 days after his 53rd birthday – seem stark, but the words I heard and read from kind people and thoughtful writers left me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I am and always will be thankful to be Ron Kostelnik’s daughter. I know my sisters are too and my brother is proud to be his son.

I wrote this in his obituary…

“Thank you for teaching us to accomplish, to celebrate, to discover, to laugh and to dream; to eat frog legs and build model railroads; to appreciate the excitement of a Super Bowl and the quiet beauty of an Oconto River; to throw a great party and to keep a baby warm; to make a marriage out of laughter and a childhood of magic.”

…and it occurs to me that we are all still enjoying all of those things (except the frog legs. He tricked us into eating those and I’m not falling for that again.)

In some ways, our lives are more infinite than we are taught to believe. All the love and laughter we generate in one lifetime rolls through the generations that follow.

I have always aspired to be the parent my father was, the kind who will shop for his daughter’s prom dress so she wouldn’t have to; sneak a lonely kid out of tennis camp for a pep talk and an ice cream cone; write limericks on basement walls; borrow his son’s car and return it with a phone installed; make doughnut runs on Saturday mornings; play grocery cart basketball with paper towel rolls and toilet paper; explain the poetry in a Kris Krisofferson lyric; build his grandson a puppet theater; teach his son in-law to hunt.

My sister Jenny and I recently treated ourselves to a walk through the woods on a path my dad carved many years ago. We love that path, the river that winds along it, the woods that surround it, the cabin that waits at one end of it, the old memories it inspires and the new ones it creates.

All of our children do too.

How lucky we are to have such a deep-rooted place to wander and such warm memories to share!

I like this picture of my dad tackling Johnny Unitas because it’s cool, but also because my dad played for the Colts in 1969 so these two competitors ended up teammates.
We weren’t big fans of media day. Ha ha.
I got to celebrate my dad at his farm this weekend, which is a pretty cool way to honor a memory.
The bridges he built have held up well.
And what a privilege to wander these paths!
There’s a lot of love and laughter rooted here.
My favorite picture of my oldest son Charlie and my dad. Charlie is going to be a dad soon and the legacy of laughter and love will live on through another generation.

4 thoughts on “30 years later, the gratitude remains

  1. A lovely tribute! Your Dad is very proud of you and the legacy you follow in your own life. He must be looking down at you and smiling!

  2. What a wonderful tribute to your dad. I only met him a few times but will never forget how how he laughed with me when I loaded things into your mom’s car for a mother’s weekend at Madison. It looked like way more than I would need for an overnight visit. Among my suitcase, garment bag, a small, project I was working on, and a book, was a box containing two small ceramic baskets I had made filled with treats for Paula and Kathy. Your dad, with a chuckle in his voice, and a smile on his face said “You are only staying overnight!”

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