Julia is a staff member here at Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic. She is our Director of Community Services and Quality. Her dad passed away last year from Covid and we wanted to make sure his story had a permanent place.
“Once there was a man who loved God and his country. He fell in love, married and he and his wife had three daughters. He served his country with his family at his side in many nations around the world for a lifetime and eventually returned and retired in the USA until he died in September 2021.”
It is short, to the point and without emotion. I can say this quickly and as a matter of fact. But wait, there is more there that deserves to be said. I will have to open my heart and share more of myself with you for you to better understand this man and what he meant to me.
One year ago, on September 19, 2021, Don Wickstrand, my dad, passed from this world to the next due to complications from Covid. Words have been left unsaid because we have yet to have his memorial service. This is to occur at some point in 2023. But my thoughts continue to try to wrap my mind around the loss of my beloved Papa San, a year later. (I called my Dad, “Papa San,” because I was born in Japan during my dad’s tour of duty. “San” is a respected term used for elders in the Japanese culture. The endearment just seemed to stick during all these years.)
Dad was a first generation American, born to Swedish immigrants, Edna and Oscar Wickstrand in Portland, Oregon in 1934. Grandpa Oscar was an experienced tradesman, Grandma Edna was a stay-at-home Mom, who started their family later in life. Dad was their second born son, and within a few years he would be their only son after the unexpected death of his older brother, Kenneth.
There was so much that Dad learned in these formative years that he passed on to his daughters, and we in turn taught our children these values: love God, put your family first, do your best, honor your parents, work hard, save up, be honest, help others, lead by example, and serve your country.
Dad taught us that our wounds enable us to make a difference, to listen with love, and connect with others. Sometimes our hardest times become a place from which to live a good life. Even if it is not an easy life. We learned that experiences become part of our stories. And we can use our stories to nourish others and support one another. These are times when our story helps us to live more fully.
My dad was an infinite resource to me. He was a kind listener and listened with gentle ears. That was such an encouragement. He listened to every word I spoke; he followed my twists and turns before expressing his support of my conclusion, which usually resulted in tough decisions. He never spoke of perfection because he knew it was not achievable, he did not want us struggling to become something we were not. He loved us for what we were and embraced us more for what we were becoming.
His life was characterized by a focus on health, reverence for life, courage, and love. He was a man of integrity. His “yes” meant “yes” and his “no” meant “no.” I clearly see all these attributes during his life, but perhaps more enhanced during the last year of his life. I replay all the interactions I had with him up until his death to try to make sense of any unknowns. He knew his body was failing and he had just a while to live. It was his voice that directed his choices during the last few days of his life. He was ready. He called each of us to let us know how much he loved us, how proud he was of us, and that we were the best daughters he could have ever hoped for… a gift that equals none other.
For the most part, I see a part of dad in my everyday life. In those moments, I do not grieve, I just enjoy him. There is comfort and reassurance in those times. Although, I can retreat at times and miss him desperately, these times are unexpected and catch me off-guard. It is like I touch a shadow, pause, but then I turn and run into the light. I think these times are becoming less as I reflect on our shared experiences.
I can clearly see his story continue all around me in the lives of my family … in expressions, mannerisms, reactions, opinions, and the many memories shared through their stories. In an odd way, I think that if I had left the first paragraph stand alone and did not share the feelings behind it, I would have missed the opportunity of your getting to know my Papa San through these words. Perhaps in sharing, something mentioned has changed one of your thoughts, words, actions or just lingered. And this would mean that my dad’s story has touched your story.
I am grateful, thankful, and blessed that dad is a big part of my story. His story is not finished. This makes me look forward to his memorial service in which I anticipate meeting some people that can tell me about their experiences with my dad because a part of his story is interwoven in their story.
This is one of the greatest comforts God has given me.