What will be said about your dash?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Gretchen Kurlander
  • 512th Logistics Readiness Flight
I recently attended the memorial service for my grandmother. She passed away two weeks shy of her 91st birthday. My dad asked me to read a poem at her service entitled "Safely Home." The poem has a verse that says, "There is work still waiting for you, so you must not idly stand; do it now, while life remains, you shall rest in Jesus' land."

While preparing to read it aloud at the service, I thought of the poem that was read at my grandfather's funeral. "The Dash," by Linda Ellis, has become a song, been the basis of a short film and created a frenzy of inspirational speeches and events. In "The Dash," there is a line that says, "What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash."

In the case of both my grandparents, they did not idly stand; their dashes were well spent. Their lives were filled with friendships, activities, charity work, family and faith. My grandfather passed away shortly after he pulled out his own breathing tube, two days after having a stroke on the golf course. He pulled out the tube, because he watched his own mother waste away for years, not knowing anyone and returning to infant behavior. He didn't want to burden my grandmother with caring for him in such a state for many years.

My grandmother moved to Cody, Wyo., at the age of 82 to be close to her older son. She decided to make the move then, because she wanted to move while she was still young and active enough to make new friends and get involved with her new community. She traveled with The Galloping Grannies to the Grand Canyon last year; flew to North Carolina to see her daughter, grandkids and great grandkids for Thanksgiving; and, made her famous German Christmas cookies in December.

When I saw her at Thanksgiving, she skipped down the sidewalk proclaiming a gentleman had asked her age while on her last bus trip. He thought she was about 70, which she proudly announced he was 20 years off.

Since 1945, when she wasn't traveling the world, she volunteered weekly, including the week of her death, with the Friends of the Library. She was a regular on the church pot-luck committee, attended luncheons and craft days at the senior center and was a Red Hat member. When the Air Force stationed me in the Azores and Italy, she got her passport ready and hopped on a plane through several countries to come see me.

When my grandfather was still living, they were both very active with the Shrine, driving children to the burn hospital in Chicago for treatment and working events as officers and color guard. They were both members of the greatest generation. They made it through the depression, worked several jobs, volunteered with all their children's teams and clubs, gave back to their communities and set a great example for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

I wonder what will become of so many organizations like the Shrine, VFW, American Legion, Knights of Columbus, PTO, community watch groups and the many more, when it seems we are too busy to volunteer.

How are we spending our dash? I only hope that I "do not idly stand," so when my eulogy is read, I can be proud of the things they say about how I spent my dash.