For as long as I can remember, “thank you” and “thanks” have been among my favorite words. To my delight, one of the first phrases Reagan James Miles started saying was “day dew” — which was his way of saying thank you.
Sometimes when Reagan says day dew, I think of the moments when I thanked Mom & Dad for everything they did for me (especially all the stuff I didn’t remember, or would never know about). During one of those times while thanking them, I followed up by asking how I could ever repay them…and Dad said, “Just do the same for your kids.”
That quote has been the main focus of my life since the birth of Reagan James Miles.
RJM is named after Dad and President Reagan…who Mom & Dad liked a lot. When I look at photos of Dad and Reagan James (like these two above — both at five months), they remind me of the strong connection I feel to Mom & Dad through Reagan James. Even though Mom & Dad aren’t here, they’re still my parents and they’re still helping me, especially now that I’m a Dad.
Reagan James would obviously not be here without my best friend & wife, Brenna, and I may not have been blessed to marry Brenna without Mom & Dad’s help. For starters, when I was originally choosing a college, UND was in my final three choices. One day — when I just happened to be close enough to Mom so I could hear her — Mom said to Dad, “Wouldn’t it be too bad if none of our children went to UND?” Since their first three kids didn’t go to UND, my decision was pretty easy. Then Brenna & I met at UND, just like Mom & Dad did.
Brenna & I started dating in 1987, and when I was graduating and moving to Madison in 1989 I was thinking about proposing to her. Mom & Dad loved Brenna from the start, but when I asked for their advice about getting married, they suggested that I wait until Brenna graduated from UND two years later (in 1991). They thought it would be a good test of our relationship, and if it was meant to be then I could still propose after those two years passed. I took their advice and they were right. We endured those two years of being apart, and our relationship was stronger for it.
In 1993, two years after Brenna had graduated and moved to Madison, Mom got ovarian cancer. Within a few hours of finding out, Johnnny & I were on a plane to Fargo from Madison. In the hospital Johnnny & I announced to Mom & Dad that we were moving home to help out. I was expecting their reaction to be 100% positive, but Dad started saying we couldn’t make a decision like that without our full team…he said we were missing a member. I remember thinking what in the world are you talking about?! I was silent the whole time, but I was looking around the hospital room at Mom, Dad, and Johnnny — everyone directly impacted by this decision was there — and I honestly thought Dad was losing it. Then he looked at me, and said, “Brenna.” Other than the birth of Reagan James Miles, that was the defining moment of my life.
During one of Dad’s most difficult moments, struggling with the likely fatal illness of his best friend & wife, he reminded me that I had a best friend, too. Brenna was already a member of our team, even though I hadn’t completely realized it yet. I had probably taken Mom & Dad’s original advice from four years earlier a little too far (about waiting to get engaged), and Dad picked the most powerful time to update their advice.
Three months later I called Mom & Dad from Madison to let them know I’d be proposing to Brenna the following day (I had started working on my engagement plans within days of Dad saying “Brenna”). They were both very excited, but the most meaningful moment came when Mom was on the phone. In the past whenever Mom would get choked up she’d always either change the subject or hand the phone to Dad…but not this time. Mom was crying, but she obviously wanted to tell me something and she was determined to say it. After a very emotional minute, and still crying, Mom said of Brenna, “She’s a gem.”
Now that “gem” is a Mom, and I know my Mom would have many more happy tears if she could see what a gem Brenna continues to be as Reagan James’ Mom…and Reagan James’ Gem.
A few weeks after we got engaged, Mom did something else very meaningful. Brenna & I were visiting Mom & Dad in Fargo and we were having a fun time in the backyard. When we were all sitting together, Mom offered us her wedding ring from Dad. In her gentle way she immediately took any pressure off us to accept it (by pointing out things like how old it was, and that it only had diamond chips, etc.), but to us it was priceless. Brenna has been wearing that ring everyday since our wedding.
In May of 1994, just a few months before Brenna & I were married, Mom & I were talking about the upcoming wedding (and looking at photos of the ceremony site at UND). At one point Mom put her hand on my arm and looked up at me and said, “Even if I can’t make it, I’ll still be there.” Two weeks later Mom passed away.
Several hours after Mom & I had finished talking about the wedding, Dad & I were playing ping pong. During a break, we were visiting on the green steps (between the ping pong room and the pool room). We were talking about life and death, and I asked him to sum up everything he had learned about life…if possible. That’s when Dad said, “Capture as many happy moments and memories as you can.”
Normally I’d write down certain lines that I heard Mom or Dad say (to make sure I would always remember their exact quote), but I didn’t need a pen that day. Those two significant quotes each contain only 10 words, and I can still see and hear Mom & Dad saying both of them.
I can’t let this chapter end without saying a special day dew to Brenna and Johnnny. In 1993, Johnnny moved back to Fargo to help Mom & Dad, and then Brenna & I moved back in 1995 to help. Mom & Dad were proven right again…in some difficult times Brenna was a major gem and a key member of our team (and I will always be grateful to her). Brenna was great with Dad, and she also spent many hours organizing Mom & Dad’s lifetime of keepsakes for each of their four children. One day during that time Brenna had tears rolling down her cheeks while thinking about Mom & Dad, and said, “They really were exceptional people.”
Day Dew, Mom & Dad.
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