Ten and Five Years

J. Murray Marshall
April 27, 1930 – April 17, 2013

J. Paul Thompson
April 5, 1965 – March 14, 2018

Much has happened in the past ten and five years since Dad and Paul died. Much has changed. I often wonder how different life would be today if these two men were still alive. When it comes to my Dad I know his mind was beginning to fail him and it scared him. In this respect Dad was slowly leaving us. Our last few weeks with him were hectic. His health was failing and communication was difficult. On the morning of his death Mom walked upstairs to tell me “Dad is gone.” It was peaceful and he was no longer confused, no longer afraid. It was Dad’s time. It would have been difficult for Mom to care for him. As for Paul, he left us far too soon. Two days before he died I got the call that his time was near and it hit me like a truck. Then at 11:15 AM on the Wednesday of his death Bruce texted me – “Paul is in heaven just now.” Even now it is difficult to collect myself when I reflect on those moments and scroll through the texts of those days of grief.

I am going to be honest about Dad and my relationship with him. I don’t think I ever really knew or understood him. In many ways he was still trying to figure things out late in life. He wrote a letter to himself on July 15, 1978. He was dejected at age 48 and had a lot of questions about life. The heading at the top was THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS. I found it in his files not long after he died. Paul was the first person I shared it with because I knew from time to time he too struggled with the complicated work of being a pastor. Dad struggled like many of us do to find meaning. If here today I would want him to know that he was loved by many and he made a significant difference in their lives. I would say the same to Paul.

If I have not shared THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS with you and you are interested I have no reservations about sending it along. It is not an easy read because it expresses a lot of pain and doubt plus the typed words faded over the years. Just ask.

Paul decided to enter the ministry and Dad had some influence in this yet I do not know to what extent. Dad served in three churches as did Paul if you don’t count the part time work Dad did after his retirement.

The Memorial services for Dad and Paul were more than 2 hours long. It is hard to say goodbye. At Dad’s service I told the story about him diving into a crowd of people to get two of the many styrofoam rockets being shot into a crowd at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. It was so out of character for Dad to assert himself like that and it took me years to understand the significance of what he did that day. He did it for his boys. At Paul’s service I said Paul was my best friend. I need to make sure everyone knows that Paul was a best friend to many people. He was not just mine alone. I am grateful Paul had many friends. While Dad had friends I don’t think they ever got to the same level. It is hard to explain. Paul was a connector and that might have had something to do with it. A few days ago Roger Brandt had his 4th Hole In One and sent me a picture of him taking the ball out of the hole. Roger and I are not close but we are friends because of Paul. Roger has loaned me his car and had me as a guest in his home. Meurig Morgan has been equally generous to me as several others have. This was Paul. I used to wonder who this Meurig guy was. Turns out Paul was a stalker and Meurig worked in a big golf store. Then there is Tom, Kray and Bob. I know there are many others.

It’s impossible to define a person. We are complicated. Dad was a serial filer (as in file folders and a filing cabinet). While his desktop was always a mess he had a file folder for just about anything you can imagine. Going through his files after he died I found a load of clipped newspaper and magazine articles going back to the 1950’s. Many of these clips were on current events of the day on a ton of different subjects. Here is a list from what I can remember:

  • Vietnam War
  • Does God Exist
  • Human Sexuality
  • Homosexuality
  • Women’s Liberation
  • Racism
  • Space Race
  • Theology
  • Church Doctrine
  • Communism
  • Socialism
  • Drugs
  • Poverty
  • Education
  • Environment
  • History
  • Science & Technology

Maybe Dad collected all this to serve as resource material for his sermons. I think he was also genuinely curious.

Dad loved doing Weddings & Baptisms. This is when he looked happiest in his work. He was also very good at funerals. This is where he connected with people. He stressed over the weekly Sunday Services with many people to try to please. At Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals he was focused on the families. He did stress I must admit at Weddings because he did not want some party animal to ruin the occasion but he enjoyed 99% of the wedding. He made it very personal. Every service was unique. He did not deliver a cookie cutter message.

The happiest I saw Paul at Church was when he did the wedding services for Katherine and Tori. The receptions might have stressed him out a bit but he sure loved his girls! It was tough on him to see them move away. We talked about the first time he realized Kat would never be coming back home to live. At Bradley and Jessie’s wedding Paul’s friends gathered and in a quiet moment and we raised a glass to remember him. It was hard on many of us to think Paul was missing this moment. He would have been so happy.

Dad and Paul had great partners in life and relied on them quite a lot. Mom kept life going on the home front and was active in the church. Mary from what I observed kept things organized and maintained a livable level of sanity for the family. In the end Dad relied heavily on Mom for the day to day and Mary was Paul’s rock during his illness. I remember when Paul was experiencing pain the first thing he would say was “MARE” even if I was sitting on the couch beside him. He needed Mary. It wasn’t just for the physical comfort.

They shared a love of travel and collecting airline miles. Dad’s airline was United and Paul’s American. They both played the volunteer bump game to get free flights and the upgrade game to get into first class. Paul should have worn a button that said “Upgrade Me, I’m Irish.” Travel got Dad away from the stress of church life and I imagine the same was true for Paul. It was a way to get away from the world for a bit. When I was young Dad would take us to La Guardia or Kennedy Airport to watch planes take off and land from the observation decks. Paul used to go to O’Hare and park by the side of a road to watch the action.

While their outward personalities were different they were both humble. They were servants. There is a picture of Dad standing outside First Presbyterian Church of Seattle with Billy Graham and another man, the city in the background. It was at the time of Graham’s 1976 Seattle Crusade. I’ll take my humble father any day.

Paul had a very special gift. He took great joy in the good fortunes of others. If someone was going on a special trip I believe he was happier for them than they were for themselves. He had super empathy. Even when he was sick he found the energy to be happy for someone. It was something he got from his Dad, my Uncle Winston.

Our family is very small. Dad had one living sister, my Auntie Anne. My Mom was an only child. As a result I only had two cousins; J. Bruce and J. Paul. In our youth we were just brothers. When the Marshall’s and the Thompson’s got together there was a lot of laughing. Winston telling stories and jokes. Dad seemed more at ease in these settings. He enjoyed life more. Scott reminded me that he was in Washington D.C. when Dad called to tell him Uncle Winston died suddenly. Dad wept as he told Scott he lost his brother. Losing Winston was a big blow to our small family. Anne, Bruce, Paul and Dad; they felt the loss the most.

Part of understanding J. Murray is to remember he lost his Dad at a very young age. Part of understanding J. Paul is that he lost his Dad and Friend on the day Winston died. Just a few years later Mary lost her parents after persistent illnesses just a few months apart. Sometimes it comes in waves. We change when we lose people we love, we see things from a new perspective.

Anderson Cooper did a podcast on grief and loss not long ago called All That There Is. He reflects on his losses and talks with others about the many faces of loss. It is rather good. CLICK HERE FOR THE PODCAST – I don’t think we will ever understand grief. Listening to these episodes caused me to reflect once again about Dad and Paul along with many others who have passed from our lives. They were loved.

Dad and I climbed Mt. Washington when I was young. He was a counselor for the High School Week at Camp Brookwoods. This signaled the end of summer. The day was foggy, we could not see a thing but we made it to the top and this was one of my favorite days ever with Dad. I wrote about it a few months after he died. THE BEST CUP OF HOT CHOCOLATE – It was a great day.

Paul took this picture on August 21, 2017.

August 21, 2017 – Madras, OR – Photo by J. Paul Thompson

This is the moment I will always remember with Paul. It was the moment Kenneth, Kirsten, Paul and I felt the cool rush of being in the shadow of the moon. Totality is super cool. I can still hear Paul’s voice joining in with several thousand others who were yelling, cheering and crying. In that moment I like to think Paul wasn’t thinking about his cancer coming back and the road ahead. It was something heavy on both our hearts. On the drive down we talked about what lay ahead. He was starting a journey only he could take. I am forever grateful for this memory.

We all loved hockey (playing and watching), golf and eating. When the “boys” were all together we were doing one of the three. Dad, Winston, Bruce, Paul, Scott and Doug. It was quite the crew; Winston hitting his hard duck hooks and Dad his weak slices.

Paul and I were very competitive in the sports we played. He would grip his driver with determined hands. It was not his goal to outdrive me, it was his goal to outdrive me by a lot. His determination made him the better athlete but when it came to competition he had a massive conflict. He wanted to win to his core. At the same time he wanted me to win. When I think of this I smile. You could see and feel the inner turmoil.

Important Conversations – If I had the chance to sit down with Dad and Paul over a cup of coffee I wonder what things we would talk about. Would we use our time wisely and dig deeper than we had in life. Some conversations are difficult. Would we have the courage to ask each other the questions we really want to ask but might be afraid of the answer?

When Paul called he would often say “I just wanted to hear your voice.” I miss that and I would like to hear his voice too.

I will end here. Being that it is now 10 and 5 years since their deaths I needed to take some time with them if you know what I mean. It helps.

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