There are people who are a part of our lives, often just at the perimeter, but still an important part for so many reasons. They slip in and out over the years — again, for a number of reasons.
Bill Houchen is one of those individuals in my life. Bill and his wife, Dorothy, first entered my life — albeit at a distance — when my brother married their daughter, Jan. She was very close to her parents and brother, Eric, and they all immediately accepted Phil as a part of their family.
Jan and Phil got married in Denver; I was living in Florida at the time and touring with my high school choir so didn’t get to the wedding. So it wasn’t until a few years later that I met them in Denver.
While we were there, I developed an allergic reaction that resulted in hives over much of my body. Bill worked for a large manufacturing firm that had its own health clinic on site. He was able to get me in to the clinic immediately; I saw the doc and with meds, the hives disappeared. My parents were amazed that the clinic extended its arms beyond its own employees, and pleased that Bill had the foresight to suggest this.
My sister-in-law, Jan, was pregnant at that time — probably about four months. We all went up to their cabin in the mountains outside Denver. We had watermelon for dessert. Bill had a penchant for teasing. As Jan began to eat her watermelon, Bill made some crack about her “stomach being bigger than her eyes”.
When the baby, Ginny, was born, Jan wanted to keep working. She found the perfect babysitter — Granddad. Bill had retired and was happy to become a fulltime caregiver for his first grandchild. He and Ginny have always had a special relationship because of that time together.
After Dorothy died, Bill continued to live in Denver. In more recent years, he spent summers in Wisconsin with his son, and winters in Tucson with Jan and Phil. I continued to get regular updates on him in the way one would hear about an older relative living at a distance.
Despite the distance, it seemed that he was always a part of our family even though it was only by marriage. So when my brother called me yesterday to tell me that Bill had died Saturday night, sadness settled in.
I know how much Jan will miss her dad. It’s hard to lose a parent — no matter how old they were and how old you are. It hurts. When my dad died, a friend told me that his dad had died 10 years earlier and some days he still felt the pain. Sometimes the only way to deal with that is to cry…and then remember the good stuff.
Like Bill pushing Ginny in the stroller. It was hard to say which one had the bigger grin.