While passing at Christmas puts a sad spin on what is supposed to be a joyous holiday, it actually worked out well because the Kozlowski's were already traveling home from the Memphis, Houston and San Francisco areas for the pending holiday.
Dad had just celebrated his 88th birthday a month prior when he slipped into a coma. He waited for his youngest son, my husband Ray, to arrive at his bedside at 2:00 a.m. before quietly passing at 2:54. Ray had been holding his hand, whispering his good-byes, thanking him for his influence as a father, and assuring him that Mom would be taken care of. With a squeeze of Ray's hand, clearly telling him he understood, Dad passed...joining his daughter, Marlene, who had passed previously in 2004.
I loved my father-in-law. However, back when I first started dating Ray, I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever say that. He scared the dickens out of me. Like a Michigan summer, he could start out bright and sunny, but then explode into a stormy rage. Sharp-tongued. Loud. A man who gave you his opinion whether you wanted it or not -- Leonard Kozlowski made a huge, lasting impression on everyone he met.
Shortly after I married Ray, I asked my father-in-law to pass the salt. I called him Mr. Kozlowski. “You know, you can call me Dad,” he said. That’s when my relationship with him truly began.
He loved to argue politics. He loved to eat. But most of all, he loved his family. In the thirty-eight years I knew him, I observed that only Mom could calm him when he raged over politics or world events. He may not have been overly demonstrative of his love for Delores, but the calming effect she had on him spoke volumes of how much he loved her.
Dad wasn’t inclined to give his kids things without making them earn it. But when Ray and I moved to Florida to buy a restaurant, Dad was instrumental in helping us. He made sure we had a home and food in the fridge when he and Mom visited.
|1983 putting final touches on Nanny's of Windsor|
Like gathering his own family’s clothing and toys to take to a coworker with seven kids in great need.
Or stopping when he saw a picket line to give them $10, all he could afford, but he wanted to support their cause.
Or dragging the Free Press boy into the house on a bad winter day to clip ice cleats on his feet.
Or showing up to fulfill his obligation as a school crossing guard on the day his daughter, Marlene, passed away. He was concerned no one would cover his shift, and he wanted to be there for the little kids.
But Dad’s soft chewy center really melted when his grandchildren arrived. While gathering photos for the memorial boards, I noticed how Dad’s expression revealed just how much he loved Eric, Kristen, Jessica and Andrea.
He wasn’t the kind of man who easily expressed his love with words. So when he once said to me, “I love you,” it made a huge impact on me. I cherish that memory.
I will miss hearing his devilish cackle of glee when his kids teased him about a notorious incident in his past that, by telling and retelling, had become a Hallmark Leonard moment.
I will miss watching him eat the astonishing amount of food he could put away -- the proverbial bottomless pit -- always with pieces of his meal dotting his chin.
I will miss Dad -- period.
After thirty-eight years having Leonard Kozlowski in my life, I can honestly say that I loved my father-in-law. And I wouldn’t have wanted any other man in that role.