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Son-in-law's legacy is one to be proud of

Having been the oldest in a family of four girls, and then marrying and bearing four daughters of my own, I had limited experience with the male personality, but I was always willing to learn.

When our girls began to date, my husband and I were super critical -- too noisy, too bossy, too controlling, too short, too tall -- these were all considered legitimate reasons for rejecting a suitor.

If a person showed up more than three times, we had the "talk" with our daughters. When daughter number two brought home Jim five or six times, we began to plan for another Jim in our family. My father was Jim, my brother and two uncles were Jim -- so one more would be all right, maybe.

We gradually accepted our new son-in-law and, as time went on, we welcomed two grandchildren. We watched how Jim loved his life, his wife and his children. He referred to himself as "Jim #1" since he was our first son-in-law. Sunday dinners took on a new joy, and Jim always brought his appetite and humor.

He took his children fishing and explored the beauties of nature with them. When discussing his faith, he referred to his God as being "out there and in here."

Each day was a treasure. He shared his time and talent by coaching girls softball, participating in The Buffalo News Kids Day for Children's Hospital, attending his son's and daughter's events and Buffalo Bills games -- we had three seats for 22 years.

Was he perfect? Far from it. But Jim gave freely of his time whenever he was asked. In 1987 and 1988, when the state Special Olympics came to Buffalo, Jim reached out to his friends at Sierra Research and, with the help of others, assembled eight super-size tents for the various venues.

Then, suddenly, in 2005, after 26 years of marriage, Jim was diagnosed with anaplastic cancer of the thyroid. Painful surgeries and treatments were unable to halt the growth of cancer cells, and he passed away last Easter Sunday at age 50. Although many families have gone through this heartache, we were especially grief-stricken because so much of our family was taken away.

To watch your daughter and grandchildren grieve for their beloved pal was the greatest heartbreak! Jim's son graduated without his dad there, and his daughter was married, with her brother walking her down the aisle. So much joy and sadness mixed together.

But then we talked about the time he gave me a "present" -- a deer head with the antlers removed -- gift-wrapped in a box! I was so upset I chased him down our driveway and threw the box at him. He ran and laughed hysterically as the head rolled down the drive. That deer head was the subject of many family discussions.

In-law or outlaw -- Jim played his role well. He told me, "I think I'll die on Good Friday, OK?" I said, "Jim, you can't pick the day you'll die. God decides that."

He responded, "But I'm very close to God right now. He's letting me make the decisions," and with that he began to laugh. I didn't know that was the last time I would hear his unique laugh. My Polish prince left us that weekend.

Jim #1 is more than a memory. He is a part of our family's legacy. He is the one who taught me the same man can be tough, loving, insensitive and caring -- all at different times. Through the grief, the memories linger on; and what wonderful memories they are.

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