Lessons from a Life Well-Lived


I first met Dick Coon at a graduation open house nearly 10 years ago. I was 20. He was 77. It was his granddaughter who was graduating, and we were sitting at the bar in his son’s basement, making small talk, while people milled around – family, friends, young and old.

As Dick and I chatted, he suddenly said, “Do you want to see something?”

Not really knowing him that well but noticing the sparkle in his eye when he asked the question, I said sure. Dick asked his son, who was helping mix drinks by that point, to hand him a beer stein that was up on a shelf.

This beer stein was one of those ornate, German-style ones, where you press a lever in the handle and the lid opens. I remember it being blue and white, but that may be my imagination filling in the gaps in memory. Regardless, Dick’s son handed it to him and then he handed it to me. He told me a story about how he’d gotten this stein when he was abroad during his time in the military – the Navy, to be specific – and how it was one of his favorite souvenirs.

Dick said his favorite part of this stein was a message that was etched in the bottom, only to be discovered when the drinker finished their beer. He encouraged me to open it up and tip it back, like I was taking a drink, to see what he was talking about. So, like a good person, I did…

…to find an illustration of a 1950s pin-up style naked lady illustrated in the bottom of the stein.

As my cheeks flushed with embarrassment, unsure if I should be shocked or not, Dick – and his sons and grandsons who had been watching me at this point – started rolling with laughter! Clearly, this was one of Dick’s favorite jokes to play on new friends and everyone but me was in on it. I started laughing along with the crowd, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

You see, Dick Coon was my husband’s grandfather. He was a man who loved and laughed fiercely – and who welcomed his grandson’s new girlfriend to the family by showing her a naked lady in a beer stein and thinking that was hilarious.

Last week, Dick Coon passed away.

I shared this story with my mother-in-law last night at the visitation and, once again, we rolled with laughter. We imagined Dick’s anticipation of my reaction to the risqué illustration, how he held in his laughter until the exact right moment when he knew I was finally in on the joke. We missed him dearly as we reminisced but found ourselves thankful for numerous stories like that one – rooted in love, laughter, and joy.

It’s Not About the Years in Your Life

Dick lived to the ripe old age of 87, so I’m pretty sure no one would claim that he didn’t have enough years in his life. After all, lots of folks don’t get that many. But what I have learned over the last decade of being a part of his family is the importance of making sure those years are filled with everything you want them to be and more.

Christmases and summers at the lake.

Golf cart rides.

Trips down south to see kids and grandkids.

Cheering on the Spartans and the Wolverines and the Tigers (oh, my!).

Pontoon rides for days.

Sipping margaritas.

Retirement and graduation and wedding celebrations.

There have been a lot of good times in the Coon family, and I’m sure these don’t even scratch the surface. Even as a relative newbie to this crew, though, I’ve noticed a few themes emerge in Dick’s life.

Dick had a sense of humor that was second to none. In his family, we call this “Coon Shit” – a sarcastic, witty, perfectly timed sense of snark that no one was immune to. The beer stein incident was a perfect example of this. “Was Dick picking on you? Oh, he’s just giving you Coon Shit – don’t take it personal!). I’ve come to love Coon Shit and I especially love that he’s passed it on to all of us who have come to know him – his kids, his grandkids (including my husband, no doubt!) and their spouses, his great grandkids. Life is nothing without laughter and Dick made sure his house was full of it.

Dick was so proud of his family. Whether it was his son Jack getting into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, his grandson Bill becoming a lawyer, or watching his southern-raised great grandkids Winston, Emma Grace and Ashlyn playing in the snow, Dick had an immense amount of pride in his family. That pride was unconditional – not based on accomplishments but rather on loving the wonderful people they inherently are. The Coon family is filled with people who work hard, love others, give of themselves relentlessly – and much of that can be contributed back to Dick.

Dick had one love to last a lifetime – his wife Sally. I’ve always told my husband that he was incredibly lucky to have reached his late 20s with all four of his grandparents, all of them still happily married. “Dick and Sal,” as they’re known among the family – a single unit, always connected in reference – modeled what a great marriage can be. Unwavering support for one another. Love that radiates when they’re together (especially when they dance together, which they loved to do). And a little sass to keep each other on their toes! I seek to demonstrate that love in my own marriage and I’m so thankful to have a reference of what that looks like in action.

A Good Person – Who Raised Good People

To be honest, I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write this. Maybe it’s to process my own sadness. Maybe it’s to have something to come back to later – most likely on a warm summer day on Lake George as we cruise around on the pontoon – when we miss Dick’s laughter. Maybe it’s to remind myself of the lessons of Dick’s life when I’m forgetting to incorporate them into my own.

I am thankful for the ten years I got to have with this man. I’m even more thankful for the years still to come that I get to have with the good men and women and children – including my husband – that Dick raised.

Regardless of whether or not you knew Dick Coon, I hope you can take some lessons from his life. Love those around you fiercely. Enjoy every moment. Welcome everyone with a hug.

And don’t forget to give those around you a little bit of Coon Shit – for laughter is one of the greatest gifts of all.