My wife’s father passed away last week. His funeral was on Friday. Ernesto Leonardo Delgado was a good man. He lived a good life. Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1930. One of 11 children. Outlived all his siblings. Only one in his family to not only go to college, but to earn a Master’s Degree. Served his country in the United States Army. Was a public school teacher in Greeley, Colorado for 32 years. Married to the same woman, Jill’s mother, for 62 years. Five kids, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Never missed Catholic Mass on Sunday. Well done Ernie!

His service was beautiful. More like a celebration of a great life rather than a funeral. The church service concluded with Ernie’s casket going outside to a 21 Gun Salute, ending with a United States Marine Officer handing my mother-in-law an American flag in honor of her husband’s service and duty to our country. Incredibly moving. Deeply patriotic. Not a dry eye.

There were some significant lessons in experiencing Ernie’s death.

Lesson #1:

As we walked into the church’s reception hall after the funeral service, my dear friend and mentor, Walt Rakowich, leaned into me and said, “What are you and I going to do in our lives to earn a 21 Gun Salute?” Some of us serve our country in the armed forces. And some of us do not. But all of us have the opportunity to live our lives in such a manner that our family, friends, co-workers and loved ones will want to give us a 21 Gun Salute at our funeral. What kind of legacy will you and I leave? What lasting impact will we have on the lives of people that choose to follow us?

Lesson #2:

You know how many friends you have when you write out your Christmas card list each holiday season. But you know how many real friends you have when you lose a loved one. Jill and I have been moved by how many cards, flowers and meals have been sent to our home. But we were deeply touched that seven of our Denver friends drove three hours, round-trip, to attend Jill’s father’s funeral: Walt, Frank, Andrea, Kate, Katie, Erin and Lisa. It left me with a question – who will drive three hours to attend our funeral service?

Lesson #3:

I stayed at my in-laws home the night before the funeral. Stayed in “Ernie’s” room. Wore his cologne. Brushed my teeth with his toothpaste. Shaved with his shaving lotion. Felt close to him. When I hung my suit in his closet I was in awe of his collectibles neatly stacked in boxes. Coin collections, Bobble-head collections, baseball cards, signed baseballs, football cards and more. I realized that my father-in-law spent a lifetime collecting stuff. And when life is over, all this stuff stays stacked in boxes tucked away in a basement closet.

It left me feeling inspired… to collect friends, not coins. To collect experiences, not Bobble-heads. And to collect memories, not baseball cards. What difference can we make, each day, in the lives of others deserving of a 21 Gun Salute? Our legacy – what will it be? Who will it touch? Who will it inspire? And who will drive three hours to honor it?