Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ray Kozora (1923-2005) - My Wife's Father

My wife Judy's father, Ray Kozora, passed away suddenly yesterday, as a result of either a massive stroke or heart attack. I ask for your prayers for his wife, Joan, my wife, and her two sisters and three brothers. They are all taking it very hard, as one would expect. My own children (please pray for them, too) cried for what must have been two hours, at the shocking news. It was the first experience of death and grief for my nine-year-old son. My 14 and 12-year-old sons can somewhat remember the death of my brother Gerry from leukemia in 1998. Even my four-year-old daughter understood what had happened to some extent. They're all doing much better today, as kids will do; bless their hearts.

I'm going around in a daze myself. I feel good about writing this, as a way to partially deal with my own grief. We were all looking forward to a fun, relaxed Christmas holiday, since I was in-between part-time jobs and could actually have some time off for a change. Judy said (before this happened) that she was having a flood of memories from Christmases in her childhood. What a dreadful shock for this to happen, right at this time . . . Now we won't even be putting up our Christmas tree. It's a reminder, though, that many people suffer at this time of year, either through loneliness or grief, or family troubles, or lack of income (thus feeling "left out" and deprived because of the strong societal tendency towards materialism rather than reflection upon the incarnation and life of Jesus our Savior). We can only offer up our suffering for the sake of others, so as to make something good come out of it.

Ray Kozora was a very devoted husband and father, as well as a committed Catholic Christian. He and his wife Joan moved from the Detroit area to a house right near Lake Huron, in the northeast of the lower peninsula of Michigan, in 1984. It is a small town called Ossineke, ten miles south of the fairly large town of Alpena. All of the six children and their families love to go visit up there. We last visited after our camping trip on Lake Superior in August. My wife had talked to both her parents on Saturday, on the phone.


My wife Judy and I and her parents in November 1994, with our two sons: then 3 1/2 and 1 1/2

Ray would send out monthly photo-journal-type keepsake-newsletters of happenings in the family. We always had a great time at Christmas and other family gatherings throughout the year. Ray and Joan celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2004. I truly enjoyed getting together with the Kozora family as much as with my own family. I was blessed with a wonderful father-in-law and mother-in-law.

Ray Kozora grew up in Pennsylvania, in Johnstown (of the famous two floods); descended from German / Austrian / Hungarian / Czech stock. He loved sports, and (with his brother John) was on several remarkable local baseball and basketball teams, with records like 38-0 and so forth. His batting average would often be over .400. The baseball teams were so good that they used to often compete against major leaguers in exhibition games. He played against people like Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson, and might have had a real shot at being in the major leagues, except for being considered too short and small.

When World War II came, he served honorably in naval intelligence in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. After the war he attended the University of Detroit (a Jesuit school), obtained a Master's degree in philosophy, and was involved in many school activities. Later, by coincidence, I attended informal catechetical classes taught by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., on the same campus, shortly before my conversion, and after.

Unfortunately, he wasn't able to land a job where he could use these abilities. He worked with a trucking company; often serving as a de facto lawyer for them, but not being paid or appreciated for his hard work. It's the same old story of so many companies which essentially exploit their workers, with scarcely any recognition for their contributions. He announced his retirement a year or two early, and he was "rewarded" by being forced out of the company immediately. My father had a similar experience at Ford Motor Company, under several despotic bosses, but at least he received more benefits that the auto companies provided.

Ray Kozora was very involved in his parish, as an usher and leader of a prayer chain. When we were visiting, we would often see him making many dozens of calls, asking for prayer for various concerns. He loved his wife and children and grandchildren very much, and you would often see him teary-eyed at family events. He played for hours with his grandchildren, cracked jokes, and showed an interest in whatever they were doing (the same was true of whatever his children were involved in).

On a personal note: he always treated me well, and was extremely encouraging of my writing. When I first married his daughter in 1984, I was a Protestant (as was she: but not because of me; she was when I met her). So there was a bit of a distance at first. I understand much better now the bittersweet dynamics of a father "giving away" his daughter to some man he hadn't known before (having a daughter of my own and another 21 years of life experience). After I converted and played a small role in my wife's returning to the Catholic Church, understandably we became closer than before.

He will be dearly missed by all. Please pray for all of us, and for his soul. It's terribly sad to go through this experience at this time of year, yet we must accept that God's providence is at play here, as always (Ray had also been recently diagnosed with bladder cancer; this may have been the mercy of a quick death, in light of that). God giveth and He taketh away, and we must always trust that He is in control and knows what is best, and that He is able to comfort the afflicted and give them some measure of peace in the hour of their greatest trials.

But of course it is difficult. The more we love, the deeper is the grief we feel at loss; this is the paradox of love and the disturbing reality that this earthly life is not permanent. We must wait until (Lord willing, by His grace) we get to heaven for all things to be made right and the way that God had always intended them to be (but for Satan's and human beings' rebellion).

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