I took this photograph of my father last March, during his annual stay at Anna Maria Island, Fla., about an hour’s drive south of Tampa.
He passed away seven months later, shortly after our family had gathered to celebrate his 81st birthday.
My father, William Francis Whalen, is on the beach, kicking back on a chaise lounge, wearing his favorite gray fleece zip-up and Pusser’s West Indies ball cap, watching the sun settle into the Gulf of Mexico.
My father rarely missed a chance to take in a sunset, especially those that fell over western-stretching bodies of water. The Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the Pacific Ocean – his goal was to witness the “green flash,” when the sun’s light turns from orange or yellow to a more viridescent hue.
We insist upon lumping people into categories – passive/aggressive, introvert/extrovert, Type A/Type B. Here’s one more to ponder: sunrisers and sundowners.
About sunrisers: up before the dawn, they’re worker bees and taskmasters. While most of us are idling in neutral, surfing the Web and sipping a morning beverage, they’ve already accomplished a good day’s work.
My dear friend Michele Steeb, the driving force behind St. John’s Program for Real Change and a Sacramento force of nature, is one of these go-getters. You probably know these doers and darers. Perhaps you’re one of them.
My father, on the other hand, was a sundowner. Not that he was passive or inactive. He kept lists, set agendas and met goals. But he looked to the day’s end, to silently take inventory. Rarely was a word spoken as he watched God’s light show take effect.
If you’re lucky, you have at least one of each of these types in your lives during the holidays. You can count on the sunrisers to tend to seasonal minutiae. You’ll know they’ll be awake and ready to handle the kids when they rise at an ungodly hour on Christmas Day, wanting to open presents.
But later that same day, it’s the sundowner’s turn to shine – to reflect on the importance of family, community and the benefits of giving and sharing.
This will be the first Christmas when my father won’t be around for the sunset. But I’m blessed to have a family that provides comfort and joy every day, from dawn to dusk. I hope that’s your gift as well.
Bill Whalen, a regular contributor to The Bee, wrote about his father, “Saying goodbye to Dad,” on Oct. 25.