The day I was told my dad was dying coincided with the day Auburn basketball was bumped up to a #1 rank for the first time in history. It was nine days ago, and also another lifetime.
This is significant for a couple different reasons: Auburn’s head coach Bruce Pearl was named the head coach for UT men’s basketball the year I worked for Lady Vols, and my Dad was the biggest Auburn fan ever I’d ever met. If only we’d been able to share the news with him.
This week is also Lunar New Year—and as Lunas, I feel a special pull to anything revolving around the moon’s cycle—and this is the Year of the Tiger. The Auburn Tiger, as I like to think about it.
Dad, however, was born in the Year of the Rabbit. The more I read about it, the more it makes perfect sense.
People born in the Year of the Rabbit are kind, virtuous and popular. They are artistic and have good taste, with a liking for the finer things in life. They do not like to argue, preferring peace and quiet. They are compassionate listeners, excellent negotiators and always work well with people.
Dealing with my dad’s death is something I’ve barely begun to process. No one wants to become the newest member of the Dead Parent Society; it’s a club no one in their right mind applies for, but one that eventually most of us join, no matter how much we live in denial.
I’m not special because I’ve lost my dad, but I now can relate to the crushing weight of pain so many friends and family members have experienced before me; it feels as if someone put an anvil on your chest and sunk you to the deep end of the pool.
I also know it will make me a more compassionate friend to all of those who lose parents down the road. As my friend Shannon told me when she came to the hospital at 5am shortly after Dad passed away to be with us: You just don’t know until you’ve been there.
I remember when my friend Emily lost her father in high school; it hit like the ultimate gut punch. His death was an accident, a random act of fate, an anomaly, not the norm—it felt so far removed from my own reality at that time.
Then, one of my past roommates and dear friends Ashley lost her father in a tragic car accident during my first year living in New York right after college. Lemon and I rented a car and drove all night to Tennessee to be with her. A few years later, Lemon lost her own father to prostate cancer. I grieved for them both, heartbroken and scared that I was next.
But I got an extra 20, 15, 10 years on all of them; time with Dad that they didn’t have with theirs. Sure, the stroke was unfair, particularly the negligence that led to his TBI, which left us without answers and in a rehab facility for five weeks, Dad’s fate perilously in the hands of strangers who didn’t know him, weren’t particularly invested in finding answers to lead to a recovery.
But we accepted our fate and learned to live with the new norm. The new norm was that Dad was still there: in body, in personality and in mind, most times.
It’s almost like some divine presence gave us an extra six years with him so that he could become a grandfather. “Three,” he always told us. The number of children he wanted Kari to have. I guess that means she has to have one more in the future. For Dad, of course.
He and Charlotte became the best of friends; at nine months old, she started saying “Shasha.” When we asked her what that was, she pointed to Dad. So he became Shasha to all of us.
He also was lucky enough to get to know Mac, came to adore this curly-, tow-headed ball of relentless energy as each of us do.
And me, I was lucky to get to see Dad almost every day for the past two years, our lack of travel due to the current state of affairs a blessing none of us would truly comprehend at the time. We’ve always been a close family unit, and that will never change. If I didn’t see Dad for more than a day when I wasn’t on the road, I’d start to feel guilty. Even after the stroke, he knew down to the day how many hours it was until I’d hit the road again.
“Saturday? New York?” he’d ask with his limited words, knowing exactly where I was going and when I’d be back. “Back four days? Ella?”
Nothing ever got past him, even in the end. My sister, “Little Greg” as she’s known, who moved back to take over the family business, still consulted Dad about client financials, board members and obligations, and more—right up until last week.
And then he was gone. Just like that. No terminal illness, no bout of COVID—he was triple-vaxxed and often wore a mask even in his own home—just a sudden onset of seizures and a plummeting oxygen levels that cinched his fate. It was like a snail that crept up on you slowly before you had time to realize he was suctioned to your favorite plant: That’s how painfully slow yet quickly Dad’s death came upon us.
He was doing great in November; he waned over the holidays. We chalked it up to the seasonal illness we all go through. We’ll never really know the events that led to this point, but they’re insignificant because the reality is that can reverse his death.
We didn’t even get to properly celebrate his 70th birthday.
I remember Ashley and Lemon telling me: “the good to come from this is that the worst thing in my life is now behind me, and at least I don’t have to fear that anymore.” There’s some truth to that; 48 hours after Dad’s death, it was hard to think of anything as a blessing just yet, but nine days out, the reality that he’s pain-free is starting to sink in. I know things will get easier as the days, the weeks, the months tick by, but it’s hard to fathom that just now.
I’ve sat on this post for a week, because I don’t know how to write it, I don’t know what comes next. For someone who has always had her every day mapped out down to the hour, I feel adrift. How do you just move on without one of the most important people in your life a part of your everyday decisions? How do you mourn someone who was strikingly present one day, then apparently absent the next?
I don’t know the answers to any of this. This whole grief thing is just so new and unfamiliar.
These next months are something I can tell you I don’t to want to face. My first birthday in a few weeks without Dad, turning 39 and entering my 40th year. I remember Dad’s own 40th birthday party because I was there. So was a belly dancer.
Charlotte’s birthday, turning 4 in March. Mac’s birthday, turning 2 in May. Father’s Day. Every holiday that will follow from now until forever. The first anniversary of Dad’s death next January.
I’m sad, we all are, but also insanely lucky. Lucky I got so much of my Dad’s attention and heart and advice for just shy of 39 years. Lucky that he loved all three of us Luna girls unconditionally and equally adoring of his two sons-in-law, Josh and Scott.
Lucky that he survived a heart attack when I was in college—they gave him limited time even then—and then a near-fatal stroke, which against all odds and gave us another six years, limited though they may have been. Lucky to witness his deep love for his grandkids, whether they could fully communicate with words or not, it never mattered.
Thank you, Dad, for all the sacrifices you made for us. For the years you worked 80-hour weeks to give us more than we ever needed. For the kindness you showed your clients, your friends, anyone in a tough spot even if you didn’t know them well. For holding on as long as you did. For turning us into skilled athletes, intelligent businesspeople, compassionate citizens of the world.
And when Auburn wins their first national basketball championship this spring, we know it will be all because you were up there guiding them to that final victory. You were, after all, a basketball player first, and a War Eagle second.
On Saturday, we buried Dad wearing his trademark jeans, Auburn polo and matching fleece blanket, the seashells Charlotte painted for him last week and tennis shoes. He was never without tennis shoes, even when he slept.
We decided to forego a sad funeral and opted for a celebration of life instead. It kicked off with “Free Fallin’,” one of his favorite songs, then Kari and I shared a few stories alongside his best friends Kim and Neal, before our beloved former pastor Kal gave the eulogy, followed by—what else?—the Auburn fight song. Hundreds of people attended his visitation, a testament to the impact he had on this community, backed by a playlist of his favorite songs: Steppenwolf, Fleetwood Mac, Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs, the Eagles, the Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jethro Tull, Hootie & the Blowfish, Elton John, Billy Joel and more Tom Petty.
Then, we loaded up the car, drove to the cemetery and and watched as he was given a permanent home right next to our grandparents.
And now, I suppose, life moves on.
39 years wasn’t nearly enough time with you, but then again, no amount of time would have been.
War Damn Eagle, Dad. We love you, we love you, we love you. Nothing will ever change the pain we feel now, but we’re comforted knowing that someday we’ll see you again.
Gregory Paul Luna passed away suddenly on Jan. 25, 2022 in Tullahoma, Tenn. after a swift illness. Greg was born on Dec. 2, 1951 in Birmingham, Ala. to Dorothy Brown and Paul Thomas Luna and graduated from Banks High School in 1970.
Those who knew him as a kid describe him as an “outstanding football, basketball and track star” who was voted both “most attractive” and “Mr. Banks High” by his classmates. After many scholarship offers, he decided to retire from sports to study at his beloved Auburn University where he traded athletics for life as an ATO. He kept up with many childhood friends and fraternity brothers, who referred to him as “Tic” (short for Lunatic), until his passing.
Greg later obtained his bachelor’s degree in accounting from The University of Alabama at Birmingham, then worked as chief financial officer for a healthcare company. In 1978, he met Tullahoma native Jean Housholder through work; they were married at her parents Bill and Doris Housholder’s house the following year before moving out to San Francisco.
After four years as CFO for the western division of Hertz in California, Greg and Jeanie moved back east to her hometown Tullahoma where Greg went to work for his father-in-law at Housholder Artman, PLLC, the firm Bill founded in 1955. He went on to become managing partner, serving clients big and small across the southeast for 34 years, until a stroke in 2016 forced him into early retirement.
Even with limited communication abilities as a byproduct of the stroke, he never forgot a face, a name, a client or his financial history. Greg was a huge part of the success of Tower Community Bank, Citizens Bank & Trust, and the various other entities he served as a shareholder or board member.
But most importantly, he was a father and grandfather. He coached his daughters’ various sporting teams when they were young and never missed a tennis match or basketball or softball game. He fortunately lived long enough to become the favorite of his grandchildren Charlotte, 3, and Mac, 1, who dubbed him “Shasha.”
Greg is survived by his wife, Jeanie; his daughters Kristin Luna (Scott van Velsor) and Kari Clarey (Josh Clarey); his grandchildren Charlotte and Mac Clarey; his sister Donna Reed (Mike); and many nieces and nephews, each of whom he positively adored. Visitation will take place at Kilgore Funeral Home from 10am to 1pm on Jan. 29 with a celebration of life following at 1pm. The family asks any donations in Greg’s memory be sent to Tullahoma 501(c)(3) Redemption Underdog Freedom Fund.