Star Trek Convention: does anyone really care about this guy?

February 10, 2013 3 comments

So, most trekkies know that there are Star Trek conventions held all over the country pretty much all year long. I remember many years ago, when my oldest son was enamored with Star Trek: The Next Generation, we went to a couple of conventions to check them out. Unlike those I hear about today, the ones we visited were very small, with pretty much only one major guest showing up (at least that’s what I remember). At one of them, we got to see Leonard Nimoy (Spock, for the uninitiated) and at the other, Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher, on ST:TNG). Despite the lack of size, they were still fun.

These days, star trek conventions are huge, with many, many stars showing up over a three to four day weekend. Every so often, I get an email giving details on an upcoming convention. As part of these emails, there is always a list of stars who are going to attend, along with a picture from whatever show they were in. Great, right? Well, I thought so too, until I received the latest email. As I scanned the list of pictures of those who were going to attend, I just had to stop at one in particular. While it’s a character from my favorite star trek series (the original), after a moment I had to start laughing. Why? Well, take a look.

ds9_clark

Yeah, that’s right. Bobby Clark is going to be at this convention.

–dp

Sometimes the little things hurt

January 18, 2013 1 comment

My birthday was a few days ago. My mom, as is her custom, sent me a birthday card. She’s never missed a year and never will. But this birthday card was a bit different from the many cards I’ve received in the past.

Birthday Card

Dad, I’m sure you were there, wishing me a happy birthday, too. I just wish you were here to do it in person.

Love you,
Dave

On family: the walk we all must take

January 12, 2013 Leave a comment

I just rediscovered this post from about six months ago as I was looking over my other blog (it’s primarily about writing … I posted it there before starting this blog about personal, non-writing stuff). While most of its content is dated, the conclusion is still relevant, i.e., there is a walk we all must take. None of us is immune, we all grow older, we all find ourselves becoming our parents.

Today, it’s hard for me to read, because when I wrote it my dad was still alive. But I still remember how I felt as I typed the words. I was thankful, and I felt blessed, for the opportunity I was given to pay back, in some very small way, all that I owed to my dad.

———

NOTE: I wrote this several days ago but am just now posting it. Life has been busy …

I’m sitting here in the bedroom of my parent’s house the night before the last day of my dad’s second round of chemo. I’ve only been here four days but I find myself weary. Watching someone succumb to the strains chemo places upon the human body isn’t easy; it’s worse when the person you’re watching fall apart is your father. You know, father’s aren’t supposed to get sick, let alone fall victim to a form of one of this world’s most dreaded diseases. But it’s happened, and reality has begun to sink in.

I was with my dad during the first few days of his first round of chemo. The way he handled them, and the accompanying radiation treatments, was nothing short of inspiring. Despite the deadly chemicals flowing through his system, and the radiation burning away at the two tumors in his lungs, he was upbeat and full of good humor. Even by the time I left, he was still showing no signs of the effects of the chemo or the radiation.

That was about a month ago. After going home for a few weeks, I’ve returned to my folks house and been sitting with my dad as he’s finished up his second round of chemo. While the humor remains, there are hints that the upbeat attitude is beginning to erode. He’s become weak and, for the most part, barely able to walk a straight path. I worry about him.

This recent experience reminded me of a music video from years ago that I really liked. At the time, I was the father taking care of his son(s). Today, time has passed, and now I am the son taking care of his father. Life has begun to come full circle. Yet despite the difficulties of helping my ailing father through the most critical time of his life, I find myself grateful for the opportunity to repay just a small portion of that which he sacrificed for me and our family.

–dp

Favorite Christmas song from 2012 (and 2011)

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Every year, I start listening to Christmas songs no later than Thanksgiving day. Many of the songs I listen to I’ve had for years. They’ve been around so long the kids have grown up listening to them (and still do). But I do like to add new Christmas music to the mix. So, every year, I look over what’s being released for Christmas and, if the music is good, I’ll buy it and add it to my Christmas playlist.

For example, this year, I added only one new Christmas album. It’s a good one: Christmas by Francesca Battistelli. I listened to it quite a bit, but no one song from the album got played enough to make it to the top of the Christmas song playlist. That distinction goes, for the second year in a row, to a wonderful song performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter on her Christmas CD from 2011: Come Darkness, Come Light.

I think this song has been at the top of my playlist for the last couple of years because I find myself, as the years go by, looking to Christmas as more a time of reflection on the true spirit of Christmas rather than what I used to focus on, which was pretty much just all about buying presents. Presents are fine, if given with the proper attitude. But when the central point of the Christmas season becomes all about giving presents, the holiday itself becomes shallow and void of any real meaning. As I grow older, I find this unsatisfying, and instead, I find myself searching for — longing for — something more meaningful. That comes with acknowledging what Christmas is … a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

So while there are plenty of traditional Christmas songs that I love, and many newer ones that I enjoy listening to, here is the one song that I think embodies, at least for me, what Christmas is all about. It paints such a vivid picture I almost feel like I can see it, feel it, experience it. It makes me feel like Christmas should make you feel. At peace. Enjoy …



Anyone have their own favorite Christmas songs?

–dp

And so this is Christmas (redux)

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Just about four years ago, in my old blog (click here to check it out), I lamented my melancholy state of mind during the holidays. At that time, I really did feel like, “Is this all there is?” Though I couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of my somewhat blue Christmas, there were a number of things going on in my life that made it understandable. This year, I find myself in a similar place. Christmas is almost here, yet there is a cloud over the usual holiday festivities. But unlike before, this year there is a reason for the holidays not feeling quite as cheerful. Regardless of the cause, however, both then and now, I’ve found myself eventually returning to the place where I find the true joy behind Christmas. Read on to find out what it sometimes takes me a while to figure out.

———- From December 24th, 2008

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?
Another year over, a new one just begun

Words penned by John Lennon many years ago. They reflect, in a way, how I feel this holiday season. Normally, as most people who know me will attest, I thrive during the holidays. My spirits are usually at their highest, and I enjoy all the usual holiday festivities and traditions. This year, however, I find that my spirits have been dampened a bit. By what, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s the daily doses of economic doom and gloom, or facing the possibility of an imminent layoff. You know, you can only survive so many cuts before it becomes painfully clear that there is little chance you will survive the next one. For whatever reason, this year, the Christmas songs just aren’t quite as cheery, the movies aren’t quite as fun, the decorating not as enjoyable, and the holiday hubbub just a bit too frenetic.

I find myself, as I wander through all the hullabaloo surrounding the holidays, almost wanting to hide away somewhere, with only God and me together in a quiet room, remembering what Christmas is really all about. Surely the cares of this world and the problems of today simply pale in comparison to what God offers us through His son, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate tomorrow. It’s unfortunate that I forget this, though, and I’m sad that I am pulled away from the truth of Christmas so easily. I wonder why I allow it to happen, why I can’t always be filled with anything but joy in knowing Christ and the salvation He brings, but then I remember that I am just a human being. As such, I’m easily prone to forgetting all the blessings God so graciously bestows upon us.

And so this is Christmas …

I was reminded yesterday, by Debbie, of a clip from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, where Linus recounts the Christmas story in a simple but compelling monologue. She was reminded of it because they discussed it on the national Christian radio station, K-love.

As someone in another blog noted, it’s quite surprising that Linus’ speech is still part of the annual showing of this Christmas classic. It’s certainly not politically correct, so how it remains is a mystery to me. It will truly be a sad day, though, when the ACLU finally gets around to sanitizing one of my favorite childhood (and even still, as an adult) Christmas shows.

As trite as it sounds after having been used so often, the expression “Jesus is the reason for the season” is really the truth of this holiday. It’s not a “winter break”, as so many would have us believe, but is a celebration of Christ’s birth. It is my prayer that, even amidst the festivities and gift giving, we all remember the baby lying in a manger some two thousand years ago. It’s this reality that lifts up the holiday season for me this year.

Merry Christmas …

Sometimes, you have to remind yourself of certain things …

On losing a father: a personal journey – part II

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

My previous post, here, was written entirely during my flight to Fort Smith, Arkansas. I had no knowledge of my father’s condition at that time, nor any idea of what the future held. What follows are the words I wrote from the time I arrived in Fort Smith until I sat in my seat on the flight back home to California.

——–

My son, Jonathan, picked me up from the Fort Smith airport around 1:50pm. Seeing him was an unexpected joy. He had managed to drive to Fort Smith despite having just dealt with an acute kidney stone attack the previous night. Unsure of what the future held, he wanted to make sure he saw his grandfather before he had to leave for a week of residency interviews. I know that if he’d had a choice, he would have stayed. I’m not sure if I told him at the time how grateful I was to have him there, but it meant so much to me that he’d made the effort. We drove to the hospital, less than a mile away, exchanging just a few words. For me, having him there was enough.

When we arrived, my dad was still alive. Aside from having tubes everywhere, he actually looked okay. Nothing like what I had expected. I spent the afternoon with my family as we all gathered around to comfort my father. We took turns talking with him. We left with some hope that he might possibly recover.

The next day, Tuesday, was perhaps the best. Mid-day, my dad was allowed to come up from the sedation enough so that he was responsive. He was able to nod yes and mouth “I love you”. I felt at least somewhat at peace after that because I knew that he was aware of my presence and knew that I told him I loved him. I also felt myself begin to let go of hope that he might recover.

It’s Wednesday, November 28th. Probably the worst day yet. It started off good. Cathie (my niece) and I spent the morning with my dad. We talked with each other, and with my dad, from opposite sides of his bed, while we held his hands. Then it went downhill. During the afternoon, while I was speaking with him, from his left eye came a tear. It slowly made its way down his cheek. I cried, knowing my dad was sad, or worse, in pain. We then talked with a palliative care doctor, a specialist in an area of medicine focused on preventing and relieving the suffering of the terminally ill, because we knew that my dad had always made it clear that he did not want to be kept alive by a machine. Then the intensive care doctor spoke with us. He was kind, but there’s no easy way to tell a family that a husband/father isn’t improving and probably won’t. Then, my dad’s oncologist showed up and said he thought my dad would be mostly fine, just give him a few more days, at least. He said his quality of life would be okay for a few weeks to several months. We had no idea what to do. So we did nothing.

This all sucks.

Thursday was the day I finally realized my dad was going to die. He had made no improvements at all. But most telling to me was when they once again reduced the medication keeping him sedated. It seemed he became “aware” of us being there, and finally he opened his eyes. But instead of looking into the eyes of my dad, I was staring into eyes that were sunken, unfocused, empty … and perhaps worst of all, filled with tears. At that moment, I felt my dad had given up and was beginning his journey home. At that point, the only person to whom he would respond was my mom. Her voice would cause him to turn his head in her direction. He would stare at her, though I don’t know if he really saw anything or not. I hope he did. I don’t feel he saw or heard me at all.

It’s Friday morning, 1:48am. I’m sitting on the family room couch. Today is the day that, barring a miracle, is my dad’s last day on this earth. It’s the day that we, as a family, decide to end my dad’s suffering. Even though we are doing the humane thing, I feel guilty, as if we are killing our father to put ourselves out of our misery. It doesn’t feel good, or positive in any way. Life is surreal. I don’t think it has sunk in yet that after today, my father is gone. I have no more chances to talk with him, to laugh with him, or to hug him. It’s over.

I can’t wait for Debbie to arrive in a few hours.

Finally, my dad is taken off the ventilator. We gather together in his ICU room. I’ve asked a chaplain to join us and to pray for my dad and for the family. While we hug and pray and wait, Debbie’s beautiful voice fills the room as she sings my favorite Christian song: He Knows My Name. An hour later, he takes his last breath. I stare at my father, who now lies motionless on a hospital bed. I am struck by how good he looks, as if he could climb out of the bed and walk away if he could just take another breath. But he doesn’t. I weep. The room is full of tears and sobs from so far down inside they rip you apart. We take turns holding my dad, talking to him, and whispering goodbye. I leave. And he is gone. And I feel empty inside. A part of me has died in that room today. I wonder if those gray days can regain their color. I wonder if I even care. And amidst all my own pain, there is my mother, whose loss after 58 years is something about which I cannot conceive. She is alone. And we are worthless in alleviating her devastation. What will she do?

What will I do?

It’s 12:36am, Saturday, December 1st. I’m lying in bed at a hotel, and I’m tired. Debbie is asleep after having left California 24 hours earlier. I thank God she was able to be here for me, because I’m not sure I could have made it without her. But she’s exhausted, so I am alone. My father is now gone. He passed away this afternoon after a short struggle once the tubes keeping him alive were removed. I have never watched someone die before. The pain of a loved one dying can be eclipsed, I believe, only by the pain of those who must sit by and watch them pass. There is a gut wrenching punch in the gut with each gasp for one more breath you see your loved one struggle to take. There is the rattling of the lungs, and the wheeze of each breath that becomes less and less effective. Their breathing slows. You wait to see if it’s the last. You find yourself hoping that it is. And then you repeat. Until finally, they gasp, and breathe no more. They are gone. Forever.

2:42 am finds me awake. I’ve spent the last two hours tossing and turning. All I can think about is my dad. My dreams are filled with images from today. I see my father dying over and over again, repeated like a vinyl record skipping. I finally have just given up trying. And now I sit here in bed, typing on my iPad, a gadget my dad recently had dismissed as something he just didn’t have the desire to learn. He’d spent his life learning the latest technology. He said he just couldn’t learn one more. And so he didn’t.

What if I can’t recover from this? What if every day is meant for nothing more than a chance to relive what is easily the worst day of my life? What if the joy does not — or can’t — return, despite all those things in my life that are truly joyful? Is that what life ends up being all about, a perpetual state of mourning interrupted by brief moments of happiness that allow me to escape a dark prison where life is meaningless?

I have no answers right now. I wish I did. Because at this very moment I feel as if I might not ever be able to sleep again without wrestling with visions of my dad losing his battle for life

My life is filled with so many regrets that I can’t count them. I hadn’t talked with my dad for a couple of weeks. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps I was just trying to escape having to be constantly reminded of my dad’s inexorable decline toward death. I can’t remember our last conversation, though I do know my last words to him: I love you. Perhaps that should be enough to console me, that he heard those words during that last phone call, that he did know that his youngest son loved him. Perhaps. But it offers me no solace for now. Maybe someday.

It’s now 3:30am. I’m tired. I hope I can sleep. I wonder if my mother is sleeping. And if she is, is she dreaming? And are those dreams of the husband she just lost?

4:15pm, Saturday. Debbie, Brenda, Ken, my mom and I met at Putman funeral parlor to make arrangements for dad. He’s to be cremated and placed in an urn, which we’ll pick up on Monday or Tuesday. Along with the remains, we get a flag that we can take with us to the VA cemetery, where his ashes will be buried. Mom will get the flag. There will be enough room at the VA for mom when she passes away. We decided to pass on any service of any kind in deference to my mom and my dad, who we know wouldn’t want any fuss made at this point. It will be a simple hand off; we’ll give away our dad for his final resting place. Mom did well while we were at the funeral home. She didn’t cry. After the meeting, in mom’s continued way of denial, she went to a hair appointment. We’re meeting back at mom’s house at 5pm.

——–

I wrote nothing else while I was in Fort Smith. I’m not sure why. I didn’t write again until I was sitting on an airplane that had just left DFW airport.

Headed home

It’s 7:08 on December 5th. I’m in seat 8F, next to Debbie. She is watching “A Knight’s Tale” on her iPad as I type on mine. It’s dark outside. I find myself reflecting on all that has happened.

Ten days ago, I sat alone on a flight from SFO to DFW, heading eventually to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where my father was being kept alive in the ICU. I fully expected him to be dead by the time I arrived, But God had other plans. He allowed me the chance to see my dad alive, albeit gravely ill. On Tuesday, I was able to talk with him and tell him I loved him. He was able to respond and mouthed that he loved me too. Did he really hear me? Did he really say I love you? I suppose I’ll never know for sure, but I choose to believe that he did.

His health steadily declined over the rest of the week, until finally, on Friday, November 30th, he was no longer taking nourishment through his tube, an indication that his body was beginning to shut down. It was then that we, as a family, made a tough decision. Based on his repeated insistence over the years that he did not want to be kept alive artificially, we all agreed that it was time to take him off the ventilator. We did so, and about an hour or so later, he passed away about as gently as is possible aside from being at home in bed asleep. His life was now defined:

2/25/1933 – 11/30/2012

What is written above is what now appears on the temporary grave marker at the Fort Smith National Cemetery. All that my dad was is now fully defined by the “dash”. There will be nothing more of his life except the legacy that he leaves behind. A wife, three children, grand kids and great grand kids. When taken as a whole, that which he has left would make him proud, I think.

With just the family in attendance, we gathered underneath a pavilion amidst the hundreds of grave markers making up the cemetery. It was gray and cold and windy, just what you would expect for a day upon which you lay to rest a family member. We huddled together, held each other, and shared thoughts, poems, and prayers about my dad. For myself, I started with a number of verses from the bible. Debbie then shared a beautiful poem. We then took turns sharing memories of my dad until we ran out of time. Once again, Debbie sang for us (Doxology). I closed in prayer, doing my best to hold back tears. My mom then turned to me and thanked me for leading the family through our family service and for praying for dad, for her, and the family. She said it was perfect. I knew that wasn’t true, but the fact that she thought so meant the world to me. She hugged me. We then spent a few moments at the grave, where another dose of reality hit. For me, it was the temporary grave marker lying on top of the dirt that had been dug. I studied it. Though it had my dad’s name on it, and his birthday and date of death, I found it difficult to truly believe he was gone. And then we left, once more feeling like we were saying goodbye.

So, as I feared, I am heading home without a father, and with a mother hurting from a pain worse than having died herself, and a future in complete and utter disarray, despite our presence. By tomorrow night, after my sister leaves for home, she will be alone for the first time since she lost her husband of 58 years. None of us knows how she will do. But I do believe that at some point she will be okay.

As for me, I think I have come to understand that, as is so commonly noted, time brings about relief from loss. I now know that as I return home and resume my normal day-to-day activities, the muted gray of despair will lift and colors will return once more, life will no longer feel like something that simply passes while we ourselves await our own passing, that the number of days between nights I wake up reliving the afternoon my father died will eventually become so many that I forget it altogether (at least that is my hope). And when all of these things have happened I hope that I can hold on to all the wonderful memories of my dad and the life that he gave us. For that, I can never repay him. But I can look forward to seeing him on the day the Lord calls me home. And when I do, the first thing that I will do is give him a big hug and tell him once more how much I love him. Until that day, my guess is that he will spend his time enjoying his wings. You see, he always wanted to be a pilot. I can see him smiling.

I’ll end this with a song that’s been on my mind lately. It touched me when I first heard it a few years back. It holds a brand new meaning for me now. Finally Home by MercyMe.

–dp

On losing my father: a personal journey – part I

December 9, 2012 Leave a comment

My father just passed away. On Friday, November 30th, to be exact. Though he was suffering from lung cancer and undergoing chemo, his passing was still unexpected, because the actual cause of death was double pneumonia. It came on quick and it came on strong. They never were able to determine for sure whether it was bacterial, viral, or just the fact that his lungs were so damaged they simply filled up with fluid. But it’s all academic now, because he’s gone and we are now left to adjust to life without him.

What follows are the words I wrote along the way, along the path that led me from home to his bedside in Fort Smith, Arkansas and back. There’s not been much in the way of editing. It’s pretty much the way it came out. None of what you’ll read here was easy to write, so it may not be easy to read. But if you are interested in my journey in dealing with my father’s death, read on. If not, that’s okay, because ultimately all that I’ve written has simply been my catharsis.

——————————————————————————————————————

I’m sitting in aisle seat 22c on an American Airlines flight to Dallas that left SFO at 6am on 11/26. It’s 7:16am as I type, and we’re at 39,000 feet. I thought I would be sleeping after being up all night driving to the airport. But I’m not, because all I can think about is my dad and whether he is alive in an ICU at Mercy hospital in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I don’t know if he is, but my prayer is that if he is not to be completely healed by God before I get there that at least I might have the opportunity to say goodbye before the Lord takes him home.

The last that I heard, shortly before I left, was that his heart had stopped and he had to be resuscitated. This after having had double pneumonia, which led to a need for oxygen, which led to intubation when he could no longer get enough oxygen in his bloodstream to survive. So I head to a destination from which I will likely return no longer having a father. That is a sobering thought.

I feel alone in a plane packed with people. I am cut off from the world, from Debbie, from my family, from everyone that matters. Yet at the very time I feel the most distant from them I feel the greatest need for them to be close. I would give anything for Debbie to be sitting at my side, holding my hand, and whispering to me that it would be all right, even though we both would know that it would not be.

The only presence I feel is that of the One I know will never leave me, even in my darkest moments. God is with me now, as He has always been, and He will be with me throughout the remainder of this journey. My prayers have been for my dad, for his comfort and for his healing, yet I pray them knowing that by the time I reach Fort Smith that he will have passed away. Perhaps feeling this is my own way of preparing myself for what seems to be the inevitable. Or perhaps it is God’s hand upon me, moving me towards Him and allowing me to rest in the knowledge that whatever may happen, He is ultimately in control of it all.

My other prayer is that God can use me at this time to be a comfort to my family. But I feel wholly unprepared for such a thing. I suddenly find myself at a loss as to what to offer them other than the knowledge of the saving grace of our Heavenly Father and His gift of everlasting life, which should be sufficient given the belief that my dad was, indeed, saved. I think he was, though I regret now not having fully confirmed that during my last visit. I made the mistake of believing I would see him at least one more time. But this is proof that we can’t ever assume such a thing will be true.

I suppose it’s normal at such a time to feel as if all the joy in life has escaped, like the air from a balloon, leaving me to wonder what exactly will matter anymore after it’s all said and done. My God I will cling to, my faith in Him never wavering. My wife, my children, my siblings … All of them I hold dearer with each passing moment. I want to hold them all, hug them tight, and tell them over and over how much I love them. But I can’t, at least not now.

How does one go on as normal after losing a parent? I don’t know. But worse, it makes me wonder how one can carry on after losing a husband of almost sixty years? How does one deal with that much pain? That much loss? What will become of my mom when the only man she has ever loved passes away? She is not a strong woman, and never has been. I worry that she won’t be able to deal with something so devastating, and I worry that I will be useless in helping her to cope. Of course, how can I when I don’t even know how I will hold up. I’ve not cried much over the last eight months or so since this journey began. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s waiting in the wings, waiting to overwhelm me at a moment’s notice.

Life seems gray today, as gray as the dense fog we drove through in the middle of the night to make it to the airport on time. Though I’m sure the colors will return, I just don’t know when that will happen. When will the things that before seemed so important to me become significant again? Other than God and my family, not much really seems to mean much anymore. But perhaps that’s the way it is supposed to be. Maybe all that other stuff is really all that small stuff of life that isn’t supposed to matter anyway. For now, it doesn’t. Time will tell if it ever does again.

As a final thought, since I found out that my dad was most likely dying, I’ve been consumed by regrets, both small and large. It’s sad that I will never have the opportunity to do anything about them, but I will have a lifetime to remember them. For all those things I did and did not do, dad, I’m sorry. Know that I have always loved you and always will. You were a wonderful father to all us kids and a caring husband who, until the day you passed away, loved my mother dearly. You placed her up so high on a pedestal, even after all the years together, that you still didn’t believe you deserved a woman like her. Well, you did, dad. You did.

A song has been echoing through my mind over the last several hours. It fits this moment in my life perfectly. It’s entitled Everything I Own by Bread. Upon a first listen, most people easily dismiss the song as a typical “guy loses girl” tune. But the truth is, it has a much deeper meaning. As explained by the man who wrote the song, David Gates, it was written for his father after he passed away. Listen to the song and, if your dad is still alive, give him a call and let him know that you love him and that you were thinking about him. If your father has passed away, remember him, and share his memory with your children so that he can, in some simple way, live on in the hearts and minds of those of which he is such a fundamental part.

I love you, Dad. Your “dash” counted for way more than you’ll ever know.

–dp

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