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My brother Dean took Dad home

deandad2011

Of my three brothers, Dean is closest in age to me, just three years older. As he explained in his remarks at yesterday’s memorial, he and I knew the kinder, gentler version of Dad. Dad used to say that he and Mom raised Scott and Bruce, but he let us raise ourselves. I’m not sure that’s quite true, but he did perhaps trust the process more than he did when he was first a father. Here are Dean’s remarks:

“I would like to thank you all for coming today to help us remember and celebrate the life of my father, Henry Snively Campbell. I know he would be and, I like to think, is very pleased to see all of your familiar and beloved faces. I imagine his broad smile, and the warm greeting he would extend to all of you. On his behalf, I welcome you.

Today each of my siblings and I are sharing a few fragments of our memories of and love for our father. In some respects, my sister and I experienced a different father figure than did our two older brothers, so different in age were Betsy and I than they were.  Scott and Bruce knew the fiery, hard-charging, career-oriented Marine officer, a decorated WWII veteran who aspired to the Commandant’s mansion in Washington D.C., whereas Betsy and I were raised by a less rigid and more compassionate father. I believe that two events led him to re-balance his life outlook: the loss of his 4 year old daughter Midgie to leukemia in 1953; and his heart attack in 1962 that led to his premature retirement from the Marine Corps. I think these events made him re-consider what was most important to him in life; and it’s clear he decided it was his family.

My first memory of my father dates to the latter part of his Marine Corps service, during his post as Executive Officer at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC. I was about 4 or 5 years old at the time. Each Friday during the summer, an Evening Parade is held on the grounds within the barracks; the Exec is the parade commander, the conductor, if you will. In my memory of those parades, I see a marine platoon in spotless dress uniform, flawlessly conducting their silent drill with M-1 rifles, fixed bayonets gleaming in the twilight. The President’s Own Marine Band plays John Phillip Sousa. My father stands at the center, calling for the precise maneuvers in his full-throated, commanding voice.  You can imagine the impression that made on a 5 year old boy. He seemed about ten feet tall to me back then.

As I grew older, I naturally came to know him differently and more realistically, but the legacy of his Marine career was still much in evidence. He carried himself with an unmistakable grace and military bearing. He dressed smartly, and he spoke with authority, confidence, and courtesy. He modeled, more than he taught, the values and behaviors expected of a Marine, an officer, and a gentleman: respect; integrity; honor; courage; and commitment. I realize now more than I did during my childhood and adolescence that I tried to emulate him.  It was in this way that he taught me how I might become a man, poor student though I was.

Some of my most enduring adult memories of my father are of the times we spent together in his native eastern Washington, hunting chukar partridge in the hills high above the Columbia River near Bridgeport. The images are clear to me, as though they happened yesterday. This is my memory: on crisp fall mornings while it is still dark, we drive under bright stars from the river to the top of plateau, and out across the wheat stubble fields to our destination. We strike out before sunrise into the arid grass- and sage-covered land adjoining the cultivated fields. At the very edge of the Columbia gorge, we walk in the mist of early morning fog as it is driven off by the light breeze coming from the plateau. We move in silence, the only sounds coming from the snuffling dog working in front of us, and the crunching of the frosted grasses beneath our boots. The pungent smell of sage hangs in the cool morning air.  As the sun rises behind us in the eastern sky, we pause to stand at the precipice, looking out over the majestic expanse of the Columbia River gorge that spreads before us.  The hills across the river, many miles away, turn from dark to purple to tan as the sun climbs from the horizon. It’s an awe-inspiring sight that makes one feel humble and quite insignificant. I will always carry the memory of these mornings we spent together; and for me, he will live on within them.

I was truly fortunate to have been with my father in his final hours. The night before his passing, he was too weak to come to the table for dinner, even in his wheel chair – so Betsy and I brought our dinner into his room. We set up a card table in front of his recliner, squeezed in next to him, and had a quiet time together. In retrospect, he was clearly starting to fade, although Betsy and I did not realize at the time how close he was to the end.  He was very sleepy during dinner, and seemed to be in a waking dream state: still connected to the physical world around him, but clearly seeing and responding to other things as well.  As we sat together, he looked at me with half-closed eyes and asked, “Dean, will you drive?”. This caught me a bit off-guard, but I responded that of course I would. I wish now that I had had the wits to ask him where he wanted to go, but I did not. Afterwards, my first thought was that in his mind he thought we were sitting in our camper on one of our hunting trips, and that he wanted me to drive because he was too tired to carry on. What I’ve now come to believe is something else. In the few days preceding his passing, he was often restless and wakeful during the night, trying to get out of bed, even though he had become too weak and short of breath to walk on his own. Our hospice nurse told Betsy and me that such restlessness is fairly common, and offered the belief that perhaps those close to death know they have somewhere they need to go, and are so determined to get there they will get up out of bed and walk right out the front door if you aren’t watching over them. Today when I look back on my father’s words, I think he knew it was time for him to leave, and that he wanted me to drive him there. I think he was asking me to take him home.”

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A time to every purpose under heaven

My brother and niece

When my father talked about the death of my sister, Midge, he often went on to describe the birth of my brother, Dean, not so many months later. “It was as if the sun came up,” he said.

After a loss, how it heartens us to see a fresh generation behind us, revitalizing our faith in life and our hope for the future.

Last weekend, I ventured to Minneapolis (brrrr…) to see my niece Eileen become a bat mitzvah.

From the moment my brother, Dean, and his wife, Gwendy, met Eileen — in a Holiday-Inn sized hotel room packed with 10 adoptive parents, six children less than a year old, and eight caregivers, she stood out from the crowd. She was the only one who didn’t cry as she regarded the two people who would take her home, love her and raise her. When Dean and Gwendy brought her back to Seattle in November 2000, it was just a year or so after Mom died. At the time, I wasn’t quite ready for Mom’s name to be attached to anyone else. But Eileen is the perfect inheritor of her name.

My brother Dean made these remarks to her as she took on her role as an adult in the Jewish faith:

When I see these characteristics growing within you, I am reminded of another person I deeply loved: my mother and your namesake, Eileen Driscoll Campbell. I see your determination and focus; your love of God, family, friends and life; your fun-loving spirit and lively sense of humor; and your ability to see and embrace the goodness within others, and I realize these are the same qualities I loved within my mother. I wish that she had been able to know you, because I know she would have loved you as I do.”

Jewish people know a few things about love and longing, and that includes their traditions for remembering those who have died. I loved this bit from the mourner’s kiddush section of Shir Tikvah’s prayer service:

Grief is a great teacher, when it sends back to serve and bless the living… (E)ven when they are gone, the departed are with us, moving us to live as, in their highest moments, they themselves wished to live. We remember them now; they live in our hearts; they are an abiding blessing.” — p. 294, Mishkan T’Filah 2007

Grief is a great teacher, and I am its student.

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Let Us Cross Over the River

Dad pointing out fish on the North Umpqua in 1999, shortly after Mom's death

Dad pointing out fish on the North Umpqua in 1999, shortly after Mom’s death

With Mom’s death and now Dad’s, I’ve noticed that it takes time to expurgate the image of them near death – diminished and battling. In Mom’s case, I awakened after three days with a brilliantly clear “dream” of her at the kitchen table in her favorite pink quilted bathrobe. Blessedly, that became the image I carried with me as I mourned her death and celebrated her life.

With Dad, what keeps coming to me are images of water, which I shared in earlier blog posts. I thought the dream about safety drills under freezing water, dozens of stories below ground in a mine, and another about paddling a crew boat across a cold, choppy channel, represented how I was trying to rescue Dad.

Then I had the dream about entering my living room to find a group of seven caregivers. The six clad in white told me they were there to “lift Dad up.” When I asked the caregiver clad in a black swim cap what he was doing there, he said he was for “after.” I knew that he was there to swim Dad across the river, as in the River Styx.

Rereading my emails to my brothers, I came across some from summer before last. All that summer, Dad and I “shade hopped” from one side of the street to the other, walking down Mariemont Avenue, ending across from a large oak tree. Most days, before we crossed, Dad would recite Stonewall Jackson’s final deathbed statement, as transcribed by his physician, Dr. Hunter McGuire. McGuire wrote:

Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

If there is life after death – and I believe there is – surely Dad is resting in the shade by a beautiful river.

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Can This Love Last?

Holding on to love

In the wake of Dad’s death, I am deeply reflective.

We hear a lot about how hard caregiving is on caregivers, and I admit to feeling at my wit’s end during the most challenging periods of my Dad’s final illness as I wrote about during this blog post. And yet… I have rarely felt so filled with love as during these last months. Maybe I’m experiencing the same kind of amnesia that once dulled my memory of the pain of childbirth.

I’ve known many kinds of love in my life: romantic love, maternal love, even “sister-wife” love. The kind of love that I experienced when focused on my Dad’s needs approached something on a more spiritual level. I find that I miss the “love bubble” that I lived in with my Dad these past few months.

During the past couple of months, I’ve struggled with matters of faith and was angry about the natural order of things, which can make old age and dying a brutal experience. My beautiful cousin Lynn wrote, “The Love you are feeling is God. Everything even the agony is part of that love. This is your path now… with your father.” And my mentor Jim wrote, “Your Dad does not have to have all the answers to all the questions right now. He needs heart connection because that ultimately answers the unanswerable questions and ensures him peace of heart and peace of mind so he can release. Whether he connects in any way to a traditional notion of God, he sure does to your Mom and he wants to go and be with her.  So for him, there is a there there, and he has his heart set on arriving.  Leaving is generally harder than entering, for each of us.”

There was something, well, holy, about the last 15 or 20 minutes. I previously described how his eyebrows lifted up, the way they would when he saw someone who delighted him, and his lips moved as if he were speaking to them. And a little while before that, his mouth, which until then was slack, suddenly bowed into a giant smile. I said to Dean, “Look – he looks happy.” Dean and I had the distinct feeling he was seeing Mom.

As we plan Dad’s memorial service, my brothers and I are sifting for readings that speak to us. Phrases are popping out to me like these:

“Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13: 8)

“… the peace of God, which passes all understanding…” (Phillipians 4: 7)

“It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15: 44)

“We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. … what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3: 1-2)

Then I read Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven and found his testimony of his Near Death Experience to be reassuring that consciousness — our soul — lives on after we leave the little bit of this universe that we experience during our mortal lives. 

Talking about the book, my brother, Scott, described to me something that Dad had shared with him when my sister, Midge, was in her last hours, dying of leukemia at age four. Dad told Scott that Midge suddenly sat up and said, “I hear music.” Shortly thereafter, she died.

I know that it feels as if Dad is not gone. And I don’t just mean that his lessons live on in all of us. I still feel his love as a presence. I believe that he – and Mom – somehow exist beyond mortal death.

That love was shared with me in the process of his dying. It changed me during that time that I lived in the small world of his house, where everyone was focused on the mission of easing his way.

What I wonder now is this: as I rejoin the world, how do I keep this feeling of selfless love? Is Jim right when he says: “God is with us, actually inside each of us even when we do not sense it, and remove enough of our own clutter and misgivings and pain to be fully conscious of divine love inside us.”

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Taking Stock of My Journey with Dad

Henry Campbell Dec. 23 2012

I’m one of those people who likes to take stock and tidy up as the new year approaches. But instead of cleaning my office as I have in years past, my attentions are here on this blog. Looking at the “About” description, I realized how its content has changed as Dad has aged and weakened. It started as a celebration with a few funny bits and occasional bits of advice thrown in. I wrote from the head, thinking, how can I capture useful insights from this experience for me to remember and for others to benefit from?

Last summer, as Dad’s health began to fail, I started writing from the gut. I wrote about my experience, about feeling vigilant, not just about Dad but about everyone in my life. I wrote about not sleeping. I felt a little like a mother hen trying to keep the chicks safe in the nest.

In the process of seeing Dad start to slip, I became more aware of and grateful for family and friends, especially my amazing husband of 30 years. My post on our anniversary, “30 Years of Opposites: Happily Ever After,” became my most-read post of the year, with over 300 views.

In October and November, The Henry Chronicles took on a more somber tone with the loss of my “other mother.” In the last month, my posts have expressed my desperation to turn things around and my anger at God when I could not. Without planning to do so, I find myself writing almost daily in the quiet hour after the night caregiver leaves and my Dad calls out that he is awake and ready to get up. One morning I thought about all of the people who have been supporting Dad or me, and I said thank you to “Team Henry.”

I’m no longer trying to be smart or useful. I’m just trying to get through this time with as much strength for Dad as I can. I keen online because I can’t help it. By releasing the terrible pain and fear that comes with caring for someone in the last months of life, I feel better. Maybe it’s self-therapy, online.

I do draw great comfort from the small company of friends and followers who read my little posts and share their own experiences, or offer a supportive word. I’m kind of amazed that, in this frenetic holiday period, people are willing to read something that isn’t about the fun of the holidays.

I may be hanging on by my fingernails, but I am hanging on.

The “About” page now ends with: These days, this blog is about coming to grips with the impending end of his life, a search for faith and understanding, and a longing for strength so that I might offer him the same unconditional love that he has always given me.

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Dear God, You and I Need to Talk

Dennis Armstrong, the Sutter Hospice social worker who comes by after you’re 24 hours “in service,” asked me, “Does your father have a faith or belief system?”


godtalkstoyou.com

It’s complicated. You see, Dad says conflicting things. On the one hand, he says that he wishes he could believe in God but he doesn’t. On the other, he has talked about seeing Mom after he dies. And about how God let Mom down when she was dying. “I’m afraid,” she said at one point in her illness. If there is a God, Dad wondered, how could he abandon her in her moment of need? I’m sure he was also flashing back to losing my sister, Midge, to leukemia at four years old. He used to talk a lot about the pain of losing Midge. It’s even harder to understand God’s hand in that one.

My beef with God is different. I understand that it’s really hard work getting born into this world; I have the mental scars from back labor to prove it (thanks, Maddie). I don’t think it’s fair to work so hard to get out of it. Why do people have to become feeble and go through pain and discomfort before they make their exit? Did God figure that people would just hang around too long if it was pleasant at the end, and end up overpopulating the world?

I realize my own relationship with God is a little iffy right now. I usually talk to God when I go to bed. I thank Him for the amazing people and things in my life, and I ask him for what I want and need. Releasing Dad has long been a prayer of mine.

But I’m a little bit pissed off this morning knowing how tough things are for Dad right now. I’m working on it, God, but I really don’t understand how this is such a great plan.

An old family friend, Bruce Wheeler, shared a favorite Bible quotation of his: Rom 8:31 “If God is with me who can be against me?”

Are you with us God?

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