Tag Archives: remembering

“Be Careful What You Wish For…”

newpaper

I read the entire paper this morning – I mean, every section of the New York Times and some of the Sacramento Bee.

While being a caregiver can be deeply rewarding, every caregiver has her little resentments. My big one was never being able to read the paper before Dad took it over. When he stopped being able to read the paper in his last weeks, I was working too hard at caregiving to read. Reading the paper became symbolic of the freedom I lost as a caregiver.

Now, I have freedom, complete freedom to spend my mornings as I choose, reading the paper over a cup of coffee.

This morning I asked myself, “This? This is what you longed for?”

And I answered, “It wasn’t worth it. I’d trade a thousand mornings of reading the paper for a thousand mornings with Dad.”

 

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With Dad Gone, A Void (Part Four)

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Napping…

To start at the beginning of this little series, click here.)

Now that I am home, really home, after Dad’s death, I am coming to terms with my identity all over again. Carol Mithers wrote a very poignant essay in the New York Times entitled, “Suddenly, They’re All Gone.” Instead of being relieved when five years of caregiving for her mother-in-law, then her father-in-law, then her childless aunt and finally her mother died, she felt worse. She concluded, “While you’re caring for the old, you can’t believe what you’re called on to do and where you find yourself, can’t believe that your time with them will ever end. Then one day, it just does.”

As Dad became more fragile, and I became more vigilant, caregiving did become all consuming. I was neither angel nor martyr; like Carol, I had my days when I lost my temper when Dad locked on to something about which he was dead wrong. But many times, it was a pretty zen experience.

Dad always asked me if I got tired of walking with him or hearing his bits of memorized poetry. I could honestly answer, “Never.”

I miss it.

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Naked Shredding and Other Awkward Retired Moments (Part Three)

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The project plan and portfolio of materials for Friends of Hospice (design by Pat Davis of Pat Davis Design)

(To start at the beginning of this little series, click here.)

What came next was… a whole lot of nothing. I had cleared the decks in anticipation of Dad moving to California, but he was hesitating. Even though he had already made THE BIG MOVE out of the family house three years prior, he was now nearly 89. Moving sounded so daunting: packing, change-of-address, changing doctors, etc.

I no longer had to check my Blackberry constantly for new texts or messages. My phone wasn’t ringing, and I didn’t have to coordinate my calendar through my assistant.

No one was looking for me, needing my input or approval.

I found out, as many retired caregivers do, that you are not quite as essential to the world as you thought you were. The void of your departure quickly fills. You find out who your real friends are.

I enjoyed walking in the cool of the mornings in Davis. I started going to yoga. And I began cleaning out my house with a vengeance.  I started tackling old papers, many of which needed to be shredded.

During those early days, with Maddie and Tommy off somewhere, and Todd at the office, I began to question my old routine of showering, blow-drying hair, dressing and putting on a little makeup. I dropped hair and makeup.  Who was going to see me? Then I started skipping showers on some days. Who would notice? And one day it just seemed stupid to dress. Why dress if no one could see you? It just adds to the laundry.

Which led to the naked shredding incident. There is something that just seems wrong about shredding with nothing on. House cleaning or cooking without clothes seems okay, but to shred just seems unhygienic.

“What are you doing,” I asked myself. I wrote my friend Jim – my mentor even then – about my crisis of productivity. How would I measure the value of my days without project assignments and milestones, without output? He counseled me to just breathe and I would figure out what I was meant to do.

I breathed all summer.

Then in the fall, with Maddie installed at college, a thought bubble appeared above my head. I had the rare opportunity to use my skills to further a cause I cared about, without having to charge for it. And I cared a lot about hospice.

My mother had the bad fortune to be admitted to a hospital on the weekend. Three physicians were involved in her care, no one seemed to have any idea what was planned, and the nursing staff was reluctant to “bother” a doctor when Mom “sundowned” and became deeply paranoid. I asked the nurse manager to arrange a meeting with whatever physician agreed to be in charge.

Mom’s doctor came in, sat at the conference table, and said, “Your mother is terminal. It would be kinder for all parties concerned if she winked out right here in the hospital.” Then he rose.

“We’re not done,” I said. I explained that we were under no illusions about her prognosis. But she was scared. And we wanted her to be able to die at home, with hospice.

Another doctor took over her care, one who was on the same page with us.

I knew then that hospice – still, after two decades – was poorly understood by lay people, and worse, by doctors. Having been responsible for communicating about a hospice program early in my career, I knew that hospice was not “giving up.” It was better care, more caring care. I knew my mother would want to be at home, looking out on her garden as it bloomed in the spring, surrounded by familiar things. Hospice was our best shot at being able to let her die at home, in comfort.

I offered to develop a pilot program under the auspices of the California Hospice Foundation to raise awareness of hospice among consumers. The “Friends of Hospice” public relations campaign was implemented successfully with the cooperation of three hospice programs and CSU Chico’s Tehama Group Communications in Chico, CA.

Sometime that fall, I talked to Fr. Greg Bonfiglio, president of Jesuit High School, about my transition. He asked,”Have you ever thought that perhaps you are being called to this work?”

Even after Dad moved to California in March 2006, I found that I still needed something beyond caregiving to provide meaning in my life. Maybe it’s that his needs weren’t that demanding. But I suspect more of it is what Mom recognized when she made her hospital bed speech and said that I was “competent, with a high level of activity.” It’s who I am.

As when Maddie and Tommy were young, I couldn’t completely let go of my own needs and focus only on theirs. Maybe it’s selfishness.  Some would certainly say that it is. I have a Puritan work ethic without the Calvinist self-loathing (as Dan Pallotta recently described it in his Ted Talk).

I wanted to make a difference in Dad’s world, and keep contributing to the broader world. That stake in the community was a source of strength that sustained me through the very hard times.

Next: What happens now, when the merry go-round of caregiving has stopped?

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The Journey of a Caregiver Begins (Part Two)

My awesome retirement party (planned by Samantha Smith) included Polaroid party pics signed by colleagues and boss

My awesome retirement party (planned by Samantha Smith) included Polaroid party pics signed by colleagues and my boss

(To start at the beginning of this little series, click here.)

Today, I stumbled across something I wrote for myself in 2005, shortly after my “retirement” (I have no recollection of writing this). It feels a little weird to find a time capsule like this one, written as I took my first steps into my new “retired” life:

Whenever I reach momentous personal decisions, it always seems to follow this pattern.  People tell me they are taken by surprise, that they had no inkling I might be considering such an action.  I surprise myself.  Thoughts may be gestating but I often have no conscious awareness of them.  Occasionally, I’ll experience a fleeting thought in the shower, or driving.  They usually come when I am at ease, when I have not even named a problem, much less become engaged in solving it.  Then, up through the depths, it dawns on me:  maybe it’s time to make a change.  In the first few moments, I roll the idea around, feeling its texture.  I’ll speak of it casually, almost as if stating a whim.  Once spoken out loud, I add to it, refine it.  It takes shape in the moment.

Just this kind of process led to my decision to leave the world of work.  With a problem that wasn’t named, but a solution found, I am doing what I often do:  getting comfortable after I’ve decided to act.

Over the weekend, Todd said to me he had purchased a printer/fax machine to go with our new computer.  I snapped, “That’s my computer, not our computer.”  For the past 15 years, maybe longer, I’ve had a laptop computer that has followed me everywhere.  I’ve anthropomorphized these sidekicks, even naming one, “Lappy.”  There is no piece of equipment upon which I have been more dependent, with which I feel more natural, than my personal computer.  It captures my addresses, remembers my appointments, serves as the slate for both memos and my internal process of reflection.  I’ve stored information about our stocks, written holiday letters, inventoried my father’s house, created itineraries for far-flung trips.  I’ve transcribed prayers, written customer service complaints, captured quirky horoscopes. I used a laptop to capture the words my mother found the strength and heart to say from her hospital bed, while fighting the twin demons of cancer and dementia.  My traveling PC has been a loyal and hard-working appendage.

I am just beginning to understand what I have exited.  First, there are the messages of the farewells.  I was surprised at the heartfelt message from my boss.   Rather than the obligatory “with regret, so and so is leaving the company after X years of service to concentrate on her personal life,” he chose to recognize some of my style proclivities we had occasionally argued about:  “…she will be equally missed for her leadership of people – caring about their development, demanding and rewarding top performance, and demonstrating (our) values in the context of creating a great work environment.”

As the news spread, e-mail greetings poured in like pebbles — some smooth and efficient:  “Your leadership has made many lasting contributions.  You will be missed.” Other messages were strikingly personal: “I am occasionally surprised at how much time it has taken me to work out from under the loss of my Mom last Christmas, even after her long illness.  The only thing that I’m certain of is that no matter how much time you spend, or how many things you do, or how close you come to ‘getting it right’ in dealing with family stuff, I haven’t met anybody who doesn’t wish they had done one more thing, said one more thing or made one more special time happen.”  Another wrote:  “I also find myself prioritizing my life and the things that are important to me.  As you may or may not know, I have just undergone radiation treatment for throat cancer and it has really made me stop and think – and who knows – I may decide to hang it up sooner than later.”  Still another:  “I think of jumping out of the work-for-pay race often.  I’m now painting a lot and I have paintings in a few galleries.  I often wonder what would happen if I could devote more time to painting.  I get great responses… that they are joy-filled.  Lots of color helps.”

In some of the messages, people explained that they had reached a conclusion similar to my own, that – if you have to choose – it is one’s teenagers that require your presence most:  “I started this job when my son was three months old and I am having the time of my life.  I was torn when I received the offer and so talked with all my professional women friends to see how they managed this work/life shift.  So many said, ‘Oh stay home if you can… you’ll miss it otherwise.’  I was surprised.  But I kept digging and another story began to emerge.  One of my colleagues very wisely told me that she found her kids adapted incredibly well to her work schedule when they were little, but she has cut back to part-time now that her daughter is 13 years old.  She believes her kids need her much more now than they ever did before.”

So far I have been credited with wisdom, character, selflessness and inspiration.  Why, then, don’t I feel that way about it?  What I know, that others do not, is that many of my decisions have been based on ambition and fear, supported by a healthy dose of self-justification.  I am not wearing a hair shirt here, nor engaging in self-flagellation.  In a message to my team, I wrote:  “I’m not doing anything heroic.  For nearly 25 years, I have vigorously pursued achievement and learning.  I was promoted during the sixth month of my first pregnancy and met with my boss while in the labor room; six weeks later, I was back on the job.  The desire to keep going was paramount.  Now I am selfishly following another desire.” 

Both subtly and more obviously, I have also been motivated by fear.  After leaving one company and promising to take time out for a while, I found myself accepting my current position after just one month off.  It was a great opportunity that seemed too good to pass up, but I also feared the quiet time in between.  Where would I be without the structure of my work life?  More deeply, there are things I have been afraid to commit to – even to speak of – such as my interest in writing.  What would happen if I just tried to write?  Had to write?

Though the analysis may be right in the long run, I understand my colleague’s desire to justify her decision to work now, when her children are young.  Hearing that children need you most during the rocky teenage years is an answer I was hoping to hear, even as I wondered about the long-term consequences.  We are all engaged in a giant social experiment to try to find the best way to raise healthy children.  Children can be healthy and happy with working parents, or stay-at-home parents.  That’s not the point.  The challenge is in knowing what will turn out to have the very best result for one’s own children.  No one, not even me, knows whether I have made the right decisions.

From four sources came wagers.  Even my brother wrote, “Sure, but the real money is on how long it will last before you get the itch again  J”

And a few carrots were dangled:  interest in consulting, sitting on corporate boards, “let me know when you decide to re-enter.”

Talking with an old friend over the weekend, he noted that he and his wife were considering a similar decision.  She has risen to the top financial position in a large corporation.  If she leaves, they both acknowledge, there will be no going back at the same level, or for the same pay.  In today’s environment, skills rust quickly, resumes mold, and reputations fade.

If one thing doesn’t work, I usually have another option half-lined up in the wings.  This time I have no such fallback plan, and I think it’s important that I keep it that way. 

I have exited, and now I stand at the border of whatever is next.  For now, I am firmly fixed on just noticing.  I am an observer of my own experience.  As Jose Saramango wrote in Journey to Portugal:  “(M)ay I learn in passing from one land to the next to pay the closest attention to the similarities and differences, whilst not forgetting… that a traveler has preferences and sympathies….”

That was me in June 2005.

If I had to do all over again – leave my job and care for Dad – I would do it in a heartbeat.

Next: naked shredding and other awkward moments adjusting to retired life.

At the management team farewell, gifts included this valise packed with well wishes

At the management team farewell, gifts included this valise packed with well wishes. They couldn’t have been more right about the beginning of a journey.

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Identity Crisis! (Again!) Part One

My Dad and our friend, Peggy Woods, at our Tacoma "house cooling" party, 2002

My Dad and our friend, Peggy Woods, at our Tacoma “house cooling” party, 2002

My Dad always said that he felt like he had several lives: his formative years up to joining the 5th Reserve Officer’s Commissioning Corps in the lead up to WWII, his career in the Marine Corps, his civilian life, living and working in the Pacific Northwest, and the 14 years of his life after Mom’s death.

Yesterday, my dental hygienist, Mary, observed that women have an easier time adjusting to old age because we go through so many physical changes in our lives: first raging hormone fluctuations and cramps as we enter adolescence; then the inflation of our bellies to near-alien proportions during pregnancy followed quickly by the transformation of our breasts into feeding machines; and finally a return to raging hormonal fluctuations accompanied by night sweats, belly fat that seems to reproduce overnight and the growth of random wiry hairs on our chin or necks. Even they never have children, women usually get two out of three of those changes.

Men, Mary holds, never face the ego challenges of appearance and body changes that women do. Their egos can’t take it when they go from captains of industry to invisible old men.

Mary may have it right as far as some men are concerned (although it certainly didn’t apply to my Dad). But I certainly took a blow to my identity and my ego when I retired to care for my Dad, and I know many caregivers who have gone through a similar transition. And now, with Dad newly gone, I am finding I am having to redefine myself – again.

Let me back up and talk about my initial transformation into retiree and caregiver.

I had lost my Mom to late stage lung cancer in 1999, and the words of her last lucid speech to me – from her hospital bed – echoed in my mind. After more than two weeks of being out of it, she began talking quietly to me about 9:45 p.m. I wrote her words as she slowly said them on a scrap of paper. For almost an hour she told me what I had meant to her, shared her reflections of me as a person, talked about the special importance of daughters, and asked how my Dad was “handling all of this,” taking in her surroundings with a glance. She said, “It is hard to say goodbye to people you love, but it is very important.” When I asked her what I could do for her, she said, “You can continue to be the marvelous woman that you are – competent, with a high level of activity. The world needs you.”

In 2004, I knew that time was marching on for my Dad. Just one year before, he suffered a major stroke, and I was all too aware of his cardiovascular surgeon’s prediction that Dad’s arteries would begin to clog after five years. Which was right about then.

Maddie was beginning her senior year and would soon be off to college. Tommy was in 7th grade, in the midst of a difficult adolescence.

Having already lost one parent, I was all too aware that this time with my Dad would never come again. I would be Maddie and Tommy’s Mom for many years to come, but the window of time to be a daughter, to enjoy my father, would close forever.

Much has been written of late about Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to women to “lean in.” For the first 10+ years of my career I leaned in. I didn’t lean in so hard that I was willing to permanently relocate to other cities (not feasible for my husband’s second-generation company), but I took every promotion I could. I started my MBA when Maddie was one year old, and I worked full time while I completed it. I made vice president in a major company by the time I was 33. I became president of my national professional society. I was recruited by a national company and got to write my job description for a senior level position at another.

After Tommy was born, I would have to say that my career advancement strategy resembled bobbing in and out more than leaning in. For three different companies, I built up enough credibility to cut back to part-time, all in search of the elusive work-life balance. Cutting back to part-time always came with a cost – and I am not referring to compensation. But I had the reputation, the access to leadership and professional skills to get done whatever I needed to get done. I respected the people who worked on my team, and loved supporting their development and careers.

When I resigned, I fully expected Dad would be gone within a few years and that I would return to the workforce after that.

Although I cleared my plate in readiness for Dad to move down, he was dragging his heels a bit. Maybe when it cooled off in Sacramento. Maybe in the spring. He eventually relocated in March of 2006.

Tomorrow: words to myself in June 2005, “The Journey Begins”

Ahead: what it was really like to transition from career to retired caregiver

Farther ahead: what it’s like to suddenly STOP being a caregiver after Dad’s death

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Seeing, Believing, Remembering, Trusting

St. Ignatius San Francisco

Yesterday my friend and mentor Jim sent me a short email: “Giving thanks for your Dad’s life tomorrow. HUGS.”

It didn’t surprise me that Jim would suspect that this is a time of reflection for me.

January and February were always hard months for Dad. I expected that he would ultimately pass away during one of those barren months. But each year with astounding speed, daffodil buds would proceed inch-by-inch out of the ground, quince bushes would blossom into their full fuchsia glory, and tulip magnolias would burst into flower. And Dad would say, “I think I might make it after all.”

This spring, finally, he didn’t. But as the spring roars along, I am grateful that Dad is at peace. And I am comforted by the memory of his smile (that “big ass” smile as I so indelicately put it during my remarks at his memorial) a few hours before he died.

I awakened this Easter morning fully aware that, finally, Dad has moved on.

By happenstance, my husband, Todd, and I were in San Francisco for the weekend, which gave us the opportunity to attend church where someone very special to us is the new pastor. Fr. Greg Bonfiglio, S.J., former president of Jesuit High School, was slated to lead the 9:30 Easter service at St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco. The many pillars of the church were festooned with garlands of flowers, decorated with pots of yellow narcissus and encircled with large bouquets of forsythia.

Commenting on the gospel, Fr. Greg described how Simon Peter had arrived breathless at the tomb and peered in. Only when he saw the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face did he believe that Jesus was no longer there, and had risen.

“Seeing really is believing,” Fr. Greg said, “but this is a different kind of seeing. This is the kind of seeing that is open…”

I still struggle with faith and questions of what happens after death. My blog posts are full of questions. But in my father’s last hours, I saw him in communion with someone he loved. By the time he died, the journey of his last few months affected me in a visceral way and led me to greater openness in resurrection after death.

On the day he died, my brother Dean and I told Dad it was okay for him to go, that we would see him again, and that we would be fine. I had to let go and stop trying to prevent Dad from dying. I had to trust God that He would care for him.

“Seeing” leads to believing, and believing, to trust.

Fr. Greg Bonfiglio

Fr. Greg Bonfiglio

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On My Trip I Took A…

cappadocia

When you lose someone – expectedly or unexpectedly – many supportive people and institutions come forth with suggestions about what to expect. They want to do what they can, say what they can, to help you heal.

The information from hospice is, well, informative: After the death of a loved one, “The resulting grief is a normal and natural response to loss. The struggle to adjust may be difficult and one of the most meaningful experiences of our lives.”

Over two months has gone by and I’m still in no rush to understand or “process” my experience. The only frame of reference that makes sense to me is traveling. I don’t have a destination in mind. I’m not trying to achieve a state of “healed” or “recovered,” in part because I don’t feel damaged or unhealthy. I’m just going.

When my son, Thom, took off Monday on his four-month study abroad program, I found and shared this poem with him. It spoke to me of my hopes for his experience, but it also helped me to recognize that journeying is a pretty good metaphor for this thing I’m doing.

It also brought to mind an old game we played with our children. We would go back and forth, adding to an ever-lengthening alphabetical list of ever-crazier things that had to be remembered after the phrase, “On my trip, I took a…,” until someone lost by forgetting. (On my trip, I took an apple, and a boat, and a curmudgeon, and a diary…)

I’m on my trip. And I’m not alone. I’m taking the love of my family and friends, the beauty of nature, the inspiration of art, a trunk full of memories, the still-palpable presence of my father’s spirit, and faith.

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

~ John O’Donohue ~

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I’m not done

Celebrating a friend's 50-year milestone birthday

Celebrating a friend’s 50-year milestone birthday

My father had several pet peeves when it came to American usage. When asked, “Were you in the military?” he would answer, “No.” He was a Marine, which to him was not at all the same thing. He also did not like being asked, “Are you done?” when someone wanted to know if his plate was ready to be cleared. “No,” he would reply, “but I am finished eating.”

I’m not done either. I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to me since Dad’s death on Jan. 12. Many have thanked me for sharing my journey on The Henry Chronicles. But I am still very much coming to terms with Dad’s death and this new void in my life, and by extension, not done writing about this experience.

After Dad’s death, I pushed the “play” button on my life. I accepted every invitation and added a few junkets of my own. Since January 19, I’ve been to Seattle/Tacoma twice, Santa Fe, Minneapolis, Napa, Palm Desert, and Marin. I’ve been part of my niece’s Bat Mitzvah, a 5-day birthday celebration for a 50-year-old, and a 3-day birthday celebration for a 70-year-old. I’ve been gone a full month out of the past two months.

Without planning to do so, I ran away from home. And grief.

Grief isn’t a terrible thing to me. The more that someone is worth loving, the more they are worth missing.

I am still running in to people who do not know that Dad passed away. When they express their sympathy, I find myself saying, “He was 96,” as if to say that because it was expected, I’m not sad about it.

As much as I have enjoyed the visiting and celebrations I’ve been part of, it’s time to stay home. It’s time to remember and reflect.

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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 memorial just as it was meant to be

My last bouquet of roses from Dad

My last bouquet of roses from Dad

I don’t know why I dreaded Dad’s memorial today, but I did. But it was perfect even in its imperfections. As I told my son tonight, Thom, everything was exactly as it was meant to be. Down to me inadvertently saying that Dad had a “big ass” smile on his face just hours before he died.

Together, my brothers and I painted quite a composite picture of Dad. Following are my remarks and in upcoming days, I’ll post theirs:

“There are many ways to look at my father’s long life. You can look at it through the lens of history. He remembered having one of the first phones in Yakima with its three-digit phone number.. You can look at it through the lens of medicine. He was a walking miracle who lived 50 years after his first heart attack. You can look at his life through the lens of professional accomplishment, a tough, smart Marine who was twice decorated with a bronze star with V for valor and who was unafraid to challenge his superior officer even when threatened with court martial.

But I think of my father’s life as a love story. He was a middle child in a difficult family. He loved his mother deeply but feared his father, who he referred to as “The Great I Am.” Dubbed “the smart one” by his family, he was accelerated in school by two years, which he said was a disaster for any young man with an interest in young women. He said he didn’t stand a chance.

My Dad was a romantic. Meant to be the family lawyer, he was in love with words. He began to devour and memorize large swaths of poetry, with favorites including Shakespeare and 19th century poets.

Then he met my mother, and the next chapter in his love story began. As my Dad told the story, it was spring of 1939 at the UW, Dad’s senior year. After drying himself out from a binge in the taproom of a local brewery where his fraternity brother worked, he seated himself in Dr. Padelford’s class on Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning whereupon he saw “this vision enter the room, dressed to the nines.” As my grandfather said when he met my mother, “Son, a pretty face will fade away, but a good pair of legs will last forever.”

If ever an immovable object met an irresistible force, it was my father meeting my mother. My mother, upon learning that Dad was pinned to a girl in Yakima, handed him $5 for train fare and told him not to come back until he had the pin. In 1941, after Dad had been commissioned as a second lieutenant and was stationed in Quantico, Mom sent him a cryptic telegram saying that she accepted his proposal and was heading east with her mother to get married. He swore that he had no recollection of any such proposal.

Fast forward to 1999. Though I knew of Dad’s love of poetry and Mom, I don’t think I truly understood how driven he was by love until after Mom died and his life-long confidante was gone.

At the end of Mom’s 3 ½ month illness with late stage lung cancer, at sunset on May 10, 1999, I called my father in to their bedroom after I noticed that Mom’s color had changed; while I called hospice, he held her hand, told her that he loved her and that he would be with her again. Then her heart stopped.

As we sat together in the days that followed, recollections began to spill out from him.

First he recalled Mom. As I wrote later, “In the days after my mother died, my father recalled some of their intimate moments like movie images, how she looked with the glow of moonlight on her body.” It would have been a beautiful moment were I not trying to poke my mental eye out.

Then Dad began to talk about the war, something he had rarely done before. 

But the most difficult memory he shared with me was that of the final illness of my sister, Midge, in 1953. Dad sat on the couch and described her in her oxygen tent in the hospital, reaching out her arms toward him, and saying, “Daddy, help me.” He said that he went out in the hall and pounded on the wall with his fists. “I could do nothing,” he said. As he told me the story, he repeatedly slapped his forehead, not gently, but hard, crying. I finally took his hand and told him to stop hitting himself.

In 2006, I invited Dad to move to California, figuring that he was, as I put it, “past his expiration date.” The cardiovascular surgeon who operated on him in 1999 here in Tacoma had projected that the surgery would give him lasting relief for only about five years. Then he expected that Dad’s heart disease would likely end his life.

The ensuing seven years after Dad moved down were transformative, for Dad and for me. I listened as he worked through the most important experiences in his life. His love of Mom. The War. The Loss of Midge. His difficult relationship with his father. His love of his mother. Like all of us, he had regrets or things he never understood.

He softened. When I once commented that he seemed to have become more gentle and less judgmental as he aged, he said, “Who am I to judge?”

Perhaps my father’s biggest challenge was his final one – the grueling march of his final years.

His physical abilities were seared away by time. He lost his hearing. His balance faltered. His chest pain increased. His breathing became strained. It was brutal to watch.

What remained was Henry, distilled and pure. He loved red roses, which represented his love of Mom, and for several years after Mom died, he sent them to his favorite women: Ann Palmer, his daughters in law, his niece Louise and great-niece Mary, and me. He still loved chocolate and enjoyed his last bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce the evening before he died.

He still cared about the future of the nation, and voted in his 19th presidential election last year. He still loved and worried about his adult children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I asked him once, “Do you ever stop worrying?” and he said, “No, never.”

I said this was a love story, and it is. On the day my father died, he was agitated. His time was near, though we did not guess how near. At about 11 a.m., Maddie comforted him by reading poetry from the little book I created of his favorite poetry, “Henry’s Passages.” She read Longfellow, and Shelley, and, of course, Shakespearian sonnets.

Around 3 p.m., after being unresponsive most of the day, Dad suddenly smiled. And shortly before 6 p.m., his eyebrows lifted, as if he was seeing someone who delighted him. And his lips began moving as if he were speaking to that person. Dean and I felt that he was seeing Mom.

Dad’s breathing suddenly changed at about 6 p.m., Dean held Dad’s hand, and I started reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, which was the last sonnet Dad recited from memory, several days before. Then his breathing slowed, and finally stopped.

Henry Snively Campbell – loving friend, son, brother, uncle, husband, grandfather, great grandfather, father-in-law and father — died in a state of love, which is to say, a state of grace.”

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