Tag Archives: remembering

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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Planning My Father’s Memorial

sympathy cards

Every day for weeks, I have written a different set of remarks to share at my Dad’s memorial service on February 16. All in my head.

Do I talk about how he softened as he aged, what a remarkable role model he is for all of us as we approach the prospect of living into our 90s? Or focus on how he broke the mold of his family’s dysfunctional example and grew into a wonderful father? Should I summon dear memories from early childhood, like happy times wedged in the front seat between Mom and Dad, driving around Kensington, MD, looking at the strings of colorful bulbs strung on houses at Christmas, singing, “Here we go looby-loo…?” Could I use a symbol that had resonance for Dad as a rhetorical device — perhaps a river, or a rose? Do I tell how he was still my Daddy, and share how I cried one last time, cradled against his powerful chest, after he died?

I sat down this morning and wrote, just wrote. Didn’t outline, didn’t plan, didn’t try.

Planning Dad’s memorial has been like listening to several radio stations at once. My brothers are broadcasting on their channels, sharing their experiences and their ideas, and I swear I am transmitting on several stations of my own. I’m so busy listening to my thoughts and feelings that I can barely hear theirs.

And it isn’t limited to my brothers. Often, my husband has said something to me in recent days and I’ve had to say, “Start over. I wasn’t listening and I didn’t hear a word.”

Slowly, however, the noise is abating. I am feeling less agitated by the emotional bombardment. I am starting to hear some notes that penetrate the muck, a phrase or two.

It wasn’t like this when we planned my mother’s services in 1999. I wondered to my brothers: is it because we’re doing this more electronically than we did 14 years ago? Or because Mom pretty much scripted her funeral and all we had to do was implement it? Or that Dad was the arbiter in planning Mom’s service and this one is on us?

I am feeling more hopeful that we will come to a place like that described by Alexander Levy in The Orphaned Adult:

Gradually, with unconscious cooperation, survivors weave a commemorative tapestry from these bits and pieces of shared nostalgia…. Story by story, smile by smile, and tear by tear, these memories intertwine, creating a fabric in which an image of the departed is preserved, within which survivors are enveloped, and by which they are forever bound.

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