Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Blue Skies



A friend asked if I’d ever participated in any of the Journal-based photo challenges and I replied that I never thought my work was good enough to expose any more widely than I already have.  But I took a look at the suggested sites again and found a topic I particularly liked in light of all the grey that’s descended in my life lately.  The topic was ‘Blue Skies’ and the ‘assignment’ was to post a picture dominated by cloudless expanses of blue.  You can find links to others who have posted entries here: Your Monday Photo Shoot: Blue Skies.



I’ve always liked the subject of this photo because its always made me smile.  Another photographer also captured a less-than-flattering image of me in the process of taking this shot (lying flat on my back in a wet parking lot in order to get the perspective I wanted)  - and that helps keep me humble in case I ever need it.  To any and all who read this, I wish you blue skies - regardless of the weather.





My sincere thanks to all who took the time to read my last entry and for the wonderful, supportive comments you left.  I intended it to be a celebration of the life dad led and the inspiration he has been to me - and not a maudlin lament of loss.  I truly hope that you found it as uplifting to read as I found it cathartic to write.  I know without doubt that he has received the rest he sought and so richly deserved.  And that’s one of the reasons I chose this topic – because for him the skies will now always be blue.


Friday, April 20, 2007

A Tribute



As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been away from J-Land for quite some time.  Not only have I not written in my own journal, but I have been remiss in reading those of others - and for that my own life has been all the less rich.


When I began this journal, I wanted it to not just be a record of my existence but a record of the small blessings we encounter in life yet do not take the time to appreciate.  My feeling was that my life was not so remarkable that it needed recording, but that I had encountered frequent brushes with bits of wisdom and reminders of the beauty of the world that I wanted to keep and remember.


My journal has always been written to help me hold those moments, but when others began to read I found that perhaps those experiences could help others find their own small blessings as well. If you have taken something from these pages that has caused you to smile or to better appreciate wildflowers along the roadside, then that is all the more reward to me – and those who have then shared their own experiences have helped to  enrich my life as well.


This entry will differ from some of what I’ve written in the past.  It is again primarily a reminder for me and it is a celebration of sorts, although different from what you have read here previously.  It is personal and I apologize if it brings back memories for anyone who, for whatever reason,  wishes to keep them suppressed.



Last Friday, as I held his hand, my father very quietly slipped away from me and into the arms of God.



I’ve introduced my dad here before – the struggles with which he’s dealt with such grace and dignity, and all the things he’s taught me about inner strength and faith.  And while I’ve cried enough tears in the last few days to fill a small pond, in the end I only celebrate the life he led and his release from the burdens and indignities that life has heaped upon his frail shoulders these past three-plus years.


There have been times in life when my faith has faltered.  But all I have seen and felt in these past several days has again strengthened my belief that there is more to this life than we know or control. 


When I visited his hospital room last Thursday, I could hear dad talking from all the way down the hall.  When I turned the corner, I found him sitting in the chair beside his bed, oxygen mask in place, telling a long and detailed story to no one in particular.  I took a seat across from him and listened carefully to understand what he was so insistently conveying and slowly the realization came that he was providing a litany – in exacting detail – of how he spent a typical day.


Carefully he explained how he used the pitcher of thickened milk to make his oatmeal, how he took small bites and swallowed carefully as the doctors had directed, how he was so careful to maintain his balance during those brief periods when he rose from the wheelchair and relied upon the walker.  When he finally paused, I touched his hand and he looked toward me for the first time – so intent had been his presentation that he had not noticed my presence.  I asked if he knew who I was and he replied ‘my one and only son’ – and then proceeded to explain all the routines I followed during my visits with him – the grocery shopping, pill sorting and jar opening that had become a part of our ritual.  As he talked, the mask bounced about his face and I touched his hand again, quietly reminding him that it would stay in place and allow him to breathe easier if he didn’t talk so much.  But he looked at me and said with a hint of a smile in his weary eyes ‘but you know that’s what I do’ – and he was right, for dad was never at a loss for words and no visit could ever be long enough.


Finally, he stopped and looked at me, and in a very serious voice asked me a question that was obviously troubling him.  ‘When they ask my name, what do I tell them?’  Flustered, I asked him to repeat the question and he was more forceful in his reply.  ‘When who asks your name?’ I asked.  ‘The judge,’ he replied.  Confused, I asked him if he knew his name, and he replied clearly and deliberately.  Not understanding, but knowing it was important to him, I could only tell him ‘Then that’s the name you tell him’.  After that, he fell into silence and the rest of the evening was peaceful.


In the morning, the nurses called and told me he was having a great deal of difficulty breathing.  He was receiving 100% oxygen by mask and if his condition worsened the only available next step would be to place him on a ventilator – in violation of the terms of his Living Will.  I knew his wishes clearly and we had discussed them many times, but my decision was complicated by the fact that he had pneumonia and the antibiotics had just started to work - and I didn’t know if a day or two of help might pull him through.  I called his doctor and gathered more information, but then sought a place of silence and asked for guidance for perhaps the most important decision of my life.


And in a moment, the answer was clear.  Already yesterday, dad knew.  His faith was strong and sometimes literal – and the story I had heard the previous day was practice for when he stood at the Gate and needed to state his case that he had done all he could to help himself during this prolonged test of his faith.  And when the Judge asked his name, he wanted to make sure that he got it exactly right.  I let his DNR instructions stand and went to the hospital – knowing in my heart that when I left that day I would be a 52 year-old orphan.


We sat together most of the day and I held his hand - without acknowledgement, but squeezing tight regardless.  For all his struggles in life, his passing was the kindest possible.  He left so quietly and peacefully that I never really knew exactly when – and for that I will be eternally grateful.




So many times following his stroke he would ask me why he had been chosen for this particular burden.  It was not asked in the context of ‘why me?’ – for it was obvious that he was really struggling with understanding what God was asking of him and what he was expected to do.  And now in the quiet days after the uplifting visitation and service, I begin to understand that perhaps at least some of that task was to teach me grace and humor and faith in the face of adversity, to dig deep and keep going no matter the odds, to treasure life and all it holds despite the darkness of the clouds.  Much of what you have read in these pages has stemmed from the appreciation of life that I have gained from his example – and I will only hope to make all of his struggles worthwhile by holding those lessons in my heart and remembering them always.


At his service, the following words were read.  Although written thousands of years before and applicable also to countless who have passed before him, they ring true to the life he led and the man he was:


“I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”  II Timothy 4, 6-7.



As for me, my life remains blessed by friends and by people I love – and now also by a brand new angel who will now always rest upon my shoulder.