Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Tuesday May 31, 2005 Thinking of Memorial Day

Yesterday was Memorial Day. They showed one of the veterans of the war to end all wars, World War 1. He was 103 and one of 30 survivors left of that war. Millions of people died in that war – the war to end all wars – and now the survivors are almost gone.

You wonder why mankind feels the need to war with each other. Eventually, the enemies become allies and trading partners and the whole point of war becomes forgotten. During my lifetime I have seen our great enemies Japan and Germany and Vietnam become allies and friends and I have seen our former allies Russia and China become enemies and then finally friends again. Just why did all those boys die and get maimed during all those wars? Wasn’t it eventually a great waste? Why couldn’t diplomacy solve the problems without the need to spend all the lives and waste all the materials and destroy all the land? Our hindsight shows us that great enemies can become great friends. Why can’t we use that hindsight to help us solve the problems and avoid the wars?

I have this deep forlorn suspicion that we have this great war machine we have created and it is feeding on us to keep itself alive. There are profits to be made and instruments of war to be sold and we find ourselves wasting more time and effort supporting this war machine than we do on education or health for our people. The deserts fill up with the leftover and antiquated instruments of war so that we can build newer and better killing machines. Why are we so blind to the lessons we have learned from all the wars? What did we really gain from all that effort and all those lives? It seems that our memories are too short on memorial day.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sunday May 29, 2005 Family values

My grandfather wrote a few pages remembering his childhood in Germany in the 1880s. My father wrote more pages remembering his childhood in Wichita, Kansas in the 1920s. Life changed considerably between my grandfather’s childhood and my father’s. Automobiles and planes and electricity and telephones and many other labor-saving devices were invented and marketed. The basic structure of family life didn’t change much in that time.

I remember my childhood in Kansas City, Missouri during the 1940s and 1950s. More inventions and more labor-saving devices, but still the same basic structure of family life. My children’s memories of childhood will be of the 1970s. While there were more inventions giving more comfort and saving us all from manual labor, the basic structure of family life went through some major changes and I’m not convinced that those changes were ultimately good.

We all have air conditioning and microwave ovens and televisions and dishwashers and automatic transmissions and cell phones and instant news and more, but we also have working mothers and working fathers and working kids and fast food places and less family time and less family influences and more television and less talking among ourselves and more crime and less family values and more broken families and more troubled kids.

Somewhere along the line we lost something important that we once had. We’re not even sure what it is we miss, but we know that it isn’t present in our daily life. There was a family closeness and communication and examples to follow and expectations that we knew we had to live up to and that is all surrendered to the new lifestyle that we all have now. What we have now has taken the role models out of our lives and substituted television shows to teach us how to live. All problems are superficial and easily solved within one hour.

We are now into the second or third generation of children becoming adults who learned their roles not from their parents but from the culture around them. And now they are sharing what they know or don’t know with their children. We seem to be spiraling down and losing those family concepts that were passed along for so many generations till now. People don’t sit around the dinner table and share their daily experiences any more. They eat their dinners while watching television and often don’t even get a chance to communicate what is really happening in their lives. We are all lost in our own instant world without the benefit of advice from those who really care.

It’s going to take a lot of effort and careful scheduling to bring our families back from this precipice. If we don’t succeed, then the brave new world that follows will lack.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Friday May 27, 2005 Life is a gift

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the NOW that we lose our vision of the greater picture. If you’re staring at the white line in the road ahead, you may miss the beautiful vistas that you are passing through. Day by day, we concentrate so hard on the details of living that we forget the joy of just plain living. I have let the last few weeks pass by unnoticed because I was concentrating so hard on the details of the death of a loved one. I lost those weeks forever. They will never return. Now is the time to look up and see the beauty surrounding you. It doesn’t take much to make a memory – just one instant of recognition of something beautiful that you can carry forward with you. Life is such a great gift that we can squander or savor.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Tuesday May 24, 2005 Further thoughts about dad

When parents get older, some children assume that with age comes dementia and that older folks must be treated as children. It seems that many children stop treating the elderly as adults and take on the role of parent. In some cases this may be warranted, but in most cases it is wrong. The elderly have much experience and wisdom to share. They may not have the strength and reflexes of the young, but they have gained a patience and wisdom that seemingly only comes with age.

When my father was aging, I worked hard to keep him convinced that he was not old. It seems that when you think of yourself as old, you play the role. When he reached 83, he started saying that he was old – I told him that he was probably going to live for another 30 years, till 113. I told him he wouldn’t be old until he crossed the century mark. If you can convince yourself that you are not old yet and approach life with a positive outlook, life takes on new meaning and you don’t look back so much as you keep looking forward. Dad didn’t make it to 113, but he was young until the day he died.

I never took on the role of parent to my father – he deserved to be treated with all the dignity and respect he had earned throughout his life. We were truly friends sharing life and experiences as they came. As his body wore down and he couldn’t participate in activities that he used to enjoy, I took over those duties and we both accepted what life brought to us with no recriminations and no expectations. He enjoyed doing what he could and felt no remorse for not being able to do more. I did what I needed to do and felt no bitterness or regret for having to do so. It isn’t work or a chore to care for someone you love – it’s a joy to have the opportunity to return some of the love and care you were given earlier.

I found that dad had some great memories that just needed a little coaxing to bring to the surface. He led a charmed life with very few disasters. Most of his memories were pleasant and he was a happy man. If you were going to plan a life from beginning to end, it would be hard to improve on dad’s example.

We started life with dad as the parent and I as the child, but we ended up both being adults and friends.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Sunday May 22, 2005 Time

I don’t know that time heals all wounds, but it does soften the pain.

When you lose someone who was a large part of your life, the grief you experience is deep and intense. You are immersed in the feeling and you can’t rationalize yourself out of it. You’re better off absorbing the grief and letting the fire burn itself out before you try to make any future decisions. Just be for now. Later, the grief and loneliness and recrimination will subside and you can once more look forward to what lies ahead.

I remember a portion of a poem that I read long ago - "Better by far that you should forget and smile than remember and be sad".

Life goes on and we have great memories of good times and we soon forget sad moments and regrets.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Wednesday May 18, 2005 Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

It’s okay that you left me behind. I hope you are reunited with Mom.

We had talked about death and we were both prepared for it eventually catching up with us. It still came as a surprise. I’m glad for you that there was no lengthy pain and suffering and that death came quickly and quietly. I will miss you terribly. You were there for me my whole life and I hadn’t realized how much strength I drew from your presence. Now my world feels diminished and there is a large void left to fill. I’m hoping that you left your body behind and that your spirit now dwells in peace and light.

Feeling this great loss that I do, I wonder how you were ever able to fill the void when Mom left you behind. I hope I do as well as you in that regard. Your extended family members drew together for mutual support and love. We were happy for you that you had a peaceful ending but we all miss you. Some of us had questions we never got around to asking you and now there will be some unsolved mysteries for us to deal with.

There are moments when my eyes fill with tears and my breath comes out in sighs, but my mind reminds me that you are in a better place and I’m just being selfish for wanting you here.

Go with peace. Good night, mein fader. I love you.

Your loving son,

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Saturday May 14, 2005 Dad died

Dad passed away Thursday evening, May 12, 2005.
I have no words to express my feelings of loss and anguish.

It happened fast and so unexpected. His health just turned bad and his body slowly faded away. He was under sedation and felt no pain. He was surrounded by my sisters and brother. I was too far away and it happened so fast that I couldn't get there in time. I was able to tell him over the phone that I loved him and it was shortly thereafter that he slipped away.

I need time for this pain to heal. I've been so focused on his health and caring that now I'm not sure what to do next. I know that I'm happy for him that death came peacefully and with a minimum of pain. He didn't have to suffer long and he died with dignity. He will be missed by anyone who knew him.

My dad was a 5'-9" giant of a man. Everyone looked up to him. He was an honest man you could trust. He had integrity and he was the essence of dignity. He was a truly loving person and was the strength of our family.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Tuesday May 10, 2005 From the Sunny Southwest

It's sunny and breezy down here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you like high desert with sun and a bit of wind, this is the place. The folks around here are really nice. The area is growing, but then it's growing everywhere, isn't it? Wouldn't you know it that just as soon as I got away for this trip, Dad started having more medical problems. You feel helpless when you are far away and can't do anything. Luckily, my sisters and brother are there to help him. I'm 2 days of hard driving away, so they will need to be the strength for him right now. After I visit my daughter and son-in-law here in Albuquerque, I head up to Wyoming to visit my other daughter and son-in-law. I may be leaving the sunny southwest for the frigid northwest. I understand that Wyoming is getting snow in May. I expect sunshine and lollipops by the time I get there. I always assume that butterflies and bluebirds will escort me on my trips and the rainbow is just beyond the next horizon. If you keep thinking positive, everything can be taken in stride and you can enjoy whatever happens along the way.