Saturday, February 19, 2011

What if they are wrong?

For ten years I coached cheerleading. I always joke around that I have one daughter but I have over three hundred kids. I have been lucky as a coach, always blessed with a wonderful group of girls. Most of my kids are in college or graduated. Many are now married and have children of their own. I understood in order to be an effective coach I needed to establish a bond with each one of my kids. They needed to trust me, to understand I would never push them to do something they were not ready for or not capable of performing. My kids knew when I said you can do it, they were ready. I had faith in them. I was telling them the truth! I knew they could! Most importantly my cheerleaders understood I loved them, no matter the time, the place, how many years may go by, I would/will always be there for them. I am in essence to some of my kids their second mom.

Tonight I spent an hour on the phone with one of my girls. (We will call her Leslie for the purposes of the blog) Like she had done many times before in high school, she was asking for my advice. She was trying to decide what to do. She had met a guy in college, he seemed super sweet, very gorgeous, extremely funny. They shared two classes together, they often talked to each other after class. She ran into him all the time in the dining hall, even at a few parties. Each time he was extremely nice to her. Yesterday when he asked her out she was excited. Now she was worried. One of her good friends told Leslie she had heard the guy was a jerk, treated women horribly and was bad news. She thought Leslie should find an excuse back out of the date with him, save herself from getting attached to him. Another friend also confirmed she had heard the same thing, he was a jerk. He went out with a bunch of women and cheated on all of them. So I asked Leslie, who said he was a jerk, who was the source of all the information? Her answer they only said they heard. She had no clue who made the original statement.

I thought for a moment. Then I asked Leslie, “What would you think if I told you someone thought I was not honest? They believe I lied about someone very dear to me?”
Her immediate response, “I would laugh and say they obviously don’t know you. They have never heard your you are only as good as your word lecture. You are my only coach who was ever honest enough to admit when you made a mistake. Tell us it was not our fall that cost us the competition. It was huge to us, when you stood before us and said it was your mistake that cost us first place, you would never let it happen again. Oh my God, you are probably the most honest person I know.”
I explained to Leslie, exactly, understand my point, you know me. The people who are doubting my honesty, never met me. They don't know me, my character. I learned my motives, my character were being questioned because of one statement, one person. They were called, asked a simple question instead of being honest and saying I am not really sure, they made a statement that they thought I lied, exaggerated about something that happened a long time ago. Then two people repeated it, then four etc. The more it was repeated the more it became the truth verses what was real. Now I have no clue how many people, who I do not know, are saying I lied. All these people are repeating what one person said instead of talking to me. When all they have to do is ask me what happened. After all I was the one there, the one in the conversations, not the person who said they didn't think it was true. The people making the assumptions about my honesty don't understand why this one person wouldn't know, why they were kept out of the loop. We had our reasons. Then I further explained recently I have learned apparently some people would rather believe something negative about me rather than get to know/ discover who I am, the core of my being. Leslie was extremely sweet she commented it was their loss. She loved me and so did all my girls.
I went on to tell Leslie, if a person is not involved in the situation, how can they ever really know the truth? I have learned never believe second hand knowledge. Anyone can say we think, we doubt, we believe but unless they were there, then they don’t truly know. In essence, gossip hurts, it can ruin a good person. I continued, I would like to believe people are not purposely lying, they believe what they say, that they are lying for some inane reason; jealousy, hurt feelings, jilted, heart broken, to protect an image? Who knows and who really cares? Only the people involved in a situation hold the truth. So she needed to talk to him tell him what she heard, listen to his response.

My guess to Leslie, the rumors she was hearing about him being a jerk and treating women badly were from an ex or someone he rejected. I asked Leslie what did her gut tell her? When she blocked out all her confusion, what did she feel? Had she ever seen him act like a jerk? Being a jerk is hard to hide! She answered he had always been sweet to her, very polite, she liked him. She was excited when he asked her out. After her friends started to say things, repeat the rumors, she didn’t know how she felt, what she should believe. My advice, she needed to get to know him, go out on a date. Talk honeslty. She owed it to him not listen to what people said but rather get to know him, find out for herself. Isn't that what she would want him to do if the roles were reversed? He had done nothing to earn her distrust. He had always been nice to her. By listening to the rumors she might miss out on an absolutely wonderful man. We talked for a while longer. Before Leslie hung up I asked her a series of questions, “If you start to doubt your decision ask yourself these questions. What if you find out later your friends were wrong? They were lied to. It might be too late to correct your mistake! Then what?”

Her phone call made me wonder, question; why is it people believe what they hear to be the truth instead of discovering the truth themselves?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dad's Last Day/ The Hardest Phone Call

For some reason Saturday after watching Restrepo I wandered through the other programs I had on the DVR. There was an episode of Deadliest Catch in the menu. I was puzzled trying to remember why I had decided to record it. Before I prematurely deleted the program I decided I might as well watch a few minutes of the episode, maybe it would jog my memory as to why I had saved it. As it turned out the episode was when Captain Phil died. The opening preview scene was Josh calling his younger brother letting him know their father had passed away. I turned off the DVR, the thirty second clip was enough to open an old wound, rewind my memory back to the early morning hours not too long ago when I had to make one of the hardest phone calls I have ever made.

November 22, 2010 It was exactly a week since Dad had been admitted to the hospice house. He woke up about six in the morning. Looking back I am not sure what it was, but something was different, I had a melancholy feeling I could not shake. Dad seemed different. I had sat by his side all night in the recliner. I spent most of the night writing in my journal serenaded by Frank Sinatra. Dad had not been able to speak for over a week. His voice long silenced by a lack of liquid being swallowed, moisturizing his vocal chords. No matter how many times I swapped his mouth with a moist sponge it never seem to help the irritation and dryness. His body was no longer able to tolerate the feeding tube. He had not received nutrients for almost two weeks. His need for food, his hunger was only being fed, masked by morphine.

Pain is watching someone you love slowly starve to death, watching cancer devour every ounce of them. Nurses, doctors everyone tried to comfort me with the explanation that with all the pain medicine Dad was on, he was feeling nothing. I am not sure if I ever truly believed them. The knowledge that Dad was not in pain was little comfort to what my heart was feeling. The guilt I was carrying.

Usually when Dad woke he would squeeze my hand. I would look at him, smile and tell him good morning. No matter how weak he was Dad always managed to greet me with a smile. My morning greeting was not met with a smile but rather tears. I asked him if he was in pain, he shook his head no. Dad could not speak but he could shake his head yes or no, occasionally he would shrug his shoulders. Our communication the last few days had been limited to questions that could be answered by a simple yes or no. I stood up, wiped Dad’s tears, adjusted his pillow. Asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He shrugged his shoulders. I kissed his forehead, then went to get a nurse so we could shift Dad to make him more comfortable. I knew he had been in the same position for several hours. I was well aware his skin was so thin and frail it would tear if he was not moved and shifted gently. After adjusting Dad, the nurse went to get another dose of morphine. Dad was once again crying and holding both hands up for me to take. It was awkward but by lowering the railing on his bed I was able to hold both his hands. I balanced myself on the edge of the bed trying not to fall off and trying not to lean too far forward and possibly fall on Dad. Twenty minutes after he received his medication he was once again sleeping.

After making coffee, greeting some of the other hospice patients in the dining area I settled back into my recliner. My brain was too tired to write, I tried to nap but was unsuccessful. I didn’t know why but Dad was restless. His arms were lifting and moving while he slept, once again I lowered the railing so I could hold both his hands. I felt his body relax when my fingers entwined with his. His breathing seemed awkward, fast then almost non existent. When Dad was at the hospital I learned he seemed to breath easier when I sang to him. I changed the play list and began to softy serenade Dad. For the next few hours I sat on the edge of Dad’s bed singing along with my iPod. Several times while I was singing to my father I could see out of the corner of my eye a couple of the hospice patients stop in their wheelchairs outside the door and listen. It took all the strength I had not to tear up when I noticed Bill was crying as he listened to my “concert” for my father.

Mom arrived a little after one in the afternoon. I had been up for almost thirty hours, I needed to head home, shower and take a nap. Before I left I told Dad I would be back shortly. The moment I stepped outside I had an uneasy feeling. I ran home, showered but could not sleep so I dressed and headed back to the hospice house. When I arrived Mom informed me since I left Dad had not moved. I looked at the clock 3:30 p.m.. I walked over to Dad’s side, “Afternoon Daddy. I am back like I promised?” He opened his eyes, smiled then closed them again. I sat next to Dad settled in playing sudoko.

Colonel Cuffey arrived from Fort Belvoir later in the afternoon to visit Dad. I learned there were two things that could wake Dad from the deepest of sleep, his great grandson Cole and/or a man or woman in uniform. When the Colonel entered the room I announced him to Dad. His eyes immediately opened and Dad tried to salute him. The Colonel graciously reached down, stopped Dad’s hand and said “No sir it is I who should be saluting you.”
The past two years my father, the old retired CW4 had formed a friendship with the young commanding officer at Fort Belvoir. Any time the Colonel was near Fort Meade he would stop in to visit and chat with my father. They had an unexplainable close bond. Mutual respect and admiration for each other. When Dad was in the hospital the Colonel made several trips to visit him. Now the Colonel drove to the hospice house to visit my father, in essence say good bye. The Colonel reached down and took my father’s hand, stood by his bedside and talked to him for well over an hour. During the course of the conversation he asked mom how she met my father. Mom explained dad was a “fill in” date. My mom had been asked to a dance by a friend of my Dad's. He got sick and asked my Dad to be his substitute so my mom would not be disappointed. Dad agreed, drove to pick up a girl he had never met or talked to and took her to the dance. Half way through the dance he asked mom how attached she was to his friend. When my Mom said not at all she hardly knew him, my dad told her good because he wanted to take her out again. My mom joked around if her original date had not been sick she would have never met my father. As mom was relaying the story of their chance encounter, I closed my eyes and remembered my own chance encounter twenty seven years earlier almost to the day. Colonel Cuffey talked for awhile longer before he said good bye to my father. He and his aide saluted Dad. Then Colonel said to Dad, “You need to rest now sir. You have been a good soldier.”

I looked at Dad and his eyes were tearing up. I immediately took his hand and told him it was okay. I was still with him I wasn’t going anywhere. Before Mom left at nine I went out to the kitchen and made myself a thermos of hot tea, prepare for the night ahead. At ten o’clock I turned on Hawaii Five-O. When I was little Dad and I would watch the original program together. I pulled my chair against Dad’s bed. I dropped the railing, lowered his bed, took his hand and put my feet up on the edge of the bed next to his feet. I laughed out loud when I saw Dad wiggle his toes. I laid my head on the side of his bed, he squeezed my hand. I looked over and he smiled. I could hear Dad’s breathing change as we watched McGarret and Danno catch the bad guys. When the show was over, the nurse came in to give Dad his medication for the night. I adjusted Dad’s pillows. Swabbed his mouth, it was then that he began to try to talk. I leaned in closer putting my ear close to his mouth hoping I could hear what he was saying. Several times I told him I could not understand what he was saying. Tears began to roll down his checks as he tried to talk. I apologized over and over for not being able to understand him. I took his glasses off, wiped his eyes, then said, “Daddy I am so sorry. I can’t understand you. I know you love me and you know I love you that is all that matters.”
He squeezed my hand. Tears continued to flow down his cheeks for a few more minutes. Finally he started to fall asleep so I turned off his light. I whispered in his ear, “I am not going anywhere Daddy I will always be with you.” I moved my recliner to the corner near a lamp. I pulled out my computer and began to write.

I decided I would write about my great great grandparents Henry Wilson and Amanda Jane Dent. As I wrote I softly sang along with the music that was echoing through the room. I was typing the last sentence when I felt this strange strong ripping pain pierce through my heart. For a moment I stood up, stretched my arms out, wondering was I having a heart attack from the lack of sleep and all the stress. I felt it again. Then it registered in my brain, I had felt that pain once before a very long time ago. I knew what had just happened. I took a deep breath afraid of the truth that awaited me. I closed my eyes for a moment then turned, I knew Dad had died and I did not want to look at him. I stared at my Dad for a minute tears streaming down my cheeks, not sure what to do.

Dad was gone, he was no longer with me. I looked around almost dazed, the halls were dark, there was a soft glow on my dad's face from my light. In that instant I have never felt so alone. I was an adult yet I felt like I was five years old and just orphaned. All I wanted to do was to crawl into someone’s arms. I needed someone to hold me tight and tell me I would be fine. But there was no one, I was alone. Not quite sure what to do, I walked down the hall to the nurse's station. I softly interrupted the nurses conversation and asked trying not to cry, “Can you check on my Dad because I think he died and I don’t know what to do.” The nurse looked at me on the verge of tears, smiled and tried to reassure me by saying, "It is okay."

She walked down the hall and into his room. I sat against the wall in the hall across from his door. She came back out after a few minutes and confirmed what I already knew, Dad was gone. I was told she had to call a doctor so he could come in and officially pronounce Dad dead. She told me if I wanted I could go in and sit with Dad until he arrived.

From the hall I could see the light from my computer softly glowing against the glass. I couldn’t go back in the room, Dad was no longer in there, only his body. The last time I had held his hand it was weak, but it was warm, he was still there. I was not alone then, now I was. I pulled my legs into my chest and wrapped my arms around them. I laid my head down on my knees as I waited for the doctor to arrive. The hospice house was quiet I could hear my iPod playing Frank Sinatra. I took a deep breath composed a list of what I needed to do in my head. First on the list call my mom and tell her Dad had passed away. I was trying to compose in my head the proper way to tell my mom the man she had been married to for 51 years, my father, had died. I called her, no answer. Called again, no answer. Called again, no answer. In a way it was a strange blessing when my mom did not answer the phone, I was annoyed. Annoyed was much easier to handle than sorrow. Feeling annoyed stopped me from crying. Finally the fifth or sixth time I called my mom finally answered. After I spoke to my mom, I hung up and called my sister. Then I had to prepare myself for the hardest phone call of all, I needed to call my daughter.

Kathryn was Grandpa’s little girl. Her father walked out on her when she was three and a half years old. I never married, never dated anyone while she was growing up, so Dad was her father figure. Every father daughter function Dad took Kathryn. My sister and I would laugh when Kathryn was younger talking about how our parent's had changed once the grandchildren arrived. We remembered when we were little Mom and Dad never went to any of our games, saw any of our plays, they went to an occasional concert but that was a rarity. With Kathryn, Dad was at almost every game she cheered at, saw every play, every concert. I lost track of the number of times Dad took Kathryn and her friends shopping or to the movies. He even suffered through Barbie on Ice on his birthday because that is what Kathryn wanted to do. If Kathryn needed something and I could not afford it, Dad would buy it for her. She did not want for anything, especially love. On senior night in high school it was Grandpa (Dad) that walked Kathryn across the football field. I would not have it any other way. She hung the moon in Dad's eyes. Kathryn was his pride and joy. He was a constant in her life. Kathryn could have grown up bitter not trusting men but she did not. She was constantly surrounded by love. She knew because of her Grandpa there are good men in the world.

I sat in the hallway, began to dial Kathryn when I realized I was making a huge mistake. I understood, one of the hardest things for Dad about dying was going to be leaving Kathryn behind. I knew I had to do what was right. I stood up, squeezed my fists, told myself I could do it and walked into the room where my Dad laid. I moved my chair back next to my Dad’s bed, lowered the railing, sat down and took his hand. I knew he would want to be with me as I called Kathryn. I had to tell my daughter the man she adored, the man she loved with all her heart, the man who loved her more than any man ever would, was gone. At 2:48 a.m on November 23, 2010 I had to make the hardest phone call of my life. I held back my tears as I told my daughter her grandpa had passed away.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Beauty of Imperfection

We all bear scars. Some scars are visible while others are hidden deep within ourselves, sequestered in our soul. Happiness is allowing the camouflage to fall away from our scars allowing someone in. Someone to tell us our wounds are not ugly, they are beautiful. They help us understand our scars are a part of us, they made us who we are. We are all a beauty of imperfection.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

High School

After the Super Bowl I watched Glee for the first time. I wanted to see what all the hype was about. Why everyone seemed to love the program. I have to be honest, admit I kind of liked the show. The songs, the dances were enjoyable, the cheerleading coach was hysterical, the female football coach amusing but mainly I loved the show’s underlying theme, high school is a place where we all struggle to fit in. It is a place where we can either define our self or allow others to define us.

It seems no matter how much time passes, how different the music or fashion may be, how many years the calendar has clicked off, high school is still the same. It does not matter the year, the place, the state, 9th -12th grade are the years where we struggle to discover ourselves. High school is where we as little fish are first tossed into the big pond. Sink or swim, it was our option. Our freshman year, our lives, how we saw ourselves, how we fit in, for a time were ruled by seniors, jocks and the popular crowd. Anyone who says they didn’t care how they were viewed, lies. We all entered high school hoping to be accepted, wanting to become a member of the 'popular' crowd. Some of us were lucky, we had older siblings who gave us a free pass into the ‘in’ clique. Slowly we all found our own crowd, a place where we fit in on our own. A family of friends where we felt secure in our own skin. Some stayed in the same clique all four years of high school, others of us, floated between various groups not really sure where we belonged, where our perfect fit was. We were the people who had no true definition of ourselves. Or maybe we simply did not understand we were the lucky ones, we were accepted by all groups.

Jocks, popular, band geeks, nerds, potheads, rich kids, the cliques were numerous but everyone longed to be in the top two. The cafeteria had the strange designation of determining who fit into what piece of the puzzle. Where you sat at lunch characterized which clique you were part of. Thirty years later I can’t remember which table I sat at, yet some people have never forgotten they were not allowed to sit with us. I never realized the table I sat at was considered the popular table. I saw my friends as popular, but never myself. I always considered myself on the fringe of the group not really caring who I sat with or talked to. I was happy to have some one to hold a conversation with. For the first two years of high school I was labeled Debbie’s little sister. My last two years I was me, I lacked a definition. I took classes with the geeks. I went to the parties with the pretty girls and the jocks. While others had beer at cry baby bridge I drank my big gulp of soda, never feeling the need to conform and drink beer with the rest of them. I laughed and joked with the potheads in line at lunch but never once did they offer me pot, they knew better. I played in the concert band so I was a band geek. I was in the school play so I was a drama nerd. I was captain of the pom squad, took stats for jv football and basketball team so I hung out with the jocks. I fit in everywhere yet at times I felt like I fit in no where. I longed to be accepted yet at times really did not care what anyone thought. That was high school to me, a mixing bowl of clarity and confusion.

I took all types of classes in high school, physics, french, major British writers, pre calculus, 'family life' etc. they gave me the foundation I needed to help me earn my degree in college. To me, the more valuable lessons were learned in the halls and through the “extra curricular” activities. High school is where we all learned how hurtful gossip can be. We saw the first acts of revenge undoubtedly because someone liked someone else’s boyfriend/girlfriend. High school is where we first learn how to forgive, forget and move on. The halls were where we first learned of rejection whether it was from the posting of who made a sports team or being passed by that certain guy who you had a crush on without as much of a smile. In those fleeting moments we learned how to handle life's ups and downs. We learned right from wrong, how words hurt more than a punch. In a strange sad way, it was a time of conformity, trying to fit in, wanting to be liked, wanting to be popular, not understanding why. We all struggled to be mature while still holding on to our youth. It was the beginning of our freedom, the gateway to our adulthood.

High school had a way of separating the leaders from the followers. We all have stories of our many defining moments, some create a small part of our personality, while others illustrated our underlying character. Leaders were the ones who stood up, did what was right, no matter the consequence. Even it if cost them a spot at the “in” lunch table for a while. Eventually the followers realized they had the wrong leader and the ‘in’ table would change. High school was the revolving soap opera of life. A series of moments and events. Some events left us with small scars while others made us stronger. High school helped us to define our character, who we would eventually become. It is the place where we became autonomous.

I have learned time does not change the person we became in high school. Years later, the social queen is still the social queen, the flirt is still the flirt, the gossip still gossips, the jock is still the jock, the leader still leads and the followers still follow. This weekend as many of my high school friends and I gathered at the Irish Channel I found myself laughing and smiling at the realization of how much we had all changed, yet had not changed at all. At first we all mingled, caught up with each other. Then it seemed after the “ice” was broken, we were all back in the cafeteria of Arundel, everyone was sitting with their respective cliques. Thankfully unlike thirty years ago no one cared who was at the “in” table. At least I hope not!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Johnny D Gnomes

As it often happens, out of no where a day can change, a life is lost. I was at my computer typing on facebook helping a friend collect donations for a get together in honor of an old high school friend who had passed away when my daughter’s text interrupted my thoughts. She informed me that our old next door neighbor John Smith had passed away. For my friends on facebook you have probably seen his funny comments on my page, he is Johnny D Gnomes. I didn’t even know John was sick. I knew he had a heart valve replaced several years back, and had some heart trouble but never once did he mention to me he was not feeling well or was in the hospital. Of course I don’t think he ever would, he never liked anyone worrying over him.

When he lived next door the way John informed me of his major surgery, after I asked him where he had been, I hadn't seen him in a while he responded, “Denise guess what I have a pig’s valve in me.” Then the two of us sat on my front porch and he told me all about his surgery, his valve, his medication. He ended our very serious conversation with “Don’t worry I plan on giving you grief for a very long time.” Last time we talked on facebook we were both excited about being grandparents. Both our girls had beautiful, healthy babies. He commented on how lucky he was, how lucky we both were!

When John, Erin, Kaysea and Bailey moved in next door our neighborhood was never the same. They helped “liven” the place up. The first memory of John. They were moving in he and Erin were on their driveway unloading. I had just pulled into mine. He waved and yelled howdy neighbor we are going to be good friends. He was correct, we all became great friends. Our kids cheered and hung out together. As an only child my daughter was happy to add two more “sisters” to her family and another “mom and dad” to look out for her. I always knew as long as John and Erin were next door I had nothing to worry about.

I know many times during our years as neighbor I amused John with my antics. Many times he would walk out his back door laughing hysterically, always with a funny comment or two but always there to help when I needed it. One morning after my usual run I headed to the backyard by the shed to pick some blackberries for a morning snack. When I reached through the vines I saw a snake, screamed, ran and jumped up on the back steps. John was outside cleaning his bird cages. He heard me and came rushing over. I pointed to the garden and yelled big snake. He had to control his laughter when he saw it was a little garden snake. Being the good soul that he was, he took the snake and carried it to the woods so it would not find it's way back to my yard.

I had the pleasure of coaching both his daughters in cheerleading. After the second practice where I had done some major conditioning with the girls , I was surprised to find John knocking on my door the following morning. When I greeted John, he had this serious look on his face and said “Denise we need to talk about Bailey.” For a second I was worried I pushed her too hard and she wanted to stop. Then he burst out laughing, and asked if it was wrong he laughed at his daughter when she yelled she couldn’t stand up from the toilet. Then we once again sat on the front steps and had a great conversation about how our kids were growing up too fast. John ended our conversation with "Keep torturing my daughter I love it."

The first night Jim came to pick me up for a date, John and Erin both had seen his “redneck” truck parked in the driveway. The next day John came over to ask about the guy that “came a calling”. I still smile remembering John telling me as long as I like Jim and he treats me well, he will like him. If he ever treats me badly the gators love white meat in the everglades he didn’t mind making a road trip for me!! When he found out Jim was eleven and a half years younger than me for a long while he would call me the cradle robber then wink. Erin of course gave me a high five!

I am sitting now in my office listening to Buffett play from my iPod. Buffett and John go hand and hand. The Smith family are the ultimate parrot heads. My daughter’s first Buffett concert experience was with John, Erin, Bailey and Kaysea. Kathryn was so excited to be heading to Nissan Pavilion with them. That night severe thunderstorms suddenly hit Northern Virginia. I sat watching the news alerts interrupt the television programing alerting everyone to the tornadoes dropping all around Northern Virginia, right near where they were. I tried to call their cell phone to make sure everyone was alright but no one answered. I was worried but at the same time I was not. I knew Erin and John would take care of my girl, she was family to them. About one in the morning my phone rang, it was John he told me very solemnly we have a problem. Concerned I asked what was wrong. John laughed, then announced, "Your daughter is hooked on Buffett!" then handed the phone over to Kathryn. My girl had an absolute blast with them. For the next fifteen minutes she told me all about the slip and slides, the “costumes”, the singing, the pouring rain and the best time of her life!! Kathryn has not missed a Buffett concert since!!

Tin Cup Chalice is now echoing through the house and a million John memories are floating through my mind. The numerous times in the morning when I would return from my run he would comment I was not sweating enough he thought I needed to do another lap. Or comment I was slow that morning must be age catching up with me. Washing my car and being hit with a water balloon. Our conversations on lawn darts and other fun childhood toys from our youth that are now banned. Laughing at me trying to get the coals to light on the grill. Finally yelling he couldn’t take it anymore, it was torture watching and coming over starting the grill for me. Rum marinated pineapples! The Renaissance Festival conversations, the beauty of the food and costumes. The arguments over what was the best food booth there!!
Laughing my butt off when he sprayed the guys in the jeep who always sped through the neighborhood with the garden hose as they raced by. He looked at me and said, “Damn the hose does spray that far. That was cool I don’t think we will see them anymore.” I was laughing so hard I fell on the ground. He had a way of delivering a line that caught you off guard.
I have clear memories of him laughing at me trying to slide down the hill after it snowed, reminding me of my age. “You know that is going to hurt later on.”
His love for birds, teaching me how to hold a parrot. Afterwards smiling and saying “Wow that went better than I thought. The last person who held him lost a finger!” Erin yelling at John to stop it.
Remembering his comment that we could probably get a volume discount on chastity belts if we all went in together, as we watched our girls go off to their high school dance. Him betting me ten dollars I couldn’t tumble across the yard. After tumbling, he paid and then laughed, “That hurt like hell didn’t it?” my answer, “Heck yeah but I won”. He followed up, “You should have held out for twenty I would have paid it.”
The numerous times Erin, John and I sat around trying to figure out how we could possibly embarrass our children more. We had a saying, it was our job as responsible parents to embarrass our children and d*mn it we took our job seriously.

John had a fun side but he also had a very caring, serious side. After I was discharged from the hospital in 2003 he was there. He had been on coumadin since his heart surgery. He called to check on me often. The first time I went outside, to test my lungs with a walk, he was there. The two of us again sat on the front porch this time our conversation was serious. He schooled me on the ends and outs of being on a blood thinner. He told me of all his mistakes, he wanted me to avoid them. He reminded me he and Erin were only a door away. Then as he walked away, he added, “I don’t know from first hand experience but I hear you need to be careful when you shave your legs.” He was always caring, always there for me, always saving my butt and always left me smiling.
You are a good soul John. I will miss you!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Debt We All Owe

I saw a photo on facebook of a young man, Sgt. Micheal P. Scusa. He was killed in Kamdesh, Afghanistan on October 3, 2009. His photo was posted by his father in honor of the sacrifice he and seven of his brothers in arms made in service to our country. He was only twenty three years old at the time of his death. His photo, his posting lead me to another site, Freedom Remembered. There I found a story on Micheal, on the side of his page a link to recent causalities, Spc. Omar Soltero, Spc. Joshua R. Campbell, Spc Shawn A. Muhr, Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Venetz, Jr. and Tech Sgt. Leslie D. Wilson. All of them have died in the past month in the line of duty.

The website states over 5500 stories of soldiers, sailors, airmen are listed. You can search the site by branch of service, by state, by month, by country/battle. I decided to search my home state, Maryland. There are forty five soldiers and sailors stories told, listed on the site. I scanned down the page, it was in a way too hard to look. The realization too much. I went back to the main page, over 5500 men and women, 5500!

Another photo, another face, another soldier, too many to count on my own. All with their own tale but every man, every woman similar in several respects. They all died too soon. They all had loved ones left behind to mourn them. Many of the men and women photographs are in uniform, everyone looks ‘ten feet tall’. Their faces, their stance, their bodies, everything about them is emanating with pride. Proud to be serving our country, protecting us, accomplishing the mission set before them. They felt the calling, the obligation to serve our country, fight for freedom. On these pages officers and enlisted are side by side, no longer separated by rank. They have all been equalized by death. They all made the same sacrifice and have been laid to rest on hallowed ground.

They are a son, a daughter who will be forever young. Life will move on with out them. Children will be born and grow. Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cups, Belmont Stakes, the Larry O’Brien Trophy all will awarded year after year. Their favorite teams will continue to play, their voices, their cheers, their yells, their laughter, their cries will forever be silent. One less fan will sit on the sidelines, in the stands, watching television or listening by radio. One less parent will be at a child’s game. Holidays, birthdays, graduations and weddings will be celebrated without them. They will be the empty chair at the table on Thanksgiving. They will be the feeling someone is missing when families go on vacation. They will be the hug someone longs for one last time.

They are the photo that sits in a silent vigil on a loved one’s desk, a nightstand, the mantle in the living room. The person whose portrait is never replaced by an updated photograph. They will be the unspoken sorrow in a loved one’s life. They are the sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers with unfinished lives, unfinished dreams. We will never know what more they had to offer, what more they could have become for they gave us their all the day they laid down their life in the name of freedom.

I sadly have seen the cycle many times. At first they will be remembered, spoken of often. There will be birthday parties, get togethers in their honor. They will be the topic of conversation for the first few years after their death. Then slowly as time progresses, they are spoken of less and less. There are no longer toasts in their honor, stories are not told as often. They are not forgotten, they are simply no longer remembered as much. Their graves are no longer visited by friends as often as they once were. Their headstones will become lightly covered with dirt, no longer brushed away by a loving hand of a friend/lover. Flowers are no longer laid upon their graves as frequently as before. They lay in silence under the rising and setting sun day after day, year after year. They lay there alone for all eternity, for service and sacrifice made to all of us.

The price they paid is immeasurable. In return what do we owe them? Whose obligation is it to remember, the forever young? As time goes by who is responsible to remember the long forgotten? Is an inscription on a wall of honor, a monument, a web site, is that payment enough for their sacrifice? Should that really be considered acceptable? Payment in full? We celebrate Memorial day every May but is one day really adequate to honor those who have paid the last full measure of devotion? Or do we all have an obligation to tell their story, visit them, remember them as much as possible? Shouldn’t we at least try to remember them in our prayers at least once a week, or is that asking too much?

Individually we can not remember everyone. There are so many who have given their lives in service to this country it would be an impossible task. The debt we owe is to those we knew. Those who have traveled in our life, shared our memories, made us who we are today. No man or woman dies friendless or without a family. It is our individual responsibility to tell their stories, share the memories of our friends who have died way too young. If we as their friends remember them less and less, if we let a photo, a piece of inscribed granite be the only reminder, remembrance of our friends who have died, then we have not paid our debt. We can not expect a stranger to remember or honor our friends for they do not know them as we do. We are the ones who must carry their hopes, their dreams, their ambitions forward. It is our responsibility to share who are friends were with others. What they meant to us. How amazing and wonderful they were. We are in essence the legacy of our friends. We are the only ones who can adequately pay the debt the country owes. If we do not remember, reflect, tell their story, a nation of strangers will not as well. Our friends will be lost in time. They will become only a name on a headstone. We must shout as loud as we can, as often as we can, we can not let anyone drown us out. We must write, remember and respect our friends who have died. We must tell their stories over and over until their memory becomes a strong echo through the halls of life that can not be silenced. We can not let them be forgotten, for that is the debt we must pay!

My debt, who I owe
Lt. Robert T. Bianchi
23 March 1987 (age 26)

U.S.N.A. Class of 1983

Cdr Peter G. Oswald27 August 2002 (age 41)
U.S.N.A. Class of 1984

Cdr. Kevin A. Bianchi16 July 2003 (age 40)

U.S.N.A. Class of 1985