Category Archives: old age

A life that made a difference

mom, art and meShe crossed the border from Juarez, Mexico to El Paso, Texas in a car with several friends. In the English she had learned while staying with her Aunts’ family in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico she declared “American Citizen” and she entered the country to begin a new adventure and a life that would touch many people down the line.

At that time, in the early 50’s her only real chance of finding work was as a babysitter/maid, which she found with Ms. Myers, a kind gentle lady that had a few kids. She washed, did some cooking, and cared for the kids while Ms. Myers worked and took care of other matters. Sometime down the line, she helped Ms. Myers put together a small party for some friends, and that is when he walked into her life. He was a young man from Michigan, stationed at Ft. Bliss for training, and the two of them generated some sort of spark. Before too long they went to Las Cruces, New Mexico and got married.

But life was not going to be the “Leave it to Beaver” fairy tale that you saw on TV. Shortly after giving birth to her son, he decided to leave her and go back to his first wife. He returned on occasion to see his son, and eventually, a second son was on his way. She never saw much of him after that. He returned to Michigan to his family and left her behind to raised two young boys on her own.

She worked hard, harder than anyone should have to work to feed their kids. Her mother and father helped as they could with a little bit of support and a lot of babysitting. The boys spent a lot of time in Juarez at their grandmother and grandfathers house while she worked. A friend of hers got her a job at Providence Memorial Hospital as a nurses aide. She had to convince a jeweler in downtown El Paso to let her may for a watch with a second hand by making payments. She needed that watch to be able to take pulses at work.

The boys grew and watched their mom come home tired, eat a small meal, and turn right back around to go back to work at the hospital for a second shift – a shift where she worked in maintenance mopping floors and cleaning up so that she could make a few extra bucks to take care of her kids. She never had much in those days, choosing to give most of what she had to her kids. On the rare occasion, she would take the boys to the Plaza Theatre downtown to watch a movie. Many times she would have to carry her boys from the bus stop back to their little apartment because they had fallen asleep on the bus on the way home.

There were a lot of obstacles at times. Even after gaining her citizenship, she was often stopped by Border Patrol and asked where she was going with those two little white boys. They did not believe that they were hers. Many men offered to “help” her with her situation, but always with strings attached that she could not, and would not accept.
Through it all she never complained, at least not to her boys. The husband that had left her alone never provided anything in terms of support, either financial or otherwise. The father figure in their lives was their grandfather, a man that was at the same time a strict disciplinarian but also a gentle soul. That husband would pass away in 1965 and the hopes of ever getting that assistance that she needed died right along with him.

She married again the following year, and her new husband treated her boys as his own. He moved them out of that little apartment into a house on the other side of the city, and he taught them the value of hard work and responsibility. Times were better, but raising two hungry growing boys required both of them to work, and often required side jobs on the weekend to provide a better life.

She taught her boys a lot of important principles – patriotism, honesty, faith, hard work, and a love of the culture from which she came. She raised them, with the help of her new husband, and sent them off into the world to live their lives as adults. It would be nice to think that she lived happily ever after, but that was not the case. Although she enjoyed a much more comfortable life and the joy of having grandkids, her health began to fail her. Two times she was diagnosed with cancer, and two times she fought back and beat it. When it came back for a third try she was just too tired and exhausted to fight it anymore. She told her loving husband and sons that she did not want to go through all the chemo and radiation again. She was at peace with her life and felt it was time to go. Eleven years ago, on January 28,, 2002 she finally gave up her battle and entered into an eternal peace.
She was a wonderful woman. She changed a lot of lives. She was a friend, a daughter, a wife, a grandmother, and my mom. I miss her terribly, even after these many years. I love you Mom.

What if you threw a funeral and nobody came?

December and January for some reason have become months of funerals and anniversaries of deaths of friends and family members. My dad passed away several years ago in December, my brother-in-law just passed this month, and at the end of the month my mom will have been gone for over a decade.

Funerals are a strange phenomena sometimes. You find family members getting together and repeating the same words they spoke at the last funeral – “We need to keep in touch!”, “Why do we wait so long to get together?” and “Why does it always take a funeral to bring us closer?” After the services, when the crying is done, the hugs are given and the reception food eaten, we go back to the same old routine and just ignore our family and friends. I am not being critical, I am just making an observation of things as I have seen them over the last few years.

A lot of time is spent at funerals talking about what a good person the deceased was in their life, and the difference that they made in people’s lives. Some people call it a person’s legacy. At a few of the funerals I helped put together video tributes to the loved one that helps bring back some great memories. It got me to thinking, what is my legacy going to be? What difference have I made in people’s lives? If they held my funeral would they need a larger facility or could they hold it in a closet sized room?

I kid with my wife and kids that I already have the songs I want played at my memorial. My choices? “Happy Cause I’m Going Home” by Chicago, and Israel Kamakiwiwo’ole’s version of “Over the Rainbow”. I know that this my be a bit cliché, but it’s what I want and expresses what my thoughts. My son Sam, who is only 21 has already told us he wants “American Pie” played at his funeral. Don’t know why, but that is what he chose and I respect that.

I have had the opportunity to teach over the last 10 years, and several of my students keep in contact with me to let me know what is going on in their lives. I hope that somehow I left a footprint in their lives somewhere. My very first Eagle Scout as a Scoutmaster surprised me a few years ago when he caught me at DFW Airport and yelled out my name. He gave me a belated thanks for helping him through his Eagle project and application. He said it helped him get his current job as an engineer. Since that time 30+ years ago I have helped several others out as well.

A lot of people, especially Molly, my wife, tell me that I have a hard time saying no. Volunteering to do things just seems to be a part of what I do and who I am. My former boss, who was the mayor of Laredo, Texas when I was an assistant City Attorney there, once told me that I should be glad that I was not a woman. When I asked him why, he said that if I was a woman I would always be pregnant because I did not know how to say “no.” A bit crude, I know, but he was trying to make a point. When my daughters were in Choir I couldn’t just be a part of the booster club, I had to volunteer to be president. I couldn’t just go to the Homeowners Association meetings, I had to run to be on the board.

This is not a “hey look at how great I am” type of story. The thought of who would take time to remember me isn’t a huge part of my thoughts on a daily basis, but you can’t help but wonder–how will people remember me? During a professional development meeting one day we were asked to state what it was that we would like to see on our tombstone. Being the smart aleck that I tend to be, my immediate response was “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” It got a few laughs, but I was floored by the thoughtful response of one of my colleagues. He said he wanted it to say, “he was a good husband and father”.

Wow. That summed it all up in just a few words. That is what I want my legacy to be – a good husband and father (and by extension grandfather as well). I need to spend the rest of my life living up to that legacy. If no one but my family came to my funeral, I would be ok with it. Family should be the emphasis and focus in my life. Time to make it happen.

What am I going to tell mom? I lost my little brother!!

It amazes me these days how much more security conscious we are these days about our kids –  and well we should be.  When I look back at what we did as kids,  it surprises me that my brother and I are alive to tell  stories to our kids about what we got into as kids.

It was not unusual for us to wake up in the morning, eat breakfast and head out on our bikes, sometimes traveling several miles away as we explored.  We would ride back for lunch, and disappear again until dinner.   We could not have been more than 8 or 9 years old.   On ambitious days we would pack a lunch and not come back til dinner.    We lived in the Sunset Heights area of El Paso which is on the edge of the University of Texas at El Paso.    Until 1967 or so  it was still called Texas Western College.   There is not a square inch of that University that we did not explore.    In fact, the deep old gully that we used to build forts in is now a huge parking lot at the edge of the school.

We often would take our bikes and ride downtown to go the old plaza where the buses gathered.  At the time the fountain in the middle of the plaza had live alligators in them.   To my dismay they have since been replaced by these cheesy looking fiberglass gators.   They should have just left them empty.

Anyway, I digress.  The point is that parents had a lot more confidence in having their kids out loose in the world back then.    Simpler times?   Maybe.    Do I consider my mom a bad parent for letting us loose like that.  Absolutely not.

Part of the confidence my mom   had in me at the time is that I was able to take my little brother with me on Sunday mornings to church at First Baptist Church on Montana Street which is at the edge of downtown, or at least it was at the time.    This involved taking a bus from Munday park, which was about a block away from the house, to the plaza downtown where we transferred to a bus that headed out toward the church.    After church we reversed our route and made it back home.     My mom was raising us as a single mom working as a nurses aide at Providence Memorial Hospital and would pick up as many extra shifts as she could,  so some Sundays this was what we had to do to get to church.

One Sunday we finished with church and headed back home, so we waited at the bus stop for the bus.  As the trusted treasurer of our little adventure I held the nickels that we needed to buy our fare and get home.   As the bus approached I gave my brother his nickel because he insisted on paying the fare himself.  He got on the bus, paid the fare, and moved to the rear of the bus.    It was at this time that I realized “I don’t have my nickel!”     Apparently somewhere down the line as I was pulling out the money to give my brother his nickel, I had dropped mine on the sidewalk.   I ran back as fast as I could to retrace my steps, and there on the sidewalk, shining brightly, was the nickel I had dropped.    After picking it up I turned to go back to the bus only to find to my horror that it was pulling away, with my little brother on the bus by himself.    Apparently he had gone to the back of the bus to sit down and the bus driver never noticed that we were separated.    Screaming at the top of my lungs and running as fast as my 7 or 8-year-old legs could go, I chased the bus as it pulled away, but I couldn’t catch it.    When I looked up, my brothers face was in the rear window looking out at me as the bus drove off.

OH MY GOD!!!    My brother, who at the most was maybe 5 years old at the time, was on the bus by himself, and headed downtown.    What is he going to do when he gets there?  How will he get home?    Will he get home at all?  What am I going to tell my mom?  I lost my little brother!

The next bus would not come by for at least 20 minutes so I began to hoof it to the plaza.   At the time that was the longest walk/run that I could have imagined.   It certainly seemed to last forever, even though when  I Googled  it a while ago it turns out it was only 8/10 of a mile.   That relatively short distance seemed like a march across the Sahara desert because of the fear that I had that I had lost my brother forever.

My hopes and prayers were that I would find him sitting at the Plaza, next to the fountain with the alligators, waiting for me to show up.   No such luck.    When I arrived at the plaza he was no where in sight.    I checked everywhere that we used to hang around in hopes that maybe he would be hanging around entertaining himself.    Again, no such luck.    The dilemma at this point was this – do I stick around here and look for him, or go on home in the hopes of finding him.

As I think back, I do not know why I decided to walk home from there.   Maybe it was with the hope of finding him on the way, maybe it was the dread of getting home and not finding him at all.   It would not surprise me if I cried on the way home.  As a kid I cried a lot and  I got teased about it by classmates because it continued all the way to 7th and 8th grade (that is the subject of another post in the future).     We did not have a phone at home, so I could not call my mom at work.  It never occurred to me to ask an adult or a police officer to help.  Walking that huge distance home (Google says it was about a mile) was a nightmare for me.   Is he there?  Is he stuck on the bus somewhere where I will never find him?  Will my mom be childless after she kills me for losing my brother?

As I walked down the driveway to our little apartment behind the house I saw my brother sitting at the front door waiting for me.    He was as calm as could be and his only concern was getting in the house so he could pee.   I have no doubt I hugged him a lot and asked him a million questions.   As far as we could tell from what he told us,  he just followed the routine we developed.   He got his transfer when he got on the bus, got off at the plaza, and somehow managed to get on the right bus to get home.    It is said that God protects little children and fools.  He certainly protected us that day.

I am not sure what my mom told me after this happened but  I know I didn’t get punished, and I am certain my dear sweet mom never blamed me for what happened.   My recollection is that we got a lot of rides to church from that point on.  Gee, I wonder why.

gators

PLAZA BACK IN THE DAY

 

 

 

 

 

fiberglass

PLAZA NOW

What are you waiting for?

Today I attended the funeral for the son of one of my instructors.  The young man was 26 years old, seemed to be a kid full of life and energy, was well liked, had a lot going for him — and took his own life.   Certainly I am not in a position to judge the action, and this is not what this blog is about.     As I sat through the funeral with my wife,  I had a number of thoughts cross my mind.  This will be an attempt to sort through a lot of those thoughts.

First, depression apparently was a  hidden problem with this young man.  The priest who presided at the funeral, as part of a wonderful homily that he delivered, explained that depression is not the type of illness where a person stands on top of a hill and yells “Help me!”.   In fact, the opposite is exactly what happens.  A person suffering from depression hides his/her problems, often ignoring the symptoms or trying to work it out on their own.  I can tell you it does not work.  If you know me really well, you know that I suffered from clinical depression back several years ago.  It cost me my practice and two marriages.  But that is a topic of another blog down the line.   All I want to say is that if you know of someone suffering from depression, or that you think might be suffering from depression, please do not ignore it.   It can be a real killer, both physically and mentally.   You might need to suggest, hint, cajole, kidnap or even force them to get help, but it is very important that they get the help that they so desperately need.

Secondly, I had such a deep impression that no parent should ever outlive their children.  There is no way I can console my co-worker/friend by telling her that I know how she feels.  I don’t and I never hope to personally know the feeling.  What I can do is be there to listen, to laugh, to cry and to share.  It would be disingenuous for me to sit there and pretend to understand the emotions that she must be feeling.  This was not a case of a 95-year-old parent losing a 72-year-old child.   This was a vibrant young man with a lot going for him.   My heart goes out to her and to anyone that has lost a child.

Thirdly, why are we so afraid of death?  Both of my parents have passed away, and during their funerals I was quite taken aback by the different reactions of people to the death of their friend, relative, neighbor and co-worker.    Some were very consoling and understanding, and ready to help at a moment’s notice.  Some were afraid to look you in the eye or talk to you, as if by doing so they might set off a reaction they could not control.   Some avoided my family and I all together, choosing to stand at a distance.

I can remember one of my family members (whose name I will keep private) actually accusing me of not caring or loving my parents because I did not openly display uncontrollable fits of tears or emotion.   Because of my faith I feel I have a good understanding of the entire death process.  Although I certainly felt the loss of my parents’ company, I also knew that this was just one more step in the process of our lives.  In my mom’s case, it ended a long-term of suffering in incredible pain and disability.  In my dad’s case, he would no longer suffer the loneliness he felt at my mother’s passing.   Death is not something one should fear.

Finally, I kept thinking about a recurring theme that I have pondered all year long.   It has been brought into clearer focus since the birth of my adorable granddaughter Chloe.    Why do we wait?

Why do we wait until someone passes to express our love and respect for them?  Why are our friends, family, companions and others we care for not constantly in our thoughts, our hearts,  our prayers and our actions?

My wife and I were having a conversation the other day and I jokingly remarked that since I was going to be in Round Rock on Christmas day, I was going to miss seeing those people at church that I only see on Easter and Christmas.   Again, I do not say this in a judgmental manner.    But as friends, do we not do the same thing?  Do we not wait for significant events like deaths, weddings, births, surgeries, etc. to find the time to visit?   How many times do we say at those events – “We really need to keep in touch”, only to fall back into the same old pattern in our lives?

In the case of the death of one of those we care for, do we find ourselves regretting not having spent more time with them?  Do we wish we had told them how we felt?

I have a very vivid memory of the last phone call my dad and I had before he passed away.  My dad lived in the little town of DeBerry, Texas.   How and why he chose to move there after my mom’s passing is still a mystery to me.  He was 7 hours away from the closest family (which was me) and lived by himself.    We chatted about me making a trip to DeBerry to help him find a new heart doctor so that he would not have to make the 800 mile trip to El Paso every time he needed to go for his checkup.   We discussed all the things he liked to talk about, and had a friendly argument about his other favorite topic – hating whoever was President at the time.  But what made this last talk special is that we spent the last few minutes of our call talking about how much we cared about each other.

I got a call 3 or 4 days later from his pastor.  They found my dad on the back porch where he had apparently collapsed after a heart attack..   What sorrow I would have had if I had not had the time to say what was on my mind during that last call, even if I did not know it was the last time I would talk to him.

Recently I have tried to reach out to my extended family.  My father’s family (as opposed to my dad that I just talked about) is from Michigan, and I have had some limited contact with them.   My mom’s side of the family, many of which I met at a family reunion about 13 or 14 years ago, is another story.  I have been horrible at keeping up with them, and it is my goal this year to make sure that they become a part of my life.

Don’t be surprised to hear from me.  Regrets are not something I want to have in my life.  I will be reaching out to those I love and care for.   What are you waiting for?

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.
Barbara Bush