Tag Archives: death

The death of part of my childhood – RIP Dennis

I grew up in a much simpler time when kids could play outside for hours at a time without parents having to worry. We knew that we would be at each other’s parents house and no one worried. When it was time to come home, our parents would yell out the door for us to come home. Sometimes it took calling us by our full name, middle name included, to get us home, but we went home, and we were safe.

In fifth grade we moved from the Sunset Heights area in El Paso to the Lakeside area, all the way across town. Normally that kind of move would be tough, but for me, and for my brother Art, it meant the start of a great set of friendships. The first day of school I went to my class with Mr. Rhymes, and sat in front of someone who would be my best friend for the next 49 years, Hugo Echavarri. Across the street and down about three houses lived the Romero family, with a young boy my brothers age, named Dennis. The four of us would spend the better part of several years playing street football, Monopoly, Stratomatic football, cards and a number of other games. Sometimes we would start early morning and play till it was time to go to bed.

We invented a game called Calvin Hill, where we would throw a football up in the air and whoever caught it had to get to one side of the end zone (our lawn) with the other three tackling them. We did this during the heat of summer, on rainy days, and even a couple of times when it snowed. We would be banged up, scratched and bleeding at times, but we kept on going.
Our street football games would go on forever, and sometimes included Dennis’ sister Donna. We hated it when she got all girlie on us and quit playing because she would break a nail. Sometimes a kid from down the street named Louie would join us as well. When Dennis and I were playing on the same team we made up an audible system to call plays depending on where Hugo and Art lined up. Did we use numbers? Nope, we used cartoon characters.

We played a lot of tennis, we “experimented” with blowing things up with a balloon full of acetylene gas and oxygen from my dad’s welding torch. We even came up with a way to use a battery and steel wool to set off the balloons. One time Art and Dennis blew a big hole in the back yard with their little experiment.

These were fun times, and innocent times. But as happens, as we got older, we kind of lost touch. Hugo and I remain best friends, and of course I keep in touch with my brother, but Dennis and I lost touch. We managed to find each other on Facebook a few years back, and spoke maybe three or four times since that time.

About ten days ago I was driving to Round Rock to take my granddaughter to a Daddy-Daughter dance. My phone went off, and it was a message from Donna, Dennis’ sister, advising me that Dennis had passed away that morning, peacefully, in his sleep.
Certainly I am sorry that we had not kept in contact more often, but I choose not to linger on that. We had a lot of good times together, and those memories will always remain. But I can’t help but think that a little part of my childhood died when I learned of his death. I will miss you my friend, but our good times will always be in my heart.

dennis

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The Passing of Robin Williams – that could have been me

The recent death of Robin Williams hit me kind of hard. Here was someone whom I had never met, but somehow felt a loss at hearing of his death. From Mork and Mindy to The Fisher King, Moscow on the Hudson to Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire to Bicentennial Man, he made me laugh, he made me think, and he made me cry at times.

I read a post from Mike Rowe today, and in it he was asked to comment on Robin Williams. Part of his post really stuck out. He said “Some people enter our lives and become benchmarks in ways we don’t realize. Then they exit, and we struggle. Sometimes, those people are high-school buddies, and sometimes, they’re strangers who somehow felt like friends. Either way, it sucks when they go.”  Very well put.  It explains my feelings very well.

But I digress. What struck me was finding out about his struggles with depression. Depression is an illness that many people do not understand. Somehow they feel that all they need to do is yell at you to “snap out of it” and instantaneously you are cured. It doesn’t work that way. I know it doesn’t. It did not work for me.

Many of you that know me know that I used to practice law for many years. I was a prosecutor for several years, then went into private practice as a defense attorney, and served for almost ten years as a Municipal Court judge and night magistrate. Then it all came tumbling down in a relatively short time. It cost me a marriage, my law license, my ability to make a living, and then another divorce from an ill-conceived marriage to a friend.

Was it drugs? No, never tried them, not interested in them. Was it alcohol? Nope. After a short time in high school and part of college I realized that my genes would not allow me to be a casual drinker – I had too many alcoholics in my family, particularly my biological father. So I quit drinking when I was 20.

The plain fact of the matter is that I was suffering from clinical depression. There, I said it. Very few people other than my immediate family and close friends know about it.  I went through some health problems, a divorce that I did not see coming, my ex-wife moved my kids 600 miles away, and I found myself horribly alone.    Increasingly I found myself going home on Fridays, locking myself in my apartment with the blinds shut, and never stepping out again until Monday when it was time to go to work.

I lacked the energy and desire to do anything at all.   That included the very thing that I needed most, which was contact with my family and friends.    Add to that my reluctance at the time to ask for help with anything (a misguided sense of self-reliance) and it made for a perfect recipe for what became more than just sadness.   I also quit doing the one thing that could have helped me a lot –  I quit attending church.    My faith had always been an important part of my life, especially considering that I made quite a change in my college years by breaking away from the faith I was raised with when I joined the LDS church against the wishes of my mom and my grandmother.

I could have very easily slipped back into drinking, or started experimenting with drugs, or even toying with the idea of just ending it all.   Certainly I was ripe for that to happen to me.  Luckily for me, I guess, I was hurt in a car accident.   The doctor I went to go see for my neck pain was also trained as a psychiatrist.   He recognized the symptoms right away.  After a short trial of antidepressants (did not like them at all) he referred me to a counselor that I saw on a regular basis for quite a while.    He made me think about things that I did not want to think about.   He made me do things I did not want to do, like reach out for help from friends and family.

Little by little, I came out of a very deep fog that seemed to surround my life.  I had a very good home teacher from church that would come by my apartment every Sunday, make me wake up and shower, and go to church with him.    He kept me busy helping do service projects for others and would take me to Goal Oriented Leadership Functions.  (GOLF).  After a while I realized things were not so bad.

I was very bitter about life, did not trust people, did not want to show any sort of emotion or vulnerability to anyone except my daughters.    Believe it or not, I learned how to trust and love again because I got a dog.  That dog helped me through a lot of my down times.  He was there when I was sick, when I felt low and when I was lonely.   He never went anywhere and showed me unconditional love.   That helped to start the turnaround in my life.

It was around that time that my wife came into my life.  I had met her earlier when we worked at the same law office.  We were friends for a long time, and that eventually led to what is now the best relationship I have had in my life.    She helped me to go visit my daughters in Austin.   She got me used to a day-to-day life of being around people and doing simple ordinary things that give your life structure and meaning.   My distrust of others and fear of opening up my feelings gradually went away because of her.  It took a long time, but we eventually got married.   Molly is who encouraged me to teach, which has become my passion.  It was because of Sam, Molly’s youngest son, that I became involved in Boy Scouts,   Scouting has given me a multitude of great experiences and life long friends.

So I guess I can say I am lucky.   Consider the following:

  • Men with depression are more likely than depressed women to abuse alcohol and other substances, according to Jill Goldstein, director of research at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
  • Depressed men may also try to mask their sadness by turning to other outlets, such as watching TV, playing sports and working excessively, or engaging in risky behaviors, Goldstein told Live Science in an interview earlier this year.
  • Men’s symptoms of depression may be harder for other people to recognize, and the illness is missed more frequently in men, Goldstein said.
  • Men with depression are more likely than women with the condition to commit suicide, Goldstein said. Men with depression may go longer without being diagnosed or treated, and so men may develop a more devastating mental health problem.  Copyright 2014 LiveScience,

 

So I dodged the perfect storm.  I am alive today and very glad to be here.  But don’t get me wrong,  I am not bragging, nor am I putting down Robin Williams and others that were not able to overcome it, or who continue to suffer.  Like I said, I was lucky.   Keep an eye out for those you love.  Don’t leave them hanging.   Look for the symptoms of depression –

  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day (called anhedonia, this symptom can be indicated by reports from significant others)
  • Restlessness or feeling slowed down
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)  http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/major-depression

If  you are depressed, you may not know it.  Even if you do know it, you are unlikely to reach out for help.  Don’t be afraid to reach out.   It could have cost me dearly if the right set of circumstances had not occurred that led me out of haze.  This is not easy to write or to admit, but I hope that somehow it may strike a chord with someone who needs that extra push to get help.

I join the rest of the world in mourning the loss of a great entertainer.  My hope is that his death may draw attention to this misunderstood illness.    “There but for the grace of God go I”

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 it were true?

The whole Mayan calendar craze has been kind of fun to watch. It really amazes me that so many people have taken it seriously and have planned for their lives to end in just a few short days. But I started to wonder, what if it were true? If it were true, and you had just a few days left, what would you do? Assume that money and travel were not an issue. Is there any unfinished business you would want to take care of? Any relationships that need mending?

I spend this last weekend with my wife visiting her brother, who is suffering from mesothelioma and developed pneumonia. The doctors had his wife call all the family to come and see him. because the time is short. As I write this he has been sent home under hospice care. My wife had taken the opportunity earlier in the year to visit and share feelings and memories. Other family members had not had that opportunity, so this was the chance to visit one last time.

So why do we wait? Why is it that we wait until the last moment to take care of important things? When death is sudden, the opportunity to say the unspoken things or do the undone things is gone in an instant. So many people regret the opportunity to say the last goodbye or the last I love you. Maybe it was an unspoken apology.

My dad passed away 7 years ago this month. We spoke several times a week, and our conversations always ended with an “I love you.” I am so glad that I said it during our last phone conversation because he passed away suddenly and without warning. He was found on the back porch by one of his neighbors. At his memorial service I had spoken to several of his friends and church members that he had met during his short time in East Texas They had worked with him for a long time to get him to get over a lot of resentments in his life. He lived a hard life, and a lot of people hurt him and took advantage of him. As a result, he was quick to take offense in even very minor incidents. My brother and my dad did not speak during the last 4 years of his life. An innocent misunderstanding during my moms funeral led them to not talk to each other.

I was unaware that my dads friends had convinced him to let old grudges go and he was beginning to make efforts to make amends before he died. He actually called my brother a few times before his heart attack, but my dad was never one to leave voice mail messeages. My brother, unfamiliar with the phone number on the call list, never returned the call. We were sitting at the dinner table at my house when somehow I mentioned my dads phone number. My brother realized that it had been my dad calling and it really hurt him to know he missed the opportunity to reconnect.

So what is on your list to fix? If the world really ended on 12/21 would there be any unfinished business you did not take care of? There is never a better time to start taking care of that list like NOW. I know that I have some unfinished business I need to finish. Tell the people you love that you love them. Hug your kids. My hopes and prayers are that every parent that lost a child in Connecticut had that opportunity before sending their kids to school on Friday.