Friday, October 31, 2008

Personality Differences

Every time I take a personality test (I always want to call it the Briggs & Stratton test, but I actually do know that is not its name, and that Briggs & Stratton is an engine manufacturer), such as the Myers-Briggs test – in any of its myriad forms – I always come out the same way. The first time I did this, my daughter – one of my favorite people in the whole world – supplied the test and had everyone in my family take the test and read the accompanying description of their personality. No one in my family had any doubt as to which category I would fall into, and, of course, they were right. The best part, though, was when they made me read out loud the description of my personality type. That was a little creepy, and not only because they all laughed until they could hardly stand at every sentence. The creepy part was that it sounded like a very astute description written by someone who knew me personally, and well. The only two parts that I can still remember were that: 1) less than one percent of the population fall into my category; and 2) the phrase – which may not be remembered exactly correctly – “… is able to instantly recognize contradictions, no matter how far removed in time or space.” It was creepy because I had no idea that there were other people not only like me, but apparently exactly like me. Not only that, but there were enough of them that a very accurate description could be written of them as a class of people with personalities distinct from all others.

Well, that was a long time ago. I just finished taking the test again on line, and found, to no surprise, that I am still in the same class – heavily introverted, heavily intuitive, slightly thinking (versus feeling), and moderately judging. (My family, I know, thinks I am heavily judging, but they are wrong.) A phrase in the current description of this personality class contains the following eerily correct statement:

“Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel. While they are capable of caring deeply for others (usually a select few), and are willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship, the knowledge and self-confidence that make them so successful in other areas can suddenly abandon or mislead them in interpersonal situations.” From:

When I was in college, I thought everyone thought the way I did. For years this was a good working assumption because I was in a school full of engineers and scientists, and their thought processes were close enough to mine that communication was never an issue.

Then I met my wife.

Needless to say, her M-B personality type is different from my own. Another phrase from my personality description fits this situation:

“This sometimes results in a peculiar naiveté, paralleling that of many Fs -- only instead of expecting inexhaustible affection and empathy from a romantic relationship, the INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness.” From:

Reasonability and directness – is that too much to ask for?

“… willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship …” That was certainly true in my case. When I saw my wife for the first time, she was 17, and I thought she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. It wasn’t five minutes before I was thinking of marriage, and I hadn’t even met her yet. I was told she was going with someone, and I thought to myself, “There is a boy who is going to be terribly disappointed.” She is still beautiful – she is beautiful in all the ways it is possible to be beautiful – of face and form, of personality and disposition, of spirit and adventure, in intelligence, and, especially, in her innate desire to help others.

It first began to dawn on me that our thought processes were not the same shortly thereafter. This was a brand-new idea – one I had never had before. The earlier description of my personality type included the phrase, “… feels no need to state the obvious.” I knew this about myself already, having spent untold hours at work sitting in silent deathly boredom through meetings where people debated at great length and in excruciating detail some subject, only to eventually come to what to me was already an obvious conclusion. Unfortunately, what is “obvious” to me is not always “obvious” to my wife. This difference led to several instances of me going one way and her another, which got me to thinking, “What is going on here?” I tended to feel that she was being deliberately obtuse, and she tended to feel that not only was I being perversely unfeeling and non-communicative, but also that her views were being deliberately undervalued.

Eventually I began to understand that our thinking processes were just different. Mine were not necessarily better (or worse), but were just different. Sometimes her conclusions were better than mine, which I found a bit confusing, because she had reached them by a path that I could not follow. But at other times, and in areas where I had done what I considered a lot of homework, I knew what I knew, and thought my conclusions were better.

“To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of "definiteness", of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise -- and INTJs can have several -- they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don't know.” From:

Well, now I know more about what I don’t know than I did before I met my wife, but one thing I still don’t know is how my wife’s mental processes operate. Although she is a compelling attraction that I cannot ignore, she is still a great mystery to me. We share a great deal in common, but in the matter of how our brains work, we are different. Dealing with that difference, and trying to understand it, is, and has been, the work of almost my entire lifetime.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hummingbird Wars

All summer long I have watched the hummingbirds that come to the feeder that sits just outside the dining room window. First to arrive in the spring are the females. They are a bit drab – green and gray in color – but are so delicate and small that they are a joy to watch. The feeder will accommodate four birds at a time, but this is overkill on the part of the feeder’s designer because four hummingbirds will never, ever be feeding at the same time. The reason is that hummingbirds are extremely territorial. The one feeding will arrive, but before beginning to feed, will look all around to make sure she is alone. Only then will she dip her beak into the fake flower to sip at the sugar solution that mimics the nectar. She swallows at an extreme rate – about seven or eight swallows per second, so it doesn’t take long to fill up. Even so, she will stop often and look around again to make sure she is undisturbed.

And often she is not undisturbed. If another hummingbird arrives, the newcomer will take a higher position from which she can dive down to attack the resident. This maneuver is often enough to make the resident abandon her perch and dive down and away from the newcomer. If she has not yet filled up, she will take the high position herself as the newcomer tries to position to drink. From her superior position, she will dive at the newcomer and drive her away. This back and forth continues until one or the other gives up and retreats. The action is very fast – almost too fast to follow with the eye. If there is a dog-fighter among birds it is the hummingbird! In less than two seconds they will have exchanged positions three or four times.

The winner begins all over again by perching – or sometimes just hovering – in front of the fake flower, to look all around for any encroaching rivals before beginning to feed.

When the males arrive, a little later in the spring, things really get hot. One male and one female MAY share the feeder, but often will not, and two males will NEVER share the feeder. Females sometimes share with one other female, but I suspect these are nest-mates, as I only see them do so later in the summer and fall.

Battles between males are even faster and more violent than between females – and a lot more colorful too. The iridescent green of the wings, and the almost blindingly bright red of the throat give off flashes of color as the sun catches the feathers just right during their aerial duels. And, the body language, especially between males, is almost laughably human-like. The newcomer arrives and takes the high position with a haughty pose that clearly says, “I don’t know who you think you are, but you are at MY feeder!” The one at the feeder looks around and says, “Who me? I’m just taking a drink here.” But he eyes the newcomer suspiciously and somewhat nervously, and very carefully avoids putting himself at any further disadvantage like, for example, putting his beak back into the fake flower. Sometimes the feeder just leaves at this point, but if he doesn’t, the battle is joined when the newcomer dives to the attack. The winner perches at the feeder, and ruffles and settles his feathers, while his body language clearly states, “Well! I guess I took care of THAT guy!”

Hummingbirds fly amazingly fast, and because they are so small, sometimes they just seem to disappear. They’re here and then they’re just gone. There is a Bradford pear tree in the yard about 20 feet from the feeder, and often the hummingbirds go there after feeding or stage there before feeding. Being even smaller than the leaves of the tree, the hummingbirds are nearly invisible once they reach the tree. But the males sitting in the tree turn back and forth, and their red throats flash each time they move. They are like bright red lasers advertising their presence.

Now, in late October, the hummingbirds are gone. They seem to leave pretty much all at the same time. We won’t see them again until next spring. One day we will see one come to the window and hover there, saying as clearly as if they had spoken English to us – “What happened to the feeder that used to hang here? I’m back, let’s get with it, you humans.”

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Life Comes At You Fast

We welcomed our 12th grandchild into the family this month. It reminds me that when we stopped having children, I suffered a mild depression that no more little babies would be coming into our life. I dreamed that we had one more little boy, whose name was Michael. But after five births, and nearly losing her life over one of them, my wife and I decided we would do well to take care of those we had.

I loved all my children with all my heart. They taught me that there is no limit to love, which can expand infinitely to cover all those it needs to. I loved my children at all the stages of their lives, and my best memories involve watching them play with each other, with me, and with my wife-- another person that I love with all my heart.

When they grew up, I imagined all the bad things that can happen to a young person, and prepared myself in case any should befall my own children. Having lost one of them quite unexpectedly at age five, I was fully aware that life might not be all roses for them, and I knew the kind of heartache that comes when disaster strikes.

But they grew up well. None of those imagined disasters struck. I watched them develop into mature, thinking, competent people who I am proud to know.

And then, to my joy, the little babies began arriving again! I became a grandparent! Each little one came to bring joy to their parents, and especially (in my case) to their grandparents. I had not thought through this grandparent business, and wasn't prepared for the intense joy that it brings.

They came one at a time, giving us all time to get to know them and to love each one of them individually for a time. Each one was so perfect when he or she arrived. Each one so fresh from the presence of God.

Seventeen times this has happened to me! Once for each of my children, and once for each of my grandchildren. I sang to each of them as I held them in my arms -- nonsense songs and tunes made up just for each one of them. I don't feel foolish singing to the little babies, because I can see that the little babies look up at me and smile at my songs. Sometimes they will laugh -- that infectious baby laugh that is made up entirely of pure delight, and then everyone within hearing laughs along with them.

I am more thankful than I can ever say to see the marriages made by each of my children. Each one of them has chosen well. Each one of them has prepared well to make a good marriage. Each one of them has brought into the family a person we have come to love as our own children. And, each of them has brought little babies into the family -- babies we have loved from before they are even born.

Thank you, my children, that I have such joy in my posterity!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

More on my drawing class

We had a four-week break between classes, so our teacher filled in with four weeks of optional make-up-your-own-content classes. For something completely different, Carol broke out all the pastels we had in the house. There were about six boxes of pastels she had bought a long time ago on sale; there were some with Tona's name on them; and I had a few of my own.

I discovered two things right away: It is a LOT harder to think in color than in black and white; and, I didn't have NEAR enough colors. So I bought another set to go along with what we had. Pastels are just the pigments that are used in watercolor and oil painting, but are used in chalk-like sticks. They go on dry, much like charcoal, and they have the same problem -- they get rubbed off easily. Also, as soon as you use one, you have some of the pigment on your hands, and soon you have it on your clothes and all over your "painting". Some authors regard pastels as drawing, but others call it painting if all the paper is covered, and drawing if some of the paper is used for one of the colors. Something I didn't know: many of the master painters did their work in pastels. I thought at first that all pastels looked sort of fuzzy because of the chalk-like softness of the dry pigments, but since then I have seen some portrait work that I couldn't tell were done with pastels. They were crisp, with colors very gently blended in a continuous shading across the face.

MY paintings, as is easy to see, are the work of a beginner. I have a LOT to learn about painting. Well, I thought it best to start with drawing, since that is the foundation for all art, so that's why I was taking a class in drawing. But now I think I might like painting after all.

In case you are curious, I am NOT posting any of my "paintings" yet.

By the way, I took two of my drawings down to have them framed. This means they should be around for the next couple of hundred years.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

One More Drawing

OK, for those of you who care, here is one more drawing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Geary's Drawings

OK. By popular demand (at least it was popular with me) I am posting some of my drawings.

This first one is a drawing on Mi Tientes paper, which is a medium gray. Darks are added with pencil and the white highlights are made with a white pencil. The paper forms the medium value. This one was done about the third week after I started taking the class.

The next one was done a week later, using the same technique on the same kind of paper. Besides being able to practice drawing the shapes, the emphasis was on finding where the highlights were to go, and in visualizing how the medium value of the paper fit into the overall drawing.

The next one is about a month later -- pencil on white paper. It just looks gray because the camera tries to make the overall picture register at a medium gray, and since most of the drawing is white, the camera renders it as gray. Our instructor seems to have an endless supply of objects to draw. The fruit is actually plastic, so she can use the same ones over and over. Here the difficulty was that the bottle was partially full, so part of the bottle is semi-transparent, and part is not. Plus, the plunger extends down into the bottle and there are lots of reflections.

This one is charcoal on charcoal paper, done last October. Here the paper is rubbed with charcoal dust (just using a paper towel to do the rubbing) to make it a medium gray, and then darks are added with charcoal and lighter areas are made by erasing the charcoal. The good part is that ANYTHING can be erased entirely and drawn over, or, if you want to start over, you just have to rub the entire paper with your paper towel and start all over again with what looks like a new sheet of paper. I spent most of my time on the cup and just sort of quickly sketched in the fruit at the last moment. I was very impressed with how easy charcoal is to work with. The downside, of course, is that any rubbing after you are done, and the picture tends to disappear.

This is the same cup, but with lemons piled inside (I mention that they are lemons, in case you can't tell). This one is pencil on paper, and done last week, but since it is the same object as in the charcoal drawing, I put it here so the two drawings can be compared. You can see how, or if, anything is better or worse for having been drawn three months apart.

This is my first attempt at a portrait, done over Christmas week. This is the third attempt to draw this one, and probably the best of the three. The girl is Eva Green, and the scene is from the movie "The Kingdom of Heaven" .

The last one is of Lucy Liu, pencil on paper. I did this one today during class.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Spring Classes Begin

Well, the winter is over -- I imagine, that is -- and my drawing class is starting up again. I first took a drawing class many years ago when my oldest daughter wanted to take it, but she didn't want to go alone. I had to drive her to the class anyway, so I just signed on for it too, and we took it together. But then she went on to greater things -- becoming a major writer of history, for example, and inspiring younger women to follow her lead, and I sort of dropped out of the drawing business. I did generate all the artwork, however, for the quilting business that my wife and I had for about ten years, but that was more of a drafting effort than it was a drawing, so I don't count that period.

But then last fall my wife talked me into taking her drawing class with her. I knew the instructor, because she came out to the cabin a couple of years ago, along with several other ladies from the class, and I found her to be enchanting, interesting, and vibrant -- and, perfectly able to hold her own against my verbal jabs during dinner. Besides, as it turns out, she is a wonderful artist, working mostly in pastels, now, but having worked other media in the past.

So I went to class, taking Tuesdays off from work to do so. I was just going to take off a few hours, just for the class, but I found that somehow the whole day got taken up, what with the class, and then going to the art store, and lunch, and running errands -- by the time I was ready to go back to work, it was time to come home!

I took the beginner's curricula, and it was a good thing -- I was in poor shape as an artist.

But the rule is, after you have taken the beginner's curricula, you are no longer a beginner. However, I sort of moved only halfway out of the beginner's circle for the second term, working sometimes with the beginners and sometimes with the intermediate students. Astonishingly, to me, I found after a few weeks that my drawings actually had a distinct style to them, clearly recognizable as mine, and even looked rather like the still life models that she set up for us.

Drawing the still life was both interesting and instructive, but what I really wanted to be able to do was to draw people -- faces -- portraits. I find people so INTERESTING! I spend most of my time observing them. I study their psychology both individually and as revealed in group dynamics, but what I like best is observing faces.

We took a break from classes over the holidays because our instructor needed surgery on her foot and would be house-bound for awhile. During the break, I tried drawing a portrait. My first attempt clearly looked like A person, but not THE person I was using as a model (it was a print from a movie -- I had chosen it because the camera focused on the head, so that it filled the screen, the lighting was good for a portrait, and the emotion was clearly evident on the face).

On this first attempt I learned several things: My ability to place items on the paper to match their placement in the scene is rudimentary at best; my judgment about the relative length of lines needs improvement; my judgment of angles is poor. Still, my wife could recognize the drawing as the same person, so I was encouraged. I put that drawing aside and started over.

My second attempt was better, but still not what I wanted. I know, I know, every artist is his/her own worst critic. This is true in our class, too. We have one person who is really very good at portraits. It was from watching him work that I took heart and tried it myself. My second drawing had places where it was much better -- the nose was rendered both in the right place and the right size this time, and the shading was actually quite a bit better. But it still didn't LOOK right. The expression wasn't captured well, and, when I measured the original against my drawing, I could see that the chin was slightly too long. I put this drawing aside as well, and started over.

This time I measured very carefully, and drew little rectangular blocks where the eyes, nose, and mouth would go. I went more slowly and took my time. I discovered that previously I had drawn the lips too narrow. By comparison it seemed that this time I was putting lips all over the paper, but when I stood back and looked at it, they looked much better. This drawing really did look like my model -- it was clearly the person I intended it to be -- and the expression caught the sadness so apparent in the original. I was actually pleased with this one.

While my instructor was house-bound, my wife arranged to bring over dinner one day and then we had lunch on another day. On the day of the luncheon, I took my drawing over to show her what I had been doing over the holidays. She, of course, deflated me immediately by pointing out where I could improve. She was right, of course. No one can become a portrait artist after three tries. But then she began pointing out what I had done right, and loaned me her book that she used most for her own work. I felt so much better. I read the book while we were in Oregon for my father's funeral and it described exactly what I wanted to be able to do, so I ordered a copy for myself over the Internet so it would be waiting for me when I got home.

So then class started up again and the first day was spent on a still life that was very similar to one I had done in charcoal last fall, but this time it was to be done in pencil. When I was finished, I pulled out the charcoal version to compare it with and was surprised to see how good it was.

During the past week I have sifted through pictures of people to find one to work with. Actually I didn't sift through people -- I knew who I wanted to draw -- but I had to find a photograph that focused on the face, had appropriate lighting, and looked like something I could actually do. Yesterday I blocked it out.

Our class last Tuesday was to be a two-week effort, continued next Tuesday, but I finished my drawing of that still life during the first class, so I can do what I want next time. I plan to take my blocked-out plan and begin to fill it in.

I am having so much fun doing this! I am inordinately pleased when after a few hours work, I have a drawing that actually looks like the subject. I am doing so much better than I expected to. I hope I can learn to make faces appear -- faces that actually look like the subject -- out of blank paper, like photographs appear out of blank paper when it is placed in the developer. There is something magic about facing a blank sheet of paper and watching it slowly turn into a picture of a real 3-dimensional scene.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On the Passing of my Father -- Part II

We held the funeral two days later. As my father wished, the service was a simple graveside ceremony. But first there was the viewing, a tradition that I have mixed feelings about. My father was all dressed up in one of his best jackets and tie, and, as usual for these viewings, he looked like he was sleeping in the casket. Mostly the people who came circulated around in the room outside the viewing room, although most came in at one time or another to see him. My mother sat outside the door most of the time, but she too came in for one last look. We all took lots of pictures of the people who came -- most of the family was there except my brother's two youngest children did not come up from California as they had school. Doug gave the family prayer there, and it was beautifully done.

We got to the cemetery a little earlier than scheduled, but because it was sort of cold for Mom to be out in the weather, we decided to go ahead about 15 minutes before the advertised starting time. The ceremony itself was quite short: Roy read a poem, Pat thanked all those who helped, and I dedicated the grave in the Mormon tradition. We were through before the advertised 1:00 pm starting time, and after the ceremony was over, many people showed up to attend the graveside service. Many friends of Mom and Dad came, some of whom I recognized -- even some who didn't recognize me. We felt sort of bad that the ceremony was already over, but there it was.

After the service the local Ward insisted on fixing a luncheon for us at the Chapel. The Bishop was also at the funeral but was careful to make us aware that he was not there in any official capacity. Since I hold the keys to do so, dedicating the grave was not an issue with him -- since he was not officiating, I was the senior Priesthood official for the funeral. The Relief Society ladies put on a very nice luncheon for us, and all the family members were there to visit together. It was very, very nice of the Ward to do that, and we all appreciated it.

Doug took Mom to and from the service, so we said goodbye at the end of the luncheon. I told Mom I would come by and see her the next day.

When I visited her the next day she was out in the "living room" of the home, sitting in her usual recliner chair. The door to Dad's room was closed. Mom said it was very strange to come by his door that morning, as she usually turns in there to be with him. Mom was in good spirits and doing well, as she had all through the funeral the day before.
Mom talked about the one thing that she always wanted but never got: for Dad to take her to the Temple to be sealed to her. Perhaps she was afraid that he didn't want to be sealed to her, or perhaps she was afraid that it wouldn't ever be done -- it wasn't clear. She started a count of the days to when she can go and have the work done for him. I told her that in God's wisdom all thing would be made right -- something that I believe with all my heart -- but she was fixated on this one thing.

I told Mom we would be leaving the next day to go home, and she was all right with that. She said again how glad she was that I was there. Later my sister wrote to tell me, "Today Sofie said something to me that was really very touching. She said that some nights she goes into Dad’s bedroom, closes the blinds and says, “Goodnight, Doc” and closes the door. She says, “It’s still Doc’s room.” (It was difficult to hear her say that and it continues to be difficult even to type it. Very sweet!) Ted still isn’t around much these days – we hardly see him. Dad’s death has been surprisingly hard on him."

We looked at the weather that night and decided to head south instead of east and take a southern route home. We left in the morning and drove south. Just south of Eugene it started to snow. The further south we went, the harder it snowed. There was enough snow -- slush, really -- on the road to obscure the lane marks, so traffic mostly stayed in the right lane. I finally decided to pick a large 18-wheel truck and just follow it. When it moved over to the left lane, so did I, and when it moved back to the right lane, I just stayed in its tracks. That worked pretty well, but at least once when we were in the left lane, trucks coming the other way threw huge waves of slush over the barrier. It hit our windshield like a ton of ice with a huge WHUMMP! Somewhat later I discovered a crack in the windshield that began at the bottom in the middle of the car, then turned and ran over to the driver's side a couple of inches from the bottom. I watched it grow a little longer each day. I'm pretty sure the wave of slush started it.

When we got to the California border the clouds disappeared and the sun came out -- just like all the advertisements! We spent the night in Redding, and in the morning it was snowing again. We didn't go far, though, before the sun came out again and stayed out all day. We stopped at a place in the Imperial Valley to buy nuts, and passed mile after mile after mile of almond orchards in all stages of growth. At Bakersfield we turned east and spent the night in Barstow.

The next morning we went to visit Calico, a partially restored mining ghost town a few miles outside of Barstow. We got there just as it opened and were informed that the shops wouldn't open for another hour. We didn't care about that -- we wanted to take pictures of the town without a lot of people in the shots. We spent about two hours happily hiking all over the town, taking digital pictures of everything that took our fancy. Digital photography is perfect for things like this because you can take almost unlimited numbers of pictures and know immediately what you got. The idea was to take pictures from which Carol can paint her watercolor pictures, and maybe I can do drawings. Whether that will actually happen has yet to be seen, but we have the pictures, anyway.

We drove to Flagstaff, AZ that evening. Flagstaff is 7,000 feet high and was covered in snow and ice, and it was snowing again when we got there. We looked in the hotel guest book to see where to go to eat, and found an intriguing advertisement for Black Bart's Steak House that promised live singing entertainment during dinner at no extra charge. We looked at each other and said, "Why not?" Black Bart's is located in the rear of a trailer park, and it is easy to miss the entrance -- which I did. The live entertainment turned out to be the waitresses and waiters, all of whom were students at Northern Arizona University. Some were better than others, but it was a lot of fun to listen to them. Steak house or not, I had a nice salad with chicken on it.

The next morning it was snowing again, but it quit as soon as we descended below about 5,000 feet. We visited three more "ghost towns" in Arizona and New Mexico, because they were located just off I-40 (also called "Historic Route 66" in many places) and easy to get to. Although they were nothing like Calico, some of them were very interesting and made fabulous pictures. Here's two taken in Foss, NM.

After getting snowed on in NM, and stopping to replace a turn signal light, we also got snowed on in Oklahoma, and Arkansas. We came across these states just behind a big winter storm that had moved north. Along the way, he heard on the radio that the other routes I had considered taking had massive snowfalls -- up to 14 inches with road closures in places on I-80 and in Reno NV, another possible route home, and the route we took the last time we went to Oregon in the middle of the winter.

Home again, we got the windshield replaced. The new one was so clear that I thought for a moment it wasn't there -- the older one was so pitted from stones, sand, rocks and cracks that it scattered a lot of light.

As is typical for me, I had put my emotions on hold while there were things to do with the funeral and while concentrating on traveling. I knew they would come sailing back one day to catch me by surprise when I least expected it. I thought because I had lived so far away from my parents and siblings for so long -- more than 45 years -- that things would go on pretty much as before. So I was a little surprised to find that they did not. In my head, where my father was there is now sort of a hole. It will fill in eventually, but it hasn't yet. When I think of him, I see him clearly as he pointed at my ring, and smiled and nodded to me -- exactly as he always did -- sharing our understanding of how I came by the ring, and what it stands for without the need for words. Then I remember how he focused completely on me and shook my hand so firmly when I bent over to say goodbye. I knew he wasn't able to speak to me, and I wondered as I left him that day if it truly was goodbye -- the last words I would ever speak to him. And, as it turned out, it was.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

On The Passing Of My Father – Part I

My sister called to tell me that my father was doing poorly. He turned 94 last November, and actually had been doing poorly for the past five years. I asked if I needed to come right away, imagining in my mind leaving the next morning. She said that I would have to decide for myself, which left me torn as to what to do. I immediately thought of driving, because I hate to fly. I have done enough flying to last me a lifetime, and if I never see the inside of another airplane it will be too soon.

But my wife wanted to come with me, and immediately assumed that we would fly. I reluctantly looked up possible flights on the Internet, only to find that not only were there not any good choices, but all the flights that I could find were apparently full to the point where we would have to sit in different parts of the airplane. This, coupled with the amount of material we would want to take with us, argued decisively for driving. But driving would take five days in the best of times, and January would not be the best of times.

We didn’t leave immediately. Instead, we packed up the car (Toyota 4-Runner 4WD) as if we were leaving, but went to the West Virginia cabin on Friday afternoon, while we waited for further word from my sister. On Monday I went to work as usual, but warned my colleagues that if I didn’t show up on Wednesday (I was taking Tuesday off) it would be because I had left for Oregon.

On Monday evening we decided we would complete all the things we had planned for Tuesday, drive to West Virginia to spend the night in the cabin, and then leave on Wednesday morning for Oregon. My sister was still telling me that I had to decide for myself when to come, but when I told her we would leave on Wednesday, she said she was so relieved.

One of the reasons to go back to the cabin was to collect my laptop to take with us. Having it along meant that we would be able to connect to the Internet each night to collect and send emails, and to check the weather along the next day’s route. I had planned several alternate routes that we could take depending on the weather.

As it turned out, we left in time to move across Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri just ahead of a winter storm that moved in behind us. Each evening we checked in with the family on the Internet to tell them where we were and examined the probable weather for the upcoming route. I wouldn’t say I was driven, but I did have a certain anxiety to move right along, and it seemed that each day we were just marginally ahead of the bad weather.

Crossing Kansas and Colorado, it was sunny, but we were just a day behind a big storm with lots of wind. We saw five instances of tractor-double-trailer rigs that had the rear trailer blown over by the wind, causing the rigs to end up in the ditch along the road, sometimes with the cab jack-knifed as well. In Wyoming we crossed the almost 9,000-foot pass between Cheyenne and Laramie in sunshine, just ahead of a storm that dumped a lot of snow there. We crossed the 7,000-foot high Wyoming plateau under sunshine, but low temperatures and lots of wind-blown snow across the road. But because the snow was blowing, it gave us no problem, except for a few times that it blew so high that it looked more like fog.

Utah was sunny. Idaho was sunny. The Blue Mountains in Eastern Oregon were terrible. It was cloudy, foggy, and snowing. This 150-mile section was the one I feared the most. All the big rigs had to put on chains, but automobiles were allowed to go without. The road was snow-packed and I was glad for the 4-WD of the Toyota. We actually had no problem here because it was cold enough that the snow was not melting, so it wasn’t particularly slippery. After we got to Pendleton, it was sunny again.

We arrived in Hillsboro Sunday early afternoon (I had scheduled arrival for Monday afternoon, so we were a day ahead because we didn’t hit any bad weather). I went to see my parents that afternoon and found my mother by my father’s bedside, where he was sleeping. He looked very, very frail. My mother hugged me and told me she was so glad that I was there.

On Monday when I went to see them, Dad was sitting up in his recliner chair, which had been moved into his bedroom. Although he was sitting up, he was drifting in and out of consciousness – sort of drowsing. Whenever my sister would talk directly at him, then he would rouse himself and look at her. But he had great difficulty speaking – it seemed like he couldn’t move his lips to make the consonants, and his lack of breath control caused him to sort of huff out each vowel sound. Pat seemed to understand him, though, having had more practice at it than I had.

I was sitting on his bed with my right hand draped over the end. I looked up to see him pointing with his left index finger (one of the ones he had cut off) at the ring I was wearing on my right hand. This ring is the one my mother gave him in 1958, and that he wore for 40 years before he gave to me on my 58th birthday, in 1998. I saw him pointing at the ring, and looked up into his face. He was looking at me and nodded. And for that moment, he was fully present and powerfully THERE. He was the father I remembered, with a little smile on his face, and intelligence in his eyes – I knew exactly what he was thinking. He was telling me as clearly as words that he and I both knew the significance of that ring, just as he explained it to me when he gave it to me.

On Tuesday, we all went to visit them because it was Mom and Dad’s 70th Wedding Anniversary. We took them an ice cream cake to share with all the people there at the home. Again Dad was sitting up in his chair. Because it is more tiring for him to sit in his chair, we were surprised to find him there again on Tuesday. We thought he would be in bed instead. He looked much the same as the day before, dozing and drifting, and from time to time responding to direct questions. As we left, I reached for his hand and said, “I want to say goodbye”. Suddenly he turned and looked me right in the eye, and again, suddenly he was fully present. He looked at me and nodded, and gripped my hand in a very firm handshake.

The next day we had agreed that Pat and Roy would go in the morning to see them, and Carol and I would go in the afternoon. Carol and I were going to the store when my cell phone rang and Pat told me that I had better come now. We were halfway to their home already, so it didn’t take us long to get there. My father was breathing like he had run a long way and was trying to catch his breath again – very labored. I ached to see him like this. For three days I had had a very strong feeling that I should put my hands on his head and give him a Priesthood blessing, and now I asked my mother if she thought that would be all right. She said, “Oh, yes! I would like you to”. I put my hands on his head and released him from the cares of this world. I told him that he should not be concerned about my mother – that we would take care of her. And, I told him to go in peace. About 40 minutes later I heard a sharp change in his breathing. Whereas it had been rather loud, it became almost silent. I looked up from where I was sitting and watched him take one, two, three breaths and then stop. I looked at my watch and saw 40 seconds go by. Then he took another breath and stopped. I counted 30 seconds. Then he took a shallow breath and breathed it all the way out and stopped for good.

My mother dropped her head on her lap and cried bitterly. I have never seen her cry so before. When she could pause, I asked her if she wanted a blessing. “Oh, yes.” I blessed her that at a time of the Lord’s choosing – not now, but at a later time – she would understand why these events happened the way they did, and see the rightness of them. I told her not to be concerned – the Lord held all things in His hand, and all would be made right in the end.

Finally my mother looked up and me and said she wanted to go to her own room. She looked at my father’s body and said, “This is not him.”