Tag Archives: death

Almost Gone

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As I write this, my last surviving uncle is dying.  I don’t know how long he will survive, but it sounds rather immanent.  He is in Iowa and I am in Georgia, so I won’t be there for his passing.  He is, however, surrounded by family that he has loved so much for so long.  That is how we all would wish to go when the time comes.

My mother was an only child but my dad had five sisters and three brothers (one of whom died in infancy).  All my life, my dad’s family was “the family” that I grew to love.  Out of the eight siblings who lived to adulthood and married, only four of their spouses and none of the original brothers and sisters are left…and soon there will be only three of the sixteen total.  It’s rather sobering, this inexorable marching of the years, one generation yielding to the succeeding one.  There is nothing one can do to stop it…nor, I suspect, should we if we could.

I was reminded the other day by the leaves that have been falling all over the place where we live that even trees have to find rest.  The science books and teachers describe the falling of the leaves as a time for the trees to rest and recover.  I wonder: do they have a sense of resting?  Do trees ponder how long they may yet stand?  And if so, do they fear falling as humans dread the footsteps of the Grim Reaper?

I don’t know, but this photo that I shot this past Saturday was taken because as I saw the tree driving past it, I thought to myself, “It’s almost gone.”  And so is my last remaining male from my father’s generation.  He shall be deeply missed.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1942, the Soviet Army under General Georgi Zhukov launched Operation Uranus, the great Soviet counteroffensive that turned the tide in the Battle of Stalingrad.

On June 22, 1941, despite the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, Nazi Germany launched a massive invasion against the USSR. Aided by its vastly superior air force, the German army raced across Russia, inflicting terrible casualties on the army and populace. With the assistance their Axis allies, the Germans, by mid October had Leningrad and Moscow under siege. However, the Soviets held on, and the coming of winter forced the German offensive to pause.

For the 1942 summer offensive, Hitler ordered his Sixth Army, under General Friedrich von Paulus, to take Stalingrad in the south, an industrial center and obstacle to Nazi control of the precious Caucasus oil wells. In August, the Sixth Army made advances across the Volga while the German Fourth Air Fleet reduced Stalingrad to burning rubble, killing more than 40,000 civilians. In early September, Paulus ordered the first offensives into Stalingrad, estimating that it would take his army about 10 days to capture the city. Thus began one of the most horrific battles of World War II and arguably the most important because it was the turning point in the war between Germany and the USSR.

In their attempt to take Stalingrad, the Sixth Army faced General Zhukov leading a bitter Red Army employing the ruined city to their advantage. In a method of fighting the Germans called Rattenkrieg, or “Rat’s War,” the opposing armies broke into squads eight or 10 strong and fought for every house and yard of territory. The battle saw rapid advances in street-fighting technology, such as a German machine gun that shot around corners and a light Russian plane that glided silently over German positions at night, dropping bombs without warning. However, both sides lacked necessary food, water, or medical supplies, and tens of thousands perished every week.

Joseph Stalin, determined to liberate the city named after him, in November he ordered massive reinforcements to the area. On November 19, General Zhukov launched a counteroffensive out of the rubble of Stalingrad. German command underestimated counterattack, and the Sixth Army was quickly overwhelmed by the offensive, which involved 500,000 Soviet troops, 900 tanks, and 1,400 aircraft. Within three days, the entire German force of more than 200,000 men was encircled.

Italian and Romanian troops at Stalingrad surrendered, but the Germans hung on, receiving supplies by air and waiting for reinforcements. Hitler ordered Von Paulus to stay put and promoted him to field marshal, as no Nazi field marshal had ever surrendered. Starvation and the Russian winter took as many lives as the Soviet troops, and on January 21, 1943, the last of the airports held by the Germans fell to the Soviets, cutting off the Germans from supplies. On January 31, Von Paulus began surrendering his forces.  By February 2, only 90,000 German soldiers were still alive, and of these only 5,000 troops would survive the Soviet prisoner-of-war camps and make it back to Germany.

The Battle of Stalingrad turned the tide of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. General Zhukov later led the Soviet drive on Berlin. On May 1, 1945, he personally accepted Berlin’s surrender.  Von Paulus, meanwhile, agitated against Adolf Hitler among the German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union and in 1946 provided testimony at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. After his release by the Soviets in 1953, he settled in East Germany.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  The term “G-string” does not derive from the fourth string on the violin (G string). Rather, as linguist Robert Hendrickson suggests, the “G” in G-string or (“geestring”) stands for “groin.”  (Now, aren’t you glad you know how it got its name?)


The Farewell

Today I want to share a rather poignant photo with you – one that I took on Saturday in East Union Cemetery in Manteca, CA.

This carving was at the top of the face of the tombstone…actually, the same image was on several of the tombstones.  It was interesting as I walked the cemetery to see that certain motifs and images were popular on tombstones for a while, then a different image seemed to gain favor until it was eventually replaced by another.  Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising – because the same thing is happening with the people who are buried there and who visit them.  The ones who are now visiting those already buried will eventually be buried, too, and another set of people will come to replace them.  Cemeteries are wonderful reminders of the great cycle of life.

I liked this particular image, though.  Or rather, I should say it spoke to me.  As  you look at the two hands, you’ll note that the grip is not a tight one.  In fact, if anything, the hand of the lady on the left seems to be withdrawing or slipping out of the grasp of the man’s hand on the right.  Farewell, indeed.

As I looked at it, I was struck with a sharp sense of melancholy.  In just a few days, I’ll be leaving for an internship in Africa where I’ll be for 7-1/2 weeks.  It will be almost twice the longest period of time that my wife and I have been apart since we were married way back in the stone age (1970).  I can’t bear the thought of being away from her for so long.  When I am not with her, it is as if my life is less than 50% present.

Please understand that I don’t always act that way.  Like everyone else, when I am in the presence of those I love, I tend to take them for granted.  But this picture reminded me that such will not always be the case, and when the time comes for our hands to part, when the moment of farewell comes, I’ll wish I’d not spent these 7-1/2 weeks apart from her.  At that moment, I feel certain that I’ll wish we’d never been apart…and that we never would be.

On the other hand, if there is a farewell, somewhere there must also be a coming back together.  From the dawn of human history we’ve been captivated by the idea of a life beyond this one…a far better life in most cultures.  The Babylonians and Egyptians believed it, as did the Incas, Mayans and native Americans.  There is something in us that insists that there must be something beyond where farewells are no more.

I expect that I shall return safe and sound from Africa and that my wife and I will have more time here.  But just in case that isn’t the case, I hope she knows that I have cherished our years together more than I could ever explain with mere words.

Someday, you, too, will say “Farewell” to those you love the most.  If you are with them tonight, please go tell them now what they mean to you and how you love them!  Don’t let your hands part in the final farewell with those words being unspoken!

There is not too much time…but there certainly is never enough.

FarewellON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1807, the slave trade in England was abolished.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: baby rattlesnakes are born in August and September.  It’s a bad time to be in the brush, because baby rattlers don’t have the discipline to keep from injecting a victim with their full load of venom…a skill they learn as they grow older.


Moving On

I don’t know about where you live, but fall has decidedly moved on around here.  It’s early winter now, which is appropriate considering that the shortest day of the  year (in terms of daylight) will take place this week and then the days will start getting longer again.  It isn’t unique to this year – it happens every year.  Things come, then they move on.

After the events of this past week, it’ll be harder to forget, for a while, that even the most precious things in life can be whisked away in a heartbeat.  But what I fear is that we’ll soon get wrapped up in our daily lives once again that we’ll start to forget what is truly precious.  It’s not that we mean to, we just do.

Facebook was full of reminders the past few days to tell those you love that you do, in fact, love them.  You never know when they may go off and not come back…they will have moved on.  I would hope that won’t be the case for any of us for a long, long time…but I have a nagging suspicion that someone or some things that we deeply cherish will be moving on sooner rather than later.  That means we don’t have time to waste.  Let’s try to make every moment count, every word be seasoned with love, every touch gentle and loving.

Today’s photo was taken earlier this fall.  If I were to go to that same grapevine today, none of the color or the grapes would be there.  They’ve moved on.  Those precise grapes, the leaves with those precise colors and patters, will never be seen again.  Someday, I too, shall move on.  ON THISMovingOn

ON THIS DAY IN TOWN: in 1944, the Battle of the Bulge commenced.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: do you know what country in the world has the largest number of islands?  You’d probably never guess: Finland.  179,584 islands!!!!



Tears…and More Tears

How can it be?  How can anyone, no matter how evil, kill little children?  How I wish we could turn back the clock to the early hours of the morning in Connecticut and knowing what we now know, have changed the course of history.

This isn’t the first time.  It has happened throughout all history – long before the advent of guns this sort of stuff was happening.  The Christmas story itself has a story of a similar tragedy: after the birth of the Christ-child, the vicious and evil King Herod (who is recorded by history as a tyrant for many murders and executions) sent soldiers to kill the little boy babies in the area where Jesus was born in order to eliminate the One the the magi had come to worship.  “A sound of weeping and wailing…”, oh, it has been heard far too often.

How many children died in the purges of Lenin and Stalin?  How many children met a bloody death in the wars men have fought for land, gold or just to feed their huge egos?  How many children perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Dachau, Birkenau and the other death pits of WW2?  Will it never end?

I am appalled.  I feel like weeping.  This morning parents sent their laughing, cheerful little children off to a neighborhood elementary school carrying their lunch buckets, skipping to the bus.  Tonight those parents have empty arms and empty hearts.  Tonight they can’t even cry any more because their tears have all be spent…there are not more…at least not at this moment.  Tonight those children’s beds will be empty.  Tonight the dog will look for the boy or girl who never came home again.  Life will never be the same.  The parents have every right to expect that their little ones would come home for dinner tonight, that they would be safe at their school.  It could have happened at my grand-children’s schools.  I pray, oh how I pray, it never does!  What is a parent supposed to do to protect children from this kind of E-V-I-L?  There is no other word for it but that: E-V-I-L, utter, dark E-V-I-L.

I know that there are no words to ever describe such a thing.  This is one of those instances where a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’m sure we’ll see pictures from the scene that will break all our hearts afresh.

Today’s photo was one I took in 2008 when I was at Bodie with my oldest son, Doug.  I’ve shared it before with my readers, but I thought it was very apropos for this day.  It is a marker on the grave of Evelyn, the “angel of Bodie” – a little girl who was killed in a violent, drunken fight between two miners.  She now stands vigil on the hillside opposite the town, head in hand, as if in mourning for the sadness, pain…and those she left behind who wept for her passing.

If you are a person of faith (or even if you aren’t), I encourage you to say a prayer for the families who bear this pain and tragedy at the deepest possible level of the human heart and soul…and to pray for the day when this will never happen again.


ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: 19-year old Sandy Koufax signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  In his life to that point, Koufax reportedly had played no more than 20 games of baseball.  During the next 12 seasons in the major leagues, he posted 167 wins, 87 losses, 2,396 shutouts, 4 no-hitters (including one perfect game), before he had to retire at a young age due to arthritis in his left elbow.  He was the most dominant pitcher of his time…and he was my childhood hero.  I was fortunate enough to see him pitch in person.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: since nothing sticks to Teflon under normal conditions, manufacturers have to sand-blast the pan/surface to which Teflon will be applied so it will settle into the tiny nooks and crannies.


Going Over the Hill

It has happened all too often lately.  I open my email or look on Facebook and learn about someone I know who has passed on.  Recently, a high school friend, John Artz, passed away.  I recall when we played together on the Antioch Junior High School football team together.  On one play, John and I wound up side by side in the corner of the end zone when another friend, Alan Brown (the quarterback) threw a pass to that corner.  John and I went up for it at the same time, but John jumped just a fraction of a second sooner and he came down with the pass.  I can still see it as clear as a bell in my mind’s eye.  I didn’t really mind – we needed the score – and John and I remained friends thereafter.

Today came word that Michael Duncan Clark, 54 years of age, died.  You may remember him best as the convicted killer John Coffey in the movie The Green Mile with Tom Hanks.  Clark played an enormous man – who had a very gentle spirit and the ability to heal.  He apparently suffered a heart attack back in July and never was really able to recover.

I also recently received news about a former employee of mine, Sandra, who had a massive coronary at 52 years of age and is now gone.

Today’s picture reminds me of the fragility and passing of life.  There are those of us who are going over the hill and down into the valley (as King David put it in Psalm 23, “the valley of death”), and there are some left here, staring wistfully after them as they depart.

I wasn’t thinking about that when I shot today’s picture, but it struck me this afternoon as I was looking at the picture after receiving word about Michael Duncan Clark’s passing.  There are days that I feel like the elk in the foreground, watching people who I know and love going down into the valley.  And I miss them.  It is an inevitable migration that we must all make sooner or later.

Someday, someone will stare after me.  I hope that when they do, they will have fond memories and will recall me kindly.  I wish the same for you, too.

Watching the inevitable migration…

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: Pope John Paul I was installed as the 264th pope of the Catholic church.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: the “last meal” of a condemned person on death row is part of American death-penalty ritual.  Here are some of the final meal requests: 1) John Wayne Gacy had fried chicken and strawberries; 2) Ted Bundy had steak and eggs; 3) James Smith (Texas, 1990) requested a “lump of dirt” (his request was denied; and 4) Missouri inmate Lloyd Schulp asked for venison and hare (his request was granted.)

Life Lessons

First, I’ve not posted because I was out of town and then sick…so hopefully, we’ll get back on our normal schedule here!

Next, let me say that I didn’t take today’s photo…one of my sons did, but he used my camera so I think it’s fair game for me to use it!

Back when the little girl in today’s photo was less than a year old, I have a photo of her in Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Boston, sitting in the  middle of a patch of white flowers (dandelion-like) by a tombstone in that cemetery.  When I shot it, it captured me with a sense of innocence.  She had no idea where she was, or why there were all those marble things sticking up out of the ground.  All she knew was that she found a beautiful place and she was happy.

In this picture, she’s actually on the grave marker of one of her great-grandmothers, though I don’t know if she remembers her, because she would have been slightly over two when that great-grandmother passed away.  But the smile is still there.  She is happy.

There is something wonderful to be said for smiling in a graveyard.  It is a testimony to childlike innocence, but also for those who are older that we don’t believe it is the end, that in fact, there may be an even better world in which to live and that the cemetery is only a doorway to that better place.

We haven’t lived in Georgia all that long, but we’ve made some friends while we were here.  This weekend, we learned that one of them, a very gifted, warm, friendly, happy man, has brain cancer.  He told a group of us that he’d gathered together, and while he was waiting for everyone to gather, he said (in order to alleviate everyone’s wondering about why we were there), “It’s not a big deal.”  Then, a few minutes later, he dropped the bombshell.  We were stunned.  We’re still stunned.  We’re hoping and praying for a full recovery from his upcoming treatments and surgery.

I’ve had enough thinking about grave yards lately.  But I love the innocence of a child in the middle of the markers.  I wish that they would always know grave yards as places of grass, flowers, trees and quiet peacefulness.

Laughter amid the stones…

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1886, Atlanta pharmacist John Styth Pemberton invented the formula for Coca-Cola.  I’m so glad he did!

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: if you rubbed garlic on the bottom of your foot, it would be eventually absorbed through the pores and make its presence known in your breath.

Done Too Soon

It was a song written by Neil Diamond in 1970, by the title, Done Too Soon, that held these lyrics:

Jesus Christ, Fanny Brice,

Wolfie Mozart and Humphrey Bogart

and Genghis Khan and On to H. G. Wells. Ho Chi Minh,

Gunga Din, Henry Luce and John Wilkes Booth

And Alexanders King and Graham Bell.

Ramar Krishna, Mama Whistler,

Patrice Lumumba and Russ Colombo,

Karl and Chico Marx, Albert Camus.

E. A. Poe, Henri Rousseau,

Sholom Aleichem and Caryl Chessman,

Alan Freed and Buster Keaton too

And each one there Has one thing shared:

They have sweated beneath the same sun,

Looked up in wonder at the same moon,

And wept when it was all done For bein’ done too soon,

For bein’ done too soon. For bein’ done.  –  1970 Prophet Music, Inc.

I always found the closing words about the brevity of life and the common experience of sweat, wonder, weeping…and then being done too soon,  terribly haunting.  There is so much in life that I love and the farewells, whether for days, weeks, months, or until eternity, suck the wind right out of my lungs and leave me with a numbness and emptiness that is so painful that it hurts.

When it comes to things of this world, there is nothing that I love more than my family.  My wife, my children, my grandchildren…I’d die for any one of them without a second thought.  I so love being with them, to hear their voices, see their faces, hug them, laugh with them and even, when appropriate, cry with them.  I wish – oh, how I wish! – that I could be with them all during every second of every day.

Life, however, is not that way.  I hate the way families in the modern world get spread all over the country and world.  It wasn’t always that way.  There was a time when families all lived together (at least in very near proximity) and worked the family farm or business together.  They raised their children as a family unit, cared for their elderly family members with tenderness and compassion, and together, they watched as one generation lay down and took their final breath and as a new generation began.  I wish it could be that way.

We recently returned, as you probably know, from visiting our middle child and his family.  They live about 2180 miles away from us.  At one point in our lives, Laurel and I lived in Maine, one son lived in Seattle, another in Boston, and our daughter in the San Francisco bay area.  Now, two of our three kids (and three of our grandchildren) live within no more than 2 hours and 45 minutes of us, but the other is across the country.  And even if we lived across the country near that one, our other two would be here on the west coast.  No matter where we live, there will be heartache and longing to be closer to all our children simultaneously.  And, as if to make matters worse, as their families have grown, it gets harder and harder to all be together in the same place…travel costs rise, schedules get more complicated…and even when you do get together, it is “done too soon.”  It breaks my heart into a thousand shards.

Today’s picture is one I took of my next to youngest granddaughter (3 years old) while we were visiting her mom, dad and our newest granddaughter.  I have lots of pictures of her in this same tree that showed her facing me with her highly infectious, constant laughing smile and dancing dark eyes.  But this picture, from the moment I saw it, broke my heart because it foreshadowed the time we’d have to say goodbye and return home across this nation, even as it foreshadowed the inevitable goodbye that will come when I am “done too soon.”  Life turns away from us  even as she is turned away from the camera, it moves on, and we are left somewhere in the past until we become a dim memory and then are gone and forgotten.  She will grow, develop her own interests, live her own life – one that is not centered on grandma or grandpa, not even mom and dad…and that is how it should be.  But it still hurts to think about it…about being done too soon.

The farewells are painful...for we are done too soon.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr., became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  He donated the $54,000 that came along with the prize to the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: the Sears Tower is the tallest building in Chicago at 1454 feet.  Over 10,000 people work in the tower, and it even has its own zip code: 60606.

Death Flies Above

You know how you are at times driving down a lonely stretch of freeway or highway and you see a sign that says, “Speed enforced by radar” or “Speed enforced by aircraft”?  I have thought at times about writing a short story based on the “speed enforced by aircraft” warning.  Of course, they’re referring to aircraft flying overhead that track how fast you’re going and then report you to a highway patrolman somewhere who will give you a ticket.  But, what if…what if they REALLY meant that the speed was ENFORCED by planes circling overhead carrying air-to-ground missiles?  Picture this: you’re driving down a stretch of highway 80 through the wastelands of Nevada or Utah and you come upon a smouldering wreck of a vehicle along the side of the road.  You wonder what caused the carnage.  Then, a car goes zooming past you in the passing lane and when it gets about 2 miles ahead of you, you suddenly glimpse a streak of white and orange from above as a missile slams into the car, turning it into another pile of twisted and burning metal, plastic and rubber.  See what I mean about “speed ENFORCED by aircraft”?

On Saturday, my photo post was of an owl.  Today is another picture I took of the owl, but of just one of its feet as it sat on the gloved hand of its owner.  Check out the talons on this beast!!!!  At night-time in the woods and fields, owls bring death from above as they swoop down and grab mice, rabbits or other small animals with those mighty and fearsome talons.  Talons are not just claws.  Talons are found in eagles, hawks and owls, and are specifically designed not like claws for ripping, but for carrying things.  The largest and strongest talons, of course, are found on the largest eagles, especially harpy eagles that swoop down and their talons can pierce through the tough, scaled armor on the outside of a large fish before they fly off with it in their grasp.

Makes me glad that I’m not a mouse in a field at night or a fish lolling on the surface of a lake.

It also makes me glad that there are no more pterodactyls!

Yikes! Keep those things away from me!!!!!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1928, “Steamboat Willie” the first motion picture starring Mickey Mouse, shown at the Colony Theater in New York City.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: the U.S. was fighting the Mexican war when gold was found in California.  In fact, California was still Mexican territory at the time.