The New Fall Season

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I returned to post this week’s blog and realized that the entire month of August was all about my dad’s passing.  The past four collections of thoughts were all about that particular topic.  While I tried my best to make them informative for you and therapeutic for me, I have never been more relieved to see the calendar flip over to the next month.

Now, September is not without consequences.  Someone very close to me…well, actually, it’s me…will turn the big 6-0 on the 20th.  Why do they always say “The big 6-0?”   Like I could choose the smaller one?

I’ve told some people my theory before and for you younger readers who aren’t wearing readers, please notice this when you reach your mid 30s.  In my wrinkled mind, I still feel like I did when I was 35.  In my brain, I am 35.  Older, yes….wiser, maybe….but that particular point of my life just locked in.  Until I get in front of a mirror, I look out through my eyeballs away from my body and I’m a 35-year-old.

When I was in mid-30 territory, I had several good friends in their 50s and  remember thinking, “Man, that’s a great decade.” These people all had settled into a great jobs, they had the toys–a boat, a vacation place, they traveled–life was completely under control.

You 30s and unders, let me be your life guide:

30-something  The decade you’ll back on when things seem to start coming together.  The kids don’t need constant supervision.  Or, maybe they do, but you’re relaxing a little now.  You’ve bought a house, the income has come up, the job is clicking, you’ve got a great circle of friends and life is good.

40-something  The decade where things started to come apart. I remember going to a neighborhood party and within 10 minutes, the guys were all off by themselves, talking about what part of their body hurt the most.  Divorces start to show up in that circle of friends.

50-something  The decade that the things that fell apart start coming back together again.  The biggest thing I noticed about this decade is that you are as developed as a person as you’re going to be.  You know what you like, what you’ll put up with and what you won’t.  My way or the highway.  You start thinking about the fact that you’re clearly past the mid-way point of your life.  Parents and friends begin to die.  Time to create that bucket list.

60-something   I’m not there.  Stop pushing.

One thing that this past month taught me (and I’m always looking for something to learn) is that you haven’t heard all the stories yet.  Oh, sure, family members go back to the classics a lot and you think, “(sigh), here we go again.”  But while talking with my sister Debbie a week ago, she reflected back to her youth and the fact that she was not a very good seamstress.  Oh, she took Home Ec in school, but try as she might, she just didn’t pick up the knack of sewing.  How bad was she at sewing?  One year for her birthday, she got a seam ripper for a gift.  That cracked me up.  I had never heard that story before.

There’s a lot out there to absorb and here’s some shocking news: its not all on your phone.  Talk with the people you care about.  Chit chat.  The ones who mean the most to you are on different life clocks that you are.  It’s a delicate balance between being morbid and savoring every moment of this precious life.

I’m glad to be turning 60.  It means I’m still here, still doing what I love to do and looking forward to all the fun ahead. Bring on the new fall season!

And besides, the Mariners traded Fernando Rodney.  What more could I ask for?

Tim Hunter

 

WHAT I LEARNED

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Losing a family member is one of the most painful things you’ll experience in this lifetime. This past month, my dad went home to his eternal reward. If you’ve read the past couple of blogs, you saw how a difficult thing was made even tougher by situations and people obsessed with their own self-importance.

We all know life will have its rough spots and, as you’ve often heard, “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” That is SO true. If there’s anything to be learned from an experience, embrace it.  Down the road, it will help us either avoid situations or make the difficult ones easier to navigate.

Prime example—back when I owned a boat, I was on Lake Wenatchee with the kids when I decided to take a shortcut. My prop hit a rock in the shallow water, the shaft was bent and $2800 later, I had the boat all fixed up enough to sell it.  I won’t be taking shortcuts in unknown waters ever again. A lesson learned.

With my father’s passing, I observed and witnessed several things that I’ll offer to you, hoping to spare you the learning curve and perhaps, making it just a little easier to get through that challenging stretch of your life.

Here’s what I learned:

My parents were smart.  They bought a pair of cemetery plots back in the 1950s for $170.  They made $6 a month payments until they owned them.  Today, they would sell for $14,000 EACH!  A pretty good return on your investment.  If you’re planning cremation, much simpler.  But if you wanted to end up in the ground somewhere (and, you could always change your mind later and sell your plots at a much higher rate), now is the time to buy.

They also did the pre-paid funeral plan.  Back in 2001, mom and dad both picked out their coffins, the type of service they wanted, everything.  Yes, it’s morbid, people don’t like to think about that stuff, etc….but it saves the family so much agonizing over which $7,000 coffin to buy….what would mom or dad want, etc.  Upgrades and alternatives were offered, but we stuck with the pre-approved plan because, after all, that’s what dad had wanted.

I’ve never been a fan of open casket services.  The person just doesn’t look right. However, I believe that the amount of time I spent at the viewing and the open casket funeral service really pounded home that this was real, that it was dad’s shell and not him. He was in a much better place now, at peace and without pain.  I guess, in a way, it helped make his passing more real.

Airlines vary in how they handle flight changes based on bereavement. Alaska Airlines changed our return date with no questions asked and no fees.  While United Airlines charged $50 per change and wanted proof sent to them.  A consideration if you have long-distance travel as part of being there. Like they say, “check with your airline.”

There will be times when you feel you have to fight for everything—don’t give up.  That’s what they want, that’s what they hope for, but don’t let them have it.  We were told that our father’s body wasn’t going to be released to the mortuary and would spend the weekend on a slab in the morgue like a common criminal because he died on a Friday and a hospital employee “just couldn’t finish all the paperwork by 4pm.”  Unacceptable.  Not negotiable. UNACCEPTABLE!  We found out this fact at 2pm.  We argued on the phone with a hospital employee, then went to the hospital to further argue our case.  By going over her head and being there (even after a phone call that claimed it had all been handled and it wasn’t), our father was released at 4:45pm.  Most people probably would roll over, or are grieving so much they just don’t want to take something like that on.  Not the Hunters.

In buying flowers, you’ll get so much more (and pay less) if you go to a floral wholesaler. Google ‘em, you’ll find one nearby.  Yes, we had to drive a little and pay a delivery fee, but we were able to choose some stunning floral arrangements from mom, the kids and the grandkids and great grandkids.

Oh, and people will say things.  Wrong things. Uncomfortable things.  They are not intended to be mean or insensitive, but other people are having a tough time with the passing, too.  They care about you, so they feel they need to say something and the words that come out are far from helpful.  Just hold your outrage, nod your head and process it later.  A great example: While waiting at the funeral home, one of the employees came out and said to us, “Oh, you all look so sad.” Ya think?  Another well-meaning friend who had an elderly parent that needed lots of care sent me a private Facebook message.  In fact, here’s what she said: “At that age I’m sure he was happy to go and maybe ready too.”  Even if that was true, not the time to say it and I really don’t want to hear it.  Especially from a non-family member.  Or even from a family member.

Those are the headlines. Just a few of the lessons learned after my father’s passing. I hope something in there helps you better understand a few things when the time comes for you to go through the loss of a family member.

God’s peace.

Tim Hunter

The Great Hunter Hospital Nightmare

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The following is a letter that I wrote and sent on behalf of our family to Harbor UCLA Hospital, where my father spent the final hours of his life.  It’s hard to believe in this day and age that someone could be so insensitive and it’s a shame that one person can taint the otherwise mostly positive experience.

I heard from the hospital administration yesterday.  They are sending a letter explaining their steps and reactions to my mother and have called to apologize to her.  It still doesn’t un-do the emotional abuse we endured that day, but we’re hoping that calling them out prevents any other family from going through this on a day they lose a loved one.

The lesson–stand your grand and don’t put up with power-tripping, insensitive people.  There are actually very few of them and many more of us.

Tim Hunter

 

To the Directors of Harbor UCLA Hospital

The John Hunter family of Torrance, California, had quite a few experiences with your facility over the past couple of years, but we feel we must share our most recent.

The reason for our visit, our dad, 91-year-old John Hunter, got out of bed Wednesday afternoon after lying down to take a nap, lost his balance and fell backwards, hitting his head on an end table in the bedroom.

The result was an injury that required an ambulance ride to Harbor UCLA.  It was there that, after a series of CAT scans, we realized his bleeding wasn’t going to stop, he was too weak for surgery, and this was probably the end of the road.

After the second CAT scan, his speech became garbled and by the third scan, the pooling blood had reduced him to just a breathing body.

My wife and I arrived in town Thursday afternoon and by the time we arrived at the hospital, the situation was obvious.  We all believed dad could hear everything said, so we talked with him and included him in the discussions.

It was at this point I knew that I would need to write a glowing letter about some of your caring staff.

First off, my sister Debbie and Mom raved about the incredible treatment when dad first arrived at the Emergency/Trauma center. The staff was phenomenal and Dr. Brando was exceptionally compassionate.

Then, in the 3rd floor ICU, there was Nurse Rodney Hittle.  When my wife & I first arrived, dad was in the ICU unit in his non-responsive mode.  Rodney came up, introduced himself, explained the situation, asked if we had any questions and made us feel that our dad was in great hands.  Even while moving him around as they prepared to relocate him to a private room on the 6th floor for Comfort Care, Rodney would talk to dad and say, “OK, John, we’re going to….etc”   It was heart-warming to see him treat a patient that way.  Add to that, Rodney also came up twice to check on us before he headed home.

Since I live in Seattle and realized that we were in the final few days of my father’s life, I volunteered to stay the night with him.  This gave me a lot of time to talk with him, relive old stories and say my goodbyes.  Concerned he’d try to slip away while I was sleeping there, I set my alarm every hour to check on him.  The overnight nurse, Christine, was amazing.  She introduced herself.  During her multiple stops in the room to check on him, she kept asking how I was doing.  It was the kind of caring for your family member that you’d think should be the rule.  However, in our experience with other area medical providers, we’ve discovered that it’s the exception.

We also had incredibly positive encounters with a Dr. Sloan and Dr. Nan and on Friday morning, our day shift nurse, Tracy Jones, who you’ll be hearing about later.

We had various discussions about the “What if’s”, wondering if dad would last for days, hours or whatever.  He surprised us all and slipped away at 10:41 Friday morning.

The family grieved, prayed and spent time with dad before Tracy informed us they were ready to move the body whenever we were done.  The family packed up and left around 1pm, heading home to have lunch and begin our grieving.

And this is when our Harbor UCLA nightmare began.

As we sat down to lunch at our mother’s home around 2pm, my sister Terri’s cell phone rang. She went down the hall to talk and soon returned, signaling me to come join her in the conversation.

It was Green Hills Mortuary, letting us know that there was a paperwork issue preventing them from picking up our father’s body.  Terri was given the phone number of someone to contact at Harbor UCLA: her name was Donna.

Terri called asking why our father’s body wasn’t being released.  She was told that was true and that it probably wasn’t going to happen today.  Then she informed my sister that pickups didn’t occur after 4pm Fridays or on the weekends so my dad would probably remain in their morgue until Monday.

Without hesitation, Terri conveyed the family response.  That was completely unacceptable.  That’s when Donna dug in and informed her that having dad’s body picked up “wasn’t going to happen.”

With her lack of co-operation, we decided to go around her.  We asked for her supervisor and we were informed that she was on vacation, but here’s her cell phone number. “Don’t leave a message, just keep calling.”

We called the phone number over and over without a response.  Now, we’re fighting mad.

So, I called Rodney.  He told us our best bet would be to check with our floor nurse.  I called up the 6th floor to reach Tracy Jones and was put on hold for 10 minutes.  I decided to hang up, redialed and this time, I reached Tracy. She was surprised and told us that all the paperwork had been turned in.  The doctor had signed off, there was no reason why it shouldn’t be released.  At 11:45am.

We called Donna back and explained what Tracy said and Donna informed us that there were complications, the coroner’s office had to be involved, and again, it was unlikely it was going to happen today.  Plus, there was something my mom needed to sign that she hadn’t signed.  (which turned out later to not be true)

OK, it was obvious by now that this was not going to be resolved over the phone, so my sister Terri, my mother and I headed back to the hospital.  A place we thought we had left for the last time.

As we approached the hospital, my cell phone rang. It was Tracy the nurse, who had given me her personal cell phone in case this wasn’t resolved.  Tracy told us it had all been handled, she had personally gone down to Donna’s office and talked with her and that Green Hills was 15 minutes away from the hospital.

We called my sister Debbie with the good news.  She suggested that since we were almost at the hospital that we stop by and verify the transfer, just in case.

Thankfully we did, because it was NOT resolved. We went to Donna’s office (Decendent Affairs), knocked on the door and were greeted by a friendly employee.  We explained why we were there and that’s when she turned and spoke to the other employee in the room and said, “Donna?”

Donna then abruptly told us she was working on the forms, that there was a lot to it, that bit about involving the coroner’s office again and said she was doing the best she could.  We said that Tracy told us it was all handled.  Donna used her hands to create an imaginary box and said, “Yes, but she does not work here in this office.”  At one point of our discussion, your employee even mention that some bodies stay in their morgue for a month or more.

My first reaction was to go outside so I could have cell phone service and call Tracy back.  When I reached her, Tracy said she had hand-delivered the paperwork to Donna, the doctor had signed off and that Donna had everything she needed.

At this point, it became apparent we needed to locate someone at the hospital who could show a little more compassion for a family that had just lost one of its members.  I found out the location of patient services on the 8th floor and went there to explain our situation.  After going through a detailed description, the two friendly employees told me they were aware of what was going on and led me down to Donna’s office.  My mom and sister Terri joined us along the way and waiting in front of the office were Nurse Tracy and Dr. Nam.  Both apologized and said they had no idea what the hang up was.   It was now 4pm.  Tracy had gotten off-shift at 3pm, but stayed late to make sure this was fixed.  She had done everything she could possibly do to help.

Tracy left and the rest of the hospital staff gathered behind the frosted windows of Donna’s office as my mom, sister and I stood outside. 45 minutes later, they emerged with Dr. Nam letting us know that dad’s body had been picked up and taken to Green Hills.

We were also informed later that, yes, there was something the coroner’s office needed to do, but they were able to perform that at Green Hills.

We never saw Donna, which was probably for the better. Her lack of compassion, her condescending attitude, was monumental.  We wondered how many other families have experienced this heartless treatment by a Harbor UCLA staff member.  It was not our intention to interfere with her on-time Friday afternoon departure.

It’s a shame for all of the positive attributes of Harbor UCLA during such a traumatic life experience that we had to spend a day of mourning for my father fighting for his dignity.

Regretfully yours,

The Hunter Family

 

So you know the complete story, on Sunday we were informed by the funeral home that dad’s body would have to be taken to downtown LA and signed off by the coroner before we could bury him.  We didn’t know until Monday afternoon that the Wednesday funeral plans would actually happen.  How to make a difficult time even more difficult.  I understand the intent, but every now and then, a little common sense needs to break out.

Again, stand your ground.  Fight for what you know is right and maybe you’ll help another family avoid such treatment.

TH

 

My Last Night With Dad

“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”     David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives  

Just a few years ago...

Just a few years ago…

It was a Wednesday afternoon when the first text came.  Dad was in the hospital again.  There had been another fall, but this time, it was bad.  He had hit the back of his head on an end table in the bedroom and the internal bleeding wouldn’t stop.  While there had been falls in each of the past several years, this looked like it could be it.

My wife, Victoria, and I caught a morning flight from Seattle and arrived at Harbor UCLA Hospital by Thursday afternoon.  In less than 24 hours after our arrival, he would be gone.

Dad was speaking when he first arrived at the hospital, but as the blood pooled inside his head, it began squeezing the brain, slowly shutting down his body. By the time we arrived, dad was just breathing.  He was unresponsive, looking like he had so many times before, as if sleeping.

The hospital moved him to a private room upstairs so that we could have more family members in the room with him. Around 11pm, everyone headed home to grab some sleep, while I volunteered to stay with dad.  The last stages of life had been described to us, so it was my job to keep an eye on him and, if his breathing changed, I was to notify everyone so they could come back and say goodbye one last time.

It just felt like ‘this was it.’  The doctor said it could last hours, days or weeks, but the chance of dad improving from his current state was pretty much nil.

I’d stare at him, cry a little, then stare some more. As his body worked on shutting down, I remembered someone saying that hearing was supposed to be one of the last things to go. So, I pulled up a chair and began recalling Dad stories, talking with him about every moment of my life where he was involved. During this time, I came to the realization that I had only ever called him two things—Dad and Pop. Then the rambling, tear-filled stories began. There’s no way I could remember everything I talked about that night, but here are a few of the memories I shared with him:

  • First, the days of Little League Baseball came to mind.  There were the Pee Wee Pirates and then the minor-league Giants (an amazing fact, considering his Dodger Blue loyalty).  I only had one home run in my Little League career and he missed it.  Dad was trying to get some of the rowdy boys in the dugout to calm down when he looked up and saw me circling the bases.  It was a story he liked to tell often.
  • We played catch in the backyard a lot. He’d use this mitt I’d swear was once worn by Ty Cobb that he had from his World War II days.  Dad made up a wood ‘home plate’ so that he could crouch down and I could work on my pitching technique.
  • When we weren’t playing catch in the backyard, we’d be out in the driveway playing basketball.  Even through my teens, he liked going out and shooting hoops.  While my high school coaches promoted the one-handed jump shot, he stuck with his famous West Virginia two-handed set shot.
  • I remembered when he worked the graveyard shift at United Airlines and would come home around 7am. Mom would make him breakfast and dad would enjoy his scrambled eggs with ketchup on them.
  • There’s the bird bath that still sits in my folks’ backyard.  Back when I was a senior at Torrance High School, as class president, I led the charge to repaint the Senior Pond.  We used some Sky Blue paint to give the bottom a nice look and then I took the rest of that paint home.  Dad used it to paint their bird bath and was still using that same can of paint 42 years later to touch it up.
  • There were times that, as a kid, you knew things were different, but you didn’t know enough back then to worry about it.  That’s what parents do.  When United Airlines mechanics went on strike in the 1960s, Dad went down and worked on the Long Beach docks, unloading bananas and doing anything to keep a paycheck coming in.
  • Oh, yeah. There were those United Airline company picnics and Christmas parties.  Those were the days.  The picnics were held at the Los Angeles Police Academy, with games, a swimming pool, endless hot dogs & sodas and a clown.  The Christmas parties were cool, ’cause every kid got a present and we got to sit with Santa and tell him what we wanted for Christmas.
  • There were countless trips to Dodger Stadium, to see our Boys in Blue play.  This was back in the day when very few games were on TV and most of our weeknights were spent listening to the radio with Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett calling the play-by-play.  The Hunters were definitely Dodger fans.
  • To be fair, we also followed the Los Angeles Lakers, back in the days of Jerry West (Zeke, from Cabin Creek….West Virginia), Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and more.  Working on the ground crew at United Airlines, dad was occasionally able to grab some autographs of the players when they flew commercial airliners (and boarded from those stairs on the ground).  I have one 3X5 card filled with autographs of players like Jerry West, Mel Counts and others.  One day I took it out of the book and flipped it over and there all by itself on the other side–the autograph of Lawrence Welk!
  • There was the time up at Crestline near Big Bear Lake that my sister Terri was running down the side of a hill, couldn’t stop and ran smack dab into the lake.  Not knowing how to swim, she panicked, dad went into the water to get her, clothes and all.
  • There were the times while growing up that we would go over to his mom’s house, where his sister and brother also lived, in Gardena.  They would have dances out in the garage, playing records.  I just assumed that’s what everyone did on their Saturday nights in California.
  • I remembered our South Dakota fishing trip with dad, my uncle Jim and myself, on the Missouri River.  We went out and caught a nice string of Northern Pike, with me and my kiddie fishing pole landing the biggest.  I believe that’s when my fishing addiction officially started.
  • It seems as though we have more home movies than most families.  My dad isn’t in a lot of them because he was the guy operating the camera.  Now I know where I get that.  For the 8mm camera to pick up things inside, Dad had to use a light bar, that I’m sure is used by some Third World Countries during interrogations.  My sister Debbie theorizes that it’s why all of us kids ended up needing glasses.
  • We went camping a lot while growing up.  It made for an affordable vacation and we even worked in a trip to Washington State once.  I know the Redwoods were among mom’s favorite spots, but dad pretty much liked ’em all.
  • This was the guy who bore the brunt of my bad decision to make my first car a 1962 Volkswagen Van. It broke down 3 weeks after I bought it. Dad, in his spare time, rebuilt the engine out in the garage and then we sold it. I might have remembered a mild “I told you so”, but it was a classic example of letting me make a mistake, then being there as my safety net.

Those are just some of the stories I shared with Pop.  I pretty much talked Dad’s ears off for two consecutive hours, half expecting him to sit up and say, “Would you shut up?  I’m trying to sleep here.”  I thought it best to at least grab a little sleep, so around 1am, I set the alarm to go off in an hour.  That way I could check and see how he was doing.  I did that every hour until the morning.  Each time, there was no change in his breathing.

Around 7am, I realized with modern technology, I had the means to put on some music for him.  While he enjoyed big bands, I remembered he was very fond of the Mills Brothers.  So, I used iHeartRadio and put on a Mills Brothers channel.

I continued talking with him until around 10am when more people showed up.  Around 10:40am that Friday morning, with the sounds of his family, friends and the Mills Brothers filling the room, dad slipped away.  No final gasps, no unusual movements, he just stopped breathing.  He was at peace.

Living over a thousand miles away to the north, I wasn’t able to be there for a lot of his later years.  My mom and sister Debbie bore the brunt of all the hospital trips and doctor appointments, for which I’ll be forever grateful. We managed two or three visits a year, with most of those seeming to be at hospitals or rehabilitation centers. Saying goodbye to any family member is never easy, but when it’s your role model and the guy who taught you how to ride a bike and throw a curve ball, that’s tough. I take comfort in the fact that Dad made his life count. People continued to come up to me for the never several days, telling me what a great person he was. 91+ years on this earth, with a wonderful family to show for it—well done, John Hunter.

I appreciate so much being able to spend that last night with Dad. All of us made it pretty clear during those final days that he was loved and will be missed. My goal is to think of him as often as possible with joy, not sadness.

And by saying his name, we’ll put off that third stage of Mr. Eagleman’s theory just a little bit longer.

Love ya, Dad!

Tim Hunter

Yeah, I've always been a goof

Yeah, I’ve always been a goof

The Week I Said Goodbye

Me & Pop

It started with a phone call.  It was a Wednesday afternoon.  My sister Debbie was letting us know that dad had taken a nasty fall.  As in, backwards, hitting his head in the bedroom on the corner of an end table.

Now, in recent years, the annual call from Debbie had become a tradition.  Dad would fall and the result was a broken something which would usually require a 6-month stay at a rehabilitation facility.

But this time was different. My 91-year-old father, John Hunter, had really done it this time.  The ambulance came and took him to Harbor UCLA, where he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. There were stitches and staples and they put the skin on the back of his head together…but it was what was happening inside that didn’t bode well.

For all he had been through in recent years, dad was tired.  He had lost interest in the jigsaw puzzles that occupied hours of his time. His hearing was mostly gone, although as many times as he’d say “What?” he’d surprise you with a comment on a topic that had been discussed near him earlier.

The first CAT scan showed internal bleeding.  The doctors tried giving him platelets to stop the bleeding.  The next CAT scan showed more blood pooling in his head. The bleeding just wasn’t stopping.  After coming back to the room, dad’s speech was garbled, as if he had a stroke. By the third CAT scan that showed even more blood, he had been reduced to a breathing body.

I was still in Seattle, getting texts, dozing off, getting a phone call, talking half-awake and soon, it was morning. We finally had to admit that this was going to be it.  The day you dreaded, but knew it would happen someday.  We booked a flight Thursday morning, arriving at Harbor UCLA in the afternoon.

I walked into the ICU and reality hit. I don’t need to detail everything that happened, but the next step was for us to agree to “Comfort Care.”  It’s when the patient is moved to a private room where family can gather around until he or she passes.

The next thing you know, mom, my sister Debbie, my wife Victoria and I were up in a hospital room on the 6th floor.  My sister Terri and her husband Darrell were on the way from Arkansas, while my daughter Christina was flying in from Olympia.  Since they all arrived at the airport around the same time, they were able to car pool together, arriving at the hospital around 9 o’clock.

We talked about dad.  We prayed together. Our reunion was something special, but unfortunately for the wrong reason. My mom and sister were exhausted.  The rest of us weren’t doing well, either, but I volunteered to spend the night with dad in the room, watching for any signs of ‘the end.’  If something happened, I’d call everybody so they could rush over and say their goodbyes.

Everyone left and I pulled up a chair next to dad.  As the bleeding continued, it squeezed his brain causing portions of his body to shut down.  They say that hearing is one of the last things to go, so I was going to make the most of it.  For the next two hours, I relived every story imaginable that involved dad. I half expected him at some point to sit up and tell me to shut up so he could get some sleep. Around 1am, I figured I better get some sleep so I could be more useful the next day.  However, since I had sentry duty and might need to alert the troops, I set my alarm to go off every hour to check on dad and see if he was showing any of the final stage symptoms.

By 7am, I told dad I needed to do my daily writing job for Radio Online, so I fired up the laptop and took care of business, taking occasional breaks to tell him about what was going on in the world. Then I realized I had the technology to have some of his favorite music playing while he laid there.  He often told me how much he like the Mills Brothers, so I placed my phone over by him and used the iHeartMedia app to stream some Mills Brothers tunes.

A doctor stopped by and we chatted about dad’s situation. He had said these things could take hours….days…..or longer.  We even talked about hospice care if this continued and he said he’d ask the social work to drop by some possibilities.

I wrapped up my writing as family members began to arrive.  Life-long friends of my parents, Steve and Valera Braun, and their daughter Julie, had also stopped by.  We were chatting about dad, his days at United Airlines with Steve, and generally just hanging out when Mom strolled over to dad and noticed something.  “He’s not breathing.”

In my mind, I’m thinking about how the nurse said towards the end he might stop and then start again.  We waited, but nothing happened.  We called in a nurse, who found a doctor and he was pronounced dead.

Really!  That’s it?  You find yourself torn between not knowing that he was going right then and there…but then, to know comes with gasping or convulsing or ugly body sounds.  Dad just slipped away.  He was listening to favorite songs.  I was done talking his ear off about all of the things I remembered about him.  He heard family and friends laughing and chatting in the background.

My sister Debbie missed dad’s departure by minutes and felt bad. But I let her know, WE missed it, too!  We were right there in the room with him and that soft-spoken boy from Scotland who was so proud of his family just slipped away.  My beliefs say he’s finally at peace, with his savior.  It helps.

We stayed in the room for a couple of hours, hanging with our father one last time.  Kissing his forehead, telling him we loved him and then finally, leaving him to begin the process of mourning.

What happened after that you will not believe.  I’ll share that next week.

In the meantime, enjoy this video I put together with just a few of the moments in that incredible life.  With music, of course, from the Mills Brothers.

God’s peace, dad.

Tim Hunter

Hey, We Elected Them!

I love this city.  Since moving to Seattle in 1973, there are few days that don’t amaze me with its beauty.  Yeah, the traffic continues to worsen, but we’re working on that and everything should be fine in around 245 years.  Patience.

However, I lost some respect for our city leaders this week when I attended a public hearing about a proposed homeless camp at 28th & Market Street in Ballard.  While we don’t live in Ballard, our social life is centered on the many events that take place in that part of town and when and we have lots of friends there.  So, when Victoria suggested we attend this hearing, I was all for it.

As we walked up, there was a huge crowd outside the VFW hall, which, if this camp becomes reality, would border the homeless camp.

The parking lot next to the site was packed

The parking lot next to the site was packed

Now, before we go any further, let me just say that the homeless issue has become very much like politics.  You’re either on one side or the other.  Both sides feel that if you start talking and aren’t reflecting what I feel, then you’re a cold, heartless person or a bleeding-heart idiot.

My feeling is this–the homeless need help.  Not enabling, help to make their lives better.  Some ended up there through bad life choices or bad luck.  They are human beings.  They should get our help.

The rest (and what often seems to be the majority) of them have substance abuse or mental issues and will not get better with a couple of bucks or a tent.  But there’s a sincere if not misguided group of people who feel if we cater to those sleeping on the streets, if we wait on them hand and foot, if we don’t expect them to change but accommodate their lifestyle, then we are doing God’s work. And, of course, it comes back to the point where if you disagree with that, you’re ignorant, afraid, or just aren’t of a higher intelligence.

That’s exactly what happened at the hearing last Monday night.  But let me give you the background of how we got there.

The city of Seattle has decided that a temporary solution to homelessness is to give them a chunk of city land and tents.   Then it proves to the world that Seattle cares.  Just a few of the cracks in the logic of that theory?

There are up to 3,000 homeless in Seattle.  This camp would house 50, as soon as September and for up to two years in a row. Then relocate for a year, followed by up to another two-year engagement.

So, of Seattle’s 3,000 homeless residents, which 50 are going to be lucky enough to get a spot in this little village? Is it some of the existing homeless in Ballard, or a fresh crop to add to the numbers?

Oh, did I mention that the land parcel being considered–owned by Seattle City Light–needs toxic waste cleanup, to the tune of $145,000?  Oh and because City Light owns it, the city would pay to rent the land.

And there was a tree there that mysteriously was cut down, despite an existing city ordinance that supposedly protects healthy trees. The councilman was under the impression that it was an unhealthy tree. But he probably wasn’t counting on that city arborist stepping up to the microphone and saying he felt the tree was healthy and there was no reason to have cut it down.

Unless, maybe, you’re planning to railroad through this plan to turn the lot into a tent city?

Mayor Murray apparently assembled a 19-person panel to select the possible sites for more tent cities, starting with 140 or so and whittling them down to 3 finalists and 4 alternate sites.

You have to wonder how 28th and Market Street was chosen as a ‘preferred’ site? Must be because of the families in the units on the hill above, who would be lucky enough to look down on it every day. Or perhaps the V.F.W. Hall whose parking lot bumps up against the lot. They have major concerns that hall rental income would be greatly reduce when potential renters realize their wedding or reunion guests will have to park right next to a homeless camp.

And did we mention how this site has a liquor store, a convenience store full of high-octane beer and wine and a marijuana store all a block or two away?

While the mayor and the council were invited to this gathering to explain their thinking, only Council member Mike O’Brien was brave enough to show up. Kudos to him. However, it’s probably because he lost a series of coin tosses and was chosen as the council representative to spout the city thinking: People act like this when they’re full of fear (we weren’t) or don’t understand what’s best for the homeless. (Oh, tell us, oh wise and all-knowing ones. We are but ignorant common citizens who cannot think of such clever use of vacant lots).

Dori Monson took on this topic the other day and asked a good question. Since churches have hosted homeless tent villages for years because they’re on private property, why don’t the council members including O’Brien, open up their front and back yards and allow homeless to camp there? In fact, here’s a question—Mr. O’Brien, how close is the nearest homeless tent village to your home? In Ballard?

The point was also made that the homeless have almost become a protected species. Very few are ever arrested for trespassing or public intoxication. The homeless advocates live in a world where people on the street are our fault. Again, I’m very in favor of doing things that will help them get better, recover from their addictions, find their way back. However, the majority of current steps are simply to perpetuate their lifestyle, not remedy it. Add to that, it seems as though word is spreading—come to Seattle and we’ll take care of you!

Instead of thinking that being homeless is unacceptable, it has become a lifestyle.

Let’s take them off the streets for a moment and make them a member of your family. So, Cousin Jake has developed a heroin problem and hasn’t had a job in years. So, the solution is to give him that extra bedroom, bring him food and let him live in your house with your wife and kids? You wouldn’t do that for a family member. So, why would you expect a community to welcome homeless camps with drug deals and God knows what else is going on in there?

Advocates who portray these tent cities as a structured second chance are kidding themselves.

It’s as if these people grew up thinking these people are the lovable hobos like Red Skelton portrayed. Again, there are serious, real hard-luck cases out there that deserve our help. But if Seattle is already spending $20-million a year on homeless issues and things are getting worse, not better, you might think our elected officials might consider a different approach to the problem.

I’ve spoken with several police officers who worked in a community that housed such a tent city. The drug deals, some fights, sex under the local school bleachers….the problems are real, not exceptions.

They need counseling, intervention, therapy AND housing. We, as a society, need to help, not enable. We need to be driven by concern, not political grand-standing and guilt.

For those who are interested, the vice-Mayor of Seattle is going to be at the Leif Erikson Lodge in Ballard next Wednesday night for one more hearing on the topic. It starts at 6:30pm. The hall holds 500 people and I’m expecting it to be packed, so if you’re going, get there early.!

I’m also expecting everything said to fall on deaf ears. Through the back doors, I’ve heard this is a done deal. The camp will go in, regardless of who says what, because they know better.

And remember, we elected them.

Tim Hunter

 

 

 

 

WHEN DID GROWING UP BECOME OPTIONAL?

growup

I look around at the world today and wonder, “When did people stop growing up?”

Maybe when times were tougher, when you had to struggle to just stay alive, people were forced into adulthood and adult behavior.  It wasn’t optional.

I know I can look back on my childhood and recall things that today, I can’t believe I did.  But eventually, you realize there are consequences for your actions.  That if you do this, THAT will probably happen.

As a 6-year-old, I went up to my cousin’s cabin at Big Bear Lake and, in one weekend, ate salmon eggs because I was hungry and started a forest fire.  Oh, the fire fighters showed up almost immediately and it was accidental.  It wasn’t like we were doing it for kicks.  Me and my 7-year-old cousin even built it in a wood box so it wouldn’t spread.

There was the time where we were playing hide ‘n seek at Immanuel Lutheran School in Redondo Beach.  Laurel Schearer was “It”, she saw me and we raced back to the flag pole that was home base.  As she came close to saying, “1-2-3 on Tim” I pushed her in the back.  She fell face-first into the pole and chipped her front tooth.  Why did I do that?  I seriously don’t know, but in the mind of third grader playing hide ‘n seek, it seemed like a reasonable action.

Oh, and while a freshman in high school, I threw a girls’ lunch out the bus window and lost my bus riding privileges for a week.

I’m sure there are lots of other indiscretions  but, over time, they minimize so that they’re reduced to buying a stock that plummets the next day or eating that leftover you knew was probably bad, but you hated to just throw it away.

Now, when I see a Minnesota dentist that, from the outside, seemed like a responsible citizen…but that goes out and kills exotic animals for “sport”…or a professional football quarterback who destroys a cell phone so that we won’t really know what really happened…I’m at a loss.  It’s common for people to think they’re above the law, that it applies to everyone else but them. We see that every day with bicyclists that ignore traffic signals, jaywalkers, people talking on the phones while driving and holding them in their hands, etc.  But when it comes to common decency, how do you evolve to the point where that gets thrown out the window? (like a sack lunch)

I’m not claiming I’m perfect, by any means.  I gave you just a few examples above of some of my failings, but I’m saving the bulk of them for my eventual Encyclopedia of Screw-Ups, Volumes 1-26.   It used to be that “they” were the exception.  Nowadays, they seem to be becoming the rule.  Where the guy who walks into a theater and starts shooting isn’t a punk kid from an out-of-control family, but instead, is a 59-year-0ld drifter that can appear normal enough to go to a local gun store and stock up.

I wonder if this is just a generational thing.  That people in the early 1900s felt the world was falling apart when World War I broke out, or how my parents felt when World War II was underway.  Now, we don’t do official World Wars,  we fight mini-wars here and there and at home.

This wasn’t meant to turn into a rant on any one subject. But I have to say, for all the good there is in the world, it just seems like the bad is on the increase.  Or, maybe that’s just the way it’s always been and always will be.

Or, perhaps, even at my advanced years, I need to grow up just a little bit more.

Tim Hunter