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From grimace to grin, from pain to peace and from earth to Eden . . .


Janie,
my wife and the mother of our three daughters, for eleven years was a long-time ovarian cancer survivor dating from 1999. In recent months the cancer had metastasized to her lungs and other organs, a spread so severe that surgery and chemotherapy were no longer options. She was also a long-time dialysis patient with a schedule of two days each week, Monday and Thursday, for two hours each day. She had dialysis on Monday, 8 November but because Thursday was November 11, Veteran’s Day, her dialysis appointment was shifted to Friday. We did not take her to dialysis on the following Monday, and she died just three days later on Thursday, November 18 at 9:15 in the evening.

Early in the morning on the Saturday after her last dialysis I was at her bedside and we were talking about going to dialysis on the following Monday. She was very quiet and I was doing most of the talking, and at one point when I paused she said, softly but very clearly, It’s time. When I asked time for what, she again said softly but clearly, It’s time to go. I broke into tears, just as I am now doing while writing this. Choking back my sobs I said that it was not up to her, that God would decide when it was time, not her, and that she should keep fighting until He made that decision. She smiled slightly and sweetly and made no response.

I stumbled on blindly, sobbing and speaking in broken tones and told her that I didn’t want her to leave me, that she couldn’t leave, that I wouldn’t let her leave, that I needed her and our girls needed her, that we would complete almost six decades of marriage on December 13, and that her birthday would be the day after Christmas. I told her that we had 58 years together, all beautiful except for one, and for that year I desperately needed her forgiveness, and I begged her to forgive me—I begged her for forgiveness that I had not earned and did not deserve.

She looked into my eyes for a long moment, then speaking slowly and softly she said, I forgive you, and then she said, You’re a good man. I told her that if she left me I would follow her and be with her, not knowing when but that I would definitely follow her, and I promised her that from that moment on I would make every effort to live my life towards that goal. Her eyes were closed when I told her that and I wasn’t sure whether she had heard me, but then she said, I’ll wait for you, and a few seconds later she said, I’ll tell Jesus you’re coming. I don’t remember any conversation after that. She lapsed into sleep and except for a few precious times that she acknowledged me and others when we spoke to her, she was silent up to the moment she left us.

I had asked her earlier if she wanted a chaplain to come in and she shook her head, but early in the evening on Thursday, November 18, I asked for a chaplain to visit us. Hector Villarreal, a Protestant chaplain, arrived at six o’clock and prayed with her and for her, and for me and our three daughters. He told her that God loved her and wanted her to be with Him, and that He was waiting for her.

The chaplain said that she would draw her last breath on earth, but that she would draw her next breath in heaven. We were at her side when she took her last breath on earth, and we truly believe, then and now, that she took her next breath in the presence of God, and that her spirit, her marvelous soul, never judgmental and so perfect in every other respect, is now complete and happy and whole again, untarnished by toil, trial and tribulations encountered during almost 79 years of life, years that she lived and loved to the fullest—born in 1931, she died just 38 days short of her 79th birthday, December 26. We would have celebrated our 58th wedding anniversary on the 13th of December.

The hospice nurse noted the time of her last breath as 9: 15 PM on Thursday, November 18, 2010. She had lapsed into a coma the day before, and her breathing had become labored, with her mouth sagging open and each breath an audible gasp for air. She was on oxygen, with the maximum allowable flow of oxygen to her nostrils from a bedside tank.

From time to time, depending on whether she seemed to show pain either by sound or movement, the hospice nurse administered liquid pain medication, placing it under the tongue with a syringe. The nurse assured us that the hearing is the final sense to go, and that Janie could hear every word we spoke, so we talked to her right up to that final breath with our hands on her, on her face and smoothing her hair and softly stroking her arms and hands and feet and adjusting the bed covers, each of us in turn professing our love, recalling our favorite times of our lives with her, with all our words interspersed and muffled by sniffs and sobs.

When our daughters left the room, I asked the nurse if she could do anything about the way Janie’s mouth drooped open, twisted and misshapen, drawn down and to the left from the way her head was turned to the side for so many hours. The nurse said that nothing could be done, that it had to be done at the funeral home.

I insisted that we try, and I began trying to place her head differently in an effort to restore her features to a more natural position. The nurse assisted by folding a hand towel and placing it under Janie’s chin, and that helped slightly. Her mouth, however, still sagged to the left and her lips were open and peeled back with her teeth showing. The nurse said that was all we could do, that the rest was up to the funeral home staff.

Everyone except the nurse left the room, but I stayed seated beside the bed with her while the nurse was completing her report, and several minutes later I spoke aloud, saying that my eyes must be playing tricks on me. I thought I had seen a fold in the blanket high on her left chest rise slowly but perceptibly, as if she had slowly inhaled. I watched it intently and after a brief period it appeared to lower.

The nurse either did not hear me or perhaps simply ignored me, and continued with her work. I felt that the blanket fold had moved, but I knew that I could have imagined it, that I was perhaps trying to will my wife to take another breath. The air in the room was very still. The overhead ceiling fan was not on because she never wanted it on.

A few seconds later I again spoke aloud and said that my eyes were still playing tricks on me. I saw the same fold that had moved a few seconds earlier move again, rising ever so slowly but perceptibly and after a brief period I saw it lower. Again there was no response from the nurse. She may have felt that I was so stricken with grief that my imagination was running wild, and that perhaps I was trying to will my wife to breathe, to return to me, to return to life from the other side.

Our daughters had been out of the room since their mother took her last breath, but Kelley, the youngest of the three, asked them if they wanted to come in to see her again. They declined and Kelley came in alone, and as she entered I glanced at her mother’s face and my heart began to pound wildly.

I told Kelley to look at her mouth—it was no longer contorted and sagging. Her lips were closed and her mouth showed a hint of a smile, an uplift at the corners—just a hint of a smile but enough for any observer to see that she looked calm and peaceful and perhaps a bit amused. Kelly told the others that they needed to come in, that there was something they needed to see, and we all marveled at the transformation of Janie’s face—from a grimace to a grin, from a sagging mouth to a smile, and from pain to peace.

When I felt that my eyes were playing tricks on me I was wrong. They were not playing tricks. I believe—no, I know—that I saw the blanket fold move up and then drop back down after a few seconds, and I saw it repeat the movement a bit later.

She did indeed draw her last breath on earth, and it is my honest belief that she then drew her next breath in heaven. I believe that our Creator allowed her to return and draw another last breath on earth, a breath that enabled her to live again, albeit just long enough to correct the awkward position of her lips and her mouth and begin that beautiful smile that she shared with me and with our daughters and with others throughout her 78 years of life on earth. I truly believe that she heard me ask the nurse if anything could be done with her mouth, and I believe—no, I know—that after she took her next breath in heaven, she asked God for a favor and He granted it.

I believe that through the power and grace of God my wife was allowed to return to this life just long enough to slough off all the pain and misery of years of surgeries and chemotherapy and dialysis and several days gasping for breath while under medication for the pain caused by ovarian tumors that almost filled both lungs. I believe the Master sent her back to earth to occupy her body for the brief time she needed to complete the metamorphasis from a chrysalis to a beautiful butterfly, to return that smile to her lips for us before returning to Him. He knew that I needed that, that we needed that, and He gave her the power to do it for me and for our daughters.

Her return to the world of the living, though only for a very brief period, is a miracle because of the miracle it wrought in her appearance. It is for me the epiphany I have longed for and sought for many years. I have always wished for a sign, an unworldly experience I could view as an indication that life does exist after death, that there is a divine presence, that God exists and is responsible for all the good in mankind. That smile on Janie’s face on her last night on earth has given me that sign, and for that I thank God and I thank her.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.


Postscript: Janie is buried in Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. She lies among military veterans of our wars, many of whom are cited by our nation for bravery and duty performance. Janie is just one of many there, but she is one that deserves every commendation and medal that may exist to commemorate her exemplary life as a wife and mother. Her obituary appeared in the San Antonio, Texas Express-News on Monday, November 22, 2010—click here for the full publication.

The request below appears at the end of the obituary. Perhaps some of the readers of this posting will find it in their hearts to support these or similar organizations with donations, and join in the search for prevention and cures for ovarian cancer and kidney disease, two of the deadliest and most debilitating afflictions known to mankind.

From Janie’s obituary: In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in her memory to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, P.O. Box 7086, Dallas Texas 75209, http://www.ovarian.org or the American Kidney Fund, 6110 Executive Blvd., Ste. 1010, Rockville MD 20852, http://www.kidneyfund.org

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2010 in death, Family, friends, funeral, health, marriage, Military

 

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Janie . . .

Readers of my blog will note that I write and post letters to my relatives who have left this realm for another. These letters are the means I have chosen to document their lives and to secure them in my memory and the memories of our children, our grandchildren, our relatives and our friends.

The following obituary appeared in San Antonio’s Express-News on November 22, 2010. My wife and I met in August of 1952 and married just four months later on a Saturday afternoon on the thirteenth day of December that same year. We were together for the next 58 years except for the twelve days remaining in November and the first thirteen days in December. We are still together and we will remain together throughout eternity, both in this realm and the next.


Janie Alta Dyer, age 78, an eleven-year survivor of ovarian cancer, died at her home in San Antonio, Texas on Thursday, November 18, 2010 from complications of that disease and kidney failure.

Janie was born on December 26, 1931 in Broxton GA, one of six children born to John James McLean and Wootie Pridgen of Pridgen GA. She met and married Hershel Mike Dyer of Columbus MS in 1952 in Douglas GA and is survived by him, her three daughters, their husbands and her grandchildren: Debra Janet Dyer and William Talbert of San Antonio TX and their daughter and son, Lauren Ashley Talbert and Landen Dyer Talbert, Cindy Dyer and Michael Schwehr of Alexandria VA, and by Kelley Dyer and James Brantley Saunders of Wylie TX and their son and daughter, James Brennan Saunders and Macie McLean Saunders.

Janie is survived by three sisters and one brother: Winnie Sapp of Hamlet NC, Evelyn Pridgen of Brunswick Ga, Christine Young of Fitzgerald GA and Charles McLean of Pridgen, GA. She was preceded in death by her father in 1954, her mother in 1985 and her brother John Herbert McLean in 1997.

Over the years Janie has expressed admiration and love for those involved in her health care, including the staff at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) and Wilford Hall Medical Center (WHMC), with particular affection for those involved in the chemotherapy clinic at WHMC and those in Oncology, Nephrology, Vascular Surgery, Interventional Radiology and Dialysis clinics at BAMC. She viewed them as angels placed on earth to guide her through perilous times.

Her family echoes her sentiments, and they also thank the staff of Odyssey hospice for their loving care and professionalism. Janie’s highest praise for others was that they were good persons, and her life echoes and exemplifies that expression. She was a good person throughout her life. She will be missed in this realm, and will be welcomed in another.

Memorial services will be at 11:30 AM on Monday, November 29 at Porter-Loring Mortuary North, 2102 North Loop 1604 East. Interment will be in Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery at 1:00 PM.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in her memory to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, P.O. Box 7086, Dallas Texas 75209, http://www.ovarian.org or the American Kidney Fund, 6110 Executive Blvd., Ste. 1010, Rockville MD 20852, http://www.kidneyfund.org

Postscript:

I intend to post letters to my wife in the future in order to keep her up to date on family feats and foibles. I know that she will be watching anyway, but I might be able to provide some minor details that she may have overlooked. If they don’t have computers there now, they will have when Bill Gates and/or Steve Jobs relocate from here to there.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!


 


 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2010 in death, funeral, Military, newspapers

 

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A smuggler’s greeting . . .

A personal message from a smuggler . . .

I began my career with U.S. Customs as a trainee—GS-7—at the port of Progreso, Texas and was upgraded to the journeyman position—GS-9—after one year. During that year I learned more from one officer at the port than from all the others combined. Not that they didn’t help me learn the ins and outs of the job—they were very helpful, but the port director and I became a team, both professionally and personally. I felt that our relationship was that of brothers, each of us looking out for the other’s back.

Some ten years older than I, he took me under his wing in the way a mother hen hovers over her chick—figuratively, of course. He placed me on the right path for success in my new profession and set me straight when I strayed from that path. He raised hell when I made mistakes, and he lauded me when I managed to do something right, such as making seizures and accurately documenting our various Customs activities.

He had been recently promoted and became the port director at Progreso when it became a port separate from the larger port of Hidalgo near McAllen, Texas. His name was Paul, and he died at Christmas time in 1973, just two years after I met him. His cancer disease was diagnosed in mid-1972 and a scant eighteen months later he was dead. He was buried in Brownsville, Texas. Click here for a posting of the relationship I enjoyed with the port director—my boss, my mentor and my friend.

Sundays at the port were overtime days, and the port director shared in the overtime pay and the workload created by increased public traffic on Sundays—commercial activities were suspended. Early one Sunday morning the port director called me to the secondary area and told me to check out the driver of a Ford station wagon that had been referred for secondary inspection, with particular emphasis on the white T-shirt the driver was wearing. The Ford Country Squire station wagon one of many made over a period of some forty years—this one was from the late 1960s.

The driver was a Mexican national with a tarjeta, a local border crossing card, an official Immigration document that authorized him to enter the U.S. with certain restrictions—he must stay within 25 miles of the international border and return to Mexico within three days. On the surface the driver seemed calm, but he was wearing a white T-shirt stretched tightly across his chest, and with each beat of his heart the area over his pectus excavatum—the depression in one’s chest—fluttered. He was probably thinking, be still, dear heart! Yes, I learned the term for a sunken chest from Wikipedia—three cheers for Wikipedia and the Internet!

I escorted him to the Customhouse and asked another officer to detain him in case he decided to return to Mexico—to make a run for the border, so to speak. I felt reasonably certain that he had something to hide in that station wagon, and in fact he did.

From Wikipedia: The Ford Country Squire was a full-size station wagon built by the Ford Motor Company from 1950 until 1991; it was based on the Ford full-size car line available in each year. The Country Squire was the premium station wagon in the Ford range, and always featured imitation-wood trim on the doors and tailgate. As a full-size wagon, it could carry up to 9 passengers with the unique side-facing seats.

The station wagon exuded a strong smell of glue when I opened the rear swinging door, and the cargo area appeared to be freshly carpeted. A cursory examination showed that the carpeting was glued down, restricting access to the storage area beneath. I removed the carpet and opened the area. The vinyl-covered cushioned seats and back rests had been removed from the steel panels and the storage area was neatly filled with marijuana compressed into blocks—smugglers used commercial trash compacters to process the weed, then wrapped it in foil and plastic hoping to conceal the odor of drying marijuana from detector dogs and inspectors.

One can always find humor in a situation if one looks hard enough and long enough—I didn’t have to look very long, and I started laughing when I raised the seat panels. Atop the load of marijuana was a large piece of cardboard with a phrase in Spanish written with a felt-tip marker. This was the printed phrase:

Chinga tu madre, Mike!

The tu madre means your mother, and the Mike is my middle name. Chinga is the imperative form of the Spanish verb chingar, a crude form of a verb meaning to have sexual intercourse with, a term extensively used in Mexico and particularly along la frontera—the border. It has many meanings, but in this case it was directed to a person named Mike, telling him to do the dirty with his mother.

I had no doubt then, and no doubt exists now, as to the author of the message. Unknown to anyone at the time, an employee of a local Customs broker was moving contraband across the border, and in due time would be caught, arrested, charged and convicted and would serve time in a Texas prison. His arrest and subsequent incarceration will be covered in a future posting.

Although I was the new kid on the block, I had compiled an unusual series of arrests and seizures—I say that in all modesty, but I have the letters of commendation and the in-grade pay raises to prove it. I have no doubt that the broker employee set up the illegal importation of a prohibited substance and left the message in case I intercepted the load.

I wanted to keep the cardboard message as a souvenir, but it was kept with the seizure and was destroyed with the other marijuana. As the junior member of our inspectional force at the port of Progreso, I was privileged—well, not exactly privileged—I was ordered to destroy marijuana seizures by open-air burning when the case was closed. That task is the subject for a future posting. In that posting I will either confirm or refute that smelling the smoke from burning marijuana—other than from a pipe or a hookah or a joint—will give one a high.

Stay tuned!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
 

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My first port director—my friend and my mentor . . .

I began my career with U.S. Customs as a GS-7 trainee at the port of Progreso, Texas and I was upgraded to the GS-9 journeyman position after one year. During that year I learned more from one officer at the port than from all the others combined. Not that they didn’t help me learn the ins and outs of the job—they were very helpful, but the port director and I became a team, both professionally and personally. Almost from the beginning we were like brothers, respectful of each other and each always looking out for the other’s back.

As a measure of how well the port director taught me, I was awarded an in-grade pay increase in my second year and another in my third year, both based on my duty performance, particularly on my arrest and seizure record. An in-grade pay increase is a pay raise given for outstanding performance, and is in addition to the normal longevity raises given to federal employees based purely on successful duty performances. In-grade pay increases are the gifts that keep on giving!

Some ten years older than I, the port director took me under his wing like a mother hen protects a chick—figuratively, of course. He placed me on the right path for success in my new profession and set me straight when I strayed from that path. He raised hell when I made mistakes, and he lauded me when I managed to do something right, such as making seizures and accurately documenting our various Customs activities. I also was brash enough to submit several suggestions that I felt would improve port operations, and upper headquarters felt impelled to implement my suggestions and provide remuneration for my ideas. How about that!

His most recent assignment was at the port of Eagle Pass, almost 300 miles upriver from Progreso. In the latter part of 1971 Progreso became a separate port from the port of Hidalgo, and he was promoted to the position of port director for the new port. His name was Paul, and he died at Christmas time in 1973. His cancer disease was diagnosed in mid-1972 and a scant eighteen months later he was dead.

Paul, my first port director and supervisor in Customs—my friend and my mentor—was buried in Brownsville, Texas some fifty miles distant from Progreso. I was unavoidably delayed at the port and the casket was closed when I arrived at the funeral home. The funeral director offered to open the casket for my viewing but I declined the offer. I figured that Paul had once again been promoted and was already on the way to his next assignment, that shining port in the hereafter, and I was reluctant to slow him down.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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