Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In Memoriam: Eulogy For My Dad

Strong-Willed Warrior, Brave Ruler, Bold Friend.  The literal translation of the name William Richard Baldwin.  I’ve always thought of my dad’s life as tragic.  But when I look at how many people have been brought together because of the love we all have in common for this one man, I now see it as a miracle.  
He was not an easy man to love, but he was worthy of love.  He would tell it like he saw it; like it or not.  He was insanely funny and at the same time hard as rocks.  He was my truest friend and my greatest confidant.  As far as his daughters are concerned, he was our hero.  How could you ask for a more bad ass dad?  I remember being a child and actually having the thought, “my dad can kick your dad’s ass!”  So strong and so delicate all at once.  
When Steve asked for dad’s blessing on our engagement, dad said, “I don’t know why you’d want to do it, and she’s one of the good ones! All you need is a dog and a horse.”
He once drove for hours in his broken down truck to see me play music in the desert.  My girlfriends wanted to know “who’s the hot guy?”  After throwing up in my mouth a little, I replied, “that’s my dad!” 
One of my favorite memories with my dad is a Christmas I spent with him in Fontana.  He lived in the barrio in a one room shack.  He grilled carne asada for our Christmas dinner while we danced in the dust to a Vincente Fernandez ranchera ballad.  This is how I will remember him.
One night while he was in Texas, he called out for me.  It was a strange sound, I was certain something was wrong. I literally dropped what I was doing and ran across the house to help him.  When I got to his room, he could not even speak.  He pointed at the TV and nodded his head toward it as big tears fell from his eyes.  A little girl, 7 or 8 years old, was singing on America’s Got Talent.  She sang beautifully, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of dad.  He so rarely shared these moments of fragility.  
I firmly believe you cannot be hurt deeply unless you love deeply.  Despite how we may have interpreted his words, actions or choices, he loved each and every one of us deeply.  What a beautiful example of how fallible, forgiving and fragile our human condition is.  
His story does not end with the scattering of his ashes.  It carries on in our hearts; in how we choose to love and care for one another.  He would have wanted us to stand on his shoulders and reach a little higher, do a little better than he did. I hope when we leave here we are a little more forgiving of our mothers and fathers; a little more selfless with our own children; a little more understanding and caring of one another.  
Dad once told me that he believed in God and believed in Jesus and if we believed the same we would be together again.  I hope to find him waiting at the pearly gates with a horse for me, ready to ride.  
In 1 Corinthians 13, the bible tells us without love, we have nothing.  We are so blessed to have called William Richard Baldwin, Jr. our brother, husband, son, dad, grandpa, even great-grandpa!  

Meet you in the sky dad...

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Garden

Strong willed warrior, brave ruler, bold friend.  Those are the words that define William Richard Baldwin, the names and the person.  The evening we were told to come as soon as possible if we wanted to say goodbye to dad, my sisters and I booked flights for the next morning since we'd missed the last flights for the day.  Dad was cancer free and dying from a cold that his ravaged body could not fight.
After a sleepless night and a pre-panic attack in the airport security line, I ran for my gate.  Approaching the gate I saw the plane was already boarded, I made eye contact with the man behind the gate desk.  I pointed to the door and he nodded.  He nodded as if he knew why I was so desperate to make that flight.  I had not received a phone call yet, so I knew there was still a chance.  Boarding the full flight, I chose the empty aisle seat next to a man and his son.  Sleep would not come on that flight, but the tears would.  In long, silent streams.  Trying to breathe deeply and not make the man next to me so uncomfortable that he would worry for his son.  I did not eat.  I did not drink.  I did not read.  I only wiped the tears as they came.
As we approached the Rocky Mountains for my brief layover in Denver, I looked across to the window.  I could see nothing, but the amazing expanse of white snow that seemed to blanket eternity.  It felt disorienting. The snow was masking the typical geometric farmscapes.  The clean lines that tell us, ‘this is North, this is South' and give us boundaries craved for like a child. I don’t remember ever seeing anything like it before.  I recalled that in Japan black is not the color of death; it's white.  And I thought I got it before.  But now I understood why with a whole new level of gravity and sorrow.  This white I was taking in was beautiful, full of nothingness and it went on forever. 
As the plane descended, I had a vision of my dad on a horse. He was riding his horse, Shi, in a full open gallop; the kind that feels like you are actually flying. I could only see him from behind as he was riding away from me.  As I exited the plane, Lynn was standing directly ahead with big tears streaming from her face.  We embraced and cried with complete abandon.  We did not care who witnessed our sorrow.  When we were ok enough, we went to the ladies room and then to our gate.  Veronica had called us while in the bathroom.  Lynn called her back.  She told us that dad had passed about 10 minutes prior, as I was landing.  She told us the nurses had never seen someone in such bad shape fight so hard to hold on.  I know he wanted us to be able to see him again and say goodbye.  But we had missed it.  He was gone.
We boarded for Spokane where we waited for Edy and shared our funny dad stories.  Edy arrived much the way Lynn and I met in Denver, crying as she saw us. The three of us embraced and cried and did not care what it looked like.  From the luggage carousel, we grabbed the farty-flower suitcase Granny lent her and went to the curb where Veronica and Sage waited.  Sage loaded our bags into the back of their Excursion as the four of us cried and hugged. Our hero had departed this world for the greener pastures of the Garden.  Body healed, spirit reconciled.
On the way to Sandpoint, we enjoyed lots of laughs and tears.  Veronica told us about dad’s last hours and final minutes. We told funny stories of childhood and made irreverent jokes that my dad would have loved.  We drove directly to the funeral home.  We went into the room where dad lay.  He was not yet embalmed.  He looked so peaceful and beautiful.  He looked as though he could just take a deep breath and sit up.  We kept looking at his chest waiting for it to rise and fall, rise and fall.  To touch him felt very, very cold, but it felt real.  Not that waxy, hardness embalming creates. We stroked his hair, we kissed his forehead, we held his hand.  The four of us joined hands and thanked God for our father.  One by one we said our goodbyes; first Veronica, then me.  As I left the room, Edy was saying her goodbye. I turned to see her hug him and I swear it looked like he smiled.  I know how corny and ridiculous that sounds, but it’s what I saw.
We spoke of the details of my father’s wishes with the funeral director.  All of us were running on a couple hours of sleep.  We drank large margaritas, ate big plates of food and went to the hotel. 
For the next week we took care of the business that must be tended to when loved ones pass.  We would live in his cabin on my sister's property.  We would itch like junkies for the faintest of signals to make its way through the pine trees so we could communicate with the outside world.  We would feed apples to his horses.  We would marvel at our beautiful and intelligent nieces and nephews.  We would weep over photos from our childhood found locked in a briefcase.  We would feel inexplicably vulnerable without our dad. 
The evening before we left, we stopped to say goodbye one last time before he was to be cremated.  No longer in a hospital gown, he was again a cowboy wearing a western dress shirt and his wranglers.  The hardest thing I have ever done is walking out of that room and leaving him behind; knowing I would not see him again in this life. I did not want to leave him. I still cannot believe I left him there.  I want more.  More time, more laughs, more love, more...

Monday, October 3, 2011

It Is Well

I wasn't sure how I would feel watching my dad drive away from my house and toward his home.  I knew I would at some point cry.  I knew I'd be happy for him to move toward his joy.  I knew it would be bittersweet for me.  

Sunday morning, we all woke early.  Just as the sun rose, he announced his departure and hugged us a final time.  Steve, Finn, Sam and I escorted him to his truck and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and traveling mercies.  He closed the door to his truck.  Laughing, he shouted from his window to me not to cry and pulled out of the driveway.  As he drove off, Steve said, "This is awesome.  This is best case scenario.  He's disease free and he's going home.  This is what we've prayed for."  It was awesome.  It was the exact right thing to say.  The perfect way to end this chapter.  

Within an hour of my dad leaving, I had rearranged the furniture in his room and vacuumed.  I cleaned out the bathroom and put up my kids things again.  It was as if he'd never been here.  It felt like it had all just been a dream.  It was a very surreal day.  Great for all of us.  

Today when I came home from work, I felt like I'd just moved into my own apartment.  Not glad to see him gone, but glad to gain my independence.  And I hope that's what he is feeling right now.  Not glad that he's no longer with me and my family, but glad to gain his independence.

I've enjoyed writing this blog.  It's been fun, intense and extremely cathartic.  Thank you to all who have followed these updates and checked in on me through out my process.  I'm an incredibly blessed human being.  I do not take it for granted.  I love you all so deeply in my heart.  I couldn't have made it without all of you.

I'd like to close this blog, at least for now,  with the lyrics from my favorite hymn.  It was written in 1873 by Horatio Spafford after the death of his four year old son which was followed by the horrific ship wreck in which all of his daughters died while traveling to Europe. His wife survived and sent him a telegram that read 'Saved Alone'.  While traveling to comfort his grieving wife, he wrote these words as the ship passed where his daughters had died.  Knowing this man was able to muster these words while walking in unimaginable grief gave me courage and comfort through my trial. 

Many blessings and all my love - Mel.

It Is Well with My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Baby Bird

Maria Montessori was an Italian doctor who created the educational approach which bears her name.  She began educating mentally retarded children in order to prove her theory. When tested, these impaired children did not do as well as normal children, they did better.  They scored above average.  If mentally disabled children could be brought to the level of normal children, what then was the potential of 'normal' children? Montessori decided to find out.  And so, the Montessori method was born.

In a nut shell, Montessori is about independence.  It teaches children freedom within limits.  Children become responsible for themselves and their choices.  It's been a very positive experience for my two little coo-coo birds.

So why am I having such a tough time letting my dad go?  He loves his independence.  And this is what the last ten months have been all about.  In a few hours he will be heading home.  Neither of us can sleep.  He's in his room and I'm in the living room watching SNL though very droopy eyes.  Tonight I changed a bandage of his for the last time and I cried.  Tears of fear, sadness and joy.  Friday we had to say goodbye to the staff at the clinic.  It was so bittersweet. One nurse in particular told him she was so happy for him and that when he first came in, she didn't think he would make it.  So great.  So sad to say goodbye.

I'm super tired.  And I'm half worried that he will wake up crazy early and just leave without saying goodbye.  Actually it's time to let the baby bird leave the nest.  Time to fly.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

All Things New

In Revelation 21, God showed John a vision how He, "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away."  He goes on to say, "See! I make all things new."

I love that thought.  Make all things new.  Fresh.  I think of it often.  It's a phrase I clung to emotionally in my prayers throughout this experience with my dad.  It's what I want for him.  I want him made new.  I want his body fully restored.  I want him to not have to take chemo for the rest of his life.  I want him to be able to eat a burrito full of beans doused in tabasco sauce without horrible side effects beyond what that meal normally brings.  I want him to be able to pee through both ureters.  I want him to be able to ride his horse again.  

But that is my idea of making all things new.  That only addresses my needs; what will make me feel better.  The transformation I have witnessed in my father is far greater than what I could have orchestrated in my own power.  His spirit has been made new.  He is alive, truly alive.  He is down right giddy to go home, see his animals, share this war story with his friends and breath the crisp Northern air deeply into his chest.  Thank you Jesus.  Praise the Lord.  Hallelujah.  My gratitude is immeasurable. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Now?

My brother moved out here about a year ago and stayed with us until he got a job and got on his feet.  Three days after he moved into his own apartment, my dad moved in with us.  It's all winding down for me now.  My dad bought a truck, has cleaned out his room and is packing for Idaho.  His mood is light, jovial, kind.  Only a couple of weeks left.  It hasn't hit me.  Might not for a while.  It's going to be weird to not see the nurses at the clinic or the oncologist every two weeks.  To check him into his chemo appointment and then run to McDonalds to pick up his breakfast of two sausage biscuits and a small black coffee.  I have no idea what it will feel like to run nude through my house, cook one dinner for everyone or have normal work week after normal work week again.

This experience has forever changed me and it doesn't seem like anything could possibly feel the same after this.  The world has definitely changed for me.  I've gained 20 lbs., I am emotionally drained and I cannot remember what my face looked like without these black circles under my eyes.  How petty, I know.  But it's true. It's a bummer.  I've officially participated in the 'sandwich generation'; caring for my own small children and elderly parents under the same roof.  It sucks and it's lovely.  I don't know how people do it.  It's damn near impossible to keep everything straight.  I forget everything dad wants from the store, I forget to send show & tell to school for the boys, and I can't sleep at night for the list that is running through my mind of all the things that still must be done.  What will 'normal' life look like?  I have no idea.

Things I would like to do:

  • exercise
  • plan healthy meals
  • give up coffee
  • write a song
  • play a show
  • take a hot bath
  • sleep

I feel a bit selfish.  What does the world feel like for him now?  Nine months ago, he was given three to six months to live.  Is every day a gift?  I don't know.  He weighs 145 lbs now and will most likely struggle indefinitely to keep weight on.  We spoke recently about the quality of life.  A very depressing conversation about pulling plugs and what-not.  I really want him to have a great quality of life.  But now his feet are going numb and he's having a hard time sleeping.  It's killing me to see him deal with these daily challenges.  I know I'm neither God, nor a doctor, but I was really hoping to send him home in better condition than this.  All of that said, I am reminded what a miracle it is that he is alive.  This time I've been afforded with him is a gift.  And really, I am eternally grateful.  Exhausted, but grateful.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


So I'm sitting on the back porch talking with my dad the other evening.  The sun is below our tree line, minutes from setting.  It's hot, but no longer unbearable. A breeze blows gently by us when we hear a funny whistling sound.  My dad casually mentions how said sound reminds him of the dik-dik he saw while on safari in East Africa.  I begin nodding my head in cracker barrel agreement just as the actual words penetrate my cranium and permeate my temporal lobes.  "Umm, what the what!? What safari? You went on a safari?"  What else don't I know about this man?  Oh, right, I also didn't know that his trip included a week (or was it two weeks?) in the Seychelles Islands.

Apparently, some time in his thirties, a family friend asked my dad what he wanted for his birthday.  He said he wanted to see the animals of Africa before they were gone.  What he received was a month of vacation that took him to Europe, Africa and Seychelles.  Could this man get more interesting?  He's becoming the Dos Equis man before my eyes.  Hilarious.  He spoke about the people, the incredible animals, sleeping in tents and trees.  As I listened I remember having the conscious thought, "I need to remember this. I don't want to forget this."  But, alas, my personality type does not absorb the details, rather I absorb the vibe, the feeling of the moment.  My husband and I can walk into the same room and leave with two completely different impressions.  He will remember every detail, what was on the table, what color it was, how many there were, etc.  I come out knowing if the room felt inviting, warm, cozy or if it was dark, cold, sterile.

There are only two details I actually took from that moment.  The first is that all of the women of Seychelles walk around topless.  The second is the dik-dik.  I learned that the dik-dik are tiny antelope that only grow about a foot tall and are locally known in Africa for having a hideously shrill whistle which alerts other game when they are about to be pounced on.  Now, I am his dik-dik screaming, "RUN!" at the top of my lungs.  "There's a hunter after you that wants to devour you!  RUN!!!" But the tired, old lion is done with running and just wants to feel the sun on his face.  He is going to do this his way.  Also, I now know the breasts of the topless island women become white noise after a few days.  What a trip.  No pun intended.

The vibe I walked away with is far more valuable than the details I could memorize from his journey.  An experience I could only live vicariously anyway.  God waits for my dad in the wild.  In the animals.  In nature.  Not that God isn't always with my dad.  He is.  He has certainly been with him in Texas, at MD Anderson.  His time with the animals is the closest my dad gets to the garden while here on earth.  It's as close as he can be to actually walking with God, communing with God.  He lights up when he talks about the animals and the beauty of the mountains, trees and fields where he lives.  He even gets quietly excited to watch the large flocks of dove fly by my house every morning and every evening.  It's his already, not yet place.  He is walking with God as much as one possibly can while in the confinement of humanness.  Like Moses, he seeks the face of God, but instead of finding it in a burning bush, it appears to him in the face of the dik-dik and the moose.