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Archive for January 2012

Dying from your focus or passion

From the Associated Press today, this story: “Dr. Richard Olney, an internationally renowned researcher who dedicated his life to finding a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease, has died after his own eight-year battle with the disease. He was 64.”

People who die from the same things they research (before they get the thing themselves) or people who die from the things they have focused on in life — this phenomenon has always intrigued me. I remember reading about a reporter who did stories about people jumping off bridges to their death and then did the same later. The brain tumor researcher who later died of one herself. People who collect exotic animals and then get mauled or eaten by them.

Do we attract what will kill us? Or just coincidence?

The Japanese-American legacy

My Sunday story about two Japanese-American men who grew up in downtown Spokane in the 1950s reminded me once again how much we were taught as children about life by the adults around us, not just by our parents, but all the adults we knew well.

The two men, Dave Heyamoto and Ken Kato, grew up to be great successes in Spokane. But both have remained humble, kind and respectful. They credit their parents, of course, but also the other men and women in their low-income neighborhood who looked out for them. And they were especially grateful to their teachers at Lincoln School, which was located at Fifth and Browne in Spokane before being torn down. (This picture was taken there in 1957; Kato is in the first row, far left. Heyamoto in second row in suit jacket and tie).

“We had really good teachers,” Kato said. “They wanted to be there.” The famous Henry B. Adams quote that  “a teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops” could also be said of the best adults in our children's lives.

(Photo courtesy of Dave Heyamoto)

Survival toys

I do not have survivalist tendencies for stormy weather. No barrels of drinking water stored under the house, no food rations for 21 days. I have adamantly refused to invest in a generator, citing the great $$$ for a few hours of power. “Silly,” I said.

In the recent storm, we had no power for two days = no lights, no heat and limited flushing since the septic can only take so much without the pump to pump. And the snow was two feet deep in every direction, no escaping for us. We were stuck. The house was 50 degrees on day two. Cold.

We did have:

  1. A weather radio. A monster radio that takes 9 C batteries and in return gives two different lighting options and radio! We listened to Steve Pool, weather man and Andy Wappler from Puget Sound Energy, report the latest weather news and power repair plans. Communication was everything,
  2. Hotties™ - little packets of heat, activated when you remove their plastic packaging and shake the contents. One in each sock toasted my tootsies for a few hours.
  3. I don’t care what the latest bedding trend is, our ancient wool blankets kept us warm at night. Oh, and the 95-pound German Shepherd who has her own warm coat, was coveted by each of us for warmth.
  4. Speaking of the dog: we had bottled water for all of us and dog food apportioned out for her, three little sandwich bags full, eliminating the need to grope in the dark garage where the food is stored.
  5. Cell phones and chargers. When the batteries were low, we went to the truck in the driveway and charged them up. Communication was still everything.

When the power returned, the house needed only three hours of that furnace before it was warm again. Hot showers, lighted rooms and the buzz of the refrigerator brought us back to normal. All that is left is the cleanup of the downed trees and branches in our yard. And watching for the UPS guy to deliver that thing we ordered the night the power returned: a generator.

(S-R archives photo)

Remembering…shared space

It was 26 years ago today the space shuttle Challenger blew up. My cousins work at Kennedy Space Center and tell stories of ushering astronauts’ family members into a room to explain what they had just witnessed: their lives destroyed by a NASA disaster.

On that same day my husband and I flew to Minnesota where he would receive state-of –the art treatment for his stage 2 cancer. When a friend arrived to drive us to the airport, she could only gasp, “Isn’t it awful?! They’re all dead!” Not having heard, she had to tell us about the Challenger.

It made perfect sense to us – our world, too, was exploding with a health disaster and to try to live normally, made no sense. When a grocery store clerk in Minnesota said to me, ”Have a nice day!” I wanted to scream at her.

We share our public disasters within our community: a community of neighbors, a state or a nation – such as 9/11. But each day so many people carry grief and fear from their own personal disasters and tragedies. Many of these people and their pain go unnoticed or dismissed.

At Mass tonight we were reminded of how to care for each other: Show up, slow down, breatheeeeeee, pay attention, and love the best you can. When we do, we can walk with each other in times of challenge.

(S-R archives photo)

Good words for today, all days

The road,

You shall follow it.

The fun,

You shall forget it.

The cup,

You shall empty it.

The pain,

You shall conceal it.

The truth,

You shall be told it.

The end,

You shall endure it

(Dag Hammarskjoldd)

Dancing: later-life passion

A friend and I were discussing passion the other night. Not the sexual kind. But the passion for ideas, causes, projects, new adventures.

We've noticed that as we age (we're both in our mid-50s) it's harder to feel passionate about all of the above. We decided we feel “half passions” which we abbreviated to “half-pashes.” Anyway, a couple I wrote about today, Ken and Debby Dahlke, discovered ballroom dancing four years ago, when both were in their 50s.

They share the passion with others by organizing practice nights at the Kroc Center in Coeur d'Alene. On Sunday, they will hold a Snowflake Ball. (Read my story for details).

 I was in awe of this passion that has helped others, including the young couple here, Bayley and Nicholas, who met at the practice nights and now dance competitively throughout the country. This is no half-pash for the Dahlkes. And ballroom dancing is great for physical and mental health as you age.

(Photo courtesy of Ken Dahlke)

Gang life: It’s a killer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recenty released statistical information about gang homocides in five cities in the United States. They analyzed data from 2003-2008 when 856 young people died in gang violence. No surprises, but sad just the same.

  • Five cities met the criterion for having a high prevalence of gang homicides: Los Angeles, California; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Long Beach, California; Oakland, California; and Newark, New Jersey.
  • Gang homicide victims were significantly younger than nongang homicide victims in all five cities. Between 27 percent and 42 percent of the gang homicide victims were aged 15–19 years, compared with between 9 percent and 14 percent of the nongang homicide victims in this age group.
  • More than 90 percent of gang homicide incidents involved firearms in each city.

Picturephones died but live on

Last night, at about 9, my iPad “rang.” I had never heard it ring before, opened its cover and there was my great-nephew Sam and his dad, Matt. They had just bought an iPad and were calling me on its FaceTime feature, I don't Skype — yet. And I hadn't investigated the FaceTime feature on the iPad. We had a fun chat.

After I hung up, I remembered how intrigued I was by Picturephones when I was a kid. It was, according to a history on the web, developed by The Bell System as a prototype in 1956 and test marketed in the early 1960s and featured at an exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1964, when my intrigue with it began, because it was all over the news in 1964. In the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the characters of the future use Picturephones.

The Bell System folks who worked hard to develop it must have felt disappointed that Picturephones seemed to have “failed.” Some of the inventors are likely dead. They will never know that their idea from 55 years ago is a 2012 reality, in the form of Skype, video conferencing and FaceTime. It was a wake-up call to not feel so bad when some of our work and life projects seem to reach dead-ends. We will never know where our efforts lead. Picture that!

(In this S-R archives photo, the Picturephone is displayed at the AT&T Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.)

An aging Congress in HD

We watched President Obama's state-of-the-union speech in HD last night and — I know this sounds shallow — but I kept getting distracted at how old most of the members of Congress, the Supreme Court and members of the cabinet looked.

I noticed sun damage on faces, stooped shoulders and backs, late-life bellies, some head tremors, rheumy eyes and in one or two, that distant look that's either early Alzheimer's or a been here-done that-forever weariness.

The aging of Congress was more reassuring than depressing.

Despite expensive haircuts, some obvious facework here and there, elegant suits and perfect teeth, the high definition TV showed well that aging spares no man or woman. Money, intelligence and power cannot stop it. Aging, the great equalizer.

(AP Photo by Saul Loeb)

Court is adjourned

 The nation's oldest sitting federal judge died Monday night. U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown died at age 104.

 “As a federal judge, I was appointed for life or good behavior, whichever I lose first,” Brown quipped in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press. How did he plan to leave the post? “Feet first,” Brown said.

Judge Brown worked up until a month ago, when he had health problems, but his law clerks brought his work to him when he was hospitalized.

Brown was appointed as a federal district judge in 1962 by President Kennedy. When reaching senior status in 1979, Brown continued to carry a full work load, when he could have reduced the number of cases he was hearing.

“I do it to be a public service,” Brown said in the AP interview. “You got to have a reason to live. As long as you perform a public service, you have a reason to live.”

An object lesson for us all.

It’s weird to “like” death

In our EndNotes column today, we answered a question whether it's appropriate to send condolences on Facebook. The answer: It depends. For teens and other big Facebook users, sure. For those in generations who expect a handwritten card, no.

After she proofread my story, newsroom colleague Kimberly pointed out how weird it is on Facebook to click “like” when people share bad news, such as a death in the family. Agreed. Facebook needs a “sorry” button, perhaps.

How do you respond to someone's sad news on Facebook?

(S-R archives photo)

Post-storm topics

We lived through a BIG storm in Puget Sound last week: snow, ice, wind and today black ice on the roads.

When talking with friends, the first topic was always, “Got power?” But after that the litany of loss took precedence. And at the top of that list? Trees.

“We lost the apple tree,” friends say wistfully. “Bethy would always go sit in the crook of that tree when she was mad, upset. Now the tree is down and destroyed.” Bethy is now a woman in her mid-twenties.

Trees provide shade, shelter for our creatures and a sense of home. We measure our time through their growth.

The maple tree I gave my husband for Valentine’s Day 18 years ago survived, but lost a branch.

The memorial tree planted after my dad died, didn’t appear to even bend through all the raging weather. Come to think of it, Dad never did either.

(S-R archives photo)

Saying goodbye to things

I'm getting stuff together to drop off at a Goodwill truck this morning. These two items are among the stuff. The Minolta camera is 33 years old. I bought it on my first journalism job in 1979 at The Fort Lauderdale News. I was in a small bureau, and we had to take our own photos to go with our stories, a great skill to learn early in a career. One of the “real” photographers I consulted said to buy a guitar strap for the camera, and I did.

The second item: Boots. They belonged to my mom's late-life companion, Hollis, who died four years ago. They didn't fit me or my husband, but we kept them around anyway. With the snowfall this week, and the home-clearing-out project here, it seemed like a good time to pass the boots on to someone who needs them.

Saying goodbye to both items evoked memories and some sadness. We grieve people. Stuff, we shouldn't. But we do because of the memories around the stuff.

A bride at 103!

I love Facebook because comments are often short and clever and just enough. Yesterday my Facebook friend, Penny Simonson, posted this. I wanted more! Here's what she wrote:
“Today I went to the funeral of a lovely woman to whom I am only related by marriage. Ellen was 105 years old - and the room was filled with the myriad of relations that came from her life: She was widowed 7 years into her first marriage; and was then married for 28 years to her second husband; after he passed away, she spent 33 years with her third. In 2010, when she was 103 years old, she married for the fourth time. She died a bride, which we all found just loved. A dear woman; a life well lead.”

Now, 77 seems young

Today is my father's birthday. Joe Nappi would be 93 if he had lived this long. He died in January 1996, just a few weeks after turning 77. He had been ill with Alzheimer's for about seven years and in a care facility the last year or so, and we were all a lot younger 16 years ago, but my sisters and I were commenting today how young 77 now sounds to us. We thought my dad was so old when he died. But now that we six Nappi siblings are in our 50s, 60s and our oldest sis is 70 — 77 doesn't sound so old, after all.

We feel cheated out of some things because my dad got Alzheimer's at 70 (now that sounds really young!). We didn't get to see him as a really old man with his intelligent brain intact. That would have been interesting. Only two of his great-gandchildren were alive when he was, and so the dozens who came later never got to see or know him. In all families, this kind of “cheating” math goes on, I'm sure.

Happy Birthday, Papa Joe. We miss you…. 

(Family photo of my dad with my niece Courtney in the early 1990s)

Many cancer survivors still smoke, don’t exercise

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report today on the health of cancer survivors. You always hear how a cancer diagnosis changes a person's health habits for the better. But it's not always the case. From the report, culled in a random survey of cancer survivors throughout the country, come these stats:

  • Approximately 15 percent of cancer survivors still smoked
  • Approximately 27 percent were obese
  • Approximately 31 percent had not participated in any leisure-time physical activity during the past 30 days.

Did a health scare help you change some unhealthy habits?

Fairchild docs honor Mary Milla — now

Mary Milla, 91, worked 43 years at Fairchild Air Force Base as a civilian, much of it as secretary to the commanders at Fairchild Hospital. She retired in 1986. She got to know many of the young docs who came through on their military duty. She told them to get haircuts, polish their boots and fine-tune their salutes, all in her kind, mothering tone.

On Wednesday evening, more than 30 of those docs, along with spouses, gathered in the beautiful home of Bridget and Paul Piper for a Fairchild Hospital doctors' reunion. They came to honor Mary. She sat in a chair and held court. Several doctors traveled from out of town just to attend.

The docs are in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, and many of them are considered Spokane's finest physicians. As they reminisced with Mary, the years dropped away and I could see the young men they once were. I was struck by their humility and even asked a few about it. They credited the Fairchild experience — and Mary.

Mary is in good health. (Her doctors now are doctors she met when they were at Fairchild, so she's in great hands) but when you're 91, there's no predicting what might happen tomorrow The gathering reminded us all to honor those who made a difference in our lives now, rather than later, or rather than wait for the funeral.


A snowstorm

Hospice care by the numbers

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization recently released its 2011 facts and figures report. Hospice use continues to rise in the United States, no surprises there. Some of the stuff I found interesting in the report:

  • Almost 42 percent of all deaths in the United States took place under hospice care in 2010.
  • The median time people spent in hospice care before dying was about 20 days.
  • Sixty-six percent of hospice patients died in their homes; 42 percent in a private residence other than their own homes; 21 percent in a “hospice house” and 18 percent in nursing homes.
  • 77 percent of those who used hospice were Caucasian; just 0.3 percent were Native American.
  • Hospice patients died mostly of cancer (35.6 percent), followed by heart disease (14.3 percent).
  • The first hospice program in the United States opened in 1974. Currently, there are more than 5,000.
  • The Medicare hospice benefit, enacted by Congress in 1982, is the major source of funding for hospice care.

Headphones deadly; marijuana less so

Atlantic magazine's wire online always has some great items that fit into this “death blog.”. Here are two from today:

1) The number of people who have died because they were wearing headphones to listen to music and didn't hear the car, train, etc., tripled in six years to 47 fatalities in 2010, according to the University of Maryland.

2) States that have legalized marijuana saw a decrease of almost 9 percent in fatal traffic accidents. One theory? Kids who are so inclined will smoke pot rather than drink too much booze, a big driver of car accident fatalities.

Metaphor: Staying with the ship

The outrage toward the captain of the doomed Italian cruise ship seems mostly centered on the fact he abandoned the ship before everyone else was safe.

“Staying with the ship” is such a good metaphor for one of our greatest challenges in life, staying when all instincts are to jump out of commitments. Leaving marriages during rough times, abandoning aging parents and troubled teens, leaving a good job just because a workplace has hit upon some temporary bad times, killing yourself when life seems untenable.

The easiest thing in times of stress and terror seems to be jumping ship, even if the action will have bad consequences for others.

But deep down, we all must know that staying with the ship, if it is a primary responsibility, saves others and ultimately, our own sanity and well-being at the end of our lives.

Tuscan tragedy

The photos of that Italian cruise ship continue to haunt us. How could a trip to paradise go so wrong? The captain touting his ship to islanders?   While the captain literally jumped ship, the passengers worked to save each other: a woman offering her sweater for a shivering infant as they moved through the screaming crowd. People forming a human chain to create a system of climbing down into the frigid waters - to safety.

A story of courage and compassion amidst chaos, a story of unlikely heroes.

(S-R archives photo)

Amanda Livingston: 1949-2012

Amanda Livingston, wife of Gary Livingston, retired chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane, died Friday after a four-year battle with cancer. Gary retired two years ago, at age 62, and he told me after an interview that a major reason was to spend every available moment left with his beautiful, talented wife of more than 40 years. He quit at the top of his game. But he certainly made the best decision here. Amanda touched many lives in Spokane, through her work with KSPS television and the Spokane Symphony. 

She was gracious and classy and shared a great love with her husband. Condolences to Gary and their son Nick.

Meeting Jan Polek

Jan Polek, a woman who championed women's rights here for 40-plus years, died this week. Today we ran a news story about her, and her obit ran in our classified section.

People have been emailing me this morning with Jan stories and so I thought I'd add mine:

Jan and I first met in 1986 at a Gonzaga University English faculty dinner. I was newly married to my husband, an English professor, and Jan was married to Fran Polek, a senior professor in the department. One of the other spouses there asked me if I did “freelance human interest features” for the newspaper.

Jan got between me and the woman and loudly said: “She used to cover politics for USA Today!” She is a woman in her own right!”

In the 1980s, women's equality was still a fairly new concept. So it was a big deal to counter gender stereotypes when you heard them. (The woman assumed I didn't work full-time because my husband was a professor. And she assumed I would have a “softer” beat because I was a woman.)

Jan's work, and the work of other pioneers in women's equality, led to today's reality. I still work full-time and now write “human interest features” and am proud of it. I am just as proud to be a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, stepmom and grandma. We can “have it all” now or have the choice to do so.

Thanks Jan. For all.

(S-R archive photo of Jan Polek and her daughter Jenny)

Older, black women least likely to kill themselves

The Centers for Disease Control released today nine year's worth of suicide statistics, gathered from 1999 to 2008, for people ages 45–64

Some findings:

  • The suicide death rate for persons aged 45–64 years increased overall in the nine years, from 13.2 to 17.6 per 100,000 population
  • Throughout the period, the suicide rate was highest for white men — 30.7 per 100,000 population.
  • Second highest? Black men at 10.3 percent per 100,000 population.
  • White women were next, 9.4 percent per 100,000 population.
  • The rate for black women was dramatically lower than all other categories above. Only 1.6 per 100,000 population.

Any theories why suicide rates shake out this way?

Red wine, not so healthy after all?

The Associated Press is reporting that a University of Connecticut researcher “known for his work on red wine's benefits to cardiovascular health falsified his data in more than 100 instances.”

Do we have to add red wine to the list of foods once touted as good that ended up not so good? Soy fell off the good list awhile back, and fat-free cookies weren't on that good list for very long.

Just read a story this week somewhere that women who drank two glasses of red wine per day were protected against some form of cancer, can't remember which. Good thing I didn't increase my “dosage.”

(S-R archive photo)

Dying to get into school

They came with blankets and hearts filled with hope. Longing to claim a spot at the University of Johannesburg, thousands of people lined up early in the morning in anticipation of possible acceptance into college. And then a stampede erupted, killing the mother of a prospective student.

We are often cavalier in the United States about higher education. Our college campuses are filled with students who party as enthusiastically as they may or may or not study.

With a joblessness rate among young people of 70 percent, and 600,000 college graduates unemployed, South Africa continues its after-apartheid challenges. And young people struggle to obtain the opportunity to develop their talents and share their gifts.

(S-R archives photo)

Moving into smaller spaces

The newsroom is in the middle of a major remodel. Almost all of us are changing desks and will be sitting soon in smaller spaces.

It's a bit stressful, because there is stuff everywhere and no room to cram it all. But I think this is all good rehearsal for older age and the casual stroll to the end of life.

Many years ago, in Psychology Today, I believe, I read an essay written by the grown son of a father who had been a big gardener. As the father aged and lost ability, he didn't give up gardening. He simply downsized his passion. He went from a huge garden to a small garden box just outside the door. The author used it as an example of accepting changes and adapting. If we do that well, it means less frustration and depression as change comes along.

From garden to garden box. I'll keep the metaphor in mind this week as change and chaos goes on all around us.

(S-R Archives photo)

Driving through grief

In our column today, we answered the question whether men and women grieve differently. They don't — necessarily. Some men in grief cry without shame. Some women don't cry much at all.

There is one major difference, according to Matt Kinder of Hospice of Spokane.

Men are often reluctant to seek out grief support groups. “One hospice was trying to start a support group, but men wouldn’t come,” Kinder said. “So they called it a ‘men’s lunch.’ It was a grief group without calling it a grief group. It was part educational, and there was something to do – eat. If men are on a drive, or fishing, or on a walk, they might talk.”

So if you are spending time with a man who is grieving, you might want to try a walk, a long drive, a hike. These work well for teens of both genders, too.

(S-R archive photo)

Deadly habit: Rich, poor both binge drink

The Centers for Disease Control released an an analysis today of the “prevalence of binge drinking (defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on an occasion during the past 30 days) among U.S. adults aged 18 and older.”

Some of the findings might surprise you. Some may not. According to the CDC:

  • Excessive alcohol use accounted for an estimated average of 80,000 deaths and 2.3 million years of potential life lost in the United States each year during and an estimated $223.5 billion in economic costs in 2006.
  • Binge drinking prevalence among men (23.2 percent) was twice that of women.
  • Binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more, but the largest number of drinks consumed per occasion is significantly higher among binge drinkers with household incomes of less than $25,000 – an average of eight to nine drinks, the report said.
  • Adult binge drinking is most common in the Midwest, New England, the District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii, the report said. However, binge drinkers consume more drinks in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, the Midwest, and some states where binge drinking is less common - including Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

(AP archives photo)

The weather you die in

In my Sunday Wise Words interview with Andy Robideaux, we chatted after the interview about the weather the week of his mother Toni's death, in January 2004. It was crystaline cold but beautiful. So much so that everything stood out — the moon, the stars, the trees draped with ice.

It reminded me of the weather when my dad died in the winter of 1996. The week he was actively dying, raging snowstorms and then the day of his burial, below zero temps. When my brother-in-law Pietro was dying in September 2010, his daughter Laura drove through a tornado in Brooklyn to get to his Philadelphia home. No kidding. Look at YouTube video here.

Do we remember the weather more because grief heightens the senses? Or do some people rile up the weather as they lay dying, as a last message to the world they are leaving behind? We'll never know on that one…

But it leads to this question: Do you remember the weather the day your loved one died? Was it out of the ordinary?

(S-R archive photo of damage from Brooklyn tornado)

Herod: Where jealousy leads

In the homily at church today (It is Epiphany Sunday — Three Kings Sunday), the priest said that Herod was such a jealous, insecure guy that not only did he order the murder of the baby boys under 2, he was later in life so worried that people would rejoice at his death, he ordered a stadium to be filled with people to be slaughtered on his death day, so they would feel sadness that day. I had never heard the story so came home and did some research. Here is what I found at

“In a final act of depravity, Herod imprisoned all the notables of Judea, ordering that they be executed on the day of his death so the country would be plunged into mourning. But when Herod died, in Jericho at about age 69—probably of kidney failure exacerbated by a genital infection, according to Aryeh Kasher's recent biography “King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor”—the prisoners were released. Instead of mourning, rejoicing filled the land.”

…with liberty and justice for all

Our Governor has announced her support for same-sex marriage for Washingtonians.  She has said that with this announcement, she “feels better” than she has in seven years – the time of her work as governor.

Undoubtedly, she will be attacked by people who think that her view is not in alignment with the Catholic Church she is a member of, but not so fast…

The Catholic Church claims that all people inherently deserve respect- not because of any quality other than we are human beings. We call it “Catholic Social Teaching.”

“Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity. Human dignity comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment,” cites the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

What greater right promotes our human dignity, than choosing with whom we will share our life, to whom we will commit our heart and soul?

Thanks, Governor Gregoire, for standing up for what is right and good, for demonstrating Catholic Social Teaching at its best.

 (S-R archives photo)

Prohibition stories

My Thursday story on the most excellent KSPS-7 documentary Rumrunners’ Paradise, about Prohibition in the Inland Northwest, generated a touching call.

An older man from Deer Park called to ask if he could buy a copy of the documentary because he didn't have a TV, though he could watch a DVD on a friend's television. He said his father had been a bootlegger, and he was hoping to see if he could spot him in some of the historic photos in the documentary.

The father, he told me, had abandoned him when he was a boy. They later reunited and the man who called me actually took care of his dad in his old age.

He said his dad wouldn't talk to him about the bootlegging much, so he wanted to know more. I sent him the DVD I received as a preview copy to look at. The call was a reminder, once again, how much our parents' stories — or lack of them — stay with us long after the parents have died.

What stories do you wish your parents had told you more about before they died?

(Photo courtesy of Tony Bamonte)

Tragedy for everyone

A  Seattle police officer took his own life a few hours after being arrested for stealing cocaine that he had failed to submit into evidence. He was then released, in compliance with procedure.

The Seattle Times reports: “ Nelson was arrested in the felony investigation and taken to headquarters, where he spoke with command staff for a few hours before he was booked into King County Jail at 4:16 a.m. At that time, he was ‘offered a number of referral options for counseling,’ the department said in a statement.”

Instead of taking a referral option for counseling, he was driven home by one of the command staff. Within a few hours, he took his own life. His body was found by a hiker.

While police are under intense scrutiny by the public, they often hold themselves and each other to an even higher standard; the tragedy is that Nelson was unable – for whatever reason – to get help when he needed it - and did not take it today when he was offered it.

Perhaps if we seek ways to support law enforcement in their personal struggles, their struggles would be resolved in healthy ways, not tragic endings.

(S-R archives photo)

Cleaning Kershner’s desk

I moved in the newsroom this week to the desk formerly occupied by Jim Kershner, our own walking historian, now retired from the newspaper but writing history, still, for us and others.

He had cleaned out his desk pretty well but left behind about 12 files. I'm pretty sure he didn't forget or need them, because we talked about what items he would be coming to collect over the weekend and he didn't collect these.

I looked through each file before pitching them all. One contained photos from an Elvis impersonator. Another had ideas for his column, dated 1992. One of his ideas: “Cars that are smarter than you.”

Cleaning out his files made me miss him even more and it also helped me pitch many of my own files because I realize I won't need them. I flashed ahead to the time when we're all older people and then when we have passed on and our children and grandchildren will be charged with giving away our things. Or throwing them away.

We leave. Our belongings remain. And then they leave, too. Reused or ditched. This is life. And death.

My conclusion: Best to clean stuff out as you move along in life. Easier said than done. Anyone have tips on how to pitch files?

Answered prayers: Lucia returns

Yesterday, my sister Lucia, 70, moved back to the Inland Northwest. She moved away 45 years ago and though she has returned often for long visits from her Philadelphia home, my mother, 91, prayed nearly everyday that someday, somehow, her oldest daughter would return “home.”

Lucia's husband died a year ago. All her siblings are here. She'll be living in a condo in Coeur d'Alene.

I wonder: At the end of our lives, how many of us will have long-term prayers answered?

Cancer clarity: Ann Teberg and Arusha

The cancer survivors I have met and interviewed over the years usually tell me that cancer was a great clarifier. They were able to focus on things that mattered more in the long run, at least in their opinion and in their lives.

A woman I profiled in my Sunday story, Ann Teberg, is one of the best examples yet.

She traveled to Tanzania, fell in love with the people and the culture and knew she had to return for a deeper comnmitment.

She will. Ann will leave soon to spend three months in Arusha, Tanzania. She'll bring books for the children and solar lamps to read them by in her project she's calling Read With Me, Arusha!

Ann, now 53, said:

 “Life-threatening illnesses change your knowledge of what’s important in life. The length of time we have, nobody knows. I can’t wait until I’m 67 to do this, because I don’t have a clue if I’ll still be here.”

(S-R photo by Jesse Tinsley)

2012 mantra: No fear

In her post yesterday Cathy mentioned the word gratitude as a good one for 2012. I have picked two words for this year's mantra: no fear. When you read interviews with people nearing the end of their lives, they often regret not taking more risks — personally, professionally and especially, in creative endeavors. Over the weekend, I read Michael Crichton's potboiler “State of Fear” and his words inspired the no-fear mantra, too. He wrote: “Modern people live in abject fear. They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment. They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them. They are in a particular panic over things they can't see — germs, chemicals, additives, pollutants. They are timid, nervous, fretful and depressed.”

Word for the year

My friend told me at church yesterday that she has chosen a word for the new year. Her word will be her focus. She chose “gratitude”and intends to write a word of thanks each day to someone in her life. A noble goal.

I started pondering what word I would choose for the new year - and I know I want a word that would not impose a burden or nag at me, if I faltered in living out my commitment. I want a word that would bring contentment. Hmmm, contentment? A good word to ponder and enjoy for 2012.

What will your word be?

(S-R archives photo)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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