Crossing the Bar

October 19, 2014

20140607-untitled-077I am so, so sorry to share that Dad died peacefully this morning at Arleigh Burke, the nursing home (part of the Vinson Hall campus) where he has been for the past two weeks since he transitioned out of the hospital.  Mom was with him as he breathed his last.

For the past few weeks, Dad has been weak, and words have been hard to come by.  But he has been very much aware of his situation, and totally involved in the decision-making.

Dad asked in his final instructions for a “Celebration of Life” and to be remembered joyfully by his family and friends.  That Celebration will take place in the Vinson Hall chapel (6251 Old Dominion Drive, McLean) this coming Saturday afternoon, October 25, at 2:00 p.m., led by Scott Harrison, the Vinson Hall chaplain.

My mother seems surprised that family might want to travel for the occasion, particularly so soon after the wonderful (and remarkably timely) Peak Brothers Reunion in La Jolla in August.  My brother and I have reminded her that these services are for the living, and that if family wants to come, she shouldn’t fuss.  But you know Mom.  So I won’t recommend either way, but just quote from Dad’s final instructions:  “Sounds like a great party! Wish I could be there.”

My niece Deborah summed it up a few minutes ago on her FB page:  “The world lost one of the most incredible and selfless people today, Captain Paul R. Peak, aka my Grandpa. I’ll always be eternally grateful for all you did for me and our family and will miss those long winded stories you always told. We’ll all love and miss you terribly.”
Dad, always a hobby genealogist, lived to be an ancestor himself.  This photo was taken in June with his great-granddaughter Lily at Mom and Dad’s 70th anniversary party.

Final Days

October 14, 2014

My father has always been a romantic at heart.  As a boy growing up during the Depression, his favorite authors were Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson.  Inspired by Richard Halliburton, he and a high school friend dreamed of tramping through Europe.

Of course, as fate would have it, his first trip overseas took him aboard a war ship in the Mediterranean, and to the invasion of southern France.

Dad has also always been remarkably fixated on duty.  Duty to country, duty to family, duty to do what needs  to be done.

My Dad has had two simultaneous love affairs during his 91 years of life: With the Coast Guard, which he joined at age 18 as a plebe at the Coast Guard Academy.  His Academy classmates were more than the guys he went to school with.  After all, this band of brothers together, shared together, and yes, fought together.  He also has been in love all his life with my mother, who he met his first year at the Academy, falling in love at first date.  He served in the Coast Guard three years as a cadet, 30 years as an officer, and has been 40 years a retiree.,  Meanwhile, he and my mother have been married a marvelous 70 years, and it is hard to even think of one without the other.

But soon we must, because Dad’s heart — always over-sized — is failing.  He transitioned to hospice 10 days ago, and is clearly leaving us, just a little bit more every day.

And then, he opens his eyes, pulls himself into focus, smiles that amazing smile of his, and he’s my Dad again.

And even during this difficult time, there’s plenty of good news.  First, for his 91 years of active, meaningful life.  And for the friends and family he has interacted with over the years, and who are now there for him and my Mom.  And for the fact that he has been wholly involved in the decision-making, including the decision to transition to hospice.

I was remarkably blessed when it came to selection of my parents.  Remarkably.  And it’s very hard to say goodbye.


What the Doctor Knows

October 2, 2014

I’ll never complain about computerized medical records again.

I’m just like everyone else:  I dislike it when the doctor peers at the computer screen instead of at me.  I understand that the darned software was designed more to provide data for the insurance company and less for the attending physician.

All that said …

On Tuesday Frank was taking off the cover to the hot tub when he stepped backwards and fell into the below-ground area where the hot tub controls are kept.  Yes, he had left the area open, and yes, it was a stupid thing to do.  But fall he did — and as a result we spent the morning at the ER.  Frank was lucky — first, because he did NOT hit his head, and second, because only one rib was fractured.  That one rib is causing a great deal of pain ((I’ve broken a rib.  I know.))  Plus, there’s a lot of soft tissue damage. He’s not happy about the experience. But here’s the remarkable thing:

The attending ER doc at Miles knew before she spoke to Frank when he had had his last tetanus shot. And his general medical history.  And was even able to compare the cat-scan she ordered with one he had had a decade ago that he and I can’t even remember but which would NOT have been done at Miles.  Thank you, computerized medical records.

Compare that to my father’s situation.  He and Mom live in McLean, VA, in one of the counties with the highest standard of living in the country.  Yet when he got an infection earlier this summer and ended up recuperating in the nursing home for a few weeks, I was astounded to learn that his medical records couldn’t follow him from the hospital … or even across the driveway from the retirement home where they live and which is owned by the same non-profit as the nursing home. ((The staff commutes back and forth, but medical records do not.)) And when I wanted to check to make sure a procedure had been taken by the night nurse, I had to chase the current nurse down the hall because everything was on paper in a single loose-leaf notebook.  The nurse clearly thought I was interfering — and I guess I was. But is it outrageous to want to check the care given to a loved one?

So computerized medical records, come on! I’ll forgive the physician for staring at the screen.  At least s/he’s staring at information about me!




Honor and Commitment

September 17, 2014

My Dad was  president of his Coast Guard Academy class, and partly as a result, has been planning class reunions ever since. (Don’t term limits kick in at some point?) Right now he is in the throes of organizing his 70th (!) reunion, which will take place during Homecoming next month in New London, CT.  One of the more sacred traditions at the Coast Guard Academy calls for each reunion class to march onto the football field, while the announcer reads a few words about the class.  Here is the script that Dad and I wrote last night to describe the Coast Guard Academy class of 1945.  I think it says all that needs to be said about honor and commitment:

146 of us were sworn in on July 16, 1941. We were the largest and last peacetime class to enter the Academy, and only two of us held draft cards. Six months later, after Pearl Harbor, the First-Classmen graduated, leaves were canceled, and we were informed that we would be required to do four years’ worth of academics in a total of three. We rose to the challenge; 95 of us graduated and received our commissions in June 1944, one day after D-day in Normandy.

After antisubmarine and antiaircraft refresher training, and after 18 weddings, we all dispersed to our first assignments, comprising a wide variety of Coast Guard cutters and U.S. Navy vessels. Once we were in the War it was soon over, and all of us who graduated returned safely home, although two classmates who left prior to graduation paid the ultimate price. Our class indeed proved “always ready”; members of the Class of 1945 served in-country in Korea and later in Vietnam.

After the War, the Coast Guard assumed new duties. An emphasis on weather patrol, aids to navigation, air-sea rescue, ice patrol, lighthouse service and merchant-marine safety obviously interested us, because of the 51 of us who elected to stay past our required tour in 1948, all but three were still on active duty and eligible for 20-year retirement. Eighteen of us remained on active duty 30 years after graduation, and two of our class served at flag rank. Today, we look back with pride to a lifetime of service: Three years as a cadet, a career on active duty, followed by 40 years of retirement.

The class of 1945 is still 24 members strong. 17 of us are represented here today, including non-graduates and widows, and together, we comprise the largest 70th reunion class in the Academy’s history. We are united in pride of our service, honor in having served our country on air, land and sea, and to have done so in peacetime and through every war and conflict.


Have You Thanked Your TSA Agent Today?

September 11, 2014

It helped that my home airport is in Portland, Maine; not exactly a major hub.  And it helped that I arrived for my morning flight at oh-dark-hundred, before the rush.  And that I was in the “precheck” lane, which means I don’t have to take off my shoes or haul out my computer.

No line, no strip search, and here’s the marvelous thing:  No yelling.  The TSA agent looked directly at me and politely asked if I had a cell phone in my pocket (I did); he didn’t yell or intone indirectly with general directives to take all phones out of all pockets.

As a result, my trip through Security was a rarity: fast, hassle-free; in fact: civilized.  And as I gathered up my belongings, I turned to the two agents and said so:  “You guys are remarkably civilized.”  One smiled, the other gave a Mainer response:  “Come back in half an hour when the crowd is here and you won’t say that.”  Then I noticed that the first one was spreading the word to the other agents that a traveler had paid TSA a compliment, and as I walked away from Security, more than one agent called out to me, or waved, or wished me a good trip and safe journey.

Today is September 11.  May we all have safe journeys, and may we always work in tandem with TSA to ensure that Security is as hassle-free — and  rigorous — as possible.



Pilgrim’s Prayer

August 30, 2014

BoxFiles_14050814192902It’s worth repeating — Following is a Pilgrims Prayer that Frank and I encountered on the Camino de Santiago earlier this year.  Frank and I shared it at the Congregational Church last Sunday, and believe me, it’s just as meaningful for Pilgrims who are searching from home as well as those on The Way.

Although I may have traveled all the roads,
crossed mountains and valleys from East to West,
if I have not discovered the freedom to be myself,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have shared all of my possessions
with people of other languages and cultures;
made friends with pilgrims of a thousand paths,
or shared lodgings with saints and princes,
if I am not capable of forgiving my neighbor tomorrow,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have carried my pack from beginning to end
and waited for every pilgrim in need of encouragement,
or given my bed to one who arrived later than I,
given my bottle of water in exchange for nothing;
if upon returning to my home and work,
I am not able to create compassion
or to make happiness, peace and unity,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have had food and water each day,
and enjoyed a roof and shower every night;
or may have had my injuries well attended,
if I have not discovered in all that the love of God,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have seen all the monuments
and contemplated the best sunsets;
although I may have learned a greeting in every language
or tasted the clean water from every fountain;
if I have not discovered the blessing
of so much free beauty and so much peace,
I have arrived nowhere.

If from today I do not continue walking on the path,
searching and living according to what I have learned;
if from today I do not see in every person, friend or foe,
a fellow pilgrim on the Camino;
if from today I cannot recognize the divine
in every one and every thing,
I have arrived nowhere. Amen.

Paying it Forward

August 22, 2014

IMG_4677Nearly ten years ago, two American women named Jane and Patty were vacationing in the northern part of Thailand, when they came face-to-face with the reality of sex trafficking.  The women realized that they had to do something.  They set up a home-grown non-profit, and in the years since, they have saved girls in danger of being trafficked and ensured that they received a good education.  For more, Google “Friends of Thai Daughters.”

Last night, Frank and I went to a fundraiser for “FTD.”  I had thought it would be a “normal” fundraiser, and in many ways it was — good food, open bar, silent and live auction and many generous contributors.  What made the evening special, however, were the “Daughters” who were part of the evening.

They had cooked a fabulous Thai dinner.  They also spoke briefly about who they were.

Mee is now 28, and she was one of the first “daughters.”  She has graduated from Chang Mai University, has returned to the area where she grew up, acquired her real estate license, and is working to support herself.  Her English is remarkably good, and so is her commonsense.  She is “giving back” by working as a house-mother for five other younger “daughters.” including her own niece.

Lek receives her university degree this October.  When she joined the “Daughters” program, she said, “I just want to go to school.”  Someone gave her a piece of paper and a pencil; she started drawing, and she’s been drawing ever since. Lek is shy about discussing her talent, but it is clear that she is something special, and already an artist in her own right. This summer, she interned with Villard Studios, and learned white line printmaking, an art form that originated in South East Asia, but which has disappeared from there. ((Check out the elephant that starts off this entry for a sample of this work.)) Lek’s professor has asked her to return to the university and teach printmaking to the other students. Lek has already made enough money from her art to pay for her sister to go to nursing school.

Two girls, given a chance to go to school, barely graduated and already paying it forward.  And were in not for Patty and Jane, these Thai Daughters would most certainly be dead, killed by AIDS or worse.




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