10 Years Ago, My Father Was A Departee
(written February 19th, 2016)

My father was always the first to leave the house whenever we went somewhere as a family. He exclaimed, “I’m a departee!” It was his military way to let us know that it was time for us to go. He would warm up the car, crank up the AC and fiddle around with the radio.

It has been exactly 10 years since he passed away.

He was always the first out the door and he was the first of our immediate family to lead the way into the great unknown. He was a man of faith, a man who made mistakes, a kindhearted man towards neighbors and strangers alike. That was his style, but that is only a tiny snapshot of who he was. Years of military training brought him loyalty, discipline and the opportunity to travel the world. Years of family life showed him what true love was and what it meant to support and provide for his wife and children.

My last phone conversation with him was one week before he died. He was battling a terrible pneumonia. His voice was weak and he told me these words, “I can’t breathe.” All I could do was reply with, “Oh dad, I’m so sorry.” He went to the hospital the next day and never checked out until six days later when he was a departee from the world he loved. His guitar, his music, his family, his friends, the movies he enjoyed and the hills of Aibonito, Puerto Rico. All of these and more filled 66 years of his life.

His last words to his family was Goodbye. That is all he could say. We all said goodbye and sang to him and helped him on his final PCS (Permanent Change of Station) His tombstone reads Love Lasts Forever. These words have taken on an entirely new meaning to me. Because they are true. My father lives because I live. Because his grandsons live. His memory lives on within us. Beyond the physical realm.

He was the first. Leading the way for the rest of us. Riding on ahead on the dark path to light a fire for us all to see.

Happy Heavenly Birthday, Dad! You are missed. Always.

The Vision
(written November 11th, 2008)

My father once had a vision. It took place in the evening after a lung biopsy to check out the pulmonary fibrosis. He was knocked out for good afterwards I would imagine. He met someone he had lost a long time ago.

Her name was Rosa Julia, also known at Yuyo. She appeared before my father as he lay on the St. Joseph’s Hospital bed in Tampa, Florida. The communication was telepathic and she was holding a small child. She was his mother. Yuyo passed away when he was four or five due to appendicitis. And she left three orphan brothers behind.

Yuyo: It’s been a long time.
Dad: 55 years.
Yuyu: Your legs can reach the floor now. How old are you?
Dad: I am 55 now.
Yuyo: Cocopelao is going to be alright.
Dad: I am also cocopelao. (as he pointed to his Apollo Hair System)
Dad: I don’t have any grandchildren.
Yuyo: You will.

Dad shared this conversation with us all. I just remember the bits and pieces. He was transformed. He faced death eye to eye and challenged him to a duel. Dad got a reprieve.

It is not your time yet I told him once in December ’94 when he was in the hospital for what everyone thought was pneumonia the first time.

After his vision of the following January/February or so he came to the conclusion that in the afterlife, everyone’s job is to make sure everyone else’s light shines brighter. If they are dim, we brighten them. And of course, God is the brightest of them all.

The Day Dad Died
(written July 2008)

All in all, I would have to say. It’s been a rather dismal day. Bread can tell you the reason why, but for myself, there is a sense of blue melancholy mixed in with nostalgia that just wants to force me to escape and break free. It’s something from deep down that is hidden within the confines of my subconscious. Yet I sense the feeling also floating in the air around me, especially with the formations of clouds, the flights of birds, and the angles of the sun. These all get absorbed within my skull, refabricated with connections of images, thoughts, attempted understanding, self imposed meanings and links to the past, present and future. On certain days this feeling becomes so completely overwhelming that I have to stop, lay on the ground and either stretch, groan or cry.

My father would write eleven years before his death on 19 Feb 2006 about those dark days that came upon his life. These dark days were connected with the deaths of loved ones. It is not uncommon for them to be milestones in the journey of anyone’s life. The fact that as we get older, there is less we are given in this world, but there is more that gets taken away. We are the survivors of time. As we age, we all have to work within that ultimate truth that we don’t last forever and neither do those we admire, love and we call family and friends.

My father died on the morning of a Sunday at approximately 0823 of February 19th, 2006. Just a few hours before, past midnight actually, I had accidentally flushed the toilet in his room. My brother Jose and I just looked at each other with eyes wide and started laughing. This can’t be the last sound that a dying man hears. Dad was in a coma. His last dialysis was the previous Wednesday morning and that was not completely successful. Over the years his once sturdy frame became weaker where ultimately he appeared as if a scarecrow. I still regret saying that word on the phone to my sister who was in the same house in Tampa not knowing that dad on the extension. If you ever wanted to take back something you said, calling a man who is terminally ill a scarecrow would rank very high on that list.

On that previous Saturday, we all saw the cross section view of dad’s lungs. This poor man had barely 25% of his lungs working properly. If you took a look at healthy lungs horizontally from the bottom going up, you would normally see small pockets where alveoli are doing their jobs of converting oxygen into a blood worthy form. We saw dad’s lungs and they were as swiss cheese, like a sponge that is not made properly. Dime and nickel and quarter sized gaps just filled his lungs. This area was completely dead and non-functioning, but also full of phlegm that the hospital staff was pumping out using a machine. The phlegm catcher could have passed for a pitcher filled with a strawberry banana daiquiri. Just the top part of both lungs held some promise and I often wondered how he lasted so long and how determined he had been in the early years to try to walk and drive and visit Puerto Rico in December 1997 and then again in February 2001. He was usually out of breath during these occasions of overexertion and relied on his oxygen tanks to help him through.

Now I’m not going to put my dad on a high pedestal as if he were Superman or John Wayne, although John Wayne was his hero. He was human and he made mistakes in his life and he could have been perhaps a better father to me and my brothers and sister and perhaps a better husband to our mother on occasion. Yes, these mistakes took place before he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial pneumonia, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and subsequently kidney failure. Dad finally saw the writing on the wall and wrote his story of growing up in Puerto Rico. His memories just flooded forth in 1995 as he completed his autobiographical sketch. As he recalls, chronology soon becomes less of a factor but one remembers both the good and the bad occurring at once.

My dad passed away at 0823 on that Sunday morning. As his oxygenation levels crept lower and lower and his breathing became more strenuous, we as a family did something that we have never done before. We all held hands around his death bed and as he slept we sang En Mi Viejo San Juan (composed by Noel Estrada, 1943).

En mi viejo San Juan
Cuantos sueños forjé
En mis noches de infancia
Mi primera ilusión
Y mis cuitas de amor
Son recuerdos del alma

Una tarde me fuí
hacia a extraña nación
Pues lo quiso el destino
Pero mi corazón
Se quedo frente al mar
En mi viejo San Juan

Adiós (adiós adiós)
Borinquen querida (tierra de mi amor)
Adios (adios adios)
Mi diosa del mar (mi reina del palmar)
Me voy (ya me voy)
Pero un dia volveré
A buscar mi querer
A soñar otra vez
En mi viejo San Juan

Pero el tiempo pasó
Y el destino burló
Mi terrible nostalgia
Y no pude volver
Al San Juan que yo amé
Pedacito de patria
Mi cabello blanqueó
Y mi vida se va
Ya la muerte me llama
Y no quiero morir
Alejado de ti
Puerto Rico del alma

Adiós (adiós adiós)
Borinquen querida (tierra de mi amor)
Adiós (adiós adiós)
Mi diosa del mar (mi reina del palmar)
Me voy (ya me voy)
Pero un dia volveré
A buscar mi querer
A soñar otra vez
En mi viejo San Juan

It was a natural thing to do, to sing at our father’s bedside and help him on his way. The story of a man who leaves San Juan and who terribly misses her and the island of Puerto Rico was even more poignant during this time of passing on.

Dad drifted away as his body remained broken and still before us.

Now

Every time I see John Wayne in The Shootist I remember how valiantly my father faced his destiny. With strength, courage and most importantly, WITH FAITH! A lesson for us all.

Overcast twilight skies can knock you down a notch, but all one can do is to respond. Get up! Set your controls for the heart of the sun!