Friday, April 30, 2010

Relatives...and Friends

Good is 30 April and its projected to be 80 degrees in DC today. Its bike weather... no doubt.

Last evening I had the pleasure of chatting with a cousin in Florida...Scott True. We were very close growing up as kids...only a few years difference in age...he had been alerted to my condition via the "family tree" - my Dad to his Mom...through his brother...and so on. He also saw and read my Blog and when my profile came up on Facebook we knew it was time to chat.

Scott is the third of 5 grandkids to our Grandmother, Ruth, and like all of us Scott was very close with her. I could tell that some of the words in my writings regarding Nan touched him as they have me over the past several weeks. At times like this...emotions and memories speak louder then the words that are written.

It was very difficult for me to express to Scott not only what is going on but how you feel at a time like this. I have never been one of those "warm, touchy guys" but with certain family members and friends you need to be able to express your feelings.

Last night was very difficult for me with Scott...all I could do was try to hold back from breaking down. The emotions that were present when we talked about our kids and how the time with them quickly passes; what the future holds for them...and more importantly...being with the children as they mature to face life's challenges...all of it came to light in our discussion...and it hit hard.

Through all the stories about Nan and growing up together, Scott pointed out that he was on my first date with Jake and Ian's Mom (Sheila) when we went skiing in MA...I had totally forgotten about that! He went on the relate with vivid clarity the events and how when the three of us came back to Nan's house after a day on the slopes Sheila was subsequently "grilled" by the family...her first introduction the Hayes/True clan. I had forgotten about that one too...but no doubt Sheila never has!

Thank you Scott...

Another great guy from my past appeared last night courtesy of Facebook...Eric Casper.

Eric and I go way back to our times in the Department of Defense and our work in the Biological Weapons Facility Program in the former Soviet Union. It was good to "talk" with him and read his comments. Eric was like another little brother for me and for Scott Harvey. You could tell that this "kid" was going to be someone...he had that unmistakable... "it" ... and based on his current position within the federal government...we were right.

Eric was there with us in Uzbekistan in 2002 when we were removing anthrax from a former weapons testing facility...he was cool, calm and collected as the operation progressed and was subsequently decorated for his achievement. I look back fondly on many of the pictures and memories of that time and see a rookie who matured into a fine leader. You get a sense of satisfaction knowing that you were right in your assessment of Eric's case it was not about being was only a matter of when.

I am going to take off to watch the kid's lacrosse games later today as well as visit with friends...and then I will spend the weekend with the boys. It is anticipated that Saturday evening we will tell them of the severity of my condition and what the timeline will be. I have spent countless hours thinking of this moment and what to say to they will respond...and what the weeks and months ahead will hold in store for them.

It is not easy...far from it.

Reliving the memories of ones past; your accomplishments; your failures...and those things left undone can occupy your being for days. Telling your children that in the not too distant will not be one of the most difficult things a parent can do...and places your whole life in perspective.

My only saving grace in this whole ordeal is that there will be family and friends there for them when I depart...and that means so much to it soon will to them as well.

Thank you...and Warmest Regards


Thursday, April 29, 2010

True Friends...and the Truth

28 April 2010 was another very emotional day for me...and not because the Capitals lost in game seven at the Verizon Center.

I was able to reconnect with some very good friends on this date and relive some extraordinary times that I have had the pleasure as well as the honor of participating in...times that I will never forget...and that my friends will never let me forget.

Through the late 1990's and into the early 2000's I was fortunate to have worked with many great Americans...folks who gave selfishly and without fanfare, accolades or recognition in defense of our great Nation...but none of them finer then my friend...Scott Harvey.

Scott was a mainstay on many of the deployments I conducted to the former Soviet Union countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia. I have lost count of the number of times he and I...and the teams we led...travelled "across the pond" to visit these backwards areas conducting operations geared towards defeating the remaining Soviet Biological Weapons threat...suffice to say I don't think I ever depended on anyone more then I depended on Scott. He made sure we maintained focus and bearing while conducting these sensitive missions...all the while providing a modicum of levity and humor in a stress filled environment.

Scott was one of those guys that I had always considered a true professional. You only had to tell him one time what needed to be done...and he always found a way to get it done. No regrets. Scott was always about the mission...and the personnel... and making sure we never failed. He was adept...he was intelligent...he was a confidant...and more importantly...he was my friend.

I received several calls yesterday...another good friend Ben Mangina reached out and we chatted at great length. Ben had worked for me in Uzbekistan back in 2002. While the US Army was busy in Afghanistan engaged in Operation Anaconda, Ben, Scott, myself and approximately 100 of our "closest Uzbek friends" were carefully and without much fanfare recovering 200+ metric tons of live anthrax from an island in the Aral Sea. We did this at the behest of the Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense so that members of Al Qaida could not use this material against the US in their perverted campaign of violence. Ben performed flawlessly during this critical operation and the relationship that developed between the three of us remains close to this day.

Ben had been trying to reach me for several weeks about opportunities overseas and although I wanted to chat with him, I still needed some time to break the news. Ben was notified on Tuesday evening and we finally discussed my condition yesterday. Ben has had heart issues in the past so the news, albeit hard to take, fell on compassionate shoulders. His next action was to call Scott who is currently deployed. Scott called a few minutes later. Suffice to was an emotional time for both of us.

I have been fortunate enough to have met many great people during the course of my life...and even more so to have worked with some of them in defense of the United States. When I look back at what I have accomplished and what has been done to date some of the greatest and most rewarding experiences in my life have been with Scott by my side. These are the memories that I will never forget...and will forever hold they mean so much to me...just like our friendship. It was one of those things that was never stated between the two of us...we just knew.

After talking about what has happened and the what will take place over the coming months I asked Scott a parting talk to my children after I go and let them know exactly what happened...when...and more importantly...why these critical events took place.

You see...Jake and Ian have always had some idea of my exploits based in part on passing conversation at the house...however folks like Scott...and Ben where there firsthand and can tell with riveting detail the truth from a vantage point few could ever take. It means so much to me to know that the boys will have that to look forward to...and I know Scott will not disappoint.

The true measure of a friend can not be defined simply by is more then that. It is an emotional connection that transcends both time and place. Those of you reading this today understand this better then most...and Scott understands it fully.

Scott had discussed coming back to see me before things get bad...I told him no...there are few situations in this world that make me emotional...when Scott and I were finished with each operation and we went home...we did so with a mutual understanding that we would see each other on the next go around...the expectation of watching Scott walk away for a final time would be too much to endure...and so I live with the memory of the times, our exploits and the good we did for our country...and for me...that is enough.

Thank you my friend...for covering my "six" and being there in the I said yesterday...I am your debt.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Where we Where they Begin

It's been several weeks now since I was notified of my condition and its pending and eventual outcome. In that time my thoughts have been primarily with the boys and their Mom...and making sure they are cared for when I leave.

Sheila and I spoke on Monday evening and it was the hardest thing I have done to date regarding this matter. Discussion topics included my will, insurance documents, education benefits for the kids, etc, etc....and then...out of the blue Sheila said something to me with tears streaming from her eyes...she said that the boys will miss me. I just stood there and cried while trying to comprehend all that had happened in our lives up to this point and how it pertained to our kids...and to us...I could barely keep my composure before that comment...and now I crying uncontrollably. We said nothing for what seemed like 30 seconds...I thanked her while still crying...and stated that "I have to go."

When I was in Afghanistan I penned several poems during the downtime I had...when my conversation with Sheila ended on Monday I went back to them...there were many passages from numerous poems written however this one (from "You Never Knew") resonated clearly:

Although…I can not change
Some things…
They are the past
My life has come full circle
I see the future…at last

It is full of wonderment
Of heartache
Yet not of pain
And in the beckoning of the light
In thought…I shall remain

My conversation with Sheila made me realize that although my journey is almost over... through the boys...I shall remain.

A very good friend lent an ear several days ago as well. He was alerted to a potential issue with my health and that I needed to chat with him regarding work. We talked for a bit and it was helpful for me to have his understanding and compassion at this time. He commented that the "blog" should be made available after I go as a sort of legacy so that family and friends can look back and fully understand what has happened and how it was handled. Sage advise Sir...and again...thank you!

Both boys played lacrosse yesterday against Woodbridge HS...great games by all accounts and to be there and watch Jake score three goals and Ian assist made my day. When I finally returned home I could state that I was happy...I was a bit apprehensive...I was somewhat scared of what is next...and yes a large part of me was lonely...but through it all...I was happy...happy for the experiences; the friends; the boys; and hopefully another day to write and to think about my ending...and more importantly...their beginning.


Monday, April 26, 2010

A Bad Call...

So what happens when the phone rings at 5PM on a Monday? Sales call? Marketer? No...its the Veterans Administration.

Spoke with the VA counselor just a few minutes ago...although they will sponsor me to the Federal Registry I am no longer a good candidate based on previous ailments as well as complications associated with my current condition. The medication I have taken over the past 10 years has severely weakened my immune system as well as my liver and kidney functionality. These two factors made me a third tier candidate versus a first tier hopeful. So much for hope..........

I still have not told the kids...its based on their Mom's wishes to postpone as long as possible. I think Ian has an idea that something is wrong...he senses it. Jake is oblivious based on all going on around him...a typical teen!

Time to go take a walk...


Wednesday, April 21, 2010 Perspective....

Good Morning...

I have had the opportunity to look back over my life these past several days and take some measure of solace in what I have well as spend time thinking about those expectations I have been unable or failed to meet. For me, the remainder of my time is less about personal enlightenment and more about addressing the things that I should have done better.

My phone rang yesterday and it was an old friend. We had not seen or spoken to each other in several years yet we were able to fall right back into the banter that defined our friendship so long ago. She had no idea of my present situation and when I told her I could tell it was blow...and caused some uneasiness. We took a few moments to discuss the "how" and the "why" of it all and then laughed at all the folks and the situations we had experienced along the way...our likes and usual stuff.

It was sort of like replaying the high points in your life and capturing all the good that had been done...and one matures...he/she grows both emotionally and spiritually. It was refreshing in a way as it takes you from a place (reality) and provides for you a moment free of the pain and the suffering where you can sit and think. Too often whether in my position or not we (collectively) fail to do this for ourselves. The pace of life itself...personal responsibilities... work...etc all define when we can take a moment and really should not be that way.

I remember fondly when folks at work would say..."man this day is so tough...I cant take this" My retort was always along the lines of being a soldier...serving overseas..."nobody is shooting at IED's went off on the ride to work and nobody is firing rockets at you...its not that bad" Some got it...and others simply continue to complain.

The folks that worked for me always knew that it is about matter how bad you have it or think you have it...there are always others who are in worse shape...just take a look around. To me it was always comical to listen to somebody in the office with a danish and a latte complaining about "work conditions" here in the DC area. I chuckle silently sometimes and at other times I am much more vocal. In the end...your perspective is driven by your experiences...and many of these folks have had few experiences outside the confines of work.

I have been fortunate to have had many experiences...some good and some bad...but experiences none the less.

I firmly believe that it is those experiences that I will hold onto as I get closer to my time.

At Jake's ceremony the other day I gave him a small framed photo from 2002 as was picture he had never seen before and one that was taken by my Grandmother when she visited. It showed the two of us at the Fredericksburg Ice Park. Jake was dressed in his hockey uniform and I was in typical street attire. I saw Jake's eyes light up when he saw it...he saw in that picture time with his Dad but also another experience in his life. We smiled...then he blew me off and went and hung out with his friends...but I think we can all see the point our experiences that define us and make us who we are.

I was glad I took a lot of pictures of my experiences...Afghanistan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and many other countries have all given me perspective...and experience...but the driving factor in all of it was the people...for that is the time spent with the people I met...and that is the comfort I derive today...and in moving forward.

The call yesterday was enlightening and more importantly...needed.

Thank You


Monday, April 19, 2010

They are in good hands...

Good Morning

I spent Sunday at the United States Marine Corp Museum at Quantico, Virginia. It is, in essence, hallowed ground and a trip that is worth making time and time again. It was only the second time I had been to this facility and just like the previous visit I was not only captivated by what the museum offers its patrons but also inspired by all who have gone before me.

The reason for my visit this time was not to delve into military history but rather to attend the promotion ceremony of my eldest son Jake to the rank of Eagle Scout within the Boy Scouts of America. Jake had actually attained this significant accomplishment back in October but no matter what the organization...anything that involves more then one signature for approval takes months to accomplish...and the Boy Scouts are no different. Jake's day was designated as 18 April 2010...and it's another day I will never forget.

When you walk into the museum you are immediately taken back not only by the scope of the exhibits themselves but also the depth of the sacrifice that each of these brave men and women have given since the inception of the Marines. Etched throughout the rotunda are memorable quotes from Marines which add to the mystique and the color of being in the "Corp" ... As one parent commented..."if this does not make you want to join the Marines then you are just not paying attention"

I arrived at the ceremony with Ian at 1300...a full hour earlier then the 1400 start time. We took the time to work with the museum staff and set up the facility. The ceremony would be held in the main rotunda next to the entrance...I stood and thought to myself that many of the patrons visiting today were also going to see something that does not happen very Eagle Promotion.

After some last minute details and coordination with executives from the Boy Scouts the ceremony began. Jake's mother and I were escorted to our seats by our youngest son. I recognized over half of the 100 plus guests in attendance...many of Jake and Ian's personal friends had come to see this event...and many of the museum patrons were starting to pay attention. Looking at some of the gazes I could tell that they had no idea of what was happening or why our son was being singled out.

And so it began....

The Scout Leaders who had been there for Jake since 2001 when he moved here from Ft. Bragg all took turns discussing his significant accomplishments, his trials and tribulations and more importantly the personal journey he had taken to get here. At one juncture there was a "story" read about 100 Scouts...and it is a poignant one not only for Jake's situation but for life in general.

Of 100 boys who start in scouting less then 3 will ever attain the rank of Eagle Scout yet all 100 will have been touched in some way by scouting. Many of the United States greatest business, military and civic leaders have all been Eagle Scouts. This point was not lost on Jake who stood at attention as the leaders read on. I saw a glint in his eye as he was finally understanding what this accomplishment meant not only in his parents eyes but also from a community perspective.

Jake was presented with a litany of memento's, certificates and letters from various associations, elected officials and leaders from both the military and academia all congratulating him on what he had accomplished. Most poignant and read out loud for the audience were the commendations from the Commandant of the Marines and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Both commented not only on his maturity and dedication in getting to this point but also on his future contributions to his country and the expectations that come with this great achievement.

Jake had met both of these fine leaders earlier while assigned to Ft. Bragg as well as when he completed his Millennium Ride and both were more then willing to put pen to paper in appreciation and gratitude for what he had done and, yet, what he still had to do. Looking out over the assembled crowd you could see several persons in attendance with tears in their eyes. This point, again, was not lost on Jake who was still standing at attention.

Jake was afforded the opportunity to make some comments. I chuckled to myself as he pulled from his pocket several note cards and placed them on the podium...he has seen me do this several times previously. He went on to thank those special folks that had touched his life and got him to this point; his parents; his friends and close relatives; his Scout Master (Mr. White) who he stated had held him accountable when he most needed it; and all the other scouts who he had had the privilege to serve with. Then Jake did something that was actually awe inspiring for both myself and his Mom...he looked out over the audience and paused..then he thanked his brother Ian for being there for him and helping him attain the award. It was a heartfelt moment for both of them...a casual nod from eldest to youngest for being "my brother"

After the formal ceremony a receiving line followed...from the audience an elderly man approached...he was clearly in his 80's or even older but was impeccably groomed and you could tell he was a former military man. He held my hand and thanked both Jake's mother and I for allowing him the opportunity to attend this ceremony. See...he was an Eagle Scout from 1943 who upon attaining his rank immediately joined the Marines and fought in WWII in the Pacific Theater. He was at Quantico for the first time to see the new museum and just happened to be passing by as Jake's ceremony began and decided that like WWII...he "needed to be there" - he had never been to an Eagle Scout Ceremony since his own and wanted to thank us for mentoring such a fine young man. My eyes started to water as he held my hand even tighter. He looked at Jake and then back at us and stated... "he is in good hands"

Once the day ended I walked around the outside of the museum and sat for a bit. I was taken back by all that happened and what I saw in both my children. Ian will get his Eagle Scout next year and I am confident that he will be as charismatic as Jake was on his day...but my thoughts were not about the pomp and circumstance...they were of the boys...and what life will be like a year from now. Jake captured my attention today not because of what he had achieved but for what he had become. I looked back on his comments and his actions and see a young man full of not only energy...but compassion and, more importantly...maturity. Jake is beginning to comprehend and deal with the adversity that life brings each one of us. His accomplishments to date are reflective of the learning process we all go through and his eyes are now wide open.

I will finally tell the boys this week about my timeline and what happens next. Sheila will be there with me at the appointed time and place. The conversation is one that I am not looking forward to yet knowingly must happen. Based on what I saw at the USMC Museum at the ceremony...I know...both boys will always be in good hands.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Taking in...the time left with the boys

What I will miss the most.....

Its Saturday morning and I had my youngest son with me all night. Great discussions about school, athletics and driving. I purchased a car a couple of weeks ago for him and its a 5 speed... he loves it but is a bit apprehensive of driving a manual all the time. He will grow into it!

We had dinner at a Mexican place last night after they arrived...Just Jake, Ian and myself. It was calming for me just listening to Jake's stories about his cruise in Mexico and Ian's bike trip to North Carolina. The look on Jake's face was priceless when he found out about the additional charges on his I-Phone when he was in Mexico..."Sorry Dad" meant more to me tonight then ever.

As I sat and listened to the boys deep down I knew I would miss them as my time approaches. Both boys have grown so much...not just in size but more maturity. The way they carry a conversation, the manner in which the engage was refreshing to see my boys as what they have become...young men.

I spoke with Sheila last night just before meeting a friend to discuss my prognosis. I felt the emotion in Sheila's voice and her deep concern not only for me but for the boys as well. She has done a remarkable job with them and I feel that once the news is given to them her strength will be tested again...but she is strong and what I got from our conversation is she is prepared. That is all I could ask for.

Its amazing the thoughts that go through your head in this type of situation. I remember so much about the boys and our life...the things we've done and the places we have been. I am so proud of them for what they have accomplished as well as what they will do in the future...I have a picture of them in New Hampshire from was a ski trip we went on together...just the three of us. I remember the emotion of that trip...the crispness of the air...the ability of the boys to command the slopes and the camaraderie that comes from a father/son relationship.

I look at the picture and I cry...for those are the moments that I will miss the most...the times with the boys...teaching them and leading them in pursuits of growth and challenge. I have had this discussion with Sheila...she knows the importance of these pursuits and she will continue to challenge and hold them accountable...I know they have been and will always be in good hands...

And I will always look in on them


Friday, April 16, 2010

The Wheels on the Bus......

"We live..we die...and the wheels on the bus go round and round..." (The Bucket List)

After the grief counselor left yesterday I had time to reflect on my life and what I have done...and more importantly what I feel I still need to do.

It was a very emotional look at myself and more importantly what others will/would/do see. I looked back on what I have accomplished as well as some of the dumber things I have done. A friend commented earlier in the week that "life is the sum of all your choices" - upon reflection I would say...she is absolutely correct.

When the counselor left yesterday I went and rented the Bucket List. I have always been a Jack Nicholson fan and knew what the content of the movie was about and how it relates to my present situation. The funny thing is previously I stayed away from those movies as they would elicit an emotional response from me that I was very uncomfortable with...however this movie has always drawn me in...and I felt I needed to see it now more then ever.

The movie brings into perspective the reality of life's choices for those who's time is fast summation when the end is near all you can really do is try to make up for lost time while attempting to make amends. A key point from the script that is readily apparent...decisions made 2, 3, 5 or 10 years ago cant be fixed...for those actions have already been "completed" - certainly you can try to make amends and offer apologies however at the end of the day what has happened has happened. Sometimes sorry does not make it right...and then you realize that you don't have much time left...and then sorry is all you really have.

For me it was interesting watching the characters in this movie and how they too handled the eventuality of death. Spurned on by the sense that they had "things" they needed to do I took from the movie the opposite approach. I really have done all those activities that I have ever wanted to do...I have been fortunate enough to live and travel all over the world...and yes I still hate France...but...I have climbed...skied...and jumped from airplanes...fought for and served my country...I have loved and well as put at risk all that was important in my life. I did so knowingly and in some regards foolishly and often without hesitation or ever fully considering the net outcome for myself and those who cared most about me.

From the standpoint of understanding what my friend had stated...I know she is spot on as it pertains to my life.

Do I still have things I want to do? Yes...I think we always will...but are there things I must do to rectify some of the mistakes I have made? Absolutely...and there in lies my "bucket list" and its definition.

I wont be traveling to climb a mountain or run a race...I have done all that stuff and much more...and often times at the detriment of others. What I must do is make amends not only within myself but with those around me who gave so much and trusted in me. To me that is the real measure of being a man...a man with limited time. In is no longer about me...

I still have not told the boys. Sheila and I spoke yesterday about how to handle this. I have not seen her face to face yet since the news hit and that is an experience I am not looking forward to either. Her recent email to me expressing her heartfelt sadness over this situation added to the already tumultuous and emotional week to date. Even in divorce we have always shared the bond of the boys as well as a friendship that I could never replace. I will draw some measure of strength from her in the coming months knowing she will be there for them when I am not.

When I awoke this AM I really wanted to bounce out of bed...and I did...only to meet the floor again! I have to be cautious in that my physical actions now have to be taken in moderation. The new medicine - and its higher dosing - has already wreaked havoc on my blood pressure. The doctor will need to dial this as I am afraid that the medicine will kill me before the DCM does!

The wheels on the bus will continue to go "round and round" as stated in the movie... fortunately I am still on the bus...I just want to make sure that before I get off I have touched base and made amends with all those who have been riding with me.

Thank You


Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Passing of Time

Good Morning - it was a long day at the hospital and an even longer day waiting for the cardiologist to call back. In the end the news was not never gets better with time. After the invasive procedure I was allowed to head home to "wait" for the call that would come. At roughly 1700 (5PM) the Director of Cardiology called and informed me that based on the extent of damage to the left side of my heart (the DCM) and the duration of time that this has been prevalent, he was not optimistic of the outcome or my overall prognosis. The only option that is available is a transplant however that process is long and arduous just to get on the list and what I have going against me is the continued deterioration of my existing heart.

The Veterans Administration as well as WRAMC will take the necessary steps to get me to that point of being on the list. I am going to notify the SSA later today and submit disability paperwork. After that we shall see.

I have spoken with Jake and Ian's Mom over the last couple of days to make her fully aware of what is going on. Given the activities for Jake (Eagle Scout Promotion) this weekend we have decided to hold off on telling them . The emotions around this decision and its long term implications for both boys is really killing me. I had never thought of not being in their life and now with a timeline for departure I am awash in emotions that I have to deal with. Probably the hardest thing a parent could tell a child...I am dreading that discussuion.

I spoke to my Dad late last night...suffice to say that he did not take the news well. He knew something was up several months back when I could not fight off the pneumonia. His intuition has always been good. I needed to make sure that he fully understood that when I leave he needed to fill the void especially for Ian. It was a very poignant conversation and one that was probably 20 years in the making. I am sure there will be more to follow.

A couple of weeks ago I ventured down RTE 95 to the place where in 2004 my Grandmother called me to tell me she was taking herself of dialysis. I got out of the car and just looked around. It was a somber moment in my life and a conversation that I never forgot. As I stood there remembering the call I quickly realized how much I missed her and what she meant to me. Flashforward to I look back I take comfort and draw strength for I know she is watching over me and will comfort me through this last journey.

The irony in waking up today is that the WRAMC is sending a grief counselor to sit and talk with me. This should be interesting given my current field of study. I often wondered why the Army and/or the VA would do that especially with soldiers trained to "ignore those emotions" -now I get to experience it firsthand.

I still have much to write. I want to publish a book about the poetry I crafted as well as pen some more notes to Jake and Ian. Not sure how I will do but know I need to do it there will not be a later.