A Final Goodbye to a Physical Life

Ahem.

“…dear friends, in these days of modern time, when you can’t tell the ACs from the DCs…” (From Firesign Theater’s “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers”)

There were a couple thoughts on my mind this morning as I awoke this morning. Those included:

  • Thresholds
  • Family
  • Spirit
  • Ashes in the ocean
  • Sea of stars
  • Where to find Good Chinese in San Diego

But first…

Yesterday was a very full day, one where I realized how far I could go on a tank of gas, how long I could go on 4 hours of sleep, and, in turn, the profound depth of comfort from a memorial service that can provide a great night’s sleep.

I tried to go to sleep the night before around midnight, but was awakened by the urge to finish the slideshow and eulogy that I was to share the next morning at 10a. Bear in mind, I had morning traffic from San Diego to Monterey Park in LA in front of me. I was also pretty wrung out from another day of less than optimal energy the day before.

Upon lying down, my mind was busy with all the photographs I had discovered the day before. Ironically, though, the thought that hit me hard awake was that I would never hear my father’s voice again. I ended up staying awake until 4a trying to work that into my eulogy, but it just wasn’t working. I think I was trying too hard.

Fell asleep to be awakened by Sarah at 7:40. Totally missed the alarms if they actually rang. I got into Hustle Mode and got out the door. I hardly sped (it’s all relative!) and got to the church in Monterey Park with about 30 minutes to spare. Nice.

I met my cousin Alfie, the minister that would lead the service, and his wife. I set up the projector and tried to make the slide show work, but as it wasn’t going smoothly/effortlessly, I started letting go of what my eulogy needed to be like.

My friends, Pete & Tracy, came. Leslee and Mitch from San Diego came. How cool was that?!? They got to meet my family which spanned across three generations and continues to amaze me with how broad it is. My Great Uncle was there, my Aunt Lucy, a bunch of cousins, some classmates from my father’s classes in Taiwan, members of the Canaan Church up in the San Jose area, aunts from Charlotte’s side. I know I’m missing some people, but it was wonderful how many people attended and how they really exemplified the breadth of dad’s history.

A family tree project is in the works. More on that later. Anyone know a good Mac OS developer that wants to work on a cool project?

Here are the notes that I ended up using in a very broad manner:

>Pic of Dad

My father is gone.

>Pics of him young

He called me last month to tell me that he was going to drive across the country again to come live with me. That’s the last time I heard his voice.

After my father died, Charlotte and I gathered the things that he was traveling with in his car. As of yesterday, when we finally looked through it all, I have a lot of pictures of him, more than I ever knew existed. I now have the chance to go back in time to see him as he was over the course of his life.

He came to America as a young man, at a time when there weren’t a lot of other people like him doing what he was doing. He started out very much a foreigner, but he immersed himself into this culture. In this way, he was an explorer and an adventurer.

There’s a quality to a person’s voice when they speak from conviction, from strength and courage, when they speak from the heart. If you heard my father speak, you know that his voice was strong, clear, hearty, and playful. He spoke from his heart. I’m really going to miss hearing his voice.

>Pics of Sons

Dad was incredibly encouraging. He was very willing to help us in our passions and pursuits. He helped me get started in my profession with my first computer and he also enabled me to own my first home. He was also often the loudest parent at a wrestling match for Calvin or a soccer game for me. The sound of his voice yelling “Go for it!” is something I’ll never hear again.

>Pics of Calvin

My father raised me and my brother, Calvin. Calvin was born in 1958 but he died in July of 2004. He was 46. He had three children, two step-daughters and a son. As of yesterday, I have a bunch of letters that my father saved, letters between myself, Calvin, and my father. I can now recall the situations in the past, and see pictures of both of them as they grew over the passage of time. I’m incredibly sad, though, as the absence from this life is the simple truth of their deaths. They aren’t here anymore.

>Pics of Me

This is me. I was born in 1966, 41 years ago. I have two children, a step daughter, Emily, now going to school in New York City, and another daughter, Sarah, who’s here today. She’s going to be eight years old this December. If you ask her, I think she’ll tell you that I can be pretty loud on the sidelines. I got that loud voice from her grandpa.

When I first learned of his accident, I was truly surprised. As I was saying, my father was a traveler — he was a “road warrior”. He drove all over this country many times visiting every single state at least once, many of them several times, making friends along the way.

We went on a couple of road trips together when I was a child. I’ve had a lifelong love of airplanes and one of my most vivid childhood memories was during a road trip down to Pensacola, FL where I saw the Blue Angels flying for the first time. I’ve become a pretty good traveler, and I owe that to him and I’m passing that on to Sarah as well.

>Pause

My father was married once before to my natural mother, Beth Chen. She asked me to convey her regrets at the passing of my father.

>Pics of Charlotte.

These are pictures of my father with his wife, Charlotte. They were married for over 24 years. Charlotte was more than a wife to my father, she also became a mother to me and Calvin even as adults.

My father loved Charlotte so much that he invested his entire being into his relationship with her. Over the years, she became the very closest person on this earth to my father. I’m incredibly grateful that she’s in my life today. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to share memories of my father together with the person who knew him best.

>Pics of Family, Friends and Service

My father took family pretty seriously. I regret having been pretty distant to my relatives, but I know he loved his relatives very much.

He also loved kids. A lot.

My father demonstrated a deep commitment to being of service to his fellow man. Over the years, my father made hundreds, probably thousands, of friends across the globe. He was truly a people person, someone who could introduce himself to anyone. He had a mischievous sense of humor, but never at a person’s expense.

He loved to engage with people, often on the tennis court, or over a meal. He had an amazing appetite yet he stayed fit through exercise and activity.

He was a minister and an educator. He was also a scholar earning many degrees from higher education. He was an author and a translator, most recently translating books from Slovak to Chinese. He was a builder and a mediator. He was a son, an uncle, and a brother. He was also a singer, always willing to lend his voice to a choir or for a hymn. He had a strong tenor voice and it was distinct enough that you could pick him out of a crowd.

>Pics of Dad

In the end, to me, he was just my dad.

Growing up, I got frustrated with him, I rolled my eyes at him, and I made fun of him with my brother. I rebelled against him, argued with him, and I pushed against him trying to find my own way.

I can tell you that he did his part. In large part, because of him, I know myself today as a man. He provided me with many things of lasting value.

First off, he gave me his hearty appetite, but I think I may have missed out on his metabolism.

He gave me a healthy body that I’ve now passed on to my daughter, Sarah.

He gave me intelligence and the sense to know its value within myself and others.

He taught me honesty, respect, laughter, and a sense of fairness.

He inspired my compassion, and courage.

He showed me generosity of spirit.

I think it’s the most meaningful thing that I learned from him has been my spirituality. I’ve come to see that, now after so many years, he was the one who most inspired that within me.

In the past few years, we talked about our relations with God. I can tell you this, that regardless of the words we used to describe our relations and perceptions of God, we were talking about the same thing. This was regardless of whether we used names like Holy Spirit, God, or my big buddy that’s always there with me.

Because of this, I know with absolute certainty that my father is here with me now, he is with God right now, and as much as I will miss his physical presence, the activities that we could have shared, the sounds of his voice — I have him with me now.

I leave you with this image of him, Samuel Lo, a man of this world.

A few people shared personal anecdotes from their times with my dad before I spoke. Because of how casually that flowed, I ended up following suit and sharing my thoughts with less structure than the notes above suggested. After a few minutes, I just showed the slideshow with some cello music from Yo-Yo Ma that Cousin Hanna had picked out.

We finished the service soon after, and spoke in the parking lot for a few to coordinate the trek south to San Diego. I look forward to getting my cousin Alfie in the passenger seat for a couple hot laps. Heh.

We worked our way down to the marina in four different cars at different paces. Thank God the traffic worked in our favor. We all got down there around 3:30. I had Hanna and Sarah in my car and we made good enough time to stop by my place to change, scruff Bud a little, grab water, and get some plastic bags and a large spoon. Hanna recalled someone using baggies to hand portions of ashes to everyone so they could spread them themselves and/or keep some for themselves. We ended up doing something different, but it was a cool idea.

Ernie and Neil were waiting across the street as Michael met us at the Kona Kai. We all walked together to the boat which was Stars & Stripes, the race boat from the 1992 America’s Cup. I’d been on this boat before and it was nice to be on it again.

My friend Elisa also showed up as we started in the boat docked with a small service shared by Big Uncle. Michael gave a safety speech and then we motored out.

We ended up a little past Cabrillo Point, south a bit towards Coronado. Michael turned the boat so that the port side of the boat behind the wheel was downwind giving us the side of the boat to use as a ledge.

We took turns using the big spoon to scoop out some of his ashes. We had brought along the flower arrangements from the memorial service and, due to Charlotte’s (?) suggestion, we also tossed over a flower along with his ashes. I took the chance to hold the urn/box for each person as they used the spoon and also thanked each person after they were done.

With each scoop, I felt a little more whole, oddly enough. Seems counter-intuitive as I type this, but my empty feeling obviously wasn’t a literal hole within me or my psyche. Instead, I think the emptiness represented my longing for him, my sadness at his absence, a vague sense of incompleteness that I couldn’t describe or associate with anything in particular. What I can say, though, is that I felt joy and peace as more and more of him was returned to the ocean. I felt happier and even laughed as this was happening.

At the time, I was thinking of several thing: 1) how he loved using a big spoon, like the one we had, when he ate a good meal as he wanted to enjoy the meal that much more; 2) how each person might have been handling a person’s remains for the first time (there are a lot more bits and pieces than I thought, definitely not just fine powdery ash); 3) that people were taking pretty small scoops.

I liked how each person had their own opportunity to let him go. I like to imagine that it made it more personal for everyone and not simply a ceremony or event that they were observing. I would recommend it for other people as a form of letting go.

Turns out that after everyone had their turn, there was a lot of ash left, so Charlotte and I did the rest. Mostly she was the one to take bigger and bigger scoops out, though I did the very last couple. Sarah was on hand to toss over most of the flowers.

It was an interesting visual to see the ash as it fell into the water. First off, I haven’t mentioned how incredibly beautiful the weather was. The water was calm, the boat was hardly rocking at all, and the surface was smooth without the little wavelets that I usually see on the ocean.

Because of the smoothness of the water, I got to watch the ash as each scoop was tossed. The powder would disperse but not dissolve so that I could see the cloud of ash in the water. The fragments of bone would drop but I got to see them scattered within the cloud, and then fall deeper into the water. It was really memorable, each and every scoop.

At the end, even though I think the boat drifted a bit, all of the flowers were strewn behind the boat like, as Michael described it, a field of star. There were roses in red, white, and orange, as well as white carnations. They flowed behind the boat for about 20 or 30 yards. It was a photo opportunity, but I was just enjoying the view. I’m hoping that others might have captured it.

We were out on the boat for maybe two hours total by the time we docked. many of us (most importantly myself) were pretty hungry by this point so heading toward the restaurant took little coaxing. I had made 5:30p reservations for 17 or so at Jasmine Seafood restaurant on Convoy. I’d been there once or twice myself and remembered it to be pretty tasty, plus I had my friend Hallie corroborate that recommendation.

One of the cars got lost but we all ended up there by about 6:30 or so. Sarah stayed with as the plan resolved to be that I’d take her to her mom’s after dinner which ended up over around 8:30 or so. Hanna took the helm and ordered food for, as it turned out, exactly 16 of us.

I don’t feel like recounting the dinner at this point but, suffice it to say, it was delicious, very satisfying, and a warm coda to the day.

I also don’t feel like getting into what I meant about “thresholds” above, but there were a lot of different meanings of that for me during the day. Maybe I’ll get into that another time.

Once again, I felt carried by the support of my friends and (now) my family. I regret the time in my past that I took them for granted or simply didn’t honor the precious value and gift of their intrinsic love and acceptance. I’m curious to see if I continue to honor these relations as I feel compelled to do at this time. I say that because I know how I’ve performed in the past, case in point with my dad.

I say this now, to all the bits and pieces of my father slowly working their way into the fabric of each and every one of us:

I love you, Dad, and I miss your presence in this world. You were a really cool person and I’m glad that you had as much time with me and everyone else as you did. We’ll continue our lives together within the confines of my heart and mind until it’s time for me to join you in the ether.

p.s. Sarah’s been continuing to give me rabbit ears like you did in one of your pictures, thanks for _that_! She’s also keen on playing more tennis “like grandpa” after she finishes this season of soccer. More later.

My eulogy for my father

I wrote this for inclusion in the program for my father’s memorial service, but I’ve decided to speak there instead. Here’s what I wrote for posterity.

Eulogy

Thursday, October 11, 2007

11:15 AM

I find that it’s been a very difficult and peculiar thing to write a eulogy for my father. It’s taken several days for me to be able to find a place within myself to even begin to consider what to write. Upon finally considering this honor, I found myself feeling gratitude for what it allowed me to recall, understand, and appreciate.

My father accomplished countless things in his life and this is because he lived a life of service. He was simply open at all times to helping people find their way in life. He did this with a commitment to Christ as his Savior and with a conviction that all things are possible.

My father was a people person. He would introduce himself to anyone and I saw him use this talent to bring the world closer by meeting and engaging with people from all walks of life, talking person-to-person with mutual respect from the very start.

My father was highly educated in theology which is, by definition, the “reasoned discourse concerning faith [using] rational analysis and argument to understand, explain, test, critique, defend or promote” matters of faith, in particular his faith of Christianity. With as thoughtful as my father was, he took a definition like this very seriously, each and every part, applying his all to understanding his faith as completely as possible to share it in every way with others.

As an adult, I find that I have a regret of missing the vast opportunity to actively engage with my father in his life’s focus. To me, he was simply my father, the man who helped raise me through his divorce, career challenges, and struggles with human frailties. Through much of my life, I struggled with my feelings toward him because of my own immaturity and shortcomings. Thankfully, in the past several years, my father and I came to a full reconciliation with each other, something that I’m so glad to have shared with him, especially in light of his sudden and untimely death.

I hold countless memories from growing up with him as a child. He introduced me to working on cars, fishing on the Atlantic shore, watching triple feature movies at drive-ins, and playing lots and lots of tennis. Later, he supported me in sports, my love of computers, and he helped me own a home. Through it all, he gave me my spirituality, my sense of honor, my devotion to understanding, and my breath.

I’m compelled to describe my father as a compassionate warrior. He devoted his life to pursuing a complete understanding of whatever he applied himself towards, and then he championed those causes with all the resources at his disposal.

I miss his presence in this physical life, but I live with him in spirit. I look forward to walking with him again when I leave this earth.

PTSD, Paul Haggis, and truth in military health care

Someone commented on my “Limbic Hijacking…” post the other day. I also had this review on CHUD sitting minimized to be read at a later date and, after reading it, found this blurb to be disturbing and inciteful:

Haggis: …A soldier yesterday was saying, “When I went in for help, my immediate senior, who was on the same career path as me, said, ‘You have two choices: you can get help or have a career.'” So he didn’t seek help, and he ended up going nuts in Iraq. They brought him in, and he finally saw an Army psychiatrist who said, “Yes, you desperately need help, and we’re going to get you help.” What the Army did was throw him in the brig. They put him in solitary confinement for three months with a straitjacket and a helmet. That was their treatment.

Q: You’re kidding me.

Haggis: Now, this is one of their top guys! This isn’t some screw-off. This is a tough son-of-a-bitch who’s there fighting and doing all of this stuff. He was an officer.

It bothers me when people deny the realities of others, yet I tolerate it at times because we’re human and, on a smaller scale, I can reconcile individual incidents with my own personal affect. That we, as Americans anyway, do this institutional denial of reality to people, especially those who’ve been placed in the situations (like Iraq) that force trauma (like PTSD) — this deeply frightens me.

Who the heck are we to impose such brutality on people like this? I suppose it’s the same people who are able to reconcile this war in the first place. After imposing our sense of righteousness upon a whole other country, treating individuals (only 52,000 or 300,000 — depending on which number you choose) like this is just a stone’s throw.

Gross. Just gross.

And, shame on us.

The Five (Tibetan) Rites

My friend, Duff, showed me the Five Rites yesterday as a form of exercise. They were stimulating calisthenics and simple enough to do regularly. According to him, the story was that these were found by a seeker of the Fountain of Youth. Here’s a Google result. Suffice it to say that on a physical level, I can see these forms touching on the basics in the body: upper, lower, abs, balance, etc…

Cool stuff, and so simple.

When’s the last time you pushed a car?

I realized how infrequently I see people pushing cars. When I was a kid, we pushed cars a bunch. It was almost always fun and satisfying to move a vehicle with just our own strength. Even as a kid, I had a significant contribution to my father’s or brother’s efforts. If not, I would be the one steering the car. This was around Sarah’s age now of 7. We spent time working on our cars as well, either for tuning performance on Calvin’s hot rods or repairing them like when I helped rebuild the top end of our Datsun 510. Turns out I’ve done replaced brakes, radiators, carbs and distributors, head gaskets, oil pans, and more. I’m gonna have to include that on my resume.

People don’t often push cars in San Diego, myself included. Waiting for the tow truck or leaving the car alone is more common as well as relying on a mechanic to repair them. On occasion, I’ve helped people push their cars off the road when stuck in traffic. This also is a cool experience, holding off other drivers, helping a person out of a jam, working together with one or two others to move a couple thousand pounds of metal. I felt a sense of longing when I realized how infrequently I pushed cars nowadays.

Limbic hijackings: learned emotional responses

Alcoholics/addicts have been said to be “hard wired” with their propensity to abuse substances or behaviors. As I understand it, there is a genetic predisposition that is often a contributing factor, but that people with this disposition can still become addicts/alcoholics.

I’m currently reading “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman.

(This happens to be one of those really long term loaners from my friend Jodi. There’s something really wonderful of about having a book for so long that belongs to someone else, nothing from a sense of keeping it away, but more as a sort of connection.)

The beginning of the book has introduced scientific research from a scientist named Joseph LeDoux. He pioneered a deeper understanding of the fundamental mechanics of individual parts of the brain, especially in regards to the processing of emotions. Two aspects of his research were striking to me:

1) The amygdala is the portion of the brain that is centrally responsible for the depth of emotional weight assigned to an experience or memory. This is independent of
intellectual processing.

2) In very intense situations, the amygdala can communicate this emotional weight and invoke a response faster than intellectual thought by sending these limbic/emotional impulses over a shorter distance than the cortical/intellectual impulses from the thalamus.

Taking an example of people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), people can be overwhelmed by experiences regardless of age (abused children vs veterans and victims of adult crime). These experiences are so strong that they overload emotional systems. The lasting results of these experiences disallow reason to be processed before the emotional impression has already dictated a person’s response. A person’s response is often triggered by a similar emotional state, not a similar rational state. Thus, a shellshocked veteran doesn’t have to be in a foxhole to lose contact with reality — a car’s backfire in a rural setting or a crowded city can invoke the same response. An adult victim of child abuse can be fully grown and distant from the perpetrator, yet a similar feeling with an intimate partner can shut down their ability to reason and think clearly in the present moment.

From the other side of the emotional spectrum, I think the same can be said of people with depression. They are often as out of control of their responses to stimuli as people with PTSD. I’m sure there are other manifestations or conditions of brain development that fall into this context.

Frankly, much of this made sense to me as I had come to believe my mind had developed in similar ways because I could recognize my hard-to-shake tendencies for habitual or long standing behaviors and thoughts. I’ve come to see that I had responses that made little sense in hindsight when my intellect was not emotionally overloaded and I have _not_ been diagnosed with PTSD.

The last thing I wanted to say is that I have experienced, for myself as well as in friends who have been diagnosed with PTSD, that therapy works to desensitized, relearn, and redirect thoughts and behaviors for people that have entrenched emotional responses due to strong experiences. It takes willingness to keep trying different responses from those that might seem instinctive. It takes patience as this changing of behaviors can take time, and it take compassion to understand that people who have difficulty changing behaviors and thoughts are at the throes of a brain that has been conditioned into these responses that react faster than thought — these people are out of control of their intellect at times.

I am not a scientist, but I am an advocate of personal change through many varied approached including therapy, meditation, and 12 step recovery among others. I believe that all of these approaches toward personal change must be done with the assistance of trusted advisers — they cannot be done alone.