Monday, September 21, 2015

A Science Guy’s Almanac #7: Owen Edward Downing, My Dad – 9/21/2002

A Science Guy’s Almanac #7: Owen Edward Downing, My Dad – Re: 9/21/2002

September 21, 2015
Re: September 21, 2002

You didn’t argue with my dad. I never saw him hit anyone, but he was a physical presence. He umpired softball—adult male fast-pitch and high school girls—for over 30 years. He also was a volleyball referee for a long time. I know players and coaches didn’t always agree with my dad’s calls, but they knew he always hustled to be in position to make a call, so they rarely argued.

During his life, my dad donated well over 30 gallons of blood. He had to stop donating when he turned 80. While there was an age restriction, he’d been granted an exception before that. The problem at 80 was a form of leukemia that commonly manifested itself in males of his age group.

Before, during, and for some time after WWII, my dad cleaned the 5"/38 caliber guns on his ships with benzene—now a known carcinogen. In addition, nearly all insulation on the ships was asbestos. Dozens of other now-banned chemicals were in common use during most of my dad’s active duty.

What ultimately caused my dad to go to his doctor was a combination of what the blood bank told him and his fatigue. He started a regimen of blood transfusions. Over time, the transfusions were required at shorter and shorter intervals.

I would go with my dad, mom, and sister to Dad’s oncology visits. I knew more biology than any of them, and I wanted to be able to ask a question or answer a question once we got home based on what I’d heard.

What happened at Dad’s last visit to the oncologist is worthy of reporting.
Dad’s oncologist was a retired Navy doctor. As such, he always called my dad Chief, although by this time Dad had been retired for 40 years.
“Chief, you’ve got to make a decision.”
My dad nodded.
“We can put you in the hospital and give you chemotherapy treatments. If we do that, you’ll die in the hospital from the treatments.”
My mom inhaled sharply. My sister looked shocked. My dad leaned forward, ready for the next option.
“Or, you can go home, not take any treatments, and die there, in a place you know and with people you love and who love you around you.”
While the reactions of my mom and sister remained pretty much the same, Dad’s whole body relaxed. He sat back, and an almost visible cloud of peace settled over him. There really was only one choice in his mind.

The last time my dad left his house was Labor Day, 2002 when he, my mom, sister, and brother-in-law grilled on my patio. Dad had to be helped to the car.

The next week, Hospice came by. Within days, a hospital bed was delivered to the house. Finally, on September 21, a young woman whose family had unofficially adopted our as their own, asked if she could come and sing a song to Dad.

She was singing the third verse of “Thank You (for giving to the Lord)” when he became agitated. The “adopted” family left then. 

Soon thereafter, with the nuclear family gathered around him, my dad gave a deep sigh. That was followed by what has been dubbed the “death rattle.”

I checked for a pulse, but I knew he had died.

Every living thing has a life span. Some are very short—for some animals only an hour— Trees like the Bristlecone Pine have documented lives exceeding 1500 years.

I hope your take away from this blog is a sense of comfort or completeness. Do I miss my dad? You bet! Nature recycles all organic material. Therefore, without death there can be no new life.

Do I like seeing my mom, now 93 years old, slowly lose her mental capacities. I do NOT! Memory is a magnificent gift. And, as I watch my granddaughters playing, for that I am very grateful for new life and memories both new and old. 

Finally, I have faith that if I continue in my relationship with Christ, that I will see my dad again.

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  1. I remember your Dad more as a presence, for sure. I doubt if he ever spoke directly to me much, but that oh-so-strong presence was always kindly directed my way. He spoke volumes to me by how he carried and conducted himself in the places I got to share with him.

    1. Thank you, Jeff. Dad was rarely overlooked. I know he enjoyed you and your family.


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