Friday, October 26, 2012

Arrrgh!

I was just served my breakfast and presented with the check. There, in plain sight, was the final wake-up message: "Senior Discount."

Now don't get me wrong, spending less money for food is appreciated.  But nobody asked me how old I am. Nobody made me pull out my I.D. No, it niow seems that I really look like a senior citizen.  The pain is tangible,visceral.

Will somebody reassure me that older is really better? I'm waiting...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Change: The Only Constant

Well here I am about to board a plane to Las Vegas to see Jay, Jeannie and the kids. What a pleasant diversion it will be. I believe God has been merciful, giving me a much-needed sense of relief to close out the most difficult year I can recall. It's usually about this time of year that I start taking inventory, reliving the experiences of the preceding eleven months. Forgive me if I don't feel inclined to revisit anything that has happened this year, however unavoidable that may actually be. I do, however, have some things for which to be grateful. First there is my wonderful family: fantastic kids, grand kids, brothers, sisters, my mother and my friends as well who have been so supportive. Second, there is my new job, a psychological and emotional life saver if ever there was one. (Apologies to my old boss, but the previous job was really holding up any healing I should have been getting through since the loss of Yvonne and Benjy.) I know I'll get through Christmas alright, though it will be a deeper, more profound experience than it has ever been. As has been the case in other years, I will be happy to see this one's finish, and I'll hope as always for a happier new year. Some things don't change. But other things are less controllable, and far less predictable. Life this bUar zAs taught;me I'm resilient, and 2012 will surely be a better, albeit a more reflective year in my life. Well, it's almost boarding time. My love goes out to everyone this season. More to follow...

Friday, September 02, 2011

I'm struggling with my emotions today, feeling the loss perhaps more than at any time until now. I have been remembering Benjy, in a flood of recollections, seeing him everywhere. I guess these days are just a necessary part of the grieving process, but today I've felt particularly vulnerable.

I still know I will see my son again, but it seems an eternity away. In the interim, time seems to stand still, and a sense of despair sinks in. There will be better days, when I can just be happy to have had him in my life, but right now is not the time for that. Psalm 30 reminds us that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." I can take solace in such scriptural wisdom, but it only helps me endure a little longer, in the hope that such promises will soon be fulfilled.

I wanted to share these emotions, even if they're unpleasant and difficult. On days like today I believe it is vital that these internal experiences find a way out, not to be held inside where they can only contribute to a sense of loneliness.

Perhaps tomorrow I will read these words and remember this as just one of those bad days. In the meantime, I have a feeling this won't be the last time I need to express such feelings. I can only hope that in the process I will learn to see a deeper meaning in life with all its sometimes bitter realities.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eternally Grateful, Part III



I tried to find a verse in scripture that typified the life of my son, Benjy. There were many, but I found one that seemed to fit best. In Mosiah 2:17 we read, “I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow being, ye are only in the service of your God.”

In August 1972, the Allen and Everts families visited the Lagoon amusement park here in Davis County. My parents, brothers and sister, son Jay and nephew Jeremy all enjoyed the day, despite the summer heat. That is, until about mid-afternoon when my wife, Vickie, who was expecting our second child, was exposed to an unknown allergen—an insect bite or something she ate—which set off a rapid anaphylactic reaction. She quickly went into shock, with signs indicating she was not receiving enough oxygen.

It would be well over an hour before Vickie arrived at the emergency room. Rapid treatment by the medical staff quickly reversed the life-threatening process, and all appeared to be well; however, there was no way to know if the oxygen deprivation had hurt our unborn baby.

So it was that when our second son was born in early 1973 we rejoiced that he was very clearly a healthy, perfectly formed baby.

From the very earliest days of his life, Benjy was treasured and loved. He was a good baby, and later as a toddler got along exceptionally well with his big brother, Jay. Of those early months and years, the enduring impression of Benjy is his beautiful smile, which fit well with his happy and loving disposition. As with every child, Benjy was a precious gift of incalculable value, bestowed upon us by a truly loving Heavenly Father.

Even at this young age, Benjy’s warm personality and outgoing cheerfulness were making positive impressions on the world. At one point during Benjy’s pre-school years, he was part of a parenting class at the local high school. On certain days, he would spend the morning in the care of teen-age parents-in-training, who without any effort to hide the fact, would compete for the chance to have Benjy assigned exclusively to them.

Later, as the family grew larger, Benjy learned to share unhesitatingly with his brother and younger sisters. When time permitted, all four children would form a circle on the living room floor, a tape recorder in the circle’s center. They would play, with their emcee father, something slightly resembling a TV quiz show, in which specially selected questions were asked by dad and answered by the kids. Even Benjy's sister Fiauna, at the time less than two years old, was given credit for her “occasionally” inaccurate answers. Oldest child Jay, on the other hand, couldn’t understand why his generally accurate responses were sometimes overruled as “too particular” by the invisible “panel of judges.” Though Jay has yet to forgive me, it was just my way of keeping the competition close. Through it all, Benjy played well and never complained about the outcome, even when he didn’t win. From that early age, he knew that others' needs were just as important as his own. Benjy's entire life would be centered on this eternal truth.

Even as an adult, Benjy viewed the world through the eyes of a child. He loved children. When he visited friends and family, it was the children he spoke to first.

And Benjy was a performer (at least in private). At age five, he saw the movie Grease. Soon thereafter, his mother would catch him standing atop the living room couch, singing and dancing his own version of “Greased Lightning.” But such performances were not for public consumption. As a child, Benjy would become easily embarrassed, unfortunately hiding his talents. Later, in his most private times, he would listen to his favorite song, Open Arms, with its refrain,

"So now I come to you, with open arms,

nothing to hide, believe what I say.

So here I am, with open arms,

hoping you'll see what your love means to me..."

Benjy once confided that whenever he gave a public talk, he imagined Colonel Sanders in the audience. Since Benjy was prone to nervousness when speaking formally, he would feel less self-conscious if he thought of poor, elderly Colonel Sanders, dressed in his hot wool suit, sitting there uncomfortably while the room grew ever warmer.

Benjy’s imagination often confounded his family, with his creative use of the English language. At age twelve, family members (and who knows who else?) were assaulted with the ever-insulting appellation “Safety Feature.” Nobody knew what this meant, but when Benjy called you a safety feature, you found yourself amused and confused at the same time. It was all part of Benjy’s way of making people laugh, no matter what he may have been experiencing on the inside.

In his junior high school years Benjy became my mentor—at least in terms of strange, never-before-revealed scientific phenomena. In his school papers, he wrote of the Lo-Lo tree, which grew on a tropical island and whose products were used to cure a wide range of maladies. While such a tree may have existed, we were never able to precisely confirm it, at least not by this particular name.

But Benjy was an avid learner. At Fiauna’s sixteenth birthday gathering, he was first introduced, live and in person, to cows. Despite his eighteen years of maturity, his initial reaction was one of fear and loathing. But by the end of the week, he couldn’t leave without saying an individual good-bye to each of the animals.

Benjy was always up for a new adventure, such as an impromptu trip to a place for which there was no logical reason to ever go. Or you might find him riding an undersized tricycle through the aisles at Toys-R-Us, or bouncing (literally bouncing) from bed to bed at the local mattress store. He was always full of energy, and his presence would light up the room with laughter.

With all the stories that could be told about Benjy’s humorous side, it might be too easy to overlook another essential personality characteristic. From the time he was very young, and from then throughout his life, Benjy consistently shared his time and energy in the service of others. He was truly selfless, and he showed this trait every day. It might be a neighbor with a plumbing emergency, or just the daily need to help the girls get ready for school, and then to faithfully escort them there.

There was also Benjy’s immaculately kept house, and the nightly dinners that always awaited the family after a busy day. Benjy’s devotion to service was genuine and sincere. In one recent example, Benjy pushed a stranded neighbor’s non-functioning car several blocks up the street to the neighbor’s home. Whether as a neighbor, a husband, father, brother or son, Benjy lived, to the fullest extent, the savior’s injunction that we love one another, as He loved us.

I thank my son Benjy, as perhaps all of us should, for so many happy memories. His life has taught me to cherish even more the fleeting moments and the short time we have together in this world. He was a wonderful child, and a loving and truly good man. We were all privileged to know and love him. They say it is a tragedy to experience the death of a child, or that of a young husband and father, but we all mourn the passing of a soul so full of love and so capable of goodness. Simply stated, there are those lives, however brief, which touch us in a deep and wonderful way, lives that change us for the better. My son's life, which we celebrate today, was one of those lives.

I would like to close with the following:

Farewell my son,

Your journey now turns on a path I can’t follow.

And memories alone will now fill the hollow

place in my heart where dreams of your future once grew.

Farewell my young son.

Your brief time here, now ending in sorrow

will continue with joy in an unseen tomorrow,

spent elsewhere, free from the pain you once knew.

Farewell my good son,

‘Til God in his wisdom can once again bring

Us together to share in life everlasting.

And once more, to know the joy of reunion come true.


I love Benjy, and I know he loves us.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Eternally Grateful - Part II



I just wanted to share my thoughts, including some of those from the memorial service:


It seems like a futile endeavor, sharing thoughts that still race too quickly to capture with words. I feel more deeply with each passing day the loss of Yvonne from my life, and I've started to get very sentimental about all the odds-and-ends that still fill the room. It's apparent that not all of them can stay. The clothes she had hanging in the closet are being donated to charity, but the act of removing them is an emotional struggle. I stare at the increasingly empty space those clothes left behind, and fight back tears. None of these things mattered much when Yvonne was living, but now it's proving difficult to say good-bye.

I walk through the house, being reminded of the things that I meant to get done but never quite got to. Now those little chores, which took a back seat to other, more important things, haunt me like missed opportunities, chances I had to show Yvonne I cared. I'll find time now to get them done, but it isn't the same without her around to appreciate them. For thirty years I tried to keep up with things like the chores, and at times I even succeeded. But thirty years is a long time, and it inevitably leaves a lot of loose ends when it abruptly ends.

It’s amazing how two young people can start by sharing time together, then suddenly find that they’ve shared the greater part of their lives in the process. When I remember back thirty years, I can't help but think of the first date we had. I walked up to Yvonne’s door, wearing my Wellington boots, blue jeans and a kind of western-style shirt, my guitar firmly in hand. You might have expected to see a horse tied up just outside the door. At least I wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat, but there I was, like some kind of 28-year old Gene Autry, ready to impress Yvonne with my enchanting romantic ballads.


Unbeknownst to me, Yvonne had already taken to driving past the house where I lived at the time, grabbing glances of me when she could. So it was no surprise that as my son Benjy and Yvonne’s son Matt, both nine years old at the time, spent more time at each other’s homes, there was a not-so-accidental tendency for Yvonne and I to grab such opportunities to talk about life as single parents.


Before many weeks had transpired, our two families – two parents and five energetic kids – were enjoying outings to Disneyland, the beach, and other such attractions. I quickly came to love Yvonne for the way she opened her heart to my boys, who had moved with me to California after they were separated by divorce from their mother and two sisters.
I guess every new couple has its favorite song. For Yvonne and me, it was a not-so-lyrical tune that asked the following question:


Some people are made for each other
Some people can love one another for life
How 'bout us?

Some people can hold it together
Last through all kinds of weather
Can we?

As time would tell, we definitely could.
Couples typically find special ways to communicate, and Yvonne and I were no exception. Early in our relationship, Yvonne and I adopted an abbreviated sign language phrase, "I-L-Y" whenever we wanted to quietly say "I Love You." This became our trademark gesture of greeting and goodbye.

Yvonne truly opened her heart to people, and her care for the kids was a beautiful thing, although sometimes this care evidenced itself in the form of one of her famous (or infamous) lectures, which the kids seemed to have all memorized and indexed. When they knew they were in trouble, they might say something like "Oh no, here goes lecture number 24."


But more often, Yvonne's love and care took the form of a sincere and active interest in the kids' lives. Through good times and bad, with all the mistakes, mayhem and misadventures that come with raising a large family, Yvonne never failed to show her love and concern. She never wavered in her devotion to the family. While I usually came home tired every night, Yvonne always had the energy, even after working all day, to stay abreast of the kids' latest activities, interests and friends, who I might add always felt welcome in the house.


Yvonne never stopped being an active parent and grandparent. After all the children were grown she took on the responsibility of helping care for the grandchildren, a role she never ceased to enjoy. Counting the seven children we had between the two of us, and adding sixteen grandchildren and one great-grandchild, it seems assured that Yvonne's loving influence will continue to be felt for generations.


Yvonne was a person of deep faith, though she was very quiet about such things. She always had the firm belief that life is eternal and meaningful. On that last day of her illness, she was in good spirits as the morning came, and I went to work, trusting she would be fine until I could get there to visit. I seemed to be right. I received a very good report from the ICU staff, but was abruptly prompted to leave work immediately and get to the hospital. I can now appreciate what a blessing that prompting was, for it would turn out that this would be my last opportunity to spend time with Yvonne.


When I arrived at the ICU, Yvonne was resting somewhat comfortably. She and I visited, and at mid-day she decided it was a good time to get some sleep. We arranged that I would go home and get five-year old granddaughter Payton on the phone to visit with Grandma. Payton had really missed Yvonne during her hospital stay, and Yvonne enjoyed every second of the phone conversation that afternoon.


After that, I returned to the hospital to be with Yvonne. We had a very enjoyable time, visiting with Yvonne's son Matt. Shortly before supper time, Matt and I excused ourselves briefly and went to the waiting room. Then things seemed to take a turn for the worse. Yvonne was experiencing circulatory distress, and the medical staff was frantically trying to stabilize her. For the next few minutes, despite the commotion, Yvonne calmly faced the situation with characteristic concern for others. She insisted on seeing Matt and his brother Michael, who had arrived shortly before that. Then it was time for me to come in, as the medical staff prepared the operating room for an emergency exploratory procedure. As the time approached for her to be taken to surgery, she looked up at me apologetically. “I may be leaving you soon,” she said, her eyes conveying the message of a final farewell.


As she was wheeled away, she hand-signaled “I love you.” I signaled back. It was to be our last communication in this life. Two hours later, I cried over her still form, wanting so much to bring her back, yet knowing that now she was in a far better place. I can only take comfort in the knowledge that she is happier now, and without the pain that tormented her those last few days. I would like to share the following simple poem, from an unknown author, which conveys what I feel Yvonne was saying that day:


When I am gone, release me, let me go.
I have so many things to see and do,
You mustn't tie yourself to me with too many tears,
But be thankful we had so many good years.
I gave you my love, and you can only guess
How much you've given me in happiness.
I thank you for the love that you have shown,
But now it is time I traveled on alone.
So grieve for me a while, if grieve you must
Then let your grief be comforted by trust
That it is only for a while that we must part,
So treasure the memories within your heart.
I won't be far away for life goes on.
And if you need me, call and I will come.
Though you can't see or touch me, I will be near
And if you listen with your heart, you'll hear
All my love around you soft and clear
And then, when you come this way alone,
I'll greet you with a smile and a "Welcome Home."

I know Yvonne has been welcomed home, and that I will see her again.







Sunday, January 02, 2011

Eternally Grateful

I sat through Fast and Testimony meeting Sunday, enjoying the words of others as they expressed gratitude for the blessings of 2010. As I listened I reflected on the past year and its meaning to me personally. The automatic tendency was to dismiss the year as one of those that left me glad it was over. First, there was the trial of Benjy's life-threatening illness, followed by my dad's passing in September. It seems the brightest spot in an otherwise murky year had been Jay's 40th birthday celebration. 2010 had been weighed in the balance, and found wanting.

But as I listened further, I came to feel 2010 really wasn't really so bad. Benjy survived his illness, and I was grateful. I thought of how proud I was of all my children, and I was grateful for their examples of strength, patience, and love. Even my father's death had proven to be less difficult for me than I had expected.

Now, with Mindy facing another serious medical procedure, I was again thankful for the reassurance I had that it would be okay, and that while it would be difficult to see her going through yet another trial, I was confident her strength of spirit would carry her through the ordeal.

So as I came to these realizations, I knew that the Lord had blessed me beyond measure, in countless ways. I decided to share my thanks with those present. I was truly ready to share my testimony of God's love and his unfailing mercy, when I realized time had run out. Another lost opportunity to express my deepest convictions about the Church, my family, and all the other blessings of the gospel. It was with this sense of loss that I decided to share my thoughts here.

The lessons of 2010 were all precious miracles, and the greatest miracle that continues to bless me is the peace and serenity that my faith has given me. No matter what trials we are confronted with, there is that steadying assurance that comes from the still, small voice of the Spirit. God is in control, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Miss You, Dad

September 26, 2010 was the day my father passed away. In the time since that event, I have been unexpectedly serene. Though I long feared facing the loss of a parent, something that is an almost universal rite of passage, the experience has proven to be a source of reassurance and comfort.

My father wasn't one to show his pain, and the cancer that eventually took his life progressed undetected as he stoically endured the initial discomfort. When I learned of his terminal condition, I knew immediately that it wouldn't be long before he passed on. As it turned out, we had two months in which to say goodbye. It was a tender mercy, as it turned out, allowing me to reach a place spiritually where I could be comfortable when God actually called Dad home.

During those first few days after his passing, I recalled a lifetime of memories as I composed his eulogy. The following words are from that tribute, which I gave at the funeral October 1.

Ronald Allen was to those who knew him a truly exceptional man, for many reasons. His love of family, his energy for life, his ever-active intellect and his special sense of humor all combined to make him more than just a husband, father, grandfather, or friend. He was, throughout his life, a powerful example of selflessness and a steady, constant source of inspiration.

My father was born in Murray, Utah, where he demonstrated at an early age his propensity for reaching people and communicating through a variety of means. One way was music. At a young age, he would ride the bus to Downtown Salt Lake City for his piano lessons. Years of practice paid off, and by the time he got to high school he was playing like a concert pianist. While that may seem quite an accomplishment, he was also a more than proficient saxophonist in the dance band, playing the concert circuit at different schools.

Dad’s early endeavors weren’t limited to music. He was also the quarterback for his Murray High School football team. And when he wasn’t on the playing field or in the dance hall, he was busy constructing shortwave radio stations on the weekends. There seemed to be no limit to his energy and enthusiasm for life and learning. And he somehow made it all look easy.

Dad’s father was the Murray City Judge and a Utah State Representative. While Dad’s academic talent stood on its own merits, it seemed that there were some courtesies extended to the judge’s son by a few of the teachers. Amid this background, Mom and Dad got to know each other in the junior high years. (Mom admits she first noticed Dad in the third grade, but wasn’t interested in him because he was already too popular with the other girls). In high school, Mom was the recipient of Dad’s tutelage in math and music. A stellar student she was not, but Dad somehow helped get her through the experience.

Dad and Mom dated throughout high school, and were married at 19. Dad attended the University of Utah, at the same time becoming the father of a growing young family. Still, he never lacked the energy or the time for Mom and the kids. Even while completing his Masters Degree at UCLA and later as he began his career, he still took the time to play with us and to guide us through our nightly prayers.

Dad and Mom were young parents – both in years and vitality. It was a blessing having a father who had so much energy for his children. When Kathy and I were very young, Dad would set up the model train, running it on a loop between the kitchen and the living room. While we waited in the living room, the train would magically bring snacks from the kitchen, where Dad sat at the controls. One day Dad brought home a device that kept us busy for hours at a time. He had constructed a box with dials and lights, electronic sirens and big, clicking power switches. We thought it was the greatest thing, and back then in the fifties, it was pretty amazing, considering he put it together in his free time just to entertain us kids. Later, in the seventies, Dad would put together (one tiny mirror piece at a time) a spinning disco ball, which was mounted on the ceiling in the recreation room. At night it filled the room with thousands of whirling flashes of light, again just something Dad put together to entertain the kids.

When it came to education, a Master’s Degree in Applied Physics wasn’t enough. Dad was a life-long learner. There was one time Dad became fascinated with hypnosis. He fashioned a rotating spiral disc which spun on the turntable of a record player. Dad would ask us kids to stare at the disc, then he would say something like “you are getting sleepy… sleepy.” I’m not sure if the trick worked or not. I do remember getting a little sleepy, though.

Dad once took an interest in microbiology, taking classes at night and entertaining the neighborhood kids with turns looking through the microscope at all the life forms growing in the backyard wading pool. He never tired of undertaking new projects. In the early fifties there was an animated “Season’s Greetings” sign that he built, using a rotating metal contact that would turn each light on in sequence until the whole message lit up.

At other times, I can remember watching him for hours while he experimented with his electronic equipment, building everything from oscilloscopes to state-of-the-art sound systems. In particular I remember his amateur radio hobby. He would sit at the telegraph key, patiently sending out call letters over the air, waiting for somebody out there to answer back. In an age before cell phones, satellite phones or the internet, it seemed magical to watch Dad actually communicating over the air with people in faraway places. Later, he would similarly master internet communication, and dabble in computer programming. At age 74, he wrote a program that solved a seemingly impossible puzzle that intrigued him. And as always, he made it look easy.

Dad wasn’t just a learner, he was a teacher. For his grandson Zack’s fifth grade science project on the subject of buoyancy, Dad contributed scholarly scientific details explaining the principles of density and displacement. For my Cub Scout project in 1961, Dad devised an analog computer based on a stick, a spool and a piece of yarn. I remember his patience as he sat and explained to me the way the pieces would work together to add and subtract numbers. At another time, he carefully explained the names and functions of the human body’s parts and organ systems as we worked together on an anatomy model. In New Mexico, Dad would take us to White Sands and we would launch water rockets. This was in the days of the Space Race, and having a rocket scientist for a dad was pretty cool. Dad and I would get up early in the morning when there was a space launch scheduled. We’d watch on grainy black-and-white TV as the countdown slowly progressed, and he would explain technical points about the launch process.

Dad’s job was very demanding of his time. It was the kind of work he couldn’t talk about. He frequently flew to Washington DC to brief and consult with Government and Military counterparts, so it was remarkable that he found so many ways to show the kids some special attention. One summer Dad put up a length of heavy cable that ran from the backyard telephone pole across the yard, descending until it stopped at the far end of the yard. He built a “pulley wheel,” a device I could hang on to and ride the cable down from the high point at the pole to the safe landing in the yard. The height wasn’t that great to an adult, maybe six feet at the most, but to an eight-year old kid the ride was a thrill.

There were other ways Dad would care for and comfort the kids and grandkids. When Zack was a baby, he had colic. Nightly, Zack would cry with pain. Called from home to come over and help, Dad would wrap the baby in a blanket, and gently rock him to sleep. It didn’t matter that it was late, and Dad had to get up for work at 5:00 the next morning. He still took the time for Zack, as he did for all of us. I was always amazed at the way he remembered each of the birthdays of all his children and grandchildren, never failing to send a specially created personalized message. Dad was sincerely and emphatically involved in the lives of all of us, going out of his way to show his love and concern. He was there for every opportunity, from ball games to baptisms, weddings, graduations and other special occasions.

Dad was famous for how he took care of Mom. He looked after every detail, from finances to food, from entertainment to auto care. But when illness struck, Mom in turn looked after Dad. She was always there at his side, day in and day out. She was a constant source of comfort and companionship, helping him with the details of living. At times she helped him with his meals. There was one occasion when Dad asked Mom if she would wipe his chin. When Mom pointed out there was nothing on his chin that needed wiping, he asked her to “wipe it anyway.” After all those years looking after Mom, Dad was clearly enjoying the return favor.

It’s no accident that, while we could spend time recounting Dad’s professional accomplishments and his successes in his working life, we prefer to remember his life at home and his influence within the family. For although Dad was certainly accomplished in his professional life, I think he would agree that the only work that really mattered was that which was done in the home.

So, how do you summarize a life like this? You simply can’t. The goodness of Dad’s heart, and his love of life, cannot be quantified. A life so caring cannot be silenced by the brevity of mortal existence. A thousand more words and a hundred more stories would still just scratch the surface. It may be best to simply state that Ronald Allen was a wonderful, loving and gentle man whose life was a blessing to all who knew him.