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My Father

It's been a while since my last entry, which I posted last summer.  I haven't had much time to write lately because I spent the fall and winter helping my 79-year old father. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early September, shortly after we returned to his house in Bellingham after our boat cruise up to British Columbia last summer. 

 

Pancreatic cancer, as you may know, has a high mortality rate and those who are diagnosed with it usually don't live very long, typically just a few months or perhaps a year at most.  To put it bluntly, this particular type of cancer is both quick and deadly. 

 

As a result, instead of going back to my former job in Portland in the fall, like I'd been planning to do ever since I left on this trip two years ago, I decided to stay at my dad's house in Bellingham to help take care of him, with my sister Doti.  My father passed away on November 30, 2002 and I'd like to think that Doti and I made his last few months as pleasant and comfortable as possible.

 

I've dealt with family health crises before.  My mother was in a hospital ICU for several weeks before she passed away in 1999, with my dad, Doti and I at her bedside.  Likewise with my nephew Myles, whom I was very close to, several years before that.  However, I had never dealt with a terminally-ill person before, let alone a terminally-ill parent.  As sad and stressful as the situation was here this past fall, it was also a time for reflection and I wouldn't trade the last few months that I had with my father for anything in the world.

 

Above:  My dad in Alaska at the helm of his beloved sailboat, the Ilikai II  (1989).

My dad and I were always close so it was very hard to lose him.  As anyone who knew my dad would attest, he was one-of-a-kind:  funny, intelligent, compassionate and adventurous.  I've been deeply affected by his passing, but looking on the positive side, he didn't suffer as much pain during his illness as he might have, given that pancreatic cancer acts so quickly.  In fact, he wasn't terribly saddened about his prognosis because, as he told me, he felt lucky to have been able to live such a long, rich and rewarding life.  I think he was also looking forward to joining my mom, though he never spoke of it.  After she died in 1999 he never had quite the same sparkle in his eye.

 

Spending the fall with my dad as he was coping with his illness was intensely stressful, incredibly hectic and immeasurably fulfilling.  I think my sister Doti felt the same way, and I know my father did, as well, being able to spend the last few months of his life with all of his children.  In a way, everyone in my family, including and especially my dad, looked at his diagnosis as something of a blessing because each of us knew that he would only be here for a short while longer, giving all of us (including him) a chance to make the most of the remaining time together. 

 

When a person dies abruptly, things are often left unsaid and undone and there are often regrets after the person is gone.  Thankfully, that didn't happen with my dad.  He had three months to prepare for many, if not most, of the emotional and logistical issues that are involved with dying.  His health had been gradually deteriorating these past few years, and with the loss of my mother a few years ago I think he was "ready to go," as he put it many times this fall.

 

Above:  My parents' wedding photo in 1944 during World War II.

My father during the fall got to see each of his five kids one last time, all of whom were able to spend some quiet time alone with him.  Those are moments that I'm sure we'll treasure for the rest of our lives.  By spending time with him here at his home, I was able to do things to make him more comfortable.  My dad, sister and I planned a special event almost every night during the fall, either making popcorn, watching a movie, carving a pumpkin for Halloween, going to a college volleyball game, watching a family slide show, or going out to eat at a nice restaurant.

 

I videotaped several interviews with my father, knowing his prognosis, during which I asked him about his childhood, the Great Depression, his experiences during World War II, and his career afterwards.  I probably wouldn't have done that if he hadn't been diagnosed with cancer because none of us likes to think that our parents will ever die, so we tend to put off those sorts of things until it's too late.  Altogether I taped about 14 hours of interviews, something that he enjoyed doing, as well.  I was also able to go through several old photo albums with him (with the videotape rolling) as he described the stories behind many of the pictures.  Recording that family history was important to both of us.  

 

I also spent several hours this fall printing out my website for him to read.  My dad wanted to read my website and see some of the pictures I had taken during the past 18 months as I traveled around America, New Zealand and Australia, but he didn't want to bother with doing it online.  So instead, he asked if I could print it out for him.  I printed out my entire DelsJourney website for him, all 391 pages of it, and he read every page.  It took him several weeks but he said he enjoyed reading my writings and, in the process, learning more about me.

 

My father suffered relatively little pain during his illness except towards the end and, except for the last few weeks, he never showed many symptoms of the cancer other than jaundice.  Doti and I were with him when he passed away, just as my dad, Doti and I were with my mother in the hospital ICU when she died three years earlier.  Our circle is shrinking and, with my sister Doti being 14 years older than me, I suspect that I'll be with her when passes away (or she with me when I die).

 

My father was a great man, he lived a rich and fulfilling life, and we all miss him dearly.  I've described his remarkable life in Part 2 of this update.  Here are some photos of his last few months this past fall.

 

       

Above left:  Carving a pumpkin with my sister Doti on the night before Halloween.

Above center:  Always intellectually curious, my dad read constantly, even during his final days.

Above right:  Visiting with his older brother and lifelong best friend, Bill, in October.

 

       

Above left:  He always loved making Sunday breakfast.  Here he is cooking French toast. 

Above center:  Doti got him a "Talking Teddy" for his 79th birthday in October, though I think she was more excited about it than he was!

Above right:  Doti's cat, Lila, on her favorite lap.  Dad and Lila made a good team.

 

       

Above left:  He loved golf, mostly as an opportunity to spend time with his friends and family.

Above center:  A week before he passed away, he visited his older sister Dorothy and brother Bill one last time.

Above right:  There were a few less presents under the tree this year.

The Night Before Thanksgiving

I could cite dozens of examples of my father's compassion and humanity, but I'll describe here only one, a story that I hadn't thought about in years until I was putting this webpage together.  The night before Thanksgiving in 1975, my dad came home from work and during dinner told us what had happened to him earlier in the day.  At that time, my father was the Dean of Education at San Jose State University.  That afternoon, the university president had stormed into my dad's office and told my dad that someone in the auditorium was causing a big disturbance.  The president ordered my dad to evict the person, using the campus police, if necessary. 

 

My dad walked into the empty auditorium and saw, there on the stage, a disheveled man in dirty clothes who was playing the piano -- if you could call it that.  My dad walked up to him and in a friendly tone asked what him what he was doing.  "My name's Fred and I'm a piano player," the man said proudly.  It was obvious that Fred had mental problems but it was also apparent that he was enjoying himself. 

 

"Why don't you go home, Fred?," my dad gently asked.  "I don't have a home," Fred said sadly, "I live on the street."  My dad looked at Fred and said, "Well then, Fred, you can stay here and play the piano for as long as you like."  Fred smiled and resumed, and my dad left.  That's the kind of person my dad was.

My Plans Now

I was supposed to go back to my job as a computer mapper and transportation planner in Portland last September.  That was, of course, before my dad got diagnosed with cancer.  Now that he's passed away, I've decided to stay here at my dad's house in Bellingham for a while and work on several projects involving my family's history. 

 

You probably know by now that I'm interested in genealogy and family history.  I've always wanted to put together a "Leu Family History" and document all the stories I know for the benefit of future generations of Leus.  It seems that most of us, at one time or another think, "I should write down these family stories some day," but few of us ever get around to doing it.  I decided that I'll never have a better opportunity than right now. 

 

Over the next few months, therefore, I'll be sifting through all our family's old photos, eight-millimeter films and videotapes while putting together a history of our family in both a written and video format.  I started working on this project in December, shortly after my dad died, and have been at it nearly nonstop ever since.  Because of that, I won't be updating my website for a while but I'm not done yet with DelsJourney, so please be sure to check back.

 

I've divided this entry into two sections.  In Part 2, I've described my father's life, so please take a look.

 

 

My Dad's Obituary 

(from The Bellingham Herald)

 

Donald J. Leu, age 79, passed away peacefully at his home in Bellingham on Saturday, November 30, 2002. 

Don was born October 10, 1923 in Ballard, Washington to George and Minnie May (Plane) Leu and grew up in Ballard and in Skykomish, Washington.  During WWII, he became one of the first Navy SEALS (then called Scouts and Raiders).  While attending Officer Training School in North Dakota, Don met his future wife Anne and they married in Florida in 1944.  Shortly afterwards, Don was sent to China  where his unit, the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO), was integrated into the Chinese army and engaged in guerrilla warfare.  Following WWII, he completed training as a submarine officer.

In 1947, Don graduated from Western Washington University and began a lifelong career in education.  He taught middle school in Stevenson, Washington and in 1953 earned a doctorate from Columbia University.  Later that year, he became a Professor of Education at Michigan State University.  In 1957, Don served as the Deputy Superintendent of Education for the State of Michigan, and he was a visiting scholar at U.C. Berkeley in 1964. 

In 1968, Don became the Dean of Education at San Jose State University, and in 1980, he became the Dean of Education at Portland State University.  During his career, he established many schools and universities in the U.S. and in developing countries around the world, and he wrote several books on educational administration.

After a life of travel and adventure, Don and Anne moved back to Bellingham in 1990.  In 1994, Western Washington University presented Don with a Distinguished Alumnus Award for his work in education, and from 1999 until 2001, he served on the Bellingham School Board.  During his final years, he traveled throughout China, Africa, the Himalayas and Antarctica.  He especially enjoyed sailing, golfing, and backpacking with his grandchildren.

      Don was a mentor, colleague, and friend to hundreds of educators around the world and he took pride in furthering the careers of others, especially women, minorities, and the disadvantaged.  He will be remembered as a dedicated teacher, visionary, and humanitarian, as well as a devoted father.  Don’s gentle, unassuming nature, his compassion, his sense of humor and his unbounded spirit of adventure touched many.

His simple words of advice: “Enjoy life.  I did.”  

 

 


 

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