“This is the day we pay homage to all those who didn’t come home. This is not Veteran’s Day; it’s not a celebration; it is a day of solemn contemplation over the cost of freedom.”
Tag Archives: death
Memorial Day 2023
Filed under News
Just Leave It As Is
Last Saturday, May 6, another mass shooting occurred; this one in Allen, Texas, just north of Dallas. I live relatively close to Allen in another Dallas suburb. The gunmen, Mauricio Garcia, slaughtered 8 people, including 3 children, before an Allen police officer who just happened to be on the scene responding to another call killed him. The incident was the 202nd mass shooting in the U.S. so far this year; meaning we’ve experienced more such events than there have been days in the year.
In response President Joe Biden ordered American flags to be flown at half-mast. I thought to myself – just keep them there. At the rate we’re going they should never be raised again – certainly not any time soon.
In his own convoluted reaction to the tragedy, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated he sees no need for any kind of gun control, but emphasized the need for mental health care. He’s right about the mental health issue. Part of the problem is right-wing morons like him still maintain that more guns equals a safer society. Using that “logic”, the U.S. would be the safest country Earth, as we have more firearms than people. If that type of convoluted thinking doesn’t count as mental illness, I don’t know what does.
In the immediate aftermath of the Allen massacre, however, Texas State Rep. Tracy King proposed a bill in the state legislature to raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. (The legislature meets every other year.) But this year’s session is coming to a close, so the bill won’t make it to a vote. And I’m sure, even if it could, the gang of far-right extremists that dominate the legislature would smack it down faster than they would a drag show.
The Allen gunman would probably be happy to see that happen. He’s joined that dubious pantheon of angry White males who – aside from being afflicted with pencil penis syndrome – are obviously too stupid to address serious issues with conversation, so he breaks out his gun. Garcia turned out to be a White supremacist who had Nazi regalia tattooed onto his torso, as photos he posted to social media prove. And, like most White supremacists, he zeroed in on the usual targets: Blacks, Jews, Muslims, immigrants and queers. Enraged about (unable to cope with) an increasingly diverse America, he opted for the Hitleresque solution – just wipe out as many of “those people” as quickly as possible.
I feel that America has become almost jaded in the face of these massacres. I just know that more of them loom on the dark horizon. More helpless people will fall victim to the wrath of angry and/or mentally unstable individuals, which will only prompt more of the “thoughts-and-prayers” bullshit regurgitated by conservative officials who place the value of guns over that of human lives.
So just keep that flag at half mast, Mr. President. I see no real change in the future, except more bodies.
Filed under Essays
Damnit! You Died and Didn’t Even Tell Me!
Over Easter weekend I learned that one of my closest long-time friends, David, died on April 4, at the age of 49. He would have turned 50 on April 17. I don’t know for certain, but I believe he’d succumbed to esophageal cancer. I had spoken with him briefly last month when he told me he planned to visit a doctor. He had trouble swallowing and – mostly shocking – weighed only 114 pounds at the time. He later informed me that an X-ray showed his esophagus was bent and that his doctor had referred him to a gastroenterologist who referenced cancer. That’s what I had thought, when he mentioned the initial X-ray findings. The gastroenterologist wanted to rush him into surgery. Afterwards I never heard from him again. I had thought of calling him, when I decided to check that most ubiquitous of sources: Facebook. That’s when I found out about his demise.
Damn! And he didn’t have the decency to tell me. You know…that’s kind of rude.
The news hit me especially hard because Easter weekend marked the first anniversary of the death of another close friend, Paul, who died after a year-long bout with liver cancer at the age of 55. His death was considerably different in that I had been in constant contact with him and saw the end looming over the horizon.
I also saw the end with another friend, also named David, before his death in 1993. That was the first time I’d actually lost a close friend to death, and it impacts me to this day. People have always accused me of being too sensitive; in that I don’t often let things go. That’s true to an extent. I had a tendency to hold grudges. But it’s tough to let go of the death of a close relative or friend.
David went quick, though. According to one of his friends, the cancer was too advanced for doctors to do anything. And I got mad again. That’s just like a man! Waited until the last fucking minute to take care of himself! That’s so old school. Men of my father’s generation did shit like that! David was almost a whole decade younger than me.
Several years ago I watched a program on the lives of very old people; those who’d lived beyond 90 and how they managed to sustain themselves. Aside from good genes and a positive outlook on life, they all seemed to have one pertinent thing in common: their ability to deal with the death of others around them. As sad as it is to lose a loved one, we have to understand that it happens. Some things may last forever, but no person can – at least not in this world. Our capacity to accept that helps us move forward with our own lives.
So, as difficult as it’s been these past few weeks, I’ve had to accept David is gone. My greatest consolation is that he’s not suffering anymore.
Good night, my friend. I’ll miss you, but I’m glad you have begun your next journey in life. As with everyone else I’ve lost, I hope to see you on the other side.
David in his natural element – with an animal
Filed under Essays
In 1995, the British pop duo Everything But the Girl released “Missing”, a song that would become their greatest hit. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt paired up 40 years ago to create EBTG. They found their title in the slogan of a store in their home town of Hull that promised to sell shoppers “everything but the girl”. I feel they’re one of the most underrated musical acts of recent decades. There was once a time – before the internet – when people could vanish from our lives and we relied on music like this to fill the void. Music always seems to fill the void of whatever or whomever we’re missing.
My old friend, Paul Landin, had discovered EBTG in the late 1980s and became instantly fascinated with them. He was especially enamored with Thorn. I know he traveled to England at least twice in the 1980s, but I don’t know if he ever saw EBTG in concert there or anywhere. Paul died in April after a year-long battle with liver cancer. Shortly after his death, a mutual friend, Mike*, sent a Tweet to Tracey Thorn advising her that “one of her biggest fans” had passed away. Paul and Mike had met at New York University in the early 1990s where they both studied filmmaking and found they had a mutual love of EBTG. They couldn’t have been more different: Paul, a Mexican-American born and raised in Texas and Mike, a traditional “WASP” from upstate New York.
A few days after Paul’s death Mike told me he’d dreamed of our old friend. “It might have been the edible I had last night,” he said via text, “but I felt his presence sitting across from me in the living room. He was smiling and he said don’t worry, everything is going to be okay.” Still, Mike lamented, he feels Paul had been cheated out of fulfilling his dreams of being a successful filmmaker/screenwriter.
Paul and I had a strange friendship; almost a love/hate type of interaction. I supposed that was because we were so much alike in many respects. Our fathers grew up together in East Dallas. Paul and I even attended the same parochial grade school in the 1970s (I vaguely remember him) and were altar boys at the accompanying Catholic church. We shared a love of good food and good cinema. As fraught as our friendship could be at times, I still miss him and his quirky nature.
Tracey Thorn’s reply to Mike* back in April
I miss a lot of aspects of my life. But isn’t that what happens to us as we get older? With more years behind than ahead of us, we sort through the intricacies and chaos of our lives and wonder how we managed to make it this far.
I miss the gatherings my parents and I used to have at this house. There often wasn’t a particular reason. Third Saturday of the month? Good enough! Family, friends and neighbors would convene upon this simple home and have the best time imaginable. We had food – real food! Not just chips and dips. People often brought dishes out of courtesy, but everyone knew they could actually have a meal. Ours became the fun house; where people could gather and always feel they were loved and appreciated.
I miss Sunday lunches with my parents. It was always a special occasion – even when I moved back here in 2007. We talked about anything and everything. Like music, food helps people bond.
I miss the 1990s and the excitement of heading into a new century and a new millennium. In some ways I miss the apartment I moved into in May of 1991; a relatively small one bedroom/one bath abode. For the first time in my life, I was truly on my own. I miss happy hours with colleagues at the bank where I worked in Dallas at the time. I still relish the period from 1996 to the spring of 2001, when most everything in my life seemed to go right. I know I can never go back (past perfect is only possible in grammar), but I wish I could recapture that feeling of freedom and happiness. I miss my blue and white lava lamp.
I miss the German shepherd, Josh, my parents and I had from 1973 to 1985. When we moved to this house in suburban Dallas in 1972, my parents had promised they’d get me a dog. Somehow I’d become enamored with German shepherds. My mother had a phobia of big dogs. As a child in México City, she’d seen a man attacked by a Doberman. But she swallowed her fears for my sake. Early on I noticed his eyes seemed to be tri-colored: mostly yellow-gold, but also green and blue. We didn’t realize how big he was, until we brought him inside the house. We would bring him in during the torrid Texas summers and (in his later years) during the occasional harsh winters. Putting him to sleep on Easter Saturday 1985 was one of the most traumatic experiences we ever endured. It’s not that we expected him to live forever, of course; we just never prepared ourselves for the end.
I miss my last dog, a miniature schnauzer I adopted from a former friend and roommate and named Wolfgang. I loved the sound of his breathing at night, as he slept. It remains one of the most soothing sounds I’ve ever heard in my life. My parents also fell in love with him, after I moved back here in 2007. My father especially developed a deeply personal relationship with Wolfgang. I realized how strong that connection was on the day my father died in June of 2016, when the lights flickered, and Wolfgang ambled down the hall. He stood before my parents’ closed bedroom door and turned to me. I knew my father was gone. Wolfgang died less than five months after my father did. I still maintain my father returned and got him.
I miss my father, George De La Garza, Sr. I love and miss my mother and everyone I’ve ever known and lost, but I miss my father the most. We had a unique bond that couldn’t be matched by anything or anyone. In my worst moments, I often wish he’d come back to get me. But then, all the plans I’ve made for myself wouldn’t come to fruition. And when I call to him and get no response, I realize it’s just not my time. I know. We could communicate without words.
So I continue and recollect the best moments of my past years and look forward to what I have left. Still, I’m always missing someone or something.
We all miss someone or something from our lives. Who or what do you miss?
Still in Rhythm
It’s been 30 years since the group SNAP! released their signature song “Rhythm is a Dancer”. It remains one of my favorite tunes and was a favorite of one of my closest friends, Daniel, who died of AIDS in 1993. Another close friend, Paul (who died this past April), also liked it. It’s so emblematic of the 1990s.
Looking back – as I have the tendency to do – things were pretty good for me in 1992; a time before cell phones and personal computers were common and when the future seemed wide open, as the world moved closer to the new millennium.
My sentimentality may be getting the best of me now, as I’ve been going through some times these past few months. Still, music always has a way of soothing the troubled mind.
Filed under Classics
They’re like recurring allergies – they just keep hitting over and over. But we have a bevy of cures for allergies. We don’t seem to have many for the sickening epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S.
As of this day, the U.S. has experienced over 250 mass shootings in 2022 – more than the number of days thus far in the year. A mass shooting is defined as an event where four or more individuals are shot, not including the actual assailant.
Two recent massacres – 10 people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and 21 at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas – have garnered considerable attention. The Buffalo calamity was racially-motivated, and the Uvalde event was the worst school shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Between the Buffalo and Uvalde episodes, the U.S. experienced 14 other mass shootings. Let that sink into your brain for a few minutes.
The gun issue has always been sensitive and controversial. Hardline gun rights advocates have consistently placed the value of their sacred firearms over the right of people to live peacefully and happily. Even more aggravating is a recent survey where 44% of Republican voters say mass shootings are one price we have to pay for living in a free society. Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Ironically, many of these people consider themselves pro-life.
On the other side, far left gun control proponents want to eliminate all firearms for private citizens; believing that – in this violent, imperfect world – we only need herbal tea and kind words to solve every crisis. These are the same people who get so emotional it’s almost painfully embarrassing to watch them recount their ordeals. I understand these are horrific events, but the time for tears and anguish has already passed.
And that’s what I want to communicate to liberals. Stop crying! It’s time to get mad, stand up and yell back at these idiotic gun nuts whose only resolution to firearm blood baths is another weapon and a few thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers serve as little more than toilet paper for the carnage.
In the immediate aftermath of both Buffalo and Uvalde, as more talk of gun violence and gun control arose, we heard the usual cadre of right-wing loudmouths more worried (as always) that the rights of “law-abiding gun owners” could be desecrated.
Spare me the narrow-minded anxiety!
People have more of a right to live than anyone has a right to own a gun. And no, they aren’t equally significant. But conservatives campaigning for public office consistently point out one characteristic: they are pro-Second Amendment. I see these ads every election cycle, especially here in Texas. They always skip over the First Amendment, which ensures free speech and peaceable assembly and guarantees the right to vote. Again, the twisted priorities of the conservative mindset.
Last year, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed several pieces of legislation into law that declared the state to be a “Second Amendment sanctuary”, I wasn’t shocked. But I was angry. This is the same governor who oversaw blatant attacks on the right to vote by dismissing the reality of gerrymandering in the state and allowing for partisan poll watchers. In older days, partisan poll watchers across the South carried guns and would deliberately intimidate (mostly non-White) voters. Conservatives steadily bemoan the myth of rampant voter fraud, while ignoring the very real pandemic of gun violence.
For the first anniversary of the 1999 Columbine school massacre, a national news network interviewed several of those first responders. One man stated that he was particularly upset that the perpetrators (two teenage boys) had included girls among their victims. He said could understand them shooting boys, “but they shot girls, too.” I literally stopped when I heard him say that. Aside from the shock value of the verbiage, that he could differentiate between the genders of the victims and therefore categorize his horror level proved how complacent people in this country have become towards violence. It certainly was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.
The outrage continued in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, when the U.S. Senate held a hearing on gun violence in the nation and the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre sat with a scowl on his face and became defensively hostile with every question lobbed at him. And, as usual, liberals wept, while conservatives grunted. And then…nothing. Nothing happened. No new legislation to address gun violence; no new funding for mental health counseling…nothing. With that, it seemed the gun violence debate in the United States ended. We’d accepted the murder of helpless children and thus, nothing more could be done.
At this point, I really don’t hold out much hope for any kind of movement on the legislative front. Politics has gotten in the way of public service. So, what’s new?
I remain as tired of the crying from liberals as I am of the concern for gun owner rights from conservatives. If only the latter group understood the extent of the damage caused by bullet wounds, then perhaps they’d rethink their commitment to ensuring gun rights over human rights. It’s time for we progressives to get mad and shout down the right-wing extremists who proudly pose with their firearms for family holiday photos the way most normal-minded folks pose with their children and pets, armed with little more than smiles. The saccharine responses from the horrified won’t result in any considerable change. They’ll just fade into the morass of national traumas.
Then we’ll have another mass shooting – in a school or some public venue. And the cycle of tears and excuses will begin all over again.
From the ‘Crime Will Kill You’ Files
No bad deed goes unpunished – even if forces beyond one’s control exacts the punishment. Joseph McKinnon, a Trenton, South Carolina man, died after suffering a heart attack while digging a pit to bury his girlfriend after killing her.
McKinnon had told a neighbor that the hole he was creating in his yard was meant for a water feature to enhance his garden. But when another neighbor subsequently spotted McKinnon laying face-down and motionless beside the pit one Saturday morning, they called police.
After officials determined McKinnon had succumbed from cardia failure, Edgefield County Sheriff Jody Rowland says his office set out to locate and alert McKinnon’s next of kin.
That’s when authorities realized McKinnon’s live-in girlfriend, Patricia Ruth Dent, 65, had vanished. They learned Dent’s co-workers had been trying reach her without success.
“That took us back to the pit he (McKinnon) was digging,” Rowland stated.
After digging further, they discovered Dent’s remains bound in duct tape and wrapped up in black trash bags. An autopsy determined she’d been struck in the face and had been strangled.
A neighbor had already seen the hole in the ground. But, when police arrived, McKinnon had refilled it, before dying.
Rowland emphasized the extraordinary circumstances, but noted, “Basically this case is over.”
My only hope is that McKinnon will spend eternity in the After Life digging holes in hard dirt and suffering one fatal cardiac event after another.
Filed under Curiosities
Retro Quote – Duwamish Community
“There is no death, only a change of worlds.”
Filed under History
In 1983, when I was 19 years old, I visited a doctor for some long-forgotten reason. Before then I had noticed a slight leftward tilt in my torso, even when I stood perfectly straight. As a gymnast, perfect form was essential. It still is for that matter. When I mentioned it to the doctor, he said, “Oh, that’s scoliosis.” In my naiveté, he might as well have said, ‘You have terminal cancer and have about six months to live.’ I honestly knew nothing about scoliosis, so after he left the room, I began contemplating my 19 years on Earth and what kind of mark I’d made on my loved ones. I took it that seriously.
When the doctor returned after a few moments, I inquired further, and he explained in greater detail what scoliosis is and what causes it. My anxiety came across as mere curiosity. I had learned to act and – as a typical male – hide my emotions. If the bastard only knew how terrified I was…
One of my long-time friends, Paul, died on April 9 after a year-long battle with liver cancer. He was 55. I’d written about him previously. Paul and I had known each other for some 35 years. We actually attended the same parochial grade school in Dallas and were altar boys at the same Catholic Church. Our fathers had grown up together in East Dallas in the 1930s and 40s. Like me, Paul had a strong dedication to family. We had so much in common, yet differed on many levels. We often dined together, and during one meal a few years ago, he asked why I still hung around him. I couldn’t really answer him. In some respects, he had an elitist mentality; in part, I think, because of his years living in New York and his trips to Europe. We had something of a love/hate relationship. We’d have a dispute over some issue and would be estranged from each other for weeks and sometimes months.
Aside from good food, one love we shared was cinema. Among our favorite films was the campy 1962 classic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”. The movie is like a steak cooked rare – an acquired taste. We often jokingly referred to ourselves as ‘Blanche’ and ‘Baby Jane’, the dueling sisters of the story enmeshed in an unbreakable union of alcohol, bitter memories and dated outfits. Yes, I know that sounds gay, but bear with me. We watched a slew of films over the years and afterwards, critiqued them like an amateur Siskel and Ebert duo over cocktails.
Like me, Paul desired a career in the motion picture field. In the mid-1980s, I studied filmmaking at the University of North Texas. In 1991, Paul moved to New York to study the same at New York University. He earned his degree three years later and remained in New York; trying to secure his place in one of the most fickle industries in one of the toughest cities in the world. He finally decided to move back to Dallas in 1996 whereupon we began hanging out together again.
The friendship connection extended to our respective families. I’d come to know his parents, and he had come to know mine. We experienced each other’s struggles with family, friends, romance and work – you know, the usual stuff of life. When he lived in a tiny apartment, he had Christmas parties every year, with plenty of food and beverages. As much as it cost him, he told me, the gatherings made him happy. And it made others happy. They were simple times, but they were good.
I’ve written before about losing a close friend to AIDS in 1993 and how I got sick with hepatitis at the same time; how that prevented me from attending his funeral; how that made me feel I had betrayed his mother at the last moment by abandoning them – like so many of her son’s so-called friends had done. I noted how the bonds of friendship are tested during the worst times of our lives. I’m proud to say I’ve often been that ‘True’ friend and equally happy to say I have ‘True’ friends among my inner circle.
Paul and I had a dispute at the end of 2020. The source? A “New York Times” editorial about the unexpected support Donald Trump received from Hispanics in Texas. I expressed surprise, but Paul (who had grown increasingly conservative) said it made perfect sense to him. A short time later he learned he had liver cancer. As 2021 progressed, his health worsened, and our mutual desire to reconnect increased. We were old friends, after all, getting to be old men. Or as I like to call it – the tail end of middle age. A news editorial shouldn’t be a permanent barrier to good memories.
When Paul’s sister called me that Saturday night to inform me of his death, she asked, “Are you sitting down?”
“Is he gone?” I replied.
I already knew the answer.
I’ve been going through a lot personally in recent months. Paul’s demise only adds to it. There’s nothing like the death of a relative or close friend to put our lives into perspective; to understand what is truly important and valuable.
The funeral was this past Wednesday, the 20th. Beneath a cloudy sky, I stood beside a mutual and much younger friend who was doing everything not to burst out crying. I wrapped an arm around him and told him these moments are what make life so hard. We have to deal with the deaths of people we know and love – family, friends, coworkers. It’s what allows people to survive and reach a certain age. Paul buried both his parents, a beloved aunt, his older brother and two nephews. For whatever reason, his time here had ended.
Another mutual friend told me shortly after he’d learned of Paul’s death that he had dreamed of him. “I didn’t know if it was the edible I’d eaten earlier,” he added. But he said Paul told him he was happy now; he felt good and was safe.
I have to admit that – as bad as I’ve been feeling lately – I bore some envy of Paul. He was no longer suffering. All his pain had gone. He didn’t have to worry about credit card bills, taking out the trash – or wondering if he was going to wake up the next day. He also won’t get to live out his dreams of being a screenwriter.
When each of my parents died, I told people my only consolation was that they were no longer suffering from physical agonies. But they had lived long lives and they’d achieved the best they could, given their circumstances.
I suppose Paul had done the same in his 55 years.
Living our best lives is all we should do with whatever time we have.
Filed under Essays
Death and Time
The death of actress and national icon Betty White on New Year’s Eve 2021 has left many of us here in the United States shocked and despondent. White was just 17 days shy of her 100th birthday; an event which she and the rest of us looked forward to celebrating. Now she’s gone. Suddenly. None of us really saw this coming. How could this happen? Why? But none of us should be shocked.
Death doesn’t honor our designated times of order. My paternal grandfather once said that he respected death because it bears no prejudice. It takes who it wants when it wants. According to my father it was painful for him to admit even that much; as he had seen so many very young people and/or very good people suffer an untimely demise throughout his time on Earth. My grandfather died in 1969, and my father didn’t fully comprehend the meaning of what the old man had said until some years later.
Perhaps it’s easy for we older folks to have a more cynical if not sedate view of death. I’m at the point where I know I have more years behind than ahead of me. But currently I feel I’m surrounded by people enduring serious health struggles. A close friend is showing signs of Parkinson’s. Another friend is dealing with liver cancer. His doctors gave him less than a decade, unless he has a liver transplant. But his liver seems too badly damaged to qualify for a transplant. So he’s resigned himself to decluttering his life and reconnecting with people. One of my cousins who’s 10 years older suffered a heart attack in 2020 and is now battling kidney failure. The 40-something son of another long-time friend is still recovering from a catastrophic stroke he experienced about 2 years ago. He’s ensconced in a rehabilitation facility, but doesn’t appear to be making much progress – not according to his father. The latter says it seems his son doesn’t really want to cooperate with the therapists; as if – just a few years from age 50 – he’s decided he’s lived life to the fullest.
As a manic depressive in my past life, death often occupied more space in my mind than thoughts of the future. A typical artistic type, I experience the full range of emotions humanity possesses. But death haunts all of us throughout our lives. When I was in high school, a girl was killed when a train struck the car in which she was riding. Around that same time, lightning killed a boy walking home from school. Some years later, while working at a retail store, a teenage constituent was killed by a drunk driver, and another died in a car wreck. In the fall of 1992, I happened upon the obituary of a young man I’d known in grade school; he was 29. The following year a friend died of AIDS at the age of 31.
Looking at the myriad news events surrounding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I’m always heartbroken at the sight of very young people returning home with damaged bodies and minds or in coffins. The epidemic of school shootings and deaths of those caught up in civil unrest is truly upsetting.
How is it these things are allowed to happen? Isn’t there supposed to be an all-loving, omnipotent deity who could prevent such horrors?
I’ve always wondered what life is like on “The Other Side”; whatever it’s supposed to be and wherever that is. I like to think all those I’ve known in decades past, including my parents and even my dogs, are safely enveloped in such realms; where (hopefully) they are happy and loved.
Back in 2012, I had a brief dream of an English and German instructor I had at a community college in suburban Dallas in the 1980s. She was a quirky, yet truly inspirational character. I hadn’t thought of her in years when I had that dream. I think it was a day or two later when I found her obituary in the newspaper. And I thought later that, perhaps, she flitted through my sleeping subconscious to say goodbye – for now.
Betty White’s “sudden” death saddened so many people. But she was 99! So she didn’t quite make it to her centennial birthday! She always vocalized how fortunate she was to have lived so long and to have so many people admire and love her. She had reached the end of her time in this world.
We all will at some point. As sad as it may be sometimes, it doesn’t really matter one’s age or condition at the moment of death. It just happens. We have to make our time as valuable and fulfilling as we can.