Thursday, December 31, 2009
I have only met Selves once but by all accounts he’s a knight in shining armor and I’m really looking forward to getting to know him. His devotion since the accident has said a lot about his character and it is obvious in listening to Megan talk about him that she is deeply in love.
I took the Miles and Alex over the other day for a visit along with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and my two nephews. I just happened to have my camera, and Megan just happened to look fantastic for drop in guests; two things that in actuality are pretty much a given. This was the first time that I had seen her legs mostly unwrapped and she is healing very well. She has red stripes on her left leg where skin is healing after some was taken for grafting onto her right leg. The soreness is getting better slowly but surely. The most pain comes from, as she calls it, “Shorty”, in other words, the site of the amputation. Shorty? Megan’s sense of humor and positive attitude are sure to help her leapfrog over entire stages of her recovery. She told me that she would eventually like to tattoo some eyes on the end of Shorty just for fun!
(Miles helping out by holding up my jacket as a photo backdrop)
Alex was very sweet and asked a lot of questions about how Megan was feeling. I told her while pointing at the painted toenails on Megan’s left foot that at least now she can paint her toenails really fast. To which the master of witty quips, Megan’s dad Denny, said slowly with a twinkle in his eye, “Yeah, that’s true, in fact now she can do her toenails TWICE as fast.” He cracks me up.
With a fractured pelvis, numerous broken and now reset bones (compliments of a fascinating array of rods, pins, screws and other things that are sure to set off airport metal detectors for the rest of her life), skin grafts and pain medications, Megan is pulling big time from her Xena powers to get better. The latest prognosis is that she looks on track to be able to put some weight on her left leg in a month, which is about a month faster than originally thought. Until then it’s dealing with getting around in her wheelchair. Or when Selves is around, he just scoops her up in his arms and carries her wherever she needs to go. I hope soon to photograph them both together and when you see the photographs you will instantly understand why lifting Megan up is no problem. I had biceps like his once too…in a caricature that was drawn of me.
We had a nice visit that day and while chatting the subject did turn briefly to the reality that the result of the accident completely sucked. But then we got right back on the underlying miracle…that she survived. And now here she was, the same as before the accident in almost every way, beautiful, welcoming, funny, wacky and loud. She still has the world before her but now her course is different. In many ways, I am led to believe that when all is said and done she will look back on her life and realize that she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
She almost got killed at the shipyard, but without her job there she never would have met Selves. While holding up her left hand and showing off the ring she said with a glow, “Nice huh? You should see it when the sunlight hits it. Then it’s really beautiful.”
Oddly enough, that’s what more and more people are saying about my cousin Xena, the newly engaged Warrior Princess.
Friday, December 25, 2009
In February of 1995 I was driving down Greenlake Way on a sunny afternoon. Suddenly I burst into tears. I had to pull over to the side of the road. I was sobbing. It had just struck me again that two months before that my son Miles was born on Christmas day.
December 25, 1994 was the single greatest day of my life. Being a father was, is and will be the greatest thing that I could ever have done, am doing and will ever do. Every single day of my life has been better, more fulfilling and above all, more purposeful since becoming a father. Miles at first and then 5 ½ years later, Alex, have taught me more about love than I could ever have imagined was possible. The million glances, kisses, hugs, goodnight tuck-ins…each day there’s another moment that I wish I could just freeze forever. Even the frustrating ones I look back on as being just a part of the beautiful fabric of life. Some times it’s stained (but I won’t go into that aspect of it), but the fabric is being woven into the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen. I’m just the loving observer. Heidi is the seamstress who started it all. Her limitless love has nurtured a life for all of us that I am so thankful for. She is the best mother that I could ever have hoped for for my children.
Miles, I hope you realize how lucky you are to be surrounded by so many people that love you. You have earned it by being an amazing, thoughtful, caring and compassionate person. I am so proud to be your father. I am, though ,absolutely scared to death that you will be getting your driving permit in two months!
Happy Birthday little man, I love you!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Her courage is absolutely unreal. Heidi and I visited her the day after the accident and if someone had asked me, “Guess which one of your friends this is.” I wouldn’t have been able to. She was connected to so many machines that she looked like a puppet getting ready to be lifted up into the air. She had a breathing tube in and the ventilator was keeping her alive. She was swollen all over from the trauma but conscious. We went in, held her hand, told her to stay strong and that we loved her. She couldn’t reply. She just moved her right hand over her heart and tapped it a few times in response. We were just so relieved and thankful to actually have somebody to visit. To be crushed and trapped the way she was and to be so far away from the hospital it was a miracle that she was still alive. The day before it had been touch and go for hours. Looking at her laying there that day, despite the massive trauma, we were confident that she would be all right.
When she was admitted to the hospital she was given the name, “Doe, X.” That is the hospital’s designation for the 24th female patient that arrives during a specific period of time who cannot identify herself. We were later told what the “X” stands for by Megan’s father… “Xena”. He had to tell me twice because I was so flabbergasted! He even showed me the hospital admittance form where it said, “Doe, Xena.” There could never be a greater nickname for Megan than “Xena", yes, "The Warrior Princess". I know she will amaze people with her strength during her recovery. How fitting and how perfect a name.
She didn’t even know for a few days that her right leg had been amputated. She was in such trauma that just breathing was her major priority. When she was told that she had lost a leg she took a while to compose herself and then the very first thing she said was, “I’m going to run a marathon.”
Rest assured, she will.
I tried to visit her a couple of times after that first day but she was always in and out of one surgery after another. One day I was in the waiting room and I saw her being wheeled by in her bed after a grueling 3-hour surgery. All I saw was the back of her head as she zoomed by. When she passed the check-in counter on her floor she lifted her right hand and waved enthusiastically to the nurses behind the counter. I couldn’t see Megan’s face but I could see the huge smiles on the nurse’s faces. I had to leave that night before she could have visitors but a few days later I was finally able to see her.
I will never forget that day. I walked up to her room on the 7th floor and knocked on the door. The door popped open and there she was, sitting up in her bed, looking like herself again. She paused for a second and then exclaimed, smiling, “Paul! Oh my God!” I gave her a huge hug and then just stood there staring at her. The change in the previous 2 weeks had been remarkable. No breathing tube, no puppet show, and 1/10 the number of machines in her room. Her parents, Connie and Denny, were there as they had been every single day since the accident, giving her the love and support that only a parent can give. They had been doing this for 24 years straight but now, Megan needed them more than ever. And every single night at the hospital, Connie and Denny would tag team it with Megan’s fiancé who would arrive in the early evening and spend the entire night in her room. Over the previous weeks she had constant visits from family and friends, including co-workers that had been struggling to come to terms with one of their own being so seriously injured. There could be no doubt in Megan’s mind how much she meant to so many people. It’s almost as if she had been teetering on the edge of a cliff and just when she started to fall, dozens of loving hands reached out to grab her and pull her back. Starting with the rescue workers at the shipyard, to the helicopter crew, and then to all of the people in the emergency room, Megan was collectively yanked off that cliff and now her family and friends were holding on tight and not letting go. I took some photographs of Megan that evening and then pulled out a photograph of television’s Xena, although with Megan’s face Photoshopped in. I handed her a Sharpie and had her sign it for me. Megan has such a wonderful laugh. To hear it at that moment proved to me that she was going to be OK.
Megan will astound people on her “comeback tour”. She is now recovering at home with her parents and indeed has a long road ahead of her. For Megan though, it’s not going to be just about looking to the end of the road when she’s out there running that inevitable marathon. It will be about the journey itself. I know that along the way Megan will surprise, inspire, and completely blow people away with her energy, her determination, her attitude, and her wonderful sense of humor. She IS a warrior, and she is already worthy of her brand new nickname.
I have a feeling that I will be writing about Xena a lot. She'll be supported every step of the way by all those who love her, and who, by the way, are going to be hanging on to her a little tighter from now on.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Codi died a week ago today. Her struggle is over. She is no longer in pain. She is cancer free...finally. It’s been a strange week. I’ve been thinking of Codi’s family constantly, knowing how difficult it is for them right now. I had a wonderful visit with her just two days before she died. I’ll never forget that. Normally she had a houseful of visitors, but on that day during my visit, her mom Lisa was the only other person there. The house was decked out with all sorts of Christmas décor and Codi was sitting fairly upright on her special bed in the living room munching on some Teriyaki chicken. She smiled when she saw me and I said, “Hey, is your forehead still kissable?” She nodded with a smile. Her pain had been so intense that even a slight brush on her shoulder could be excruciating. The motto of their household for the longest time was, “Air hugs and forehead kisses.”
We started talking and Lisa brought over photographs that I had taken of Codi and her cabinmates at Camp Goodtimes that I had given her a few years ago. One of the photos was of me wearing a court jester outfit and leaping up in the air covered head to toe in toilet paper; just an ordinary day at camp. It was actually her cabin that had TP’d my tent and they visited to admire their handiwork. I had totally forgotten that she had actually taken that photograph with my camera. I asked her if that would count towards her bucket list item “To take a breathtaking picture.” And she just laughed. We moved on to talking about some of the skits that she had been in. Her memory was crystal clear from camp moments in 2005, 2006 and 2007 to the point of remembering specific rolls that her friends played. Her memory refreshed mine and we just sat and laughed and remembered the good times.
After a while, I asked her how her pain was that day and I told her how good she looked. She explained that the paralysis that the tumor had caused had started in her feet and now had worked its way all the up to her abdomen. She chuckled when she told me how a few days previous Lisa had been helping her with some physical therapy and was moving her legs back and forth. Codi wasn’t really paying attention at the time but then suddenly looked up and saw her leg way up in the air. She couldn’t feel it at all. She then reiterated that she used to be able to feel some things happening in her midsection but now all had gone numb. I was momentarily speechless as I thought about how terrible that was and then I said to her slowly, “There is no adjective that I could possibly think of that I could put in front of the word ‘sucks’ to adequately describe that. Especially not in the English language…maybe a foreign language…like UBERsucks!” She laughed and repeated my new word. What else can you do? She was stuck in that body, just waiting to die. I can’t imagine. But still she was so gracious, so accepting, and so welcoming.
We heard a sound outside and it was the neighbors’ dog whining. She had just had puppies, 8 of them, and the neighbor was talking to all of us through the open living room window. Codi said in the sweetest of voices, “Ohhh, I want one!” Lisa just looked at her with all the love in the world and almost without saying the obvious. Codi realized that she wouldn’t be around very long to take care of one. She just said in a very matter of fact tone to Lisa, “I know, I know.”
An hour went by so quickly and then there was a knock on the door. It was Codi’s Uncle Leroy arriving for a visit. I told Codi that I should be going and but I really wanted to tell her something before I left. I grabbed her hand and told her that I really wanted her to know what an incredible impact that she had made on my life, and on so many other people’s lives too. I said that she could definitely cross “To help a complete stranger” off of her bucket list too. I explained that all the people that connected with her through the luau were so much the better because of it, as were so many other people who have heard her story told by people who loved her. With that I told her that I loved her, kissed her forehead, and told her I would stop by the following Monday. She smiled and we said goodbye.
Late Friday morning I received a text from Lisa saying only, “She’s going fast…” At just before 4pm with a light snow falling and a brilliant orange sky in the distance, and most importantly, surrounded by her entire family, Codi gently passed away.
I did stop by the following Monday, and of course, it was so strange to walk in to such a different scene in her house. Lisa was there, as was her husband Brian, and Codi’s aunt Sherry too. I actually delivered tubs of cookie dough that Lisa had bought from my daughter for her school fundraiser; nothing like chocolate chip cookies for comfort food. I also came to pick up photographs for the slideshow that I promised to put together for her memorial service. Lisa had told me that Codi wanted to trust me with that job. While we were talking, Lisa stopped mid-sentence and tears welled up in her eyes. She said matter of factly, “Now I know where it’s supposed to go.” She walked over to where Codi’s living room bed used to be and reached up and pulled a colorful dreamcatcher off of the wall. She handed it to me and said, “You’re supposed to have this.” She told me that this dreamcatcher had been by Codi’s bedside at home and in every hospital stay since she got sick, watching over her. The dreamcatcher is supposed to let in or out the good dreams and thoughts but block the bad ones. I was so honored to be entrusted with such a treasure and I promised that I would be a proud guardian of it.
Lisa, glowing with pride but filled with sorrow, then showed me some of Codi’s paintings and also let me read some pieces of her writing that she had produced over the years. Codi spoke with such wisdom for someone so young. I just wish she could have continued to express herself…she had so much more to do.
I hugged everyone goodbye and told them how thankful I was for their friendship and wished that it wasn't cancer that brought us all together in the first place. I also thanked them for sharing such a wonderful person with the world. Codi made a lasting impression on everyone she met, especially the doctors and nurses who took care of her (the most amazing people on the planet in my opinion). My heart will continue to ache for all of Codi's family, especially little sister Cheyanne who loved her big sister truly, deeply and forever. That love will only grow stronger now.
Sweet dreams Codi, and don’t worry, I’ll help catch the good ones and pass them around!
Friday, November 20, 2009
Right now, barring some miraculous bending of the space/time continuum, my friend Codi's cancer will continue to spread. Her treatment has been stopped and so we're left with hope...and with love. What else can you do? Hope and love can come from anywhere and everywhere and carry a power stronger than any cancer. Cancer can destroy a body, but hope and love carry the soul and grow stronger and stronger with time.
Codi is only 20 years old but she has touched countless lives already. Her compassion is unyielding, her sparkle undeniable and when she looks you in the eye, she connects. Anyone that has ever had the good fortune to meet her will remember and comment on her eyes. They're filled with hope, and love is what overflows. I'm not just saying this now for words of comfort. I've told it to her personally more than once. She has always had this warming, calming presence where you just feel at home when you are with her. Knowing her family, it's easy to see where she learned that from.
Codi will now have to rely heavily on her family and friends to surround her with love...and with hope. If you wouldn't mind sending along some of your own, I know it would be put to good use. :)
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Look at that hand...as big as a catcher's mitt. It wasn't until he was almost 90 years old that he couldn't crush my hand in a regular handshake. I was thinking about Captain Lynn Campbell today because he recently turned 99 years old. He lives about 30 minutes from me and is still going strong. He's been slowing a bit in recent years but still can tell an old salt tale like no other.
I first met him in 1975 when I was the little kid working at the aquarium on Pier 56 arranging fish tanks and feeding whales, dolphins and seals at the age of 16. He owned Seattle Harbor Tours next door and would pop in to the aquarium from time to time. He was vibrant, charismatic, and looked like some famous Hollywood actor would someday be portraying him in a movie. He was 65 when I first met him. That's unbelievable to me. I didn't even get to know him until a few years later when I became his sidewalk barker in 1978. Sorry...but I feel compelled to share a photo.
Yeah, that was me in 1980 actually, doing my barking routine. I'd convince people to go on the harbor tours during the day and then bartend on the party cruises at night; it doesn't get much more fun than that for a 21 year old.
Captain Campbell has been a famous person in my life, worthy of much more than a random blog post. But today, a blustery day in November, a day that, well, when back in the day I'd be running around on one of his boats in late fall, setting up, cruising around the harbor with nary a passenger to be found, I was thinking about Captain Campbell and remembering his smile, his quick wit, and those crushing handshakes.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
So that night while she was getting settled in to her room, Tiki Torches were being lit and the party was beginning. All we needed was our guest of honor. As her car drove up the driveway her jaw dropped and then she broke into a flabbergasted smile. Her camp friends surrounded her and were cheering as Codi’s dad wheeled her into the Luau.
"Go to an authentic Luau"?
Yes Codi, you can now cross that off your list!
Monday, November 9, 2009
A wish expressed by a young woman only 20 year’s of age but already in her fourth battle against Ewing’s Sarcoma. Codi is by no means throwing in the towel in her fight. In fact, her motto is “Bring It!” It is important for her though to still get her ducks in a row, so she has written out her Bucket List. Her mom Lisa was sharing the list with me a few weeks ago and naming off a few of the items that Codi has crossed off and a few others that she hadn’t. On the top of her list was, “Die without regrets”. Further down was, “Take a breath-taking picture”, “To help a stranger” and “To go to a Luau”. I realized that I might be able to help her cross off a few things. I knew I could help her with her photography wish and I felt that if I shared her story with others that could indeed “help a stranger”.
Then I started thinking about the Luau: the Pacific Northwest, November, typhoon-like rain and wind, a Luau? Why not? The only two resources I needed were my amazing Martha Stewart-esque wife Heidi, and my Camp Goodtimes family. I made a few calls, and they made a few calls, and suddenly things started falling together. We connected up with volunteer musicians and dancers, collected dozens of Tiki Torches, went on a huge Costco run, decorated my studio from top to bottom and adorned the front entrance with giant banana leaves. The mother of one of our camp counselors sent from her home on Oahu beautiful flowers, monstera leaves, head scarves for Codi, assorted traditional Hawaiian food items and even FedExed a special fresh lei for Codi that arrived the day before the Luau. A camp counselor’s sister, who has never even met Codi, made her beautiful earrings with “wellness” inscribed on them. People brought unique Hawaiian dishes to add to the feast and were decked out in their best Luau attire, although a few of them were wearing Uggs instead of flips flops. A few of our camp friends even spent the night before and after the Luau to set up and break down (and finish off the Mai Tai’s…thanks Putt Putt and Watermelon). And last but not least we had 50 people here on Saturday night that were treated to a night filled with love, music, dancing, great food, and the warmest feeling of Aloha.
“Aloha” by it’s definition means “affection, love, peace, compassion and mercy”. That did indeed define our entire celebration. There were prayers spoken in Hawaiian, songs of love and healing, the holding of hands, the giving of gifts, and the performance of traditional hula dances. All the while, Codi sat in her wheelchair wearing her leis and participating entirely in the wonderful gathering. Behind her on the floor was her bag of pain medications that unfortunately she had to dip into towards the end of the evening. Her smile was unwavering though and she didn’t want to leave. The musicians and dancers performed for about twice as long as we were expecting simply because they wanted to keep sharing their traditions with us.
In between dances at one point I said a few words of thanks to everyone and invited Lisa up to the microphone where she tearfully did the same. I inquired in a whisper to Codi if she wanted to say anything and she shook her head no. But after dances, songs and more dances (and after a Skype connection was made to her former camp counselors in Ohio and New York), Codi said, “I do have something to say.” I handed her the microphone and she said with a smile, “Because I now understand what it really means…Aloha.” To which the guests immediately responded back to her with the same wonderful sentiment.
When it was time for Codi to leave, she and her family didn’t have far to go. The Manor Farm Inn B&B across the street from my studio had donated a couple of rooms for them. So with a 30 second drive to a comfortable bed awaiting Codi, her Camp Goodtimes family formed a gauntlet of silliness lining the driveway to her car. While she was getting buckled in I asked her if she wanted to witness one last piece of Hawaii…body surfing. She grinned her approval and within seconds a few counselors were riding a human wave around her car!
The Luau kept going for a while longer and, luckily, one of the musicians locked his keys in his car so he and his family couldn’t leave! While waiting for AAA they all came back in and continued to dance and celebrate with us.
The next day Codi and her family all came over so we could actually do the photo shoot that was, in Codi’s mind, the only reason she was going to Poulsbo in the first place. I took portraits of everyone and then shot the official “Christmas card photo”.
The highlight of the entire weekend for me personally? Helping Codi to her car yesterday and then watching as she crossed “Go to a Luau” off of her Bucket List.
Thank you everyone who helped make this happen especially the musicians and dancers of nanaike.org, and thank you Codi for celebrating your wish with us. Our wish for you is for you to be feeling better each and every day.
I met Codi at the car to present her with her special lei sent all the way from Hawaii from our dear new friend Jane.
Bunny ears from "Daffy" in New York City while Skyping.
And finally, a different sort of goodbye wave, bodysurfing on a human wave!
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Tears, laughter and toasts - skeletons, vampires and ghosts. An afternoon to remember!
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I had the pleasure of photographing Peter and Julia's wedding on Saturday in Woodinville. More photos to come but I thought I'd share this one, taken seconds before guests were to be seated in the church. I've been photographing Julia and her family since she was about 9 years old so her wedding day was very special for me. Watching people grow up, and capturing great moments along the way, is such a great joy. I can't imagine not knowing how to work a camera! Life zooms by and trying to chase down a moment at times can seem like one of those sad/hilarious cat videos where the little kitty is trying to step on the light beam from a flashlight! But during this wild ride, photography is my way of catching that light and then sharing that moment with others.
A camera is a much better tool for doing that than a paw! (poor kitties)