Sunday, March 30, 2008


We need to laugh more and seek stress reducing humor in our everyday lives. Laughter is the human gift for coping and for survival. Laughter ringing, laughter pealing, laughter roaring, laughter bubbling. Chuckling. Giggling. Snickering. Snorting. These are the sounds of soul saving laughter which springs from our emotional core and helps us feel better, see things more clearly, and creatively weigh and use our options. Laughter helps us roll with the punches that inevitably come our way. The power of laughter is unleashed every time we laugh. In today's stressful world, we need to laugh much more. Laughter Therapist, Enda Junkins

To be honest, I've heard of the benefits of laughter in one's life. I agree, has to be, we would surely be better in life if we laughed more. Who would not believe that!

Recently, I had a laughter experience. It was almost one of those where you had to be there experiences. I was the driver for my good friend who has been battling cancer for ten years. We go into the Cancer Center at the University Hospital. They have these little alcoves where the patient sits in a big chair and the chemo is piped into their bodies. There are acres of folks it seems. All battling for their lives in one way or another. Beside the patient's chair is a small one for those like myself if we choose to hang out. I do. In fact, I've asked myself why? I could easily wait down in the lobby, much more comfortable and some escapism. But, somehow, I always think, "it's the least I can do."

My friend is asleep. I often don't know how to relate to those around me. Surely not be my friendly, gregarious, talkative self. This is not the Pig and Whistle bar. Usually, you glance at those clustered with you in your little alcove. After all, you have a connection. You are a hostage to cancer in a way: hostage in that you are sad, that it causes you to think about your life, you're there. Outside is the sun and the beach is just a figurative stone's throw away.

I am sitting there cogitating my naval, thinking about all of this and across from us is a Latino lady and my counterpart. She looks to be about mid forties, slightly dishelved, not that it is a big deal, we're not there for fashion. She has an angelic face. Sweet. A nurse and one or two others come in and explain in Spanish the details of her chemo treatment. She nods. With the treatment flowing into her veins, she and her friend are talking in Spanish. I'm wondering what they are saying. Suddenly, the one getting the treatment busts out laughing. She glances at me. I start laughing. I don't even know what I'm laughing at: but for thirty minutes at least, we are laughing back and forth: stop, start. Like when you are in church as a kid and get to giggling and can't stop. You're shaking, you're laughing so hard. It was hysterical. My friend in her half sleep, wanted to know why we were laughing. I don't know. I think laugh therapy is "right on."

We need to laugh more and seek stress reducing humor in our everyday lives. Laughter is the human gift for coping and for survival. Laughter ringing, laughter pealing, laughter roaring, laughter bubbling. Chuckling. Giggling. Snickering. Snorting. These are the sounds of soul saving laughter which springs from our emotional core and helps us feel better, see things more clearly, and creatively weigh and use our options. Laughter helps us roll with the punches that inevitably come our way. The power of laughter is unleashed every time we laugh.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Larry R. Smith

May 4, 1945 – March 19,2008

After a 2 year courageous battle with both Pancreatic and Prostate Cancer, Larry Russell Smith passed peacefully at his home in Edmonds, Washington, surrounded by his wife, friends and family at the age of 62.

Larry was born in Bremerton, Washington, to Doris Dolbec and Russell Allan Smith. He was the youngest of three children of a ship builder and an elementary school teacher and leaves his older brother William Smith of Kenmore, Washington, and an older sister Lois Forbes of Renton, Washington, behind. Larry was mostly raised in San Mateo, California. He was part of the first graduating class of Aragon High School in 1963 lettering in both the football and wrestling programs. He attended both San Francisco State and the College of San Mateo before ultimately finishing at the University of Washington majoring in Mathematics in 1967. He was a lifelong Husky fan attending many of his alma mater’s Rose Bowl games.

Larry was drafted into the Army shortly after college and served courageously in Vietnam earning two Purple Hearts as part of the 199th light infantry brigade known as the ‘Redcatchers’. Larry served out his military career at the Presidio of San Francisco applying his mathematical skills in the payroll department until 1970.

Larry was a loyal and dedicated husband, friend, brother, father, grandfather, employee and mentor to many. He worked for Rael and Letson as a Consulting Actuary for over 30 years rising to the Chief Actuary and Vice Presidency role and serving on its, and many of its clients’, boards during his employment. He obtained his MAAA and EA certificates and distinctions from the Society of Actuaries while working for Rael and Letson.

Larry loved his children and grandchildren dearly and is survived by 3 grown children, Michael Smith of Palo Alto, California, Kathleen Pacheco of Moss Beach, California and Alex Smith currently obtaining his MBA degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo along with 2 step children Jason Hoff of Yakima, Washington, and Sharmon Hoff of Bainbridge Island, Washington. His Grandchildren and step-Grandchildren will have many fond memories of their grandfather. Sebastian and Eva Pacheco, Sophia and Trevor Smith and Amanda and Andrew Hoff will miss their grandfather and his loyalty to his family. He is survived by his wife Betti-Jo Picatti Hoff Smith of Edmonds, Washington, and his first wife of 30 years, Kathleen Alderman Smith of Montara, California. Larry is also survived by many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

Larry was a point of inspiration to us all with a passion for life and living. He was a world-traveler, an aficionado of fine wine, scotch whiskey, a good cigar and great conversation. Larry was an avid follower and season ticket holder of the 49ers for 35 years and of the Seahawks for the past 4 years. His love for the outdoors fueled his many trip to both Alaska and Lake Tahoe throughout his life. He was also a 25 year resident of Montara, California, along the Pacific coast below San Francisco. He will be deeply missed by those who had met him and all agree that he left us too early in his life.

Friends, family and those who were touched by his life will be meeting to celebrate Larry’s life on April 5th. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, please donate to either the American Cancer Society or The University of Washington’s Tyee program. The family would like to thank the wonderful staff at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle and the hospice program through the VA and Sisters of Providence.



Thursday, March 06, 2008


One of the absolute maxims of life is that all of us die. Rich, poor, famous, infamous, it is a given reality. We are born, live our lives and then we die. In our American culture, we don't do it so well, however we interpret what "well" means. We fight it and well we should. Without waxing too philosophical and say let us not fear it, maybe to say, "we are not going gently into the night." I've always liked William Cullen Bryant's take on death.

So live that when thy summons comes to join that innumerable caravan which moves to that mysterious realm where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death.

Go not like the quarry slave at night, scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams.

My friend Mary (not her real name) has cancer. About ten years ago, the insidious disease struck her with a vengeance and the fight began. At first, I was little involved as many jumped in to help but then as often happens, the good intentions faded away. I don't want to be too hard as people are human and good or bad, us Americans live busy lives and few know how to prioritize for the best. And, let's face it, our attention span is measured in nano seconds. In fact, this was one of those "hard to get use" to scenes when I was a hospital chaplain. Our patients were, as a rule older, retired military. One program I remember all too well illustrates this: we would have a very sick patient, often at death's door, loved ones would be everywhere which was great. We even had a special room set aside for them to gather where we could meet and talk strategy, plans of action and various medical directive sorts of stuff by the docs. As time went on, they would disappear little by little and if the patient stayed with us for awhile and inched closer to death, it was not unusual for us to have to hunt for the family when the time came. This isn't to place blame or say how terrible it is. It just is.

Getting more involved with Mary in her treatment has brought an entirely different attitude about how to help the sick, especially those whose very life is fighting to live life. Mary's job is to stay alive. And, she has done it for ten years under the most trying of circumstances. Against all odds! Here's what has happened to her during that time--at the beginning, she was at stage 4, which is a death sentence in most cases. Her husband, a ne'the well' in my view couldn't step up to the plate. It wasn't that he was a bad person, simply that he couldn't handle it. And, without belaboring the point, Mary had to make a decision whether to fight him or fight for her life. She wisely chose the latter. Mary shouldered on.

How it has affected me is a strong realization that those of us who assume roles of help need to do it very intentional as the care of those like Mary have to be the primary concern. Too often, the helper becomes the attention. Those who witness the fight, are called upon to drive, to look after; fetch food, drinks, reading material, the "beck and call" of the Marys of the world. And, we need to do it with a rationale which gets "us" out of the way. No easy task. It is a philosophy of simply, being there.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to want to cogitate our navel, to say how hard this is on us, how difficult. My experience with Mary makes me realize that this is not a "rationale" approach. The call is to Mary, not us and if we can't get out of the way, find something else to do.

Recently, I sought advice from someone who has been through the awful pain with a loved one until that moment when they departed this life for the next. Here is pretty much the dialogue. Their advice was simple but profound.

When you were going through the final days with your husband, how did you hold up?

Well, it was not a matter of me holding up. It was a matter of how to make him comfortable.

Did you know it was his last days.

Yes, I did.

How about other members of your family?

Well, we really didn't talk about it but I think they knew. We all felt a tremendous need to be around. My husband never voiced it but from the time he received the "end" diagnosis, he didn't want to be alone. I think that's natural.

What did your children do?

(Laughed) We did the best we could with the idea of making Phillip (not his real name) comfortable.

What about treatment?

We went until it became obvious that there was truly nothing else to do.

How did you determine that?

To be honest, I think that the doctor more or less determined it; most doctors have a plan. It is what they do. While we may be cowering in the corner, they have a plan of treatment. And, this is what my husband responded too. He did what his doctors told him to do.

So you were pretty impressed with your doctors?

Yes, in a sense. Phillip needed assurance that it wasn't just going to be OK. There was a fear of the future. Along with the rest of us, he would not walk alone but with his trusted physician. Not a small thing. I have mixed emotion to be honest.

In what way?

To be honest again, I would rather not share that, just a view that I'm working through. I can tell you this though: I think it was probably the pain more than anything which made Phillip and all of us feel the hopelessness. There's no giving assurance around the pain. Trust me on this. The awful pain.(shakes her head and gives a deep sigh)

I have read somewhere that the worst aspect of the dying is that patients fear the pain.

I don't know about that but sounds right--he was in such pain and it just cut us to the core. (begins to sob)

What were some of the difficult times if you don't mind talking about it?

In addition to the pain, I think it was friends who wanted to help but couldn't.

What do you mean?

People's motives are good, they want to help but often they don't and can't.

How did you deal with it?

At first I didn't but then later on, I became the gate keeper.

What brought you to that point?

To be honest with you, it was a single incident. A neighbor who was also a cousin came over and just stayed and stayed. He wanted to talk about old times and situations and it got unbearable. Finally, I intervened and said, "Phillip needs to lie down and then I'll come back in and talk." I could tell my husband was at the point of exhaustion and exasperation. In fact, I got him to the bed and he just sat on the side of it, could not even lay down. I'm sure that our neighbor thought he was doing the right thing but it was opposite of what we needed.

Any other things that stick out in your mind?

Well, there is one thing and I hesitate to talk about it but it needs to be said. Don't talk about religion. Well, maybe I should qualify that somewhat. If the patient asks about it OK but I think that religious people, especially if they are conservative have this need to talk about it. One incident we had was so bad, made my husband so uncomfortable. I don't think I should talk about it.

It might be helpful to someone.

Well, this person felt the need to really talk about my husband's relationship to God. It was so inappropriate at the time and created such tension. Conservative religious people feel like this is some kind of commandment. I guess they see it as their duty. What they don't seem to understand is that it is an opinion on their part. Think about it? How can God be so arbitrary? He heals one, he doesn't another. To me, it has always taken away some of the power of God to insist that He is so involved with us, so selective in critical situations. I just don't believe it and in a sick room, no patient wants to be forced to deal with such issues. I surely know my husband didn't. This was a good person and I know he felt bad because he had to feel the tension. I felt for him but I felt more for the uncomfortableness of my dying husband.

So, if you could give anyone any advice about what/how to do or be with their loved ones in terms of caring, what would it be?

I think just "being there" with doing what the person wants as best you can determine, whatever that is. If it is even necessary to "be there" needs to be determined. Can you sit and not talk or talk if the person wants too but leave it at that. I'm discovered that most can't . And, a last thing, the sick person definitely does not need to be worried about their responses or lack thereof.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


This is an expression that is common in the military. And, in court martials where this statement originated, it is more true than untrue. Some of the reason is that very stringent requirements exist for what is called an Article 32 investigation. Usually this is so through that if it does come to court martial, there is a more than reasonable chance that the evidence is pretty exact. Not always as the trials of the Marines and their views of Rules of Engagement in Iraq surely will attest. But, all that aside, what I am aiming for here is a concept of supporting the son of a friend of mine.

Dear Jason, I'm sure you will not remember me but I met you when I was stationed with your Mom at the Presidio and there is a slight chance that we also might have connected when you were in CA and your Mom lived in Clayton. Regardless, I am a retired Army Chaplain and have been inquiring about your station in life since the onset of this saga.

I can't tell you how sad I am that this has happened to you. It is weird to me beyond belief. Your Mom has explained it to me and to say that I am fluxmoxed is an understatement of many a day. My confusion is that something like this has happened to you in the 21st Century is almost beyond my comprehension. But, that being said, it surely appears there is not much to be done about the basics at this particular point. I guess my reference would be something akin to Iraq. I have thought that move was stupid from the beginning but now that we are there, have to figure it out: not much to do about the mistakes that got us into the quagmire. And, with you, not much to do about the choices that also got you where you are. I do want to be supportive and your Mom tells me that the best way is to write you. I can surely do that.

I am in San Francisco. My wife and I live on Anza Street which is right at the foot of USF (University of San Francisco) housing. We really didn't know what we were getting into when we moved here but it has worked out fine. Living around a group of college kids will keep you young but more importantly, keep you awake. They never sleep. USF is a good Jesuit school and by the looks of the students, they have a number of foreign students. We live in a bottom flat, above us are a group about your age who play video games all day. They actually work for a gaming magazine and are testing these games. What a profession! It is hard to know how many of them live in the apartment, they come and go: nice kids. And, then above them are two 7 foot basketball players and their manager. I guess the school wants to protect their investment and so they keep someone with these guys.

Jason, God bless you. I wish I could send you some books, etc.; I think that if I were to give you some suggestions, it might be to figure out how to make use of this time you're a guest of the State. I actually have had some experience in this area as a chaplain. My first duty assignment was as the Stockade Chaplain at Fort Bragg, NC. Of course, most of the population there were guilty of violating military rules, like AWOL, etc.; as civilians, they would not have to deal with such. And, one of my favorite programs on TV, hardcore to the max and may be unrealistic, OZ, on HBO. All that to say that I do think about it. What about education? Learning how to make movies, etc. etc.; of course, I don't have a clue as to your choices. I'll be checking in with your Mom to get some idea. However, will not be sharing with her our conversations or correspondence if we have any. God bless.