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The Tragedy That Struck My Team That Year Didn’t Spare Me

December 13, 2013

Lloyd V Bliss 1931-2009

We’d never been close. It’s hard when you meet your father at 11, except he’s not your father, he’s just your mom’s husband. And he’s the fifth father-figure in those 11 short years. And a few years go by and you long for a “normal family.” But, you don’t understand that no one has a normal family, each just has their own form of dysfunction. Some have learned to cope, others never will. Finally, at 14 he adopted me. I took the name Bliss, and realized that a shared name does little to bridge a relationship gap.

I knew he loved me in the ways that he could. And I survived my childhood. I got a call from my brother who lives in Olympia, Washington, not far from my parents.

Hey, Dad’s in Denver.

I thought he was too sick to travel?

Yeah, well apparently he was. He’s in a hospital there. They aren’t sure when he’ll be able to travel. . .if ever.

How’s mom doing?

About like you’d expect.

One of us needs to go.

Yeah, I know.

I’m close. Salt Lake’s only a few hundred miles. You’d have to fly. I’ll go.


Now to convince my mother. My relationship had been strained with my dad, but always pretty good with mom.

Hey Mom. I’m coming to Denver.

Oh, you don’t need to do that. We’ll probably only be here another couple of days.

Well, that will work out well since I have to be back at work on Tuesday. I’ll see you on Saturday.

You really don’t . . . okay.

And off I went. Driving my Suburban through the Rockies. I stopped for the night in a rest stop. I just climbed in the back and pulled a blanket over me.

My dad hated to depend on anyone for anything other than my mother. I could see it was tearing him up to be so dependent on others. We danced a dance that we’d practiced since before I was a teenager. When he stumbled back, I stepped up. When he stepped forward on his own, I stepped back, always close enough for support, but back enough to allow him to do as much for himself as he could. When I was a kid, he provided the support. Now it was my turn to return the favor.

I was struck by how weak and old and tired he looked. He’d had a hard life.

His condition stabilized enough for him to get on a plane on Sunday. We had a nice leasurely lunch. Not realizing until about five minutes before it was too late that mom had never set her watch to local time, and she’d packed dad’s watch away. He thought that was hilarious. After all that, they nearly missed the plane. I watched the airport personal maneuver the wheelchair they’d secured for him to the door of the jetway. Without a backward glance he took my mother’s arm and made his way down to the plane.

It was the last time I ever saw him.

He went straight from the plane to a hospital room. For two weeks the doctors battled to stabilize his vital signs. They finally told my mother there was nothing else they could do.

Rodney, do you want to come and say goodbye?

How long does he have?

The doctors don’t know. They’ve got him on a morphine drip for the pain. Could be a day could be a week. Not more than a couple weeks.

I said my goodbyes, Mom. I’ll be there . . .for . . .after.

My brother was there at the end. Dad had been unresponsive. The doctors expected him to pass peacefully in his sleep. Unexpectedly he opened his eyes and asked for a glass of water. My brother helped him with it and cautioned him to be careful not to spill or he’d ruin his looks. Dad looked up at him.

Yeah, I am a handsome devil.

And with that he closed his eyes and went back to sleep. He never woke up again.

My team had suffered through tragedy and near tragedy the entire year. A team member nearly died in a fall from a ladder. Another injured himself falling from a hayloft. Another’s 3 year old son was diagnosed with leukemia. Another had his son fall and break his arm, and also lost his brother to brain cancer, and yet another lost his step father.

I had tried to do everything I could as the manager to provide comfort and accommodations for my team members as they struggled with personal issues. And now, it was their turn. I drove the 1000 miles home for the funeral. I delivered his life sketch. I did a lot of writing. It’s how writers work through our grief and our issues.

I appreciate those of you, the readers who’ve stayed with me through this week as I talked about some of the challenges that my team went through. It’s been about five years since all this happened. We’ve all moved on. Mark still doesn’t climb more than a single step up a ladder. Jared bought a hay hook and uses that when throwing hay out of the loft. Ammon’s son’s leukemia responded to treatment and is in remission. And my mother remarried.

I’ve had occasion to talk to my former coworkers about that year. Team unity is an elusive but vital characteristic to successful teams. You want your team to care about each other on a personal level. You want them to be willing to invest in each other’s success. That year of challenges pulled the team together in a way that no amount of R.O.P.E.S courses, or seminars, or “team building” exercises ever could. Not that there isn’t a place for those activities. There absolutely is. But, when a team has literally suffered together, born one another’s sorrows, they either disband, because the stress is too much, or they become bound together stronger. Our team had been through hell together. We came out stronger for it.

This is the fifth in a five part series on the most snake bit team I’ve ever been a member of. I’m proud to call each of these men my friend, even years later.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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