Posts Tagged ‘Today’s Reality’

Happy New Year!

Wow, it’s been four and a half years since I posted here — where did all the time go?

There are a couple of reasons for my long absence:

The first reason is, I got busy with other activities both inside and outside of work. In March of 2011 I joined the local Civil Air Patrol (CAP) squadron, and I gradually became more and more involved in the group’s activities. I became the squadron’s Information Technology Officer (ITO), then its Public Affairs Officer (PAO), and a lot of my creative energy was spent building a new website (which you can visit at, writing press releases and articles, and eventually taking on a Facebook page as well. Two years later in 2013 I was asked to become the squadron’s commander, a role I didn’t think I was ready for but all of the other members have been extremely supportive and helpful, allowing me to take on the responsibility and not look too much like an ignorant fool in the process. It’s a 3-year commitment that I’ll be stepping down from later in 2016.

Work has taken some twists and turns as well. The client contract I’d been working on for 10 years was not renewed, and I was pulled into a new project to close it down. This took an amazing 2-1/2 years to complete, and really pushed my skills in designing and managing databases and performing complex data analysis to new levels, resulting in saving our company a lot of money. I was very proud to have been recognized for all the hard work, but saddened that many of the people I had worked with over the years were either sent off to new positions or laid off from the company. I did manage to hold on to a position with the tiny piece of service for the same client that we were still providing, but the type of work is something I hadn’t done in many years – production support. If you don’t know what that is, drop me a note and I’ll be glad to explain it to you…it’s not the most glamorous of jobs, but it pays the bills.

The second reason for being away so long is, I needed to take a step back. Anyone who reads my blog posts from July 2010 through July 2011 will see that I spent the entire year after Stephen’s death writing about him and little else. My writing seemed to swing back and forth from happiness to sorrow, and I’m sure many people were wondering at the time if I was going to spend the rest of my life writing and living that way (and for a time, I was asking myself that same question). So, I backed off most of my writing (except for a few smaller projects here and there) and spent a lot of time looking at what I was doing and where I was going. Some of the major things I focused on were:

  • Taking time to grieve. In spite of my resistance to it, the psychologists were right: I needed time to grieve over Stephen’s death. Time that was spent in the ways I felt they needed to be spent, which might have been different from the way some people might have expected.
  • Establishing a “new normal.” What does that mean? It means adjusting to all the changes that came about because Stephen was no longer alive. What would my relationships be like with family, friends, and co-workers? What would I say to people who ask to “hear the story” about his accident? How would I respond when someone who knew him wanted to talk about their memories? And most of all, what would I need to do in order to get through the daily routine of working, eating, sleeping, and just being alive?
  • Securing Stephen’s legacy. He touched so many lives that it didn’t seem right to let his memory fade away after his friends and classmates moved on. So, following that first year after his death, I worked to ensure the honors established by everyone else would continue going forward. Each year since then I’ve presented both the “Super Steve” award at the year-end band banquet and the Stephen Bernier Memorial Scholarship during Senior Awards night, and I’ll continue to do both for as long as I’m invited. And at last year’s banquet I presented a display case filled with memorabilia including his trumpet, a project that was almost three years in the making; this case is now on display at the high school where students from now on can see it, learn about him, and ask questions.
  • Finding a new direction and purpose. The day Stephen died, a part of me died inside as well. The changes were enormous: the road my life had been following up to that time wasn’t working any more, and the goals and dreams I once had didn’t fit in with the new world laid out in front of me… so trying to continue down that path was pointless. I started searching for new goals and reaching for new dreams, which in part led me to volunteer work with CAP and the local Amateur Radio community (I’ll talk more about both of those in future posts).

But even with all that, I still felt something missing. My writing… somehow I needed to get back into my writing. There are still plenty of stories floating around in my head, ideas waiting to be shared with the world (or maybe just a few close friends). And so I decided to start up this blog once again. I don’t know how often I’ll be posting just yet, but at least I’ll be writing.

Wish me luck!

This is the day I said goodbye
This is the day you reached out to fly;
This is the day I let go of your hand
This is the day you alone would stand.

This is the day I wanted to weep
This is the day you were laid down to sleep;
This is the day I felt ever so numb
This is the day you showed me how to be strong.

This is the day I will never forget
This is the day you taught me to feel no regret;
This is the day I felt so much love
This is the day you shined down from above.

This is the day I said goodbye.


An Unexpected Homecoming

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

On the Monday before Christmas we received a phone call from our daughter Michelle, who has been living in San Antonio with her boyfriend and his mother for almost a year. My wife talked with her for a while, as they usually do, and came to me after she hung up the phone.

“She said he’s broken up with her, and she wanted to know if she could move back home,” my wife said.

“That was sudden,” I replied. “When was she planning to come up here?”

“They want her out of the apartment before Christmas,” she said. “And with everything she’s got down there, it’ll take the truck to move it all here.”

“The truck” referred to my 14-year-old Ford F-250 diesel pickup with just over 200,000 miles on it. That is a lot of miles, but in the diesel world it represents about half of the engine’s useful life; it is not uncommon for these trucks to run up to half a million miles before they finally bite the dust. It is not pretty to look at, but I did not buy it for its looks; it was that engine that attracted me to it in the first place.

“That’s about a six hour drive each way. Are you up to riding in the truck that long?” I asked. San Antonio is approximately 350 miles from our home.

“I guess I’ll have to be,” was the answer.

“All right, find out when she will be packed and we’ll go from there. It’s been a long time since I filled up both of the truck’s fuel tanks.”

A couple of phone calls later, we had most of the arrangements worked out. She would be ready to go on Thursday the 23rd. I came up with an aggressive game plan: we would get up at 4am and be out the door by 6, arrive in San Antonio around lunchtime, load her stuff, eat lunch, and drive home, hopefully getting back in time for a late dinner.

The next two days were spent hurriedly finishing up our Christmas shopping. Fortunately, we had already done all of our shopping for Michelle, and had even shipped her presents to her the Friday before. She had been told not to open the shipping box until Christmas Day; now, in an ironic twist, the box would be coming back to our house to be opened.

Thursday, 4am. My wife and I struggled to get out of bed, drag ourselves into the shower, get dressed, and grab a bite to eat before heading out the door. A stop at a gas station to top off the tanks, and we were on our way. The drive down was somewhat uneventful; the most excitement came while we were going through Austin, the state capitol. The traffic there reminded me very much of downtown Atlanta when we used to live in Georgia: everyone running flat out, dodging and weaving their way like they were in a NASCAR race. The one benefit from that was it did not take us very long to drive through the city.

We finally arrived in San Antonio, pretty close to the time I had envisioned. Following the directions we had mapped out the day before, we found our way to the street where the apartment complex was located, and with Michelle helping on the other end of my cell phone we made it to the entrance gates. We pulled up in front of the apartment building and saw our daughter, standing alone. After a quick greeting and hugs all around, we went inside the apartment. I met her now ex-boyfriend and his mother for the first (and probably only) time, and much to my relief everyone was quite civil about the situation. They helped with loading her things into the truck, then after a round of goodbyes we left.

After stopping for lunch, we got back out on the highway and retraced our route to go home. Unfortunately, the trip back was more eventful than the trip out. There were traffic jams in two different cities, each taking an hour or so to get through; and, the truck was also losing antifreeze somehow, taking almost two extra gallons of it to get home (I learned later the heater core had a split in it). Thanks to the delays, it was almost 9pm when we finally arrived at the house. We unloaded Michelle’s things and piled them into her bedroom, fixed ourselves something to eat, then sat down to relax. The cost for spending 15 hours on the road? Aside from frazzled nerves all around, it took 35 gallons of fuel, two gallons of antifreeze, lunch and snacks.

But, our daughter was back in our home, safe and sound. We do not know how long she will be staying with us; it could be weeks, months, or even longer. One thing I do know: she has been missed by all of us.

Welcome home, Michelle.


Four Weeks And Forever Counting

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Yesterday marked four weeks since my son passed away. It’s difficult to comprehend so much time has already gone by, but indeed it has. I returned to work full-time two weeks ago, and have been running through a fairly normal schedule of activities; my managers, however, appear to have been giving me some leeway and not pressuring me for a lot of things. I am grateful for their concern and compassion.

The last condolence cards I’ve seen came in last week, and my wife and I have begun sending out thank-you notes. There were about 50 different cards and letters to come in, some with very touching messages that made us both tear up as we read them. Two of them were from parents who had also lost teenage sons, one of those being the first to drown in the same lake. Others were from people we have never met, but who heard the news and reached out to offer their hearts and to share our grief.

During these weeks, there hasn’t been a single waking minute in which I haven’t thought about my son. I think about all the things we did together, and all the things I wished we had done; sometimes, it feels like there are more sad memories than happy ones. As I wander through my thoughts, I wonder if he ever realized how proud I was of him and all of his accomplishments… if he did, he surely didn’t let on that he knew. He was always pushing himself to do better at everything, whether it was playing his trumpet, assembling a project for school, or working with his 4-H goats. He had worked very hard to become a section leader in the school band, and after he was selected he still didn’t let up. He even pushed himself to organize the pizza party at the lake that fateful day, settling for nothing less than putting it all together by himself.

He had set some very lofty goals for himself – he wanted to be class valedictorian; he planned to go to an Ivy League school; and he wanted to work in government somewhere, perhaps even serving in an elected office one day. Although we will never truly know, I am quite certain he would have done well in anything he had set his mind to do.

The weeks will continue to pass, and with each we will move a little further down the road. The pain we feel today will slowly fade with the passage of time, but the thoughts and memories will never end.


Sibling Parity, Final Take

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

I have related in several earlier postings the constant back-and-forth competition between my two sons and their computers. The latest round in the battle occurred around Memorial Day, when I was finally able to purchase the pieces I needed to make the older son’s machine as capable of playing games as the younger son’s. Both of the boys were thrilled to be able to play games equally well, and at long last I had achieved balance in the universe.

Little did I know it would be the last competition between them.

Two weeks later, on June 15th, my older son was hosting a party for his marching band section at a local lake. Without going through a lot of detail (I will do that in the future), there was an accident on the lake and he drowned. The funeral was held four days later, with many of his friends and classmates and their families attending.

It has been three weeks since my son’s death, and even though his younger brother is in the house all day long it still feels eerily quiet. He has been spending these hot summer days alternating between watching TV shows and spending time on his computer. He hasn’t been playing his games as much, opting instead to read online or listen to music…the same music my older son used to play on his computer and MP3 player. He doesn’t talk about his brother very much, mostly when my wife or I mention him in conversation. He reminds me a lot of how I used to be when I was younger…not letting on about how much I was hurting inside. I wish I could get him to talk about it more, but it’s difficult to do when you’re also trying to come to terms with the same loss.

Some of my older son’s friends and classmates have tried reaching out to him, both by phone and online through Facebook, and he seems to be responding to them; perhaps I can try getting them to spend more time with him and maybe it will help him open up more. I plan to contact a couple of their parents to see if they can help out as well.

Unfortunately, even with all of their help I will never be able to restore that delicate balance ever again.


A Day At The Zoo

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Last Sunday afternoon, my wife and I did something we haven’t done in several years – we went to the zoo.

The city of Gainesville, Texas is home to the Frank Buck Zoo, a small facility next door to a large city park just south of the city center. It is named after Frank Buck, a Gainesville native who specialized in collecting wild animals from Africa and putting them on display in zoos and in his own traveling stage show. His catchphrase was “bring ‘em back alive”, which at the time was in sharp contrast to the usual practice of Westerners traveling on safari and killing what they hunted to decorate their walls back home.

Once again, we grabbed my cameras to take a few pictures – my wife with the digital, and me with my trusty 35mm. We entered the park and were greeted by a huge carving depicting several of the animals species that are on display.

Following the carving was the first enclosure, which housed … wait for it … pink flamingoes!

The zoo has changed dramatically since we first visited it almost ten years ago. Back then admission was free and the number of animals on display was very small, consisting mostly of species native to the region such as owls, coyotes, bison, raccoons, roadrunners (yes, they really do exist), and bears. There was a petting area for the kids to visit and interact with goats, sheep, cows, and pigs, as well as a few exotics such as tamarinds and lemurs.

Since then the park has grown to several times its old size, charges a modest admission fee, and includes a large African Savannah enclosure housing zebras, antelopes, ostriches, and the showpiece of the park, a pair of giraffes.

A large elevated walkway was constructed across the savannah partly to give visitors a bird’s eye view of the animals in the enclosure, and partly to allow the giraffes to move from one side to the other without too much difficulty.

The zebras had a young foal scampering about with them.

The giraffes and ostriches, meanwhile, were taking advantage of the tall shaded feeding station to get out of the sun, which made the park extremely hot that afternoon.

Next door to the African exhibit was a small area representing Australia and housing their most famous native species, the red kangaroo. The zebras weren’t the only ones who had a new baby this spring; I caught a view of a female ‘roo with a joey in her pouch.

As I mentioned earlier, it was a very hot day. When we finished our tour and returned to the entrance, my wife couldn’t resist stopping in the gift shop and picking up an ice cream bar.

All in all, it was a very pleasant – if hot – day to go to the zoo. I’m not sure when we might return, and there’s no telling what will change between now and then!


Feelings Of Loss

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

We’ve always had dogs as a part of our family. My wife had a small house dog when we were first married, and over the years we’ve had several others come in an go out of our lives. Earlier this spring, we were compelled to send all of our Great Pyrenees dogs away to other homes (one of them had attacked a neighbor’s dog and almost ripped its ear off; the choices we had were to restrain our dogs or send them away, and anyone who has owned a Pyr will tell you that restraining them is almost impossible). That left us with our one house dog, a 9-year-old blue merle collie named Duke. We got him as a puppy the summer after we moved from Georgia to Texas, and unlike most collies he was not quite the brightest star in the sky. We knew he wasn’t the pick of the litter, but he was loved and accepted by all of us just the same.

Almost two weeks ago, Duke went to the vet for his monthly allergy shot (this dog has had a problem with allergies that’s been so bad he’d scratch and chew all the hair off his backside). He seemed okay after the shot, but during the following week he started having problems, first with eating and then with drinking water. He would eat his food as always, but sometimes it didn’t stay down for very long and next thing we knew we were cleaning up a mess somewhere in the house (usually on one of our carpets). The vet offered the suggestion that he was dealing with a stomach bug of some type, and to give him Kaopectate to settle his stomach and help him keep his food down. That didn’t work, and the random messes continued. Then this past Monday we noticed he wasn’t drinking as much water as usual (normally he’d go through as much as a half gallon at a time). By Tuesday morning he had stopped drinking and eating altogether, and also didn’t want to get up and walk around, even to go outside (which he has always loved to do).

My wife took Duke back to the vet that morning and they did some blood work. The news wasn’t good – his kidneys were failing. They pushed IV fluids into him for most of the day to see if it would help, but he didn’t seem to be improving. They kept him overnight and told us to check back in the morning. After a fitful night for us, we called the next morning and he was still no better. A couple of hours later, we got the news we had been dreading – Duke had died.

My wife was in tears, and I was simply stunned. He had gone downhill so quickly…just 11 days after a routine visit and all was well, and now he was dead. The vet asked us what we wanted to do with the body. I’m usually able to step in and deal with situations like this, having had other animals that have died on our ranch over the years, but this is one time I simply couldn’t do it…I couldn’t muster the courage within myself to go there and bring his cold and lifeless body back to bury him. We took the vet’s suggestion and had them cremate him. At least that way, we could remember him as he was and not as he had become.

My thoughts turned to our children; they had literally grown up together with Duke. I sent a text message to our daughter in San Antonio to break the news to her, and we told the boys when they got home from school. We were all hurting from the loss, but I surmised that it would hit the two older children harder because they had been able to play and spend more time with him than their younger brother had (Duke also liked to sleep in our daughter’s bedroom at night, and we liked to say that he was “her” dog). My wife talked about it over the phone with our daughter, the first time either of us had heard from her in several weeks; meanwhile, our older son asked about the body, and I explained what the vet was doing with it. I think he was somewhat disappointed that we weren’t going to bury him ourselves, and equally bummed out because Duke was “the last dog”.

As for our youngest son, he was generally quiet about the whole situation; much like me at that age, he looks at the world with an analytical eye and tends to keep his emotions to himself. His heart seems to be more attuned to the great cycle of life as well, possibly from having tried to maintain an aquarium in his room for several years and experiencing a sometimes regular loss of fish in the process.

It’s been a couple of days since this tragic event, and the pain is still very fresh on our minds. My wife and I are trying to look ahead through the pain and decide whether or not to get another dog. If we do, it would most likely be an adult so it can get out and play with the boys right away, rather than a puppy they would have to wait on to grow up (after all, our older son will be with us for only two more years before he heads off to college). I think we will, but it’s still too early to make that sort of decision. We need some time to mourn, and to heal a little, before we take that next step. Hopefully the long Memorial Day weekend ahead will give that process a chance to start rolling.

Needless to say, this isn’t the best way to end a week. Rest in peace, Duke.


Musical Children

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Our local middle school bands held their Spring Concert this evening. It was a great show, filled with wonderful music and performances by a lot of really talented kids.

I was blessed to be given three musically gifted children. All of them have played in the school bands – my daughter on the clarinet, my older son on the trumpet, and my younger son on the saxophone. They have all done very well; the two older ones stepped into positions as section leaders in the high school marching band, while the youngest is first chair in the middle school’s top band, the Wind Ensemble (if you or your child have been in band, you’ll understand everything I just said; if not, all you have to really understand is that it’s all good news). My wife and I have received many glowing reports from the band directors over the years, and each of our kids has shown improved skills with each passing year (my daughter even started playing in her college band, but dropped out due to her class workload).

Where did all this musical talent come from? It certainly wasn’t from me; I can’t play any instrument more complicated than a triangle, and it’s highly likely I wouldn’t even get that right. I’m sure it all came from my wife; she played the clarinet in her school band. In fact, she still had her old clarinets when our daughter went into band; so, getting her started was pretty much a no-brainer…we took one of the horns down to the local music shop for a quick checkup, and she was all set. It was a little more difficult to get the boys started on their instruments; we got the trumpet on the rent-to-buy plan, and found a used saxophone in a local pawn shop (as it turned out, the salesman happened to have played in the same school band, and he helped with picking out the right one for my son to use).

Not a day seems to go by in my house without some sort of music playing, whether it’s selections from an online band music library, to someone practicing their music pieces, to listening to music and trying to pick out the instruments used. Sometimes my older son will play the same piece of music over and over again for seemingly hours at a time, to the point when it becomes obnoxious to my ears. But, I let him continue; that’s his way of learning right now – simple repetition – and I’m sure it will change as he grows older.

Will any of them continue to play after they leave school? That’s a tough question to answer. When my daughter left school earlier this year, her clarinet was among the things she sent home. Both of the boys are very enthusiastic about playing, so it’s possible one or both of them may continue. I hope they will consider it, if for nothing more than their own personal benefit, like having a hobby. Perhaps in doing so they can bring out more of their creative abilities, which is something I am just now re-learning how to do with the help of several friends in our writer’s group (follow the “Shared Words” link on this blog to visit our group and read some of our writings).

One thing is certain: my house will be a lot quieter once my children have all moved on. I might have to get out my triangle and start practicing again…


Sibling Parity, Take Three

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

In the great rush of things that usually comprises my Mondays, I further continued the saga of my sons’ computers, which started back in March. As you may recall, there has been spirited rounds of “one upmanship” between the two of them over who has the most capable computer. First it was a shared machine, then I built up a computer for the younger son, and finally I tried to upgrade the older son’s machine yet again but it didn’t work out. It seemed we had reached an impasse, and that perhaps everyone would be satisfied at least by all the work I had done to make things even between them.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t satisfied, and looked for a better solution. Without going through a lot of details, three weeks ago my wife and I worked out a way to purchase a newer machine that would give our older son more capabilities, and once again it appeared that the universe was in balance.

But it was not to be.

Both of my sons know their way around computers pretty well, but the younger one is more tech-savvy. He has been fascinated with the newer Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems; his machine has been running the older Windows XP, which is very solid and dependable. When the older son’s newer machine came in, it had Win 7 on it…and by now I’m sure you the reader can see where this story is going. The younger son checked his machine and found it was capable of running Vista, and petitioned me to upgrade it with a copy I had available after upgrading my own machine from Vista to Win 7 earlier this year (thanks to a gift from my daughter). After several requests, I relented on Sunday afternoon and agreed to upgrade it.

I wish I hadn’t been so easy to convince.

Upgrading from XP to Vista is not for the faint-hearted. My son understood the risks and still wanted to do it anyway. So, I made him back up all of his files, and when he was satisfied that he had everything he needed I began the upgrade process. Two hours later, it appeared to have finished successfully, but there were a lot of adjustments to be made and well over 100 updates to be added. I worked on those long into Sunday night, then took a break to sleep and started on them again early this morning.

Because today was also a work day for me, I spent a lot of time shuttling back and forth between my office work and his machine, making changes and downloading updates. By 2pm, it appeared to finally be ready for him to use. I decided to leave it running to “burn in” a little, and when he got home from school at 4:30 he jumped on it and start installing all of his software. By his bedtime, it appeared he had most of his programs reinstalled, with nary a whimper or complaint.

Have I finally achieved a balance between these two? Maybe.

I’m certainly not holding my breath for it.


A Thought For The Weekend

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Tomorrow's Dreams, Yesterday's Memories

If you were looking for something long and detailed today, I apologize for letting you down. It was a very quiet day, a fitting end to an otherwise noisy week filled with work and family. The relative peacefulness allowed me to reflect on other things, in particular the following thought I had written down several months ago which I would like to share with you:

“Today is the tomorrow of yesterday, and it is the yesterday of tomorrow. Make the most of each today, for it is the only time when tomorrow’s dreams can come true and yesterday’s memories can be made.”

I will explain how I came up with that thought sometime in the future. In the meantime, have a great weekend!