May the Fourth Be With You

I had a stress test today. A couple of weeks ago I had suspicious chest pains that might have been indigestion and therefore could also have been a heart attack. Just to be on the safe side, I was sent for an echo cardiogram and a stress test.

The first part of the procedure was the usual medical history run down. This bordered on comical as I, in Lieutenant Columbo fashion, kept remembering one more thing. For instance, I listed my surgeries, from tonsillectomy at age four to knee surgery a year ago."Oh yeah, and I had to c-sections," I added a little later. "One in 1996 and the other in 2000." I always have trouble remembering the birth of my children as major abdominal surgery.

It was also a bit sad.

"Now I'm going to ask you about your family: mother, father, sisters, and brothers," said the technician.

My mother died at age 72 of aggressive small cell lung cancer. My sister died of breast cancer at age 42. My father died of congestive heart failure after surviving a series of heart attacks and strokes. He was almost 85. Four years ago, on May the 4th, we held his memorial.

I picked the date, of course. I am, after all, the official family space cadet. As soon as I heard that it was one of the dates available at Wellington Terrace, the home my dad spent the last couple of years of his life, I new that it was the date. Soon, invitations went out with "May the fourth be with you."

Family, friends, people I had never met who knew my father decades ago, and residents of Wellington Terrace who had only known him for a year at best, mingled in the large room. My cousin Arlene supplied the munchies and I supplied the coffee. The kids and I put together shadow boxes representing different parts of my father's life, and I produced a slide show of photos to display on my laptop.

Not being religious, there was no service. Instead, people took turns raising a toast to Nelson Bruce, sharing something of the way he touched their lives.

My mother encouraged me to be a writer. It was something she always wanted to do. My sister pushed me into getting serious about getting published. Her message was that life was too short to keep waiting for a better time. My father didn't say much one way or another, but if he hadn't supported us while I took care of my sister and him (as well as my kids of course), I wouldn't have had the time or energy to write.

Neither my mother, sister, nor father got to see me become a published author, but each of them lives on in some way through my books. That May the fourth memorial, for instance, inspired Joe Garrett's wake in Deadly Legacy. However, you'll be relieved to hear, no one died when we toasted my dad.