Grandpa Wayne's Eulogy

 [My grandfather passed away recently and the folllowing is what I wrote and read at his memorial service, Sunday, July 16, 2017]

Harold Wayne DeMoss was a man of duty, excellence, and integrity. He was born in 1933 on Halloween, October 31, to Lawrence and Millie Stanton DeMoss in Walla Walla, Washington. Over his 83 years of life, he served his country, community, and family with distinction and honor. Wayne (as he was known by his family and friends) died in Spokane, Washington on June 13, 2017 at the conclusion of chronic medical challenges.

A lifelong citizen of Walla Walla, Wayne grew up as a hard working child of hard working parents. His family owned a grocery store located on 2nd Avenue in Walla Walla known as DeMoss Grocery. Wayne grew up living in an apartment “in the back” of the store and learned to work hard at an early age. By the time he was attending Walla Walla High School in the early 1950s, he not only worked for his parents in the family store, he had also taken a job at Young’s Dairy driving milk truck (also a family business, owned by his uncle).

It was only prospect of serving his country in wartime that pulled Wayne from his work. Soon after graduating from Wa-Hi in the Class of 1952, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, in 1953. This, he chose, instead of likely being drafted into the Army. Wayne served as a marine for 3 years, all on the tail end of the Korean War. At boot camp in North Carolina, a drill sergeant questioned Wayne’s platoon, “Who here knows how to type?” Wayne was an excellent typist and skilled at drawing. He raised his hand. That action proved to be something like volunteering. Instead of going overseas for the war with half of his platoon, Wayne joined the other half in California. He would spend his entire military career at Camp Pendleton, working in a high-ranking officer’s office. A poem Wayne wrote and sent home to his mother during this time, is printed as an insert in your program, just as it appeared in its original form. In 1956, Wayne was honorably discharged with a rank of sergeant.

While still in military service in 1954, Wayne married his first wife Sherril Downing. They welcomed his first three children into the world: Kevin, Steven, and Mitzi.They divorced in 1962. Couple years later, in 1964, he married Dorothy Saxby, the woman who would become his wife of 53 years. Dorothy too had been previously married and brought with her four young children into the relationship: Shirley (10), Sheryl (9), Sharlene (8), and Scott (6). Wayne quickly took to the role of step-dad and regarded the four as his own.

Back home in Walla Walla after serving as a Marine, Wayne took to work once again at Young’s Dairy. This career path shortly transitioned to a long-term commitment of selling and delivering food in the Walla Walla Valley for “Walla Walla Produce. Many of his family and friends remember him reporting inside knowledge about the purchasing habits of a variety of area restaurants. In particular, he found it amusing to joke about how certain eating establishments, although they had chicken on the menu, only ever had “the largest possible turkeys” delivered. I, for one, have shared a great many meals of pineapple turkey with my grandfather. :)  After more than 20 years of early mornings (work began at 3am) in that job with Walla Walla Produce, Wayne jumped on the opportunity to purchase his own personally owned retail milk route from a friend, Bob Swenson, who was retiring. Before finally retiring himself due to health challenges, Wayne delivered milk on own route for about five years.

Although he worked very hard, Wayne played hard as well. Before purchasing the property he and Dorothy still own on Priest Lake in Northern Idaho, the family had made it a habit, beginning in the late 1960s, of spending up to two weeks per summer camping on the sandy shores of the Lake. Their forays began at the state campground known as “Indian Creek.” But after purchasing a boat, the family transitioned to more remote camping on one of Priest Lake’s large islands. Groups of up to 100 people from the Walla Walla Valley congregated for these camping escapades on the islands year after year. My cousins and I, our parents, and even our extended families, have strong memories and many emotional ties to that part of the world, in part because of the tradition of play Wayne helped prioritize, and the sacrifice of time and money that Wayne made to make it possible.  Although the future of the cabin, situated adjacent to 8-mile island, is now in some doubt, none of us will forget the formative experiences we all had at “the lake” — and I’m sure many of us will continue the tradition for future generations.

Sometimes people slip into paid work that represents an area of personal passion for them. Other times, as was the case for Wayne, work was a means to pursue his true interests. As an adolescent and young man, Wayne developed an interest in drawing, and even a fleeting desire to pursue architecture. His commitment to military service precluded that education course but he didn’t let his duty keep him from stretching this muscle. When, in 1984, he and Dorothy purchased a small rustic cabin on the shores of Priest Lake in northern Idaho, Wayne began carefully drafting plans to add a second story to the structure. Although it began as a casual creative outlet and fanciful dreaming, it would prove to become reality. When the opportunity presented itself, Wayne’s plans to make the space more accommodating for his growing family were shortly realized when he and Dorothy hired builders to follow his lead in the renovation. Wayne’s craftsmanship and attention to detail came into focus again and again during that process as he hand paneled the interior of the entire addition with beautiful knotty pine.

Because his delivery work began so early in the day, Wayne was off work early enough in the day to frequently catch a round of golf with friends at Walla Walla Veteran’s Memorial Golf Course, where he had his own garage and golf cart parked inside. A lefty, Wayne developed his natural talent for the game to match all his other endeavors: nothing short of excellence. In fact, Wayne scored at least one hole-in-one during his golfing career. All the way to the very end of his life, he remained a fan of the game, following the professional tour almost religiously — and this with a great deal of insight (and opinion) on the skills and strategy of his favorite golfers. I wasn’t old enough to get to enjoy this passed-time with my grandpa — at about the time I took it up, in the early 1990’s, he was in the process of shutting it down. But he was always more than willing to give advice, and ask me about my sketchy game. It was one of several areas we connected over during his life.

In retirement, Wayne took up quite a number of other hobbies in addition to golf. And like most things he did in life, he poured himself into becoming his absolute best. As a woodworker in his basement shop, Wayne remodeled he and Dorothy’s kitchen, outfitting it with new cabinets. He crafted wheelbarrows for every member of his family, designed funny signs for his home and cabin, built dozens of Adirondack chairs (most of which he sold on the side), squirrel feeders, and other furniture and Krick Knacks. When I was in High School, he and I built a wall clock together for a class project — and later for a wall in my mother’s house. I’m certain he did the same for several of my cousins. Just over a decade later, he spent several years learning how to build model airplanes. With great care, patience, and precision, he spent many hours crafting and painting them; always excited to show visitors his latest project. In every case when it came to Wayne’s hobbies, it was health challenges and limitations that led him to hang it up.

No description of Wayne’s life would be complete without mentioning his animals. I know my mom had a little chihuahua-mix dog named BigBoy in the early 1970s. This is an animal that I really can’t imagine Wayne would claim. A second dog is one I actually have memory of from early childhood - “Midge” was a small, pig-like creature that was undyingly beloved by her family - but perhaps yet again, not so much by Wayne. “Heidi” was a miniature doberman pincher that Wayne loved, and who loved Wayne — and I’m not sure anyone else. I remember long caravan travels up to the lake in my grandparent’s red Chevy Suburban; wherein Heidi was granted a custom-made bed that fit snugly in the vehicle’s center console. Later in life, “Cocoa” came along. She was a Siberian Husky, who always had more energy than either of my grandparents, or honestly than anyone else. Wayne loved Cocoa, despite her faults.

As I think about the influence my grandpa DeMoss had on my life, I think about the sheer time and dedication he had, looking out for not only me, but my cousins as well. For years, I remember walking to my grandparents’ house after school let out. Depending on the day or the given year, upwards of 6 or 7 of my cousins would descend on the joint, ransack the cereal cupboard, drop their supplies and baggage all over the house, and blare obnoxious early 90s kids’ television for hours on end. Because his work started so early, he was there to hang out with us in the afternoons. I can scarcely imagine what it’d be like to put in a full-day’s work only to have a clan of rambunctious children descend on my peace and quiet. His quiet dedication in the chaos of our family was a gift.

As a freshman in High School, my grandpa Wayne drove me across town for football practice every single afternoon for three months. He drug me to appointments, fixed stuff when I broke it, and cracked the whip when I was out of control. He more than once commissioned me and my cousins to fill up the basement with cords of firewood passed down to him to stack through a hand crafted wood chute installed in the window. To this day, I see in myself the same unbridled perfectionism he routinely demonstrated while working away in his wood-shop on long school-day afternoons. I can’t help but think of my grandpa Wayne when I hit my head on the cabinet door and mutter at the idiot who built it in such a way.

When I was in college, I sat at my grandparents dinner table once a week - and often more - where we talked about golf, his dogs, school, and the ancient past of Walla Walla. Once Paige and I married, the two of them hit it off talking real estate and architecture. No matter the subject over that table, Wayne could be coaxed to give his opinion. As a great grandfather, he always paid attention to my boys, gave them high fives, teased them, hugged them, welcomed them into his home, and treated them kindly. Toward the end of his life, in pain because of a variety of medical challenges, frustrated at his loss of mobility and function, he could come off as gruff. But even in that state, he still found time and energy for these happy greetings with my sons.

The last day I saw him was a Tuesday in June, he was in the hospital in ICU—but was still alert and oriented. No one anticipated he’d pass away later that evening. Although he was in rough shape, the prognosis seemed to be that he’d be back to normal after some time in rehab. When I left the room after visiting with him for a half hour or so, I told him I’d be back the following day to check in again. “I know you don’t feel well,” I said nodding to his impressive mutton-chop sideburns, “but you look great.” He smiled, and I went back to the lobby to join my 6-year-old son. In the weeks since that day, I’ve had the recurring feeling of regret, for not taking more time, for not asking more questions, for not stopping by my grandparents house for more conversations. This is part of the nature of loss I have come to believe—when those we love die, we never had enough of them. We long for more time. We wish we had taken one last opportunity.

I didn’t know my grandpa DeMoss as well as some - and in some ways, he might’ve been difficult to know, like any American male from his generation. And yet, some things about him strike me as quite clear.  I define integrity as “doing what you said you’d do” - or - “doing what you believe should be done, even if you don’t feel like doing it”. And when I think about my grandpa Wayne, I think of a man who lived with this quality. While we all inherit a great myriad of habits and patterns from our family systems, my hope is that, from grandpa Wayne, I inherit this honorable gift.


To Sleeve (or Not to Sleeve) Series - #9, Obesity as a Disease (or, Why I gained my weight, Part 2)

(This is part of a series I posted on my other (formerly anonymous) blog, An index of all posts in this series is located at the bottom of this article.)


As of the spring of 2013, obesity is a disease. So says the American Medical Association. This article from the NY Times looks at the medical and political ramifications brought about by the decision. The authors of the AMA report are quoted as saying:
“The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggesting that lung cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes,”
It apparently was a pretty hotly contested issue — at least among the sub-committee that prepared a preliminary report for the larger body that would vote the issue. That report recommended NOT changing consensus on obesity. But by the time it came to the floor for vote by the AMA at large, the concept passed with overwhelming support.

Now — one could discuss for a long time the finer points of this decision: its implications (articles published at the time by both the Atlantic and Forbes dig especially into the finances), whether or not it even makes philosophical sense, etc. But what most interests me about it has to do with what the AMA’s decision does to me personally — in terms of how I understand myself, how I feel about my weight, and my perspective on the future. To put it bluntly, I think the AMA’s decision has the capacity to change how we perceive personal responsibility when it comes to obesity.

What scientists appear to have discovered about obesity (particularly over the past few years) is that it is brought about through complex set of interactions among several bodily systems. Many years ago (and perhaps still amongst most individuals who either [a] aren’t overweight themselves or [b] haven’t read the relevant material) the dominant belief was that excess weight gain was nothing more than the result of ‘energy-in’ ‘energy-out’ and therefore obesity is caused by laziness, poor self control, gluttony, or stupidity. However, what we have come to know is that in reality, many different factors play off one another to impact that simple ‘energy-in, energy-out’ dynamic in our bodies.

Numerous studies have shown: Inherited genes from our parents impact the likelihood of us becoming overweight as children and adults — up to even a 25% increase. So not only did my family culture influence my patterns of eating as a child and young adult – it also gave me a body, DNA, that has a proclivity to push me to eat more and grow more.

Excess weight is heavily impacted by individual metabolism. That is, excess weight both influences our metabolism just as metabolism greatly impacts weight. It is a cyclical. As an overweight person loses weight, his/her body responds by slowing metabolism and becoming far more efficient in operation. Our bodies are designed to do this. Conserve in times of famine and store in times of excess. Unfortunately, we live in an environment of excess — and our bodies respond accordingly: store and prepare.  A person who is already overweight – but who is actively losing weight – will experience a slower metabolism as a response to his/her losses, making additional weight loss increasingly difficult. Some people (including my primary physician) talk about a “set-point” for weight that our bodies work incredibly hard at staying near.  Metabolism helps keep us at or near that point. Unfortunately (again), my set point appears to be around 300 pounds right now (and rising).

A key controller in this metabolism cycle are hormones. Medical scientists have just recently begun exploring how our brains and guts are connected (with many implications beyond weight) — but a well known hormone is called Ghrelin. This chemical is secreted by the stomach into the blood stream and it impacts our brains — telling it that we need to eat — it’s presence creates drive and it’s absence creates satiety. So in super general terms, the empty stomach releases the hormone to get it’s body eating — and it withholds the hormone when full. As a part of the metabolic cycle, when a person loses weight his/her ghrelin increases to ever higher levels — begging him/her to eat. Some studies have shown that an overweight person who is down a few pounds will have far higher Ghrelin levels than a person with normal weight. In short, it’s really really hard for an overweight person to lose weight and keep it off — our body does almost all it can to keep us from it.

As David Kessler wrote in his book, “The End of Overeating” –– refined sugar (especially) affects our brain much the same way as other addictive substances and activities (heroin, nicotine, alcohol, sex, etc.) Not only does an overweight person’s body work against him/her to achieve a healthy weight — his/her brain does as well! Like an junkie on a quest for the next hit, overweight people are compelled to find and eat that food that they have learned to use for a dopamine spike. Brains are plastic as we’ve been discovering — incredibly adept at changing and adapting. Overweight people (this one included) have changed their brain chemistry to reward ice cream, doritos, french fries, and snickers with pleasure. Just as a heroin addict is driven to use an ever increasing amount of his/her drug of choice — I’m driven to eat just the same. And just as any other addict, obese people get triggered by environmental, emotional, and situational cues — to go back to those substances (foods) that they subconsciously know will make them feel better. As is the case with many obese people, I very often cannot tell the difference between my physiological feelings of hunger (due to an empty stomach) and psychological feelings of hunger (due to my addiction).

I eat when I’m happy and sad and angry and ashamed and afraid — because I’ve taught myself that that’s a great way to cope with life. My brain wants that hit badly when it feels discomfort. This drive has had an enormous impact on my weight I’m absolutely convinced. And without a doubt, as I work through this process of weight loss and life change, other addictive cycles will crop up to replace the old system that has gone. (This is no doubt an influencer in the fact that bariatric surgery patients are over twice as likely to become alcoholics as the general population.) Trading addictions is easy — dealing with the underlying disturbances is much harder. And without a doubt, some addictions are more costly to one’s physical body, relationships, and life than others.

A recent article on Medscape actually attempts to outline obesity specifically as a ‘brain disease’. The authors write, “If it were only caloric intake vs caloric expenditure, then the tapering off and resistance to continue weight trimming by the metabolism would not happen and produce long term failure and hopelessness is so many people. Fighting to recalibrate a set point that is unhealthy but stubbornly resistant leads to other unhealthy behaviors. It is a more complex problem than was originally assumed.”

Another (reviewing a recent book by Tracy Mann) from the NPR sitereinforces some of these underlying judgments — calling ‘willpower’ when it comes to losing weight, a “myth”. The author of this book rather explicitly argues that far more powerful underlying forces are at work to imagine that simple willpower is enough to overcome a body that has had its weight reset at a high weight. She argues that in order to get through it successfully – we have to learn to trick our brains into cooperating with where we want to go.

The question for me is — is bariatric surgery the right kind of trick in my life?

So as far as I understand it — from a limited perspective of a non-medical professional, the AMA took a look at all these dynamics and new discoveries about obesity (and more), and decided that a ‘disease’ label was most appropriate. In a very real sense — the AMA stepped back and seemed to say — “while personal choice is always in play when it comes to weight; it certainly isn’t the only player — and it’s particularly not the only player as a person’s weight increases. Therefore we don’t see this as purely a disorder or personal dysfunction — but rather a disease process that isn’t entirely in the person’s control.

And that’s the key point for me — and many like me.

I am where I’m at because I made bad choices. And I am where I’m at because I’ve been influenced and impacted by a myriad of influencers that are entirely outside my control. If this is the case (and I believe it is), then a great deal of the negative inertia is removed against me having compassion for myself. I don’t mean – compassion for myself as in, throwing up my hands as a victim and giving up on doing what I can do to better my situation. But rather, the kind of compassion that I have found life-transforming through my faith in Jesus for example. The generosity of spirit that gives one the grace to get up from a hard fall, from a bad outing, from a bad choice — and to try again.

Blogger, Paul Fallon from ‘The Culture Club’ on – makes the counter argument quite pointedly in his article when he says, “…it is easy to see how an obesity ‘diagnosis’ will simply provide overweight people an excuse for their condition rather than the motivation to control it…..”. For someone who has not struggled with addiction or done much personal work, it’s easy to jump to the judgment that more criticism, more judgment, more blame, more condemnation, more harsh honesty — is the key to recovery. But what those who have gone through the process know in practice is that forgiving themselves is a key to getting through the whole situation.

Will the AMA decision give people an excuse to claim victimhood? It might. Will it have a negative impact on the finances of medicine? Quite possibly. Will people abuse the system or remain obese because of it? It’s not an unreasonable prediction.

But it will also give people like me incredibly important tools to stay on the road to recovery. Grace.

I want to close this missive by referencing a rising movement in American culture known loosely as “Health at any Size” — based on the work by PhD Linda Bacon. Quarreling with the basic medical assumptions that obesity is associated with (and therefore the key cause of) dozens of life-altering or life ending issues [heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, arthritis, etc., etc.] — Bacon argues that obese people actually live longer than thin people and that weight loss doesn’t actually prolong a person’s life. Instead of continuing the war on obesity – Bacon invites people to make peace with their bodies and live a more happy life…as they are.

Now — this is a long post so I don’t want to get into the veracity of her claims here… but it seems that with regards to longevity and weight – her thesis is only true for those who are just a little overweight. It seems that the research points to the fact that those who are morbidly obese (over 40 BMI – which includes me unfortunately) are at a much higher risk of death — actually comparatively like that of a smoker. I’m 130lbs above where I’d need to be to be considered a healthy/non-obese weight according to the (albeit flawed) BMI system. Perhaps for someone who is 30lbs over weight, Bacon’s claims are more reasonable — I can’t imagine they’re true for me or others like me.

All this is preface to say that I think an underlying argument Bacon is getting at — is actually quite wonderful and beautiful. This is that shame and negativity about our bodies isn’t helping anything — that we need to quit the obsessive dieting schemes and crazy attention given to looking better, being better, improving our attractiveness, and increasing our fashion. All of these things aren’t making us happy. We can be happy – no matter what weight we are at. We can and we should. Life would be better if we were (and we probably would achieve a more healthy weight too!!).

In a sense, this is the same conclusion I get from the AMA designation of obesity as a disease: I NEED TO GIVE MYSELF A BREAK!!! I NEED TO HAVE COMPASSION ON MY SITUATION. MY LIFE WILL BE BETTER IF I RELAX A LITTLE. This doesn’t mean that my risk for diabetes and poor circulation and maybe an amputation will magically decrease. It does mean that I can feel better about myself and my life in the mean time before I get down to a weight where I’m not on the door step of some terrible diseases.

My weight loss desires (as I’ve elaborated) aren’t primarily or even tertiarily about my image or assessment of myself; they aren’t about my shame for how I look; — They are driven by my hope to be more active, to feel better physically, to be able to play more and better with my boys.
This will actually make my life happier!