Thank you for the music
August 10, 2009
by Jen Bakken

This week’s column has been the most difficult one I’ve written, so far.

I spent more time sitting and staring at the computer screen than I did typing.

On Thursday, July 23, my father passed away.

He served his country in Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange, a herbicide and defoliant used by the US military in its herbicidal warfare program during the war.

Millions of our servicemen and Vietnamese people were exposed, which has caused a seemingly endless list of health problems, including prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia – to name only a few.

Agent Orange also affects the children of servicemen and the Vietnamese, resulting in birth defects and ongoing health problems.

Had our government done its job – my father would surely be alive today, and for this reason, I am more angry than words can express.

No warning was given to him, no early screening and, for this reason, his prostate cancer was found too late.

My family was forced to watch him waste away, be in horrible pain, and eventually die . . . all because he served his country.

In a matter of months, he went from an active man who played baseball with his grandsons, and even Barbies with his granddaughters – to only being able to lay in bed and wait painfully and sadly to enter Heaven.

He didn’t want to leave us, and he shouldn’t have had to, so soon. For this, I am angry.

Yes, the government did eventually admit that his cancer was service-related, but it did nothing to prevent or detect it.

Because of losing my father and best friend in this way, my life has taken on a new meaning.

I hope to promote awareness about Agent Orange, and this is why I am writing this column.

If you are a Vietnam veteran, I encourage you to be screened not only for prostate cancer, but for a host of other ailments and diseases caused by this homicidal herbicide.

Although the government isn’t quite recognizing the plight of the children of these veterans – if we unite, maybe we can force them to.

We are losing far too many of our Vietnam veterans early while their children and families suffer also.

I’m finding it very difficult to go about my day-to-day life. Every moment without my dad hurts in a way I can’t describe.

Through him I learned to accept the things I cannot change. Through him I learned to laugh when I wanted to cry. Through him I learned to love music, use it to help me through the rough times, or enhance the good.

Just before the funeral at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Waverly July 31, I noticed a young boy crying.

Though I didn’t know the little guy, it was clear he must have known my dad, and I was drawn to him.

I found out that when my dad worked for the Litchfield School District, he became friends with a teacher, the little boy’s mother.

Because my dad and her son shared a birthday, they had become buddies.

Through his tears, he showed me a paper airplane. The paper was folded just how my dad had shown him to make the best and fastest paper airplane.

To me, this is proof that everything we do in life, no matter how small, leaves an impression on those around us.

I’m grateful for meeting this child who had a connection with my dad – we can learn many things by looking at the world through the eyes of children.

While I held the hand of my 4-year-old nephew during the funeral, he looked up at me with his big brown eyes and said, “Jen, everyone’s sad because we can’t see grandpa anymore.”

I simply nodded, with tears pouring down my face, as he added, “But we will always have him here (pointed to his head) and here (pointed to his heart).”

After my dad’s terminal cancer diagnoses, he had made a CD full of songs he dedicated to family members and friends.

The song he dedicated to me was, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Though I can’t listen to the song without breaking down in tears, it brings me comfort.

As I bring my column to a close, it still doesn’t seem good enough, but I’m guessing nothing ever will.

There are so many things I could thank my dad for. I can’t wait until the day I am with him in Heaven. I miss him every minute of every day, with every breath I take.

Never take those around you for granted – let them know how much they mean to you, because who knows how many tomorrows there will be.

To all of the Vietnam veterans, I would like to say, welcome home.

There are so many things I feel I need to say but can’t, so for now, dad – thank you for the music.