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Richard Riggs, a remembrance [May. 9th, 2012|09:47 pm]

My father, Richard Dee Riggs, passed away yesterday. He was a few weeks short of 71.

He died from lung cancer even though he wasn’t a smoker. Just to remind us statistics includes outliers. The cancer wasn’t even detected until the beginning of February this year, at which time it had spread to multiple organs and bones. He died just about three months after the cancer was found. The speed and transformation caused by the cancer was startling. Eventually, his body lost the struggle, though he was mentally sound until the end -- apart from the painkillers; he was continually frustrated that he had to get “doped up and stupid” to block the pain.

We don’t have a lot of time in this world. One of the principles he believed in is that you should strive to do things that are worthwhile, that matter to you, that are fun, and that reinforce your connections with those you care about. Don’t put them off for mundanities. You don’t want to die with regrets.

In the end, he encouraged me and my family to keep moving with our own lives. Even on our last visit, this past weekend, he enjoyed speaking to me but also made sure I was spending time with Tim and had some fun things planned, too.

My dad served in the military. He was a naval pilot assigned to airborne alert on the DEW line. He worked there for a few years as a tactical officer. He was then deployed in Vietnam, flying 100 combat missions which was the service limit. He left the military, frustrated by the politics and culture of the time, to enter private industry.

He worked for a variety of Silicon Valley tech companies, primarily around developing storage technology. He planned and oversaw some of the first hard drive plants using vapor deposition (sputtering). One of the early hard drives produced held 380 MB (on only 8 platters).

He designed manufacturing facilities and managed building teams. He worked for Ampex, Maxtor, Seagate, and others. His name is marked in the cement or tiles of about a dozen Silicon Valley buildings (plus others worldwide) that he helped design.

He was a devoted husband. He and my mom were married for 40 happy years.

He could be a bit emotionally reserved and cool. (That’s where I come by it, perhaps?) But he was always sincere and honest. He had a sly sense of humor and mischief that crept in when you least expected it. He loved sharing a good anecdote, even if he couldn’t get all the details right.

He was a good father and steered me toward success, offering tips small and large that have helped me get through life. Though I do remember the time I asked him, just before Timothy was born, for advice on being a good father. He put his arm around my shoulder, his face serious, and said, “I can only tell you what I did: wing it!” So I should say that generally he had useful advice. See previous note about sense of humor.

He was interested in furry even if it wasn’t really his thing. First bemused, then incredulous about my decision to make mascot costumes, he came to really enjoy it as he saw my skills progress. He was extremely proud when I finished my book “Critter Costuming.” That was going from being a quirky hobby to being a published expert in a field, after all!

He encouraged my pursuits of costuming and writing. He enjoyed my stories and read at least one of my novel manuscripts. I think he became rather fond of furry fandom, too, when he got a sense of how artistic and social it was. He even hung a fantasy bear painting over his bed -- that was his totem animal.

Now he has passed on to whatever, if anything, awaits us beyond this world. He gave me so much and I’ll dearly miss him.

Somewhere out there, I like to think a bear is enjoying a sunny field. Maybe in a few decades more he’ll be visited by a rat.

To close, I’d like to quote a piece Dave Barry wrote about the death of his father:

    I go in for my last words, because I have to go back home, and my mother and I agree I probably won’t see him again. I sit next to him on the bed, hoping he can’t see that I’m crying. “I love you, Dad,” I say. He says, “I love you, too. I’d like some oatmeal.”

    So I go back out to the living room… My mother thinks maybe I should go back in and try to have a more meaningful last talk but I don’t...

    He and I have been talking ever since I learned how. A million words. All of them final, now. I don’t need to make him give me any more, like souvenirs. I think: let me not define his death on my terms. Let him have his oatmeal.

This is the only public post I've made about the situation since it began. (And I hope you'll forgive the lack of cut tag.) To my friends and especially to my family, thank you sincerely for your support and well-wishes.

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[User Picture]From: rapidtrabbit
2012-05-10 05:18 am (UTC)
I offer my condolences. Exactly 4 years ago this month my mother passed away under very similar circumstances, from lung cancer even though she never smoked and spent the last days of her life under sedation to ease her exit from the constant pain, though she retained all of her mental faculties right up to the point she was put under. As my father only passed away four months ago, I too am now constantly reminded how quickly life goes by now at the stage in our lives and that we have to do our best to make the most of the time we have. God bless.
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[User Picture]From: singingnettle
2012-05-10 05:20 am (UTC)
That's a lovely tribute, and I'm so sorry for your loss.

My mom also went within three months of her diagnosis of kidney cancer, and I empathize with the shock of how fast a person can transform.

I like your quote. I think that's entirely true. I had similar conversations with my father after Mom died, wherein I finally said to him, "Enough. Her dying was only a small part of her life. What's important is all the rest of it."

May his memory be a blessing, and I wish you and your family strength and good memories in the inevitable grief of this time.
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[User Picture]From: sayh
2012-05-10 05:56 am (UTC)
I am so sorry to hear about this. Though expected, it still hurts so much. I know you will always keep the good memories, and though not around anymore, a person like that will always be alive in your memories.

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[User Picture]From: cass_rising
2012-05-10 08:15 am (UTC)
What a beautiful tribute. I'm so sorry for your loss.
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[User Picture]From: crocodile
2012-05-10 09:07 am (UTC)
If you are any indication, your father was a great man. I'm sorry I never got to meet him but I'm glad that he seemed to have a very rich and fulfilling life.

*hugs gently*
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[User Picture]From: ashkitty
2012-05-10 09:54 am (UTC)
I'm so sorry for your loss, and thinking of you and your family. Your dad sounds like a great guy, and that's a really good quote at the end.
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[User Picture]From: twigmouse
2012-05-10 10:23 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: fyremane
2012-05-10 10:25 am (UTC)
A beutiful tribute to your father, so sorry to hear of your loss.
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[User Picture]From: jackalopejess
2012-05-10 12:00 pm (UTC)
I send my sincerest condolences to you and your family, and am truly sorry to hear about your loss. Your father sounds like he was a wonderful man, and I thank you for sharing his story with us. Wishing peace and serenity to you and yours in this difficult time.
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[User Picture]From: frysco
2012-05-10 12:45 pm (UTC)
My deepest condolences for you and your whole family. So sorry :(
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[User Picture]From: loranskunky
2012-05-10 01:20 pm (UTC)
So sorry for your lose of yore dad, and your turibute is wonderful.
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From: bookofj
2012-05-10 01:22 pm (UTC)
I'm no good with words in moments like this. *hug*

Rest in peace.
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[User Picture]From: patch_bunny
2012-05-10 01:41 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: sabotlours
2012-05-10 01:46 pm (UTC)
My condolences. *hugs* My dad went in a similar fashion. Cancer was detected in November and he was gone in March. I know how painful it can be. He sounded like a wonderful guy.
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[User Picture]From: gilmorelion
2012-05-10 03:14 pm (UTC)
I'm very sorry Adam. It's good that you had such a good relationship with your father. Mine has been gone 13 years now, and I still miss him every day. My prayers go with you and your family.
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