Dale Kirkham 1925 – 2012

Dale holding a Japanese flag that he brought home from the war. Photo taken two days before he died.

With a heavy heart I share with you all that Dale Kirkham passed away February 8, 2012 at 6:15 pm.  His passing was the witness of the miracle that we call the completion of life’s voyage.  He was a great sailor.

My name is Rich Kirkham. I am Dale’s son and I have been the ghost writer for this amazing story we call his War Diary.  As I write this it is 10:30 pm, February 8, 2012.  I rode to work with my father this morning and tonight I said good bye for the last time.

At about 8:30 this morning he drove past our house anxious to get to work.  My wife, Kathy, had flute practice so I was going to take my own car, but when I saw him drive by I called him on his cell phone and asked him for a ride to work.  I was anxious to tell him about the progress I was making on his War Diary.  I told him about the interesting letters and amazing things I learned about that very morning having to do with the last few months that he was in the Navy.  He asked me if I got his email about the B29s that flew out of Saipan during August.  He also sent it to me just this morning.  Neither he nor I could sleep during the night so apparently both of us were up, looking back at the war.  “You have to watch it.  Its just been released by the government!  Its absolutely amazing!  I remember watching those planes fly over as they were headed back and forth to Japan!  I remember it like it was yesterday.”  Three times today he asked me to please watch it.  I finally told him that I would watch it when I got home, for sure, but while I was at work I had to get the books closed.  Something about death and taxes I guess.  I got the books closed but I wish I had watched the video with my Dad instead.

Dad worked in the office all day today.  He spent his time with Kirk and Scott.  They were in the conference room setting goals for the company, but occasionally he poked his head in Kathy’s office where we were both working on the year-end books, and we listened to him politely while he shared with great excitement all of his plans and ideas for the day.   He said ‘If you want to “Get Where We’re Goaling” then you have write your goals down and work on them.  He was teasing me about the book I wrote by that title many years ago on the subject of goal setting.  He had his list and he got a lot of them done and crossed off.  He didn’t get to keep his appointment with Colonial Funeral Home that he set for Thursday at 2:00 pm.  He didn’t say anything to anyone but apparently he wanted to make some plans.  As it turns out he got to Colonial Funeral Home a day ahead of his appointment.

At 5:00 pm I was in the office when he came back from Costco with his grandson, Scott.  He was finally going to do something about his hearing.  At 4:30 he told Scott that he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go back to the office.  When he came in the door of the office he told me that he wasn’t feeling well at all.  He was light headed and feeling dizzy.  He asked me if I could take him home.   I got up and headed to the hall where he was and he was obviously quite ill and very dizzy.  He walked down to his office and sat in his chair and started heaving.  He didn’t pass any vomit but the dry heaves got worse and worse.  I asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital and he waved me off.  I asked him if he wanted to lay down and he just waved me off again.  He was starting to sweat terribly. He reminded me of how Kathy gets sometimes when her blood sugar is low.  I knew something was not right.  After about 5 minutes of trying to coax and cajol him into letting me take him to the hospital I finally just took charge and told Scott to help me get him to the car.  I could see he was really not feeling well at all.  He walked down the hall pretty much on his own, with a little help from Scott on one side and me on the other, but the longer and farther we went the less steady he seemed to be.  I was glad we made it to the car without a fall.

Dale's last list of goals 2/8/2012

After loading him in the passenger seat I ran around to the driver’s side, jumped in, started the car, and headed for the hospital.  Dad rolled down his window as we drove down Garrett Way.  I called Kirk and asked him where he was.  He said he was in the shop.  I told him I was taking Dad to the hospital, that I thought he might have had a stroke.  As we drove I tried to talk to my father to keep him lucid.  “Dad are you all right?”  He motioned and mumbled but the only thing I could understand was, “Slow down!  Slow down!”  Every light seemed to take forever and the closer we got to the hospital the more worried I became.  I was very frightened.  When we got to the emergency room he couldn’t get out of the car.  He said, “I can’t do it.  I can’t do it.”  I rushed in and got a wheel chair and a man helped me move him over to the chair.  They admitted him and took him back to an emergency room bed where two nurses got him out of the chair and on to the bed.  As they striped off his sweat-soaked clothes, they asked me questions and I couldn’t seem to come up with answers.  What happened to him?  Does he have any allergies?  Does he take any medications?  What is his medical history.  The questions kept coming as they hooked him up to an EKG and I wasn’t able to do a thing.  In a slurred speech Dad said, “Head ache.  Head ache.” The doctor, Randy Fowler, finally came in, having reviewed the chart, and ordered Cami Taysom, our good friend and neighbor and the nurse on duty, to give him 4 units of morphine to help him with the pain.

Once the morphine hit, Dad started to relax and that was the last I saw of him really.  He didn’t say any more to anyone.  He didn’t even seem to see us any more.  It was as if he was high up in the conning tower of his old ship gazing out deliberately toward the horizon.  He was starting to ‘check out’ as he always liked to say he would do someday.    I think he made a decision as soon as the morphine hit that he was done.  He didn’t want to fight the battle that would likely mean deep rehab, breathing tubes, and wheel chairs.  His blood pressure was very high, 213/170 I think.  His heartbeat was about 73 beats per minute.  Kirk, Kathy and Scott all arrived about the same time.  I asked if anyone had any consecrated oil.  Someone found a vile and brought it in.  As quick as I could I anointed his head and then Kirk sealed the anointing with a very brief prayer.  I can’t remember what he said, but I think he said that everything was going to be alright.  He said that Dad would respond to the Doctor’s treatment.  I remember thinking, “I’m not so sure about that.”  Kirk was very calm.

After we finished our quick prayer, they rushed him into MRI.  They had already waited some 5 or 10 minutes because another patient was in there.  The precious moments ticked by like centuries, but at least Dad seemed to be comfortable.  His color was good. He was getting quite cold and clammy and I knew he must be uncomfortable.  I took a blanket and covered him up, seeing he must be cold.  Finally the MRI opened up.  They took him in and said, “We’ll only be about 3 minutes.”  We all sat stunned, looking at each other.  I was falling apart but Kirk announced, “I’m as calm as a summer morn.  He is going to be just fine.”  I wasn’t convinced of that at all.

About 3 mintues later Cami came back in the room in tears.  She threw her arms around me and said, “It doesn’t look good.”  I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about.  He was fine when he left the room.  At least sort of.  They rolled him back in and the Doctor said, “Its very serious.  He has had a severe stroke at the base of his brain stem.  We can do heroic things if you want us to try, but his chances are not very good.”  What did he mean?  What was he talking about?  Dad was fine a few minutes ago.  I thought to myself, “Can’t you just do what you do here and make him better again?”  I finally blurted out, “Yes! Of course we want you to do heroic things.”  They didn’t really want to go that route and they tried to calm me down by reasoning with me. They got the neurosurgeon on the phone and after briefing him they put the phone up to my ear.  I kept my hands on dad’s head, trying to comfort him.  The neurosurgeon droned on and on and told me how bad things were, that he was coming to the hospital but that surgery doesn’t go well for people in this condition, especially when they are over 80.  I asked him what he would do if it was his father.  He said, “I wouldn’t do it.  I’d let him go.”  I looked down at my Dad.  What would he want me to do?  Every decision I have make in life I have asked myself, “What would my father do?”  Now I had to act for him and act fast.

While we were trying to make decisions, and wait for the arrival of the neurosurgeon, Dad slowly started slipping away.  His breathing became the characteristic agonal breathing that indicates that death is ripping him away from mortality.  With much denial and shock we watched him slowly pass away.  It was the second hardest thing I have ever had to do, right next to watching Mother die 6 years ago.

I think it would be easier for everyone if our mortal bodies would just start to fade out when we die and then finally disappear altogehter.  Instead, the spirit seems to slip away at some moment when we aren’t really watching, or even aware that it is happening.  I don’t know when Dad us left for sure.  I don’t know if anyone was there to meet him or not.  I don’t know if he did it the way he would have wanted to, although I think he did.  I just know that my heart was breaking so badly that I couldn’t bear up under all the strain.   Before long I was sore and dry from crying and the room was filled with people who had dropped everything and rushed to his bedside only minutes too late to say good bye.  His body was there in the room with us, but I think he was out there somewhere, perhpas walking through a grove of plam trees, carving his name in a log, or exploring the jungle that we call death.  He didn’t have time to be afraid of dying.  He lived with energy right up to his last breath.  All I could say as he faded from this life was, “I’m sorry Dad. I’m sorry.  I love you so much.”

We gathered at Kirk’s house and Dad went to Colonial Funeral Home in the hands of loving friends.  He ripped a big hole in my life today.  I can barely deal with it.  I know that there is a plan of happiness and I know that death is a part of that plan.  Like my mother, I live in fear of death every day.  I don’t know why that is.  I need more faith I guess. I will work on that.  Perhaps I can pray for a miracle that my heart will be healed and I will understand what it all means.

In the mean time, Happy Sailing Dad!  We will see you back at the harbor!

8 comments to Dale Kirkham 1925 – 2012

  • DEL ATKINSON

    Richard:
    With the help of a box of kleenex I was able to read your message of Dale’s passing. As expected, it was well done, and wonderful to read in great detail the events of your dad’s last hours. The loss of a parent, no matter the circumstances, is emotionally traumatic and difficult. My prayers are constant for the Kirkham Family, as you mourn his loss and go thru the process of preparing for his memorial service. I’m sure it will be a great one!
    Dg

  • Rana Russell Strasser

    Richard———we only met once. You, me and your dad. It was about a year ago and I came over to Pocatello with your Sister Karol. I don’t know if you remember me. I had looked forward to meeting your dad for a long time. I am so very happy now that I took that opportunity. He was my dad’s 1st cousin and I never even knew he existed and never would have except for a real miracle when Karol and I discovered quite by accident that her grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister. I have a feeling that my dad and Dale will be swapping a lot of war stories shortly. My dad was a Navy pilot in WWII and flew off the carrier “Boxer” in the south Pacific.
    Your Dad was a genuinely wonderful person and I loved him immediately. He affectionately called me “Strasser” the whole time I was there. I was able to share some pictures of my dad and his mother (Dale’s aunt Maude) with him. I had a feeling that it was pretty likely that I would not see him again in this life but I was so touched by how kind and warm he was and I was impressed by how much his children and grandchildren loved him and watched out for him. I could not believe how independent he was or how many, many hobbies he had and such a zest for life. I can’t even begin to know how much you will miss him. My heart is with you all and I look forward to a time that I will be able to sit down and talk with him again and really get to know him as I never had the opportunity to in this life.

  • Bridger West

    Brother Rich,
    You have been such an example to me and I cant even begin to imagine what you and your family are going through. As I read through your message I couldn’t help but cry. Every tear was a very fond memory of the man who would always greet me with a smile. I can remember an cool summers evening in your cabin where Bryce Eggiman and I were sitting at the piano. We were each sharing song that we had either learned or made up. Your father came up to us and with a Christlike smile, poured out countless compliments to two young boys. He used words like amazing, talented, and blessed. I will never forget the spirit and love of that tender moment. On another occasion my brother and I were with my wonderful grandmother helping her with some errands. After running around town we headed up to Kirkham Ranch. There we were met by the loving smile of Brother Dale Kirkham. He had a truck-full of items that he was giving to the Relief Society. The entire time we loaded the car he was thanking us and expressing his love for the church, the Relief Society, and those of us that were there to help. After the job was finished we were about to leave when Brother Kirkham lovingly invited us back inside to share some of his history. He told us stories, shared pictures, and let my brother and I play our luck on his slot-machine. I will always remember the spirit that resided there as my brother and I were betting our nickels. We left and once again we were thanked. I could go on and on about all of the wonderful memories that your dad gave me. This last sunday I didn’t bear my testimony. I had the impression, but for some reason I struggled to stand. So I would like you to know that I know without a doubt that this church is true. Christ Lives. President Monson is the true and living prophet. Joseph Smith restored the gospel. And the wonderful plan of happiness is very real. I don’t think I can say it better than the Lord said to Joshua, “Be strong and of a good courage; Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” I send my prayers to you and your family.

    Thank you again for your shining example,
    Bridger

    Arise and Shine Forth

  • Terry & Kim Turner

    Dear Richard & all of the Kirkham Family,

    I am Jaquel’s mother, (Steve’s Wife) I wanted to thank you for sharing this time with others. It was very difficult for you and the others who were there and not there. I am sure that your father is grateful for your decision. I met your dad when we came out for Steve & Jaquel’s wedding. He impressed me with his realm of knowledge and his experiences. He was a delight and I never knew him really. I do remember his kindness & love for my daughter quite distinctly. He was generous and kind. He even danced with her in his home. I think he was special man with so much to offer, he wanted our family to know him. He wrote on my facebook a few times and made an effort to know Jaquel’s family. I saw in him a special love for others and intelligence. He had a great love for his family as well. Even though you don’t know us really well, I remember you all at the wedding. It was a great day to see all of your family there. Thanks for being a family that sticks together, and supporting one another… you are a great example, just as your father. I enjoyed what you wrote and felt the spirit strongly. I know your father is with your mother. I have lost both my parents and was with them during their deaths. It was very bittersweet. I understand your loss. They will always be in your heart. We love you and our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time. Our deepest sympathies. The Turner Family, in Roxboro, North Carolina

  • Shelby Azzola Hess

    Kirkham Family-What an amazing man your father was. The story of his passing is heartbreaking. Prayers to your families as you deal with the loss of such an important person in your lives. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Randy Anderson

    Richard, Kirk and family
    Dale was a wonderful man. I know this even though I didn’t know him well. Although almost 25 years have passed your story brings me back when I said goodbye to my father like it was yesterday. Thanks for sharing and my condolences.

  • Ron Clayson

    Rich,
    My deepest condolences for you and all of the Kirkham family. I only met your father once, out at Miradel Park at the Republican picnic last year. I could easily see the greatness of the man.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It reminds me of the passing of my parents. But, in spite of the heart-wrenching emotions the passing of a loved one brings to us, your stories, not only of his life, but of his last few days and even his passing, is inspiring to me personally. Thank you for your honesty and openness in a difficult situation. I’m sure I speak for many people when I say we love and appreciate the Kirkham family.

    Ron Clayson

  • Rich, just happened across this while visiting ISJ. I write military history and conservative commentary, and until 7 years ago, lived in Pocatello. I remember Bro. Kirkham, and wish I’d known about his site. Your write up on his final day touched me deeply, and I’m so sorry we have lost him. We are less for having done so now. Father in Heaven is an old Marine General, and I have no doubt he welcomed a Navy warrior like your dad personally. Please email me, I care — WARCHICK