Friday, July 19, 2013

Dealing with the passing days

       It happens, if not daily then certainly weekly: Someone we know has passed away.
       I've written about death in this blog -- often perhaps -- and maybe it has led to some people asking to leave the mailing list. But this is a reality and my wife will tell you that it is one of several things about which I obsess.
       One of the first things I do each morning is check The Shreveport Times' web site for the obituaries. I've had friends with whom I grew up, tell me they do the same. 
       What they also tell me is that almost each day there is someone's obit that they knew directly -- sometimes family, but more often a friend, a former schoolmate, a former coach or teacher, a parent of a friend, a brother or sister of a friend, a former business associate, etc.
        We have been to more funerals the past five years or so than I care to count, and there have been funerals that distance or circumstance have prevented us from attending.
         It is a reality that as we grow older -- and even as we enjoy life in the early days of retirement from work -- we also deal increasingly with these losses. In the past year, for instance, there have been at least a half dozen deaths of people with early 1960s Woodlawn High School connections. 
         There is always a sense of sadness for me, but also with many of the more personal ones, the pride of having known them. Because they enriched our lives.
          Within the past week, we lost two such men in Shreveport.
         Frank Thaxton Jr. and Joseph Cassiere were both 90, part of the "greatest generation" -- American soldiers during World War II. Both fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers for whom family and church were their greatest priorities, both contributors to their community in a variety of ways.
         Both, whenever I saw them, always upbeat and positive, and just downright friendly. And both always interested in you and yours.
         Neither death, of course, was unexpected, at age 90. Both had been declining for a few months. Still, the losses hurt.
          Frank was a longtime family friend; he was -- as I noted in a previous blog -- an honorary Dutchman. As a U.S. soldier after World War II, he was attached to the U.S. embassy in Holland, in The Hague (Den Haag) and he met a Dutch girl, Ann, married her and brought her home to Shreveport.
           Ann and Frank became two of my parents' closest friends, for more than 50 years dating to the Thaxtons' move to Sunset Acres in 1956 (we would soon follow).
Frank Thaxton Jr.
           Ann survives, one of the three remaining members of the Dutch community we knew. She, too, is one of those admirable people full of love and understanding, and she saw Frank through several significant health challenges over the years.
           Frank wasn't one to talk about those challenges; he always played them down. He also talked little about being an infantryman during the Battle of the Bulge. But he talk about and took pride in veterans' affairs and works in Shreveport for many, many years.
           He was in the banking business, in the computer end of it, and one of my friends who worked with him said, "We were great friends and had a lot of laughs together. I had not seen him in a long time but this world lost a fine man."
           A fine family man, too. The most touching part of Frank's memorial service was when great-granddaughter Isabella Gray, not yet in her teens, came to the lecturn and read a tribute, leaving more than a few of us in tears. 
           Frank Jr. and Ann's only child, Frank III, is an attorney and retired judge, and remains a close family friend. He and my younger sister Elsa bonded as kids, and they're still close. Believe me, Frank Jr. was so proud of "little Frank," as we knew him.
           And now there are two more Frank Thaxtons in the family. Quite a heritage.
           Joseph Cassiere was an elementary school teacher and then principal -- at several schools, mostly in the Queensborough area -- and a kids' coach in several sports. My first connection with him came in the mid-1960s when his St. Theresa's Catholic Church baseball teams played at SPAR Stadium where I was the P.A. announcer and scorer.
           I must've pronounced Cassiere a dozen different ways (I will now guess Cass-e-air).

Joseph Cassiere
           Nearly a decade later, the youngest of the five Cassiere kids, Edward, was a statistician for Jesuit High School's athletic teams, and I recruited him to help us at The Shreveport Times compiling area high school statistics.
           Ed became one of Louisiana's best sports writers -- at the Shreveport Journal -- and then an excellent sports information director. At the Journal, we called him our EOE -- expert on everything. 
            We called his dad "Big Joe." Well, we did at the office. In person, he was Mr. Cassiere.
             Big Joe loved to talk sports, especially Notre Dame football, was an avid trapshooter at one time, and until he could manage it no more, played golf as often as he could. He was a regular at Querbes Park, Shreveport's most popular public course. He could've been mayor at Querbes.
             He was steady and kind and gentle -- just read the tributes from his former students on the obituary guest book on The Times' web site -- and he was downright determined.
              After he lost sweet Miss Louise in 2007, he remained in the big house on Portland Avenue, right across the street from St. Theresa's, the house where the Cassiere kids grew up. It was, for several years now, the only house left in what has turned into the Willis-Knighton North Hospital complex. Big Joe wasn't leaving.
              But finally, his health worsened, and only a couple of months ago he went to The Glen assisted living facility ... until this week.
              There's no greater tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Cassiere than those five kids, all accomplished in medicine and law (yes, even Ed the sportswriter), and their respective families.
              I will miss these men. They, and their families, have been on my mind all week, which is why I'm writing this.  Bea can tell you that the grieving process affects me, perhaps more than most people, but I am not sorry about that.  
              Yes, I know that death is a part of living, and it's inevitable. We can't escape the everyday reality, and the lesson is to make the most of each day. But, dang it, it's hard to say good-bye.             


  1. From Gerry Robichaux: Nico -- One of the best in a long line of best blogs.

  2. From Patrick Locke Sr.: Very nice, Nico. My late dad used to read the obits every morning also, telling me with a wink and a smile, he just wanted to make sure HE wasn't in them. One day, he was. I had the honor to be the author. So, I also check the Times obits every day ... just to make sure I'm not in them.

  3. From Raleigh Whitehead: I do the same thing every morning in checking The Shreveport Times and Mobile, AL obits. We lived in Mobile from 1986 to 2004 and knew quite a few people there, mostly from our church. My grandmother lived to be 98 and would get the Monroe, LA paper delivered to her rural mailbox. All she would read would be the obits. When she was about 92, she cancelled the paper and when asked about it, she said that all of her friends had passed away and there was no need to have the paper delivered anymore. True story.