By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Story had lesson about cycles of life

Our Tuesday story about Cal and Debbie Kearns touched many readers with its calm, composed yet emotional telling of a human condition that too often is hidden from view.

Debbie, assisted by Reporter Starla Pointer, shared intimate details of how their lives have been upended by Cal’s early-onset dementia. She described the continuing evolution of Cal’s condition with unusual clarity, and Starla’s contribution was most apparent in this short passage:

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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“Cal no longer lives in Dayton with his wife, but he isn’t always gone, or gone in all ways. ‘I still see him,’ Debbie said, even when others cannot.”

There, perhaps, was this story’s most revealing human element: “I still see him.”

People undergo profound changes as a result of strokes, dementia and others kinds of brain injuries. I’ve experienced that kind of change twice in my family, and both times I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to say, “I still see him (or her).”

Cal and Debbie Kearns have had a long love affair with each other and with their home community of Dayton. Over those many decades, their family, professional and civic activities connected them to all kinds of people in McMinnville and nearby communities, so this week’s story stirred diverse sympathy.

Somehow, though, sympathy wasn’t my primary reaction.

I felt a sense of gratitude to the Kearns for openly sharing experiences from the “memory care” world Cal entered with his move to Rock of Ages. Cal is a young man in that world — a world where people usually live out the remainder of their lives in relative obscurity except for family and a few committed friends.

By sharing Cal’s story, Debbie and their family helped others who may be struggling with their own difficult circumstances. When people have the character and strength to tackle life’s most difficult challenges head on, others are able to absorb some of that strength into their own lives.

The story — the Kearns — didn’t really ask for sympathy. Despite their quiet grief and great loss, something about this story suggested that a more appropriate response would be to take a lesson about the cycles of life we all face — a lesson that likely will be different for each person who read the story.

For me, that lesson is to feel less sympathy for myself, more empathy for others, and when facing difficult times, greater appreciation for all the good things life has brought me.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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