Retired Alaska state trooper wrapping up end-of-life details

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 15, 2013 

Primetime - H.J. Sydnam

H.J. Sydnam at the Leopold on Monday, June 3, 2013.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Name: H.J. "Syd" Sydnam.

Age: 85.

Hometown: Bellingham.

Where there's a will: Sydnam, a resident of The Leopold Retirement Residence in downtown Bellingham since late 2009, knows firsthand how important a will can be.

"'Without a will you just bequeath your grief,' is what my wife Jackie used to say," he says of his wife, who died in 2008. "She had the good sense to name a lawyer as her executor. She had eight children in her first marriage. The lawyer sold the house we had in White Rock (B.C.) and the money went to her estate."

Sons will inherit: In his will, Sydnam has designated the inheritance for each of the three sons he had with his first wife, Nancy. He says all of the details are in his will.

Bought a burial plot: Sydnam has purchased two burial plots in Lynden Cemetery.

"My parents are buried in the Lynden Cemetery, not far from the plots I bought," he says. "I have always found it a comfort to be able to visit and clean their headstones. I want my family members to have the same comfort. I'll likely be cremated."

Wife's ashes in two places: "Half of Jackie's ashes are buried in White Rock with a child she lost, and the other half are in an urn in my closet," he says.

That half will be buried with him. "She was my best buddy," he says.

Preparing for the end: Sydnam attended two end-of-life planning lectures given by the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement.

"I received a lot of valuable information about preparing for the end," he says.

Sydnam has designated his second son, Bruce, with power of attorney regarding health. "He knows I don't want any extreme measures, any resuscitation. If I'm lying there, just pull the plug."

Cheated death: Sydnam served as a U.S. Marine infantry squad leader for 11 months in Korea and saw death and destruction, but survived without a wound.

That was his second stint in the Marines; shortly after graduating from Lynden High School in 1945 he joined the Marines two months before World War II ended. He saw 14 months of service, much of it occupation duty in Asia.

"I got my clothes shot to pieces in Korea," he says. "I got a bullet through a helmet strap, but there were no holes in me. I still have that strap. That will go to one of my sons."

State trooper: At age 32, Sydnam joined what became the Alaska State Patrol shortly before the territory achieved statehood in 1959.

"I served 24 years in law enforcement and I never had to draw my gun," he says. "But I was pretty well burned out. I retired as acting commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety. I did not want the top job. I had a minor stroke in 1982, and that was a warning bell for me."

Boss' advice: "My original boss with the Alaska State Patrol ... gave me two great pieces of advice. He told me, 'If you give a guy a ticket, leave him smiling,' and 'If you have to put a guy in jail, have him thank you for it.'

"In other words, he was telling me, people should be grateful that you saved them from worse trouble."

Good life on a boat: "When I retired I was already divorced. I wanted to live on a boat, so I bought a 39-footer," he says. "I loved my retirement. I bought the boat in Blaine and that's where I met my second wife, Jackie.

"I think she married me for that great boat. We were married just short of 21 years when she passed away."

Do the write thing: Sydnam says every senior should consider writing an account of his or her life for family members to enjoy, both before and after the senior dies.

"I'm not a writer and it took me 80 pages, but I got it done," he says. "I had copies made for my sons. I also included a lot of photos."

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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