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Bob McPhail wrote about illnesses, finally dies of them

With Reader from 1987 to 2018

BFI incinerator chimney. In 1988 McPhail wrote about the disposal of San Diego's 20,000 fetuses. - Image by Robert Burroughs
BFI incinerator chimney. In 1988 McPhail wrote about the disposal of San Diego's 20,000 fetuses.

Bob McPhail, who wrote for the Reader from 1987 through 2018, passed away on November 16 after long illnesses. He was 70.

McPhail was also editor of La Cruz de California from 1998 through 2006 and California Catholic Daily from 2007 to 2021.

His remains will be interred in Tijuana.

Excerpts from his personal stories at the Reader:

April, 1987

While other kids were out on the ball field, I withdrew to contemplate my sins in a dimly lit chapel that smelled of incense and candles. Unlike those whose religious beliefs add spiritual peace to their lives, I found that mine did nothing to assist me in accepting myself or winning the acceptance of others. And as far as my peers were concerned, my condition had worsened. Not only was I fat, I was fat and religious. Not a winning combination with which to enter adolescence.

July, 1988

I observed the narrow boundary between life and death when the spirit left my father from his bed in an army hospital last winter. One moment he was with us; the next he was gone. For those few moments, life and death merged. For a short while, each resembled the other. This amorphous condition lasts beyond the collapse of respiration, the stilling of the heart, or the shutdown of the brain. Lifelike qualities persist, as if a flame were being slowly extinguished. When the fire is out, the transition is complete. That is when the ancients say the spirit leaves the body. That is when my dad died.

November, 2007

My illnesses seemed endless — kidney stones, urinary tract infections, postsurgical blood clots that traveled to my lungs, the need to breathe pure oxygen 24 hours a day — and, on several occasions, I was ready to throw in the towel and let God take me, by passive suicide, by doing nothing. At least I would be able to prepare myself for judgment before I died. I figured that might be preferable to a sudden, unexpected death, during which I would die more likely than not in mortal sin, with really bad prospects for eternity. But I was able to endure, thanks to the good counsel of friends who shared my faith, who helped me put my suffering into perspective, to see that it had meaning and purpose. Most of all, that it was important and beneficial.

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BFI incinerator chimney. In 1988 McPhail wrote about the disposal of San Diego's 20,000 fetuses. - Image by Robert Burroughs
BFI incinerator chimney. In 1988 McPhail wrote about the disposal of San Diego's 20,000 fetuses.

Bob McPhail, who wrote for the Reader from 1987 through 2018, passed away on November 16 after long illnesses. He was 70.

McPhail was also editor of La Cruz de California from 1998 through 2006 and California Catholic Daily from 2007 to 2021.

His remains will be interred in Tijuana.

Excerpts from his personal stories at the Reader:

April, 1987

While other kids were out on the ball field, I withdrew to contemplate my sins in a dimly lit chapel that smelled of incense and candles. Unlike those whose religious beliefs add spiritual peace to their lives, I found that mine did nothing to assist me in accepting myself or winning the acceptance of others. And as far as my peers were concerned, my condition had worsened. Not only was I fat, I was fat and religious. Not a winning combination with which to enter adolescence.

July, 1988

I observed the narrow boundary between life and death when the spirit left my father from his bed in an army hospital last winter. One moment he was with us; the next he was gone. For those few moments, life and death merged. For a short while, each resembled the other. This amorphous condition lasts beyond the collapse of respiration, the stilling of the heart, or the shutdown of the brain. Lifelike qualities persist, as if a flame were being slowly extinguished. When the fire is out, the transition is complete. That is when the ancients say the spirit leaves the body. That is when my dad died.

November, 2007

My illnesses seemed endless — kidney stones, urinary tract infections, postsurgical blood clots that traveled to my lungs, the need to breathe pure oxygen 24 hours a day — and, on several occasions, I was ready to throw in the towel and let God take me, by passive suicide, by doing nothing. At least I would be able to prepare myself for judgment before I died. I figured that might be preferable to a sudden, unexpected death, during which I would die more likely than not in mortal sin, with really bad prospects for eternity. But I was able to endure, thanks to the good counsel of friends who shared my faith, who helped me put my suffering into perspective, to see that it had meaning and purpose. Most of all, that it was important and beneficial.

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