The Cryptographer’s Epitaph

Artemis Sere The Cryptographer's Epitaph

This epitaph began as a commemorative speech written for my Father's funeral service. As these pure words began to flow following his passing, I realized the service wasn't the appropriate place for this raw, comprehensive and honest reflection on my Dad.

Throughout the post, I've woven in the lyrics to one of my favorite songs from one my favorite bands (Sanctuary "Epitaph"), written and performed by one of my favorite vocalists (Warrel Dane, who passed away in 2017).

Buckle in. There is a long and heavy ride ahead.

Artemis Sere The Cryptographer's Epitaph Funeral Pic 5
A Mystery Begins

There are many things I regret when it comes to my Dad. There is much sadness in the fact that I learned more about him while researching his obituary than I knew while he was present. He was a stubborn code that I will spend the rest of my life cracking,

In unlocking he cryptic mystery of Robert Zuege, I will understand myself better. In remembering him, my reflection will be clearer. In appreciating the legacy he leaves with me, I am nearer to the genes I inherited from his weathered, withering tree.

Ours was mostly a life of motion. By the time our road settled at Sparta, I had lived in 3 countries, multiple cities and tripped through a cycle of schools around the globe. While my Mom managed our family with much strength and patience, my Dad traveled for work, often away for weeks at a time. I know one of his strongest regrets was that his work schedule and commitment to winning the bread meant the connection to his family suffered.

And it did. Either by purpose or circumstance, my relationship with my Dad seldom felt close. He was a man of lectures and advice, stern judgement and stubborn sensibilities. I grew up fast and furious, often living counter to his advice. I finished high school and zoomed away to college in Green Bay. Then to marriage. To divorce. To chronic conditions and failures. To Corporate life.

And into a co-joined oblivion, with more questions than answers.

"Mark my grave, and call the winds of torment
Oh, remember me now, and feed the wind with your dreams
Feel my name, and feel my blood in your veins
Now the tide will turn, I will live on through you
Mark my name upon the flesh you create
No, don't cry for me, my son, myself"

Artemis Sere The Cryptographer's Epitaph Funeral Pic 6


My Dad was a stubborn, brilliant man. A man of programming and accounting, of secret porn collections and all-nighters with sci-fi books and the Ultima Online Universe. A man that once broke his Fraternity paddle over my bottom, and kept it as a trophy or totem.

In time, he was less present as a Father, and more distant in my orbit as a human.

My memory of my father will forever be imperfect. I took his obituary picture and I wrote his official exit. While I was the most absent of the brothers near the end of his life, it wasn't always that way, and it's not without purpose. I walked a different road with my Dad than my two younger brothers. They don't seem to remember the screams of my Mom during fights in our small apartment in Germany. Or the financial stress in the early days of returning to the USA, and featured regular calls and doorknocks by bill collectors, which caused violent screaming matches and uncomfortable situations.

With trowel of pain, I dug into the story of his life, into his dirty drawers and decades of disconnection. But for all of my digging, much of him is a puzzle that will never be solved.

"I am waiting my son, on the threshold to the other side
Cannot tell you what is here
What I see now is beyond your mind

I am formless, but I feel
All the questions burning in your head
Learn your lesson and never grieve
For there is no beginning, and there is no end"

Artemis Sere The Cryptographer's Epitaph Funeral Pic 3
Legacy of Pain

My Dad was born to Edward Barry and Margaret Skwierawski in Milwaukee in 1940. Margaret and Edward divorced when he was young (sidebar: my Dad notes in a story of his life written by the Veteran's Administration that his Dad "left to start a new family", which leads me to believe he grew up with abandonment issues. I had struggled greatly with abandonment issues due to my history with women until recently). His mother remarried, this time to a man named George Zuege. George adopted my Dad as his son, and my Dad enjoyed being his son. Soon, stepsister Beverly was born to his Mom and new Dad.

My step grandfather George died on Dec 16, 1966 when my Dad was 26. It is my understanding that he died while at his laborer job in Milwaukee, but there are now few people that exist that can confirm how George passed. And my family has never been connected to the enigmatic Edward Barry, whose genetic code and history, wild eyebrows and dismissive "Yes, Dear" helped define Robert Edward Lee.

And now the cryptic man who lost two Dads in his young life has also passed, along with all of his secrets, lies and genetic ties to who I am.

And the "Lee" in my given name, in honor of a Confederate General with whom I share little philosophical or historical appreciation or respect. I never had the opportunity to ask my Catholic father what he thought about being named after the side that fought for slavery in the Civil War, prod his complex mind on the paradoxes of religion and slavery and how our ancestors fought for such a vile and inhumane concept.

I'll never know the answers, but will be saddled with the guilt and regret for the rest of my days.

"I'm standing at the door of time, I see life complete
Oh father where will I be when I meet my time?
You will pass on and follow me, into the sanctuary

Truth is never what is seems
Bodies wither, but your mind still dreams
No one ever can rest in peace
Until they've learned the game and become light to darkness
See me shine"

Artemis Sere The Cryptographer's Epitaph Funeral Pic 4

People say I resemble him, often offered with the goal of compliment -- as if to look like him, to be his echo, is something I should be proud of. My mad scientist brows grow wild if not trimmed regularly. My facial hair bushes if not shaved. My sloping nose is more similar to my Dad's design than my Mom's, and my complexion seems more aligned to Barry/Skwierawski genetic ethnicities than Dent/Fallberg. Skinny legs and a battle to reduce the central bulge. Tendency toward diabetes and unhealthy habits. The stubbornness. The introversion. The battles with addiction.

There's no escaping the ghost of him -- and his programming -- in me.

Being told I look like him does not feel like a physical compliment, considering taking care of himself -- inside and out -- was the last of his priorities.

Being told I have his temper makes me remember the spanking session which broke his paddle when I was a young, impressionable kid (which I still remember to this day).

Being told I have his stubbornness recalls a fight that he and I had when I moved back into my parents house after my divorce, whn he was too busy being addicted to online gaming to help me get through my painful breakup, too busy building and coding computers and auditing Military money to lend a shoulder to a suicidal son.

Being told I have his disconnection makes me cry, because I know it's true: the face, the brows, and the ghosts in the mirror are the end of a human line. My brothers have not had children, and neither have I. The leaves of our family flutter in the winds of time, one breeze away from lost in the mystery of the human puzzle.

"I am in the mirror, see my reflection in the stars
And as you search for truth, so I will shine to spur you on
Spur you on
Bathe in the pure truth of my light
Time is an illusion, death is not conclusion"

Artemis Sere The Cryptographer's Epitaph Funeral Pic 1


"I'm proud of you, son. I love you."

While these weren't his last words, they are the words I will always carry with me from him, because pride was his mantra. Even when his mind and body were fading, when he spent days confused by meds or low heart function, he still managed to love us and voice how proud he was of each of us. On his deathbed, he managed a stubborn "Yes, Dear" to my Mom, echoing the short-tempered, impatient man that he had become in later years.

My Father had his reasons for being a man of lectures, rather than a man of action; for being a father figure, rather than an engaged participant in my life. My Dad never made it to my personal gallery nor to any of my Gallery Shows, never read one of my books (even though he is source content for much) nor read one of my blogs. He was proud of my drive and accomplishments, but was never interested in cracking the code of his own son, or the Art persona and philosophy I've spent twelve years developing, Artemis Sere.

In the end, all mysteries, cryptographies and sadness were dialyzed into one final exchange and a kiss on his big, wrinkled forehead:

"I love you, Dad."

"I love you too," he responded, in obvious and uncomfortable pain from a catheter that had been planted from groin-to-heart for two days following his last heart attack. Doctors worked frantically to elevate his INR levels so his blood would clot, and they could remove the tube. By 9PM, he was a drained, pained mess, but was shipped anyway to get the catheter removed and get necessary Diabetic treatment -- the first time he'd ever had it two days in a row. He left our family gathering in bad shape, and while we were all aware of the grim truth, we hoped he'd hang on.

Between 1-2AM on January 30, 2019, immediately following the recycling of his blood by machines that did what his kidneys could not, his heart gave up the fight.

The cryptographer bested by the most complex puzzle he'd ever encountered:


"All those who seek the truth will questions still remaining
Now listen closely, and all will be so clear
I am a messenger, a bringer of light from the other side
So chosen now to teach while drifting between lives
Drifting, drifting"

Artemis Sere The Cryptographer's Epitaph Funeral Pic 2
Lasting Echoes

That's what people tell me regularly now: "Hang on. Hang in there. Be strong. Focus on healing".

The darkness of these days cannot be understated. We all knew his death was coming; multiple organ failures and fistula challenges rendered my Dad to a life of walkers, tubes, pills and sleep. For him, there was little true living to be had anymore, even with rehab.

It was more a matter of 'when', than 'if'.

Everyone dies, and most humans go through the throes of the passing of their elders at some point. The logistics and mechanics of what I've gone through are common; the cipher to the cryptoquip of death is unique to each timeline. As my mind stretches through the lines of my history, I struggle for solvency, for the big Human answer to what comprises us -- the genetic inheritance, the tools and traits we develop, and the lasting echoes of each.

I am the sum of all past and present choices, the coalescence of generations of dreams and hopes, failures and fears, worries and wants, adventures and mysteries. There is much that I will never know about my Dad, nor the lost generations -- natural or adopted --that preceded him. These days, I troll the massive matrix of my Ancestry timeline looking for answers to who I am, who we have been, and where we came from. But, for all of my hunting, I am fighting against a wave that won't weaken it's hold:

In time, we will all be forgotten by the quicksilver tides of fragile human time.

I am my Father's son, no divine answer or connection required. I am the final product of the grafting of generations of experience, pain, pleasure, knowledge, majesty and tragedy. The life and death of Robert Edward Lee Zuege is a cryptic puzzle that I will spend the rest of my life understanding and unlocking. 

As an Atheist, I view life without much of the fantastical and fanatical mystery our species tends to apply. Here, science and secularism run in violent conflict with the mystical and supernatural. Somewhere in the intersection of truth and fiction, history and mythology, he and I are on the same page, on the same plane, partying like it was a better day, his patience and purpose guiding me to the person I am determined to come. The gifts that death offered aren't fully observed or appreciated until the end comes full circle.

And the story starts anew.

"I will be reborn."

Through the fires of creation.

Artemis Sere The Cryptographer's Epitaph

Obituary of Robert Edward Lee (Barry) Zuege

Obituary of Robert Edward Lee Barry Zuege

On Friday, February 1, 2019, in the midst of helping my family plan for my Father's funeral, I performed the heartwrenching work of writing his obituary. As a writer, I felt it was my duty to craft his final statement. As a photographer, I took and offered the shot that served as his final, lasting image.

Many thanks to our wonderful, patient friends at Lanham-Schanhofer Funeral Home in Sparta, WI for helping our family conduct a touching, memorable service on February 2, 2019, and for coordinating the communications that alerted his passing to the planet. My Father is buried near my Grandparents, Ken and Virginia Dent, in Woodlawn Cemetery, Sparta, WI.

I am preserving a copy of both his image and his obituary in this blog in honor of his memory.

I love you, Dad. You are greatly missed. #lightspeed


Robert Edward Lee (Barry) Zuege

Robert Edward Lee (Barry) Zuege

Robert "Bob" Edward Lee (Barry) Zuege, 78, of Sparta, WI passed away on Wednesday, January 30, 2019, in Eau Claire, WI.

He was born in Milwaukee, WI to Edward and Margaret (Skwierawski) Barry on September 30, 1940. Edward and Margaret divorced when Bob was 8, and Margaret remarried to George Zuege, who adopted Bob in 1949. Following high school, he joined the Army as a cryptographer and was stationed in Italy.

When his enlistment ended, he completed a Bachelor's degree in Accounting at Spencerian Business College in Milwaukee, WI. Over the course of the next 30 years, Bob worked for the IRS, Chrysler Outboard Corporation, and the Department of Defense. He retired from his position as US Army Auditor in 2000 after decades of working with flag officers around the world.

He married Gail Dent on October 17, 1971, in Park Ridge, IL. They lived in Hartford, WI with their three sons until their Department of Defense commitment stationed them in Texas, Germany and Belgium. The family returned to the United States in 1988, stationed at Fort McCoy near Sparta, WI, where Bob and Gail called home for over thirty years. Bob enjoyed reading, watching movies and the Green Bay Packers, and spending time with the family pets, including beloved retriever, Brett.

He is survived by his wife, Gail (Dent) of Sparta; three sons, Chris of St. Paul, MN, Ryan of Eau Claire, WI, and Robert "Rob" of Roseville, MN; a sister, Beverly (Zuege) Makowski of Menomonee Falls, WI; sister-in-law, Jean Dent, Conifer, CO; daughter-in-law, Lisa, and step-grandson, Zachary.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Edward Barry and Margaret Skwierawski, and his step-father, George Zuege.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 2, at the Lanham-Schanhofer Funeral Home, Sparta, with Deacon Jo Glasser officiating. Burial with full military honors provided by VFW Post 2112 and American Legion Post 100 will follow in Woodlawn Cemetery, Sparta.

Visitation for Bob will be Saturday at the funeral home from 10 a.m. until the time of services. Online condolences may be offered to the Zuege family at

The Lanham-Schanhofer Funeral Home, Sparta, is assisting the family with funeral arrangements.

Obituary of Robert Edward Lee Barry Zuege

Xoterica 16: The Fog

Artemis Sere Xoterica The Fog

β€œArt is the way to the absolute and to the essence of human life. The aim of art is not the one-sided promotion of spirit, soul and senses, but the opening of all human capacities – thought, feeling, will – to the life rhythm of the world of nature. So will the voiceless voice be heard and the self be brought into harmony with it.” (Lee) 

Lost again, or so it seems. The fog of mourning and healing have no boundaries, no distinct edges, and I have spent countless hours fumbling around in the misty aftermath of my Father's passing. It is said that everyone grieves differently, and that wisdom is legit. 

I can attest to the chaos that can consume you when a close, important elder of yours dies.  

Even if the passing is expected, reality hits you like a ten-ton hammer striking a pinata, sending sadness, confusion, reflection and questions everywhere, pulling your heart and mind in directions never stretched. I feel like I passed the true stages of grief years ago, following his first heart attack. However, the mortal strike is always the strongest, and the wounds for the living cut to the core, more violently than one can prepare for. 

Death ends all lectures, silences wisdom and enforces acquiescence. 

My Father, Robert Edward Lee Zuege, 78, passed away in the early hours of Wednesday,  January 30, 2019, from Cardiogenic Shock and multiple organ failures.  He had been suffering from diabetes and a broken heart for four years, troopering like a soldier for his treatments every week. All to no avail. The multiple heart attacks, including the final one, felt inevitable -- like a death sentence mercilessly carried out by an imperfect yet determined executor.

Doctors did what they could to give us hope, but in the end, his weakened heart muscle didn't have the strength to keep fighting.  Per my Dad's DNR guidance, he wanted every effort made at resuscitation, and the hospital staff tried to save his life. The hospital called my Mom around 2:00 AM to ask if they could stop resuscitation efforts. 

Depressingly, my Mom and I were both fast asleep in our hotel room, worn weary by the dismal day, and missed the call from the hospital. 

Artemis Sere Next in Line

Next in Line 

The grim decision on my Dads life was left up to my younger brother, Ryan, who was the secondary emergency contact for my Dad. My Mom and I were awoken ten minutes later by the hotel staff, telling us to call the hospital. Our hearts sank; we both knew the news wouldn't be good. 

However, I was wholly unprepared for missing his exit. I don't think any of us expected he would pass before my youngest brother Rob would make it back from vacation in Florida. We expected he would at least hang on. For months. For weeks. For days. 

For now. 

In all of my future days, I'll never forget the sight or sound of my sleepy  Mom receiving the news of his passing over the phone. The heartbroken wail. The roar of tears. The shattered, trembling voice repeating 

"No, no, no..." 

Not only did we miss the first call from the hospital, but we also missed being at his bedside altogether at his final moments.  

It was roughly -50 degrees out when I had to race my Mom and younger brother from the hotel to the hospital, a cold not observed by Western Wisconsin in 23 years. The roads were dangerously slick with ice and choppy, crusted snow. The windchill was a bone-shattering low, and few doors to the hospital were open in early morning. Our world froze in place at his macabre bedside, where his gasp was locked in an eternal call for release from pain and struggle.  

Overwhelmed with grief, my Mom asked for religious observance. The late-duty Chaplain was a kind lady named Laura, who offered to help in our grieving process and read some scripture and other holy guidance. She produced a purple laminated pamphlet from which she read. Even though she couldn't offer Catholic prayer, and she was in the presence of an atheist (me), she soldiered through a short service for my Father. 

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't provide these details. As with most events in my life, this experience had an abnormal connection: 

On the cover of the purple-ish pamphlet beneath the haphazardly-centered document title, my Seremark was centered in black ink. 

The exact same symbol. 

In a matter of tragic moments, a new paradox of perplexing synchronicities was discovered, unraveling the fabric of my mythos and introducing a brave new catharsis. Look for a future blog on this topic, entitled "The Seremark Synchronicity". 


Artemis Sere Xpterica The Fog

Fog of Death 

The meteorological wake that hit Western Wisconsin following the drop of a polar vortex onto the Midwest featured highly unusual warming, a swing of nearly 100 degrees in a matter of days. The world went from a frozen, blistering blizzard to a pleasant, yet ominous, fog - thickened by the swift recess of inches of snow cover and jagged bluffs.  

The shift in weather was stark and stunning, and I captured the obscurious day with a Dreamscape. Watch for a future blog on this topic, entitled "Dreamscape: Fog of Death". 

The day he died, I ran to his deathbed through frozen air to Critical Care; the day he was buried, I walked through slushy snow and settling mist to his grave. Fellow veterans fired a salute. Two rigid, uniformed men folded a flag intricately and handed it to my crying Mom. And then we processed back through the mud and tears, back to our cars, 

back to normal life, without Dad. 

But life is never normal again once someone of penultimate importance passes in your life. Those events become new signposts in your road, pivot points that force you to scope the full horizon and reassess where you are in your journey.  

For my Mom, she now must consider downsizing, selling the house she and my Dad shared, closing down his life, and getting used to being alone, which is not easy for someone that was married (sometimes turbulently) to the same person for 48 years.  

Widow is an identity that, thankfully, few of us have to endure. I've been through a divorce, painful breakups and half of my adult life single, but have never lost a wife (or husband) to the reaper. As I have witnessed through my devastated Mom, the sorrow is powerful and consuming.  

If you're not careful, you become enveloped in a miasma of melancholy, a fog of death. 

Artemis Sere Fog of Death

The Withering Tree 

The days blur into the night. Dates zoom by on the calendar. Responsibility fades, replaced by the hunt for answers. Why him? Why me? Why this? What should I have done differently? Who really was this man I called "Dad"? Was he happy? 

Am I happy? 

The faithful fall back on scripture and prayer to lead them through the fog of obscure times. Many have offered to pray for my family and me, and all gestures and positive vibes are deeply appreciated. The love and support of friends and colleagues have been touching and amazing. 

But religion isn't my source of comfort. My harmony is here, in the present, through the eyes of the SERE and the actions of this creator. My Dad's influence, his connection to this Artist and human, and his passing will be the subjects of much future content in this blog and in my Art. I have much to share about my past, present and future with my Father, and the strange synchronicities that have surrounded his passing. 

I see the ghost of him in the mirror. I see his flaws and failures, features and fates. He reaches through the funerary fog, offers me a decaying rose from the edge of his grave, and reminds me that life is like fragile petals, lost to the drift too soon. Between wheezes, he tells me that he loves me, as he did so many times before. He has deep pride in me, and I can feel it in the repetition of his words, almost like a paternal mantra.  

All words taken for granted by me -- not on purpose, but because I'm a person of action, not words -- the antithesis of my Father, a man of advice who lacked practice. Ultimately, I realize I'm projecting my issues onto my father. Deep down, I know he was proud of me. 

The real question is "why am I not proud of myself?" After all that I have accomplished, I should be proud of who I am. 

But I'm not.  Lost again, or so it seems. 

I am deeply grateful for the expressed love and support of my father over the last 45 years. He was a caring and loving man. However, as I've learned through researching him over the last month, he had troubled connections to his fathers and grandfathers before him. Those trends may have extended into his offspring, and possibly affected the direction of his three sons not having children, our deep introversion and antisocial behavior patterns.  

Leaves don't fall far from a withering tree.