Monday, April 17, 2017

Growth and Change

Over the last few weeks, I've been over to my daughter and son-in-law's house to help fix up a few things, including ripping out old  carpet painting, and doing some yard work, among other things. My wife has done the same, and my daughter's in-laws and their family are great, hardworking people.

Like most of our lives, the house needs a little fixing here and there, but it has charm and character. 

One of the books I have been reading recently is called Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser. In one section, she explains that "we are chunks of dense matter that need to be cracked  open. Our errors and failings are chinks in the heart's armor through which our true colors shine."

Sometimes, we might be afraid to peel back one more layer of old flooring of an old house to discover what imperfection might be hiding there, but like our own lives, peeling back the layers allows us to share our stories and flourish. Remaining in the dark provides no room to thrive and grow.

As a parent, I want my kids to see my humanity, my flaws, and my uncertainties, for that is who we are. We are able to understand and validate each other's joys and fears. This is what makes us human.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Living and Dying

I'm the little, grumpy-looking one with Mom and
my brothers. Perhaps I missed my nap that day.
I had never seen anyone die before, and I was worried and wondering if I could emotionally handle watching this happen.

At the beginning of January of this year, we knew my mom's life was drawing to a close at the care center where she had been living for the last 14 months of her life. She was in the final stages of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, both terminal illnesses which we fought and struggled with for a long time to keep at bay, but to no avail. My dad, who was living with us at our home nearby, went over the care center in the morning and stayed there the whole day throughout the entire time Mom was there. My wife and I went there almost every day, and other family made regular visits when they could.

In the last couple of months of her life, she spoke less and less, and her appetite dropped off as well. We took turns feeding her because she could no longer do that as well. My wife was exceptional in helping care for Mom for such a long time. I can't emphasize that enough. Mom's brother, Uncle Jay, visited a little over a month before, and two of Mom's sisters came the day before Mom passed.

In the last week of her life, our family camped out at the care center, taking shifts so someone would be with here at all times. Two people would usually sit her room and watch her breathing, blood pressure, and oxygen levels, while other family members slept in another room until it was there turn. Personally, we did all of this because we didn't want Mom to be alone when she died, and I didn't want my dad to be alone either, but I was a little concerned on how her passing would unfold.

Would it be peaceful, or be very labored and hard to watch? I didn't want my dad to watch her suffer in agony; the whole process was hard enough. In the final hour of her life, we could her breathing becoming shallower and her other vital signs slowed down and became more erratic. Yet, in the the final minutes, my brother, niece, dad, and I were able to watch her pass on very peacefully, and it was fitting that she was surrounded by people who cared for her. My wife, son, and other brother had spent hours and nights watching Mom over the last week, and I was grateful for everyone who showered mom with care, including the staff at the care center.

While being a parent has been so important to me, being a son and loving on Mom my in small ways, in life and death, has filled me with gratitude and compassion for others. No one will escape from this life alive, and we should do all we can to help one another, in meaningful ways, live the best life they can. We often have no idea when our time will come, so the best course is to live each day as if it were our last because someday, we will be right.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Life is like a puzzle . . .

Okay. I admit it. I'm a little embarrassed, but I still haven't found my Christmas gift from my son, Michael. (I know, I know, it's April now.) 

Every year, we make multi-stage puzzles with clues to lead the other person's present, but I haven't made it past the second clue and there might be a number of them. The clue I am working on deals with a cryptic musical arrangement, and here is what I have. A tough one that I am probably overthinking.

Our family started this tradition years ago with our oldest son, Josh, and it has carried on for years. 
Basically speaking, each clue leads to another clue, and some of them over the years have required exploring outside in the snow, in the water or near ice-covered streams, and up in the attic of our house. It has taken me up to 6+ weeks to eventually find my present, but this year has been different for a number of years. Yet, my son gets a kick out of my frustation.
Yet, finding these presents is a life metaphor: patience, patience, and more patience. Life would be so boring if every good think just dropped into our laps. Patience seems to have its own reward.
I'll keep you updated.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Art of Being Wrong

There have been times in my life where I was absolutely sure that I saw the world as it really was and then ended up being dead wrong (an example of a thinking error is naive realism). Two of my favorite books on thinking errors are Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz and You're Not So Smart by David McRaney.

As I have raised kids over the years, there have been so many times that I have tripped over my thinking, believing that my vast accumulation of experience somehow qualified me to give my kids that would change their lives. Unfortunately, it has taken me a while to realize that so often I am the one who is "off." At times, they weren't seeking any advice, but just wanted me to listen to their fears, concerns, and anxieties without worrying about what I might think or so. I had to realize that I so often didn't see their world as it really was. Fortunately, the more I kept my mouth closed and tried to listen to their deepest concerns, the more they have seemed to talk to me.

Anytime you feel that people will judge your thoughts and actions, the more you tend to remain silent, which is an emotionally-unhealthy state to be. By allowing and encouraging vulnerability, where you can express your concerns without judgement, you allow deeper and more meaningful conversation to flourish.

Now, that I am a grandfather, I hope to listen and show understanding even more with my grown-up children and their children. Life is about love and connection. Wish me luck.

One Snowy Adventure

A few years ago, I wrote this post, and I think the message is every more important and relevant to me today. Enjoy.

Over the years, I have realized that doing stupid things . . . the types that lead to natural consequences . . . tend to be part of our human existence, and no one is really able to escape this fact. As a young boy in Indiana, wintertime brought with it the joys of playing in the snow and hoping school would be canceled because of a blizzard. This time of year also presented a number of opportunities to explore the nearby woods and pond at the center of our neighbor. Leading into the pond was a small stream that served not only as our local fishery in the summer, but also the whitewater adventures on rafts after a heavy thunderstorm.

I also realize now that the attention span and wisdom of an 11 or 12 year old is often about as short as a blade of grass, and I wasn't exempt from this fact. In the deep of winter I felt one way to demonstrate my manhood was to cross the frozen stream, having absolutely no idea on how think or thin the ice was. I think we all thought the thinner the better because the cracking of the ice as you tried to make it across somehow demonstrate an extreme level or courage rather than sheer stupidity.

On one occasion, we decided to try swinging across the creek on a rope that was designed for summer fun, and in one attempt, I lost my grip and crashed through the ice. Fortunately, the water wasn't that deep, and I was able to pull myself out, but young boys seem to do most things against good reasoning and judgment.

Looking back on that and similar times, I sometimes wonder why in the world I did some of the things I did; I just need to have the same level of patience when dealing with my own kids.