A day in the life, 2018

February 25, and this is where I am. In between the day’s demands and the shadows, this is what grief looks like…how it wears, almost five months into my new reality.

This grief is like no other. First, it’s all-encompassing. Losing my son has changed my calendar, my reckoning of life’s history, into a great division of “before” and “after.”

Even when I look fine, and I seem to be involved in other things, awareness is just under the surface. Loss is on my mind and heart, even if I’m able to disguise it and appear “normal.”

I no longer have to remember when I wake up. I wake up already knowing. I know the fact that Alex is gone, and I take up that awareness as soon as I’m conscious.

I recognize that while people have been very kind, and I’ve felt free to speak about Alex, I also have to function, and that means I have to be able to have work conversations; logistics conversations; I want to be able to ask a question in the market without falling apart. I don’t need to answer simple and casual questions (from TSA agents, checkers, hallway passers-by) who initiate the pleasantry of “how are you?” with more response than they want or need to hear. They are not asking for my truth. They are asking for my veneer. And that’s ok. I accept that for the most part, our culture does not expect or invite real answers to these questions of courtesy.

Grief is surprising. It’s not all about sadness, though a lot of it is. I love to talk about Alex in happy moments, remembering funny things he said or did, sweet memories, good times. I talk to him a lot as I move through my days. It’s a one-sided conversation, but I like to think he hears me.

I play music he loves, and I believe he hears that too.

Sometimes grief is overwhelming, and for reasons I don’t always see coming. Walking through the grocery store, the sadness is sharp and deep. We used to talk a lot when he was shopping, he would call me and share all sorts of stuff…we used to laugh a lot. He was picky about food and diet. And bacon. He loved good bacon. How do you manage yourself when you’re suddenly drowning, looking at one of his favorite foods in the market, melting into a pool of memories?

The big times you can see coming, and you brace for them. Holidays…we’ve been through the first round already. I think his birthday will be harder. But I know where that date lives on the calendar, and I’ll be as prepared as I can be to make it a day of happiness that he lived in this world, rather than sorrow that he’s gone.

(I’m trying to train myself to still speak of him in present tense, though I know that may be confusing, and it isn’t always appropriate. I say I love him, not I “loved” him. He is still living, just not in this realm.)

……………..

It’s the small things that sneak up on you that are hardest, really: the moments you just double over because something catches you off guard; the times you have to stop and breathe deep because you can’t just keep going. You have to stop and physically give in to what you’re feeling in the moment. Sometimes I begin sentences in a normal voice, but can’t finish my thought because I’m suddenly overwhelmed.

I never get in his car without feeling like I should thank him for using it. Not that I ever wanted his car. No. I would so much rather have him, infinitely more than a vehicle. But we paid off the car, and brought it up, so now we drive it. I have survivor’s guilt, even though we had no say in what he chose. Even though we would give anything to have him back. The guilt that I am alive and living is so strong, and I don’t know why. I remind myself that he left. He chose to leave, though I know it wasn’t anything that he did to wound us. But even without intention, it did wound us, and we are forever walking around with that hole, that gap, in our beings. Sometimes I think that must be visible to everyone.

I miss talking to him in the places and times when we used to connect. He’d call while I was making dinner, or on my way home from work, and we’d chat. About the little stuff, and the big. Now those times of day are empty, and I wait for my phone to ring, knowing it’s not going to. Or if it rings, it won’t be him.

I hear his laugh, his hearty, doubled-up-with-joy laugh, when he found something so hilarious he had to share. He had a keen sense of humor, and loved a good joke and a funny story. He was quite the story teller too. He had the Irish gift of gab, and he could spin a tale like he was born to do it. He had favorites that grew with the telling. He could turn on accents, face animated and body following the story, going through all the motions, giving you the full force of his personality, filled to the brim with life, overflowing with charm, his personal brand of attraction. He was handsome and sweet. He was the kind of man who grabs your heart, for the best of reasons.

…………

Grief bounces off every-day items and situations that have no connection to Alex, at least as far as anyone else could see. But there are links to him everywhere, and I see all of them.

It works like this:

We last saw Alex in Hawaii on a family vacation, and I used a new brand of hair dryer on that trip. I liked it so much that I bought a hair dryer like the one in the hotel when we got home. I had used it for months before Alex died, with no thought connecting him to the dryer. But now, every morning, I see the hair dryer and I pick it up to dry my hair, and there is an immediate path that opens to Hawaii, and to Alex, just because that’s all connected now.

The whole state of Colorado is linked to him, and a million other things. Things like an ad for In ‘n Out Burgers, which he loved. I see that chain is expanding to Colorado, and I mourn that he won’t get to enjoy it in his home state. He’ll miss that. As though it matters, with everything else he’s missing, or everyone who’s missing him! But it does matter. It’s another dart to my heart, sharp. And yet so trivial. How do you explain you’re crying over a burger chain your son liked? It seems silly. But in grief, nothing is silly, nothing is meaningless. The smallest, most insignificant connection can feel momentous. And the links that really are meaningful can take your breath.

Anything that touches our life with him growing up falls into this crevasse. Anything that touches on something he loved, or even something he disliked…anything that reminds me of something that reminds me of him…like the hair dryer, the object or situation or memory is not necessarily something anyone else would connect to Alex. But I do, effortlessly and instantly. It is an involuntary response to awareness of him, and awarness that he’s not here.

Grief is both exhausting and effortless. I say effortless because it happens naturally, without putting intentional thought or emotion toward my grief, or toward the one I’m missing. It just happens. It is lightening fast, and penetrates to the marrow. Like a physical jolt or wound, I feel the hurts, deep and painful.

It is exhausting because it doesn’t end. You know the way you feel when everything is going right? When you’re well with the world? I don’t know if I can ever feel that again. I believe Alex is in a better place, as they saying goes. I believe he’s at peace, and I believe he can see us and know how much we love and miss him. But even believing all of that, it doesn’t change the reality that I miss him being here. I miss knowing he’s out and about, doing his thing, being Alex. And when I do my mental checks to see that all is right with the world, I feel for him. And he’s not there. And I can’t connect. I can’t fix it. I don’t know how to make it right.

So I live with this. It’s ok. I accept this as part of what it means to love, to be vulnerable, to invest in another person. I invested in my son, and he repaid that investment with so much that was good, and beautiful, and sweet. I just wish I could have changed the ending.

But that too, I’m coming to see differently. I’ll always regret that he couldn’t continue. But I’m coming to accept that he felt that way, and it was his right to make that decison. And I believe that even the dead have a right to privacy. I don’t know all the issues that led to his choice to die. But he was 30, an adult, and as much as he shared, he was not under obligation to share everything. We all have chapters we don’t read out loud, and I accept that ultimately, he chose not to share what he was thinking those last hours. We know a bit, from the words he left. But we don’t know all, and we won’t.

Just because we are mother and son, the relationship doesn’t erase the right to our own lives, our thoughts, and our choices. Just as I haven’t shared everything in my life with my children, so they have a right to filter their lives. It’s a matter of respect, and it’s also reality. Everyone should have the privilege of managing their choices and their privacy.

If that sounds like I’m approving of suicide, or even advocating for it, I’m not. I am trying to accept what I must, and recognize that life is not a given. We don’t have control over anyone beyond self.

I belong to a FB group of survivors of suicide who have a military affiliation. The stories I see posted are all so similar…stories of (mostly) young men who seem to have had so much to offer, who were loving and generous, and seemed fine, or mostly fine, until suddenly, shockingly, they were not. The spouses, mothers, fathers, siblings, and children of these individuals write from varying places of disbelief, sorrow, depression, and confusion. What happened? What did they miss? What went so tragically wrong?

I understand. We know some of Alex’s story, but not all. He didn’t choose to share everything with us, or seemingly, anyone. Or perhaps he shared bits and pieces with different friends and family, but not all with anyone. We are left trying to piece together the puzzle.

What I’m coming to feel, to believe, is that the why is not really important. It would have mattered if we could have understood enough to have stopped his death. But now, knowing more…well, it feels like dissecting his last days and hours is an invasion. If he wanted us to know, he would have let us know.

This isn’t coming from lack of love, but rather, from deep respect. My son was a strong person, a deep thinker. If this choice to end his life was what he came to after considering his options, even if I strongly disagree, I know, in that moment of decision, he believed he was doing the best thing. I may disagree with his choice, but I also respect that it was his choice to make.

This is a hard stance to take. Aren’t we all connected, and don’t we owe something to the others in our lives? By choosing to remove himself from his family and friends, he impacted all of us, and it’s so hard to bear. It’s so hard to accept his loss.

Yes, I believe we do owe something to the people in our lives. But when anyone reaches the point Alex reached, I don’t think they’re capable of seeing that. I believe with all my heart that his choice to die wasn’t made to hurt anyone…not family, not friends, not his girlfriend. He was choosing to end his pain. It seems so incomprehensible. Didn’t he grasp that ending his pain would be painful for everyone? How could he not see that?

That’s why suicide is often viewed as an act of selfishness. But I believe it isn’t about selfishness. I believe suicide reflects the victim becoming so blinded by their pain they don’t recognize the enormity of the loss they inflict on everyone who loves them.

I think about all this, turn it over and over in my mind, try to come to some place of peace. I talk it out loud, reason it out to Alex. I want him to know what I’m thinking, what I’m working through. I want him to know he is loved, in the here and now, even if he is beyond us, living in a different realm.

It turns out I need his approval for going on, and maybe it helps him to feel my acceptance, as much as I can accept without endorsing his choice. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to anyone else. I don’t know.

I only know what I have to live with, or without, more accurately. And I know that to live with this reality, and to live without Alex, I have to find a way to make some sense of it. Making sense of an act that seems senseless to me is a feat of mental gymnastics. But I’m doing it. I’m trying to see from his perspective, and remove myself. That’s the only way I can confront this.

I come back to the same place again and again. If I couldn’t save Alex, maybe I can save someone else? Maybe in reality; or maybe I can help someone else who struggles with loss. Come along side and say I understand. Push for awareness, interevention, blood drives, laughter, and all the things Alex stood for and loved. It’s the only path I see to walk. Honoring my son with strength, and with understanding, as much as I am able.

The grief is there, a part of me. I don’t know how it will be five years from now, or ten. I expect it to continue. Maybe finding ways to use our story will soften the pain a bit. Or maybe not. Whatever I can do for anyone else, it won’t bring him back. But maybe he will see, and smile, and know his spirit is still having an impact. He’s still doing his thing, in this life, and in the next.

Quotes…there are so many powerful words that speak to pain, to loss, to grief. This is one I like…only one of hundreds, maybe thousands.

‘You know’ – she shrugs – ‘most people’s lives are a struggle. This is just my recipe. You have a choice with your experiences, even if they have been negative and difficult, and one thing you can do is turn pain to power.’   – Thandie Newton

That’s a beautifully succinct way to put it…the recipe is to turn pain to power. I don’t interpret “power” as personal power or for personal benefit. I interpret this as the power to overcome, to make something positive from great pain and loss. And that’s what I’ll try to do, for Alex, for myself, for my family. For everyone who knew him.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

This year, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t need to send flowers or do anything long distance for Mother’s Day. Over the past week, I’ve spent time with my mother, my mother-in-law, and my daughter. And of course, I’ve been with the littles. Wonderful to give gifts and love in person!

Beautiful mothers all, the inter-generation connection is sweet and powerful to experience, as I’ve been blessed, again, to touch people who are part of the fabric of my ties that bind.

My goal as a mother was to be the best example, parent, friend, and teacher I could be. Of course I didn’t always live up to my aspirations, but I tried. That much I know. And that’s all any of us can do…we try, and keep on trying.

I learned so much from my mom and my mother-in-law about the work of parenting, of friending, and of the on-going nature of mothering. Watching my daughter parent reminds me of the stages and the changes of this life of motherhood…how it shifts and grows, widens and deepens with the years.

Thank you to all the mothers in my life…for the joys, the patience, the humor, the tears, and the memories. It’s been an amazing experience, and a gift that keeps on giving.

Roses

The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children. ~ Jessica Lange

Spring, glorious spring!

“Let it rain on some days,
Let yourself shiver on some cold nights,
So when it’s Spring you’ll know why it was all worth going through.”
― Sanhita Baruah

After a snowier-than-usual winter, this week brought some sunny days, and with the first day of spring, a spring in my step as well. Sunshine will do that for you, when you live in a rain forest! 🙂

You’d think that in SE Alaska, snow would be common. You would be wrong, at least at sea level, and in this small region of the state. Rain is common, storms are common, but not snow. This year my boots got to walk all over town as I had the chance to wear them most days the past six weeks. I’ve turtle-necked my way through, and now, as April approaches,  I’m looking forward to shedding a layer or two. It will be nice to put away gloves and scarves, and walk out without the extras.

As winter leaves, I feel the flow of spring-time energy. I picked up a paint brush yesterday to freshen up a wall or two; such a simple thing, but exciting after a hiatus of tackling projects. Spreading color on the walls was therapeutic and nourishing, a visible illustration of what I felt happening in my spirit.

I’ve filled the pantry, and after two years of minimal cooking, I’m trying new things, dishing up old favorites, and using cookware that’s been out of sight and out of mind.

I’m reading again, books that speak to my heart, and some new finds prompting me to thought.

I’m thinking of the curious combination of spring strength and softness…the strength it takes for green leaves and tiny flowers to push into the sunlight and the softness of the  early morning sun on my face as I walk to work. I think about the strength it takes to keep moving and growing through all the phases of life and the softness of heart that comes with experience and age. (Sometimes hearts harden with age, but I’m choosing not to do that.)

Strength and softness: that’s the combination I want in my life. I love strength of spirit, will, and courage. I love the softness of kindness, generosity, and gentleness.

Spring reminds me that the harshness of winter is disappearing, and the sweetness of the next season is here.

Seasons exist in all realms of life, and seasons of energy, creativity, and accomplishment are no less real than the seasons of the calendar. Manifesting in different ways, the results are sometimes visible, sometimes not.

I’ve learned that human seasons rarely match up with the calendar. I’ve learned that sometimes you can push yourself into the next phase of life, and sometimes, like a flower waiting to bloom, you have to wait for your next season to arrive. Some things you just can’t hurry.

I’ve learned that you can’t force what isn’t ready. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

When you’re ready for a new season, it will appear. In good time, but not before you’ve done the work to be ready to move forward.

The past couple of years have been quiet, times of growth and discovery. And those times are vital. All humans need time to percolate a bit, time to let life flow around and over, time to make sense of what was, what is, and what’s changed.

I sometimes call it wandering in the wilderness.

Good to do, but also good to come out of.

No epiphany required for the sunshine of springtime to remind me, it’s time to get busy. Time to paint, and plant an herb or two, and a flower or two, time to create in the kitchen, time to shift to a new season.

And while my hands are busy, it’s good to practice the values of strength and softness.

How about you? Are you feeling the pulse of springtime? Tell me about it? I’d love to know what spring sunshine prompts in you!

~ Sheila

Sit with the broken, don’t add to the hate

I’m not interested in whether you’ve stood with the great. I’m interested in whether you’ve sat with the broken.

Social media makes it easy to know the difficult stories, the tragedies, that rain down on all of us through the 24-hour cycle, the never-ending barrage of updates and breaking news.

And somehow, everyone feels empowered to speak out, to assess and comment on what’s happening, to add their two cents.

Have you read comment threads on some of the posts that circulate? I don’t frequent extreme sites, but even articles that show up in my Facebook or Twitter feed are full of opinions as to what should happen to people viewed as the latest enemies of humanity.

Not that I’m defending enemies of humanity.

But do the rest of us need to become monsters, in response to monstrosities?

This is not about enemies of humanity. It’s about the rest of us, and who we become, in response, to terrible things that happen in the world.

I try not to get caught up in the negative. But it’s frightening what people wish on others, and what extreme things people are willing to say, in the context of judging a situation they have no involvement with.

Are horrible things happening that demand righteous indignation and calls for justice? Yes, without doubt. And I hope justice is served.

But in the process of looking for justice, I hear voices calling for barbarity, for inhumanity, for extreme punishment.

One crime does not merit another. I don’t want to see torture or extreme punishment inflicted in the name of justice. We recognize that some humans do terrible things to others. We should be able to acknowledge that and look for answers, without becoming hate-filled.

There are surely ways to punish, to imprison or require restitution, if humanly possible, that are yet humane.

I’m not suggesting that all wrongs can be righted with imprisonment, and I’m not attempting to weigh in on a discussion of death penalty crimes.

I am saying…whatever punishments society hands out, we shouldn’t devolve to the same level as the criminals and terrorists we abhor.

Or if we do…how are we any better?

I can’t imagine losing someone to a terrorist attack…my heart bleeds for anyone who knows that anguish.

I can’t imagine being a victim of a hate crime, or a vicious personal attack, and I can’t speak for people who’ve experienced that damage.

But for those of us who are onlookers, who comment from the sidelines of social media platforms…even if there is a need to call for justice, surely we can make those calls without hatred and without desire for inhumane retribution.

I want to live in a society that defends victims and holds the guilty accountable.

I do not want to live in a society that occupies itself with meting out inhumane responses to the guilty. That makes us no better than the ones we accuse of hate and terror, of criminal acts and inhumanity.

Can we find a way to uphold the broken, the victims, the injured, demand swift and just retribution, without going to some dark and frightening place with our on-line comments, thoughts, speech?

For myself, I’ve learned to mostly tune out…I don’t watch news online, I rarely click-through to follow headlines, and I seldom read comments on posts that appear to be stoking the fires of divisiveness.

Everyone who reads and posts can make choices…to be part of healing, or to up the ante to extremes…violence, rhetoric, retribution.

I am not saying that crimes do not require punishment, nor am I saying we should be passive in the face of terrorism. I am saying, we should be careful. We should be thoughtful. We should ask if we’re fanning flames, or trying to put them out.

These are difficult times, and answers are often not clear cut…as a person of Christian faith, I often struggle with when to turn the other cheek, and when to voice righteous indignation at wrongs done to defenseless people.

The answer I can consistently find is this: I want to support the weak, sit with the broken,  seek justice for the guilty, and promote respect for humanity and life. There are many doing just this, encouraging justice, love, and reason in the face of horror.

Justice…not vengeance.

There are also those who say terrible things, in response to terrible things. And I just don’t see…how does that help anyone?

No one should become a monster, in the name of defeating monsters.

 

Happy birthday to my one and only

That would be Rob, he is my one and only, and today is his day.

I saw this recently, and it’s perfect:

How easy sleep comes
when some piece of me touches
any piece of you.        Tyler Knott Greyson

He’s been off on a road trip to visit family, and I’ve been on a little trip of my own. Today we’ll reconnect, and celebrate the beginning of his new year, and know it’s all good.

And tonight we’ll sleep, hearts touching, just as it should be.

Version 2

 

Homeless by design

We’ve entered a new era, a new adventure. We’re officially homeless, with no new address in sight.

The transition began in the fall of 2014 when we sold our last house and moved our remaining belongings to storage. We’ve lived since then out of a combination of roller bags, back packs, temporary work housing, camping, visiting with family, and the occasional VRBO (vacation rental by owner).

Now we’ve removed the camping element, turning the travel trailer over for consignment sale. We sold my car in December, and Rob’s truck last weekend. They were mostly living in storage.

Between us we have keys for our mailbox, and keys to temporary duty housing in Alaska.

We have no idea how long this will last, or where our next permanent landing place will be. For now, it’s enough that we know the schedule for the next few months. We’ll connect with family, work a bit, travel, experience, and manage the routines of life. All without a home, or vehicles.

You wouldn’t know, to look at me, that this would be a choice I would make. I remind myself that life is about seasons, and this is just a different season than I’ve experienced before. If much of my life has been about nesting and the pleasures of making a home, this chapter is about living, literally, outside the box, stretching myself in ways I could only imagine before, improvising, serendipity, the pleasures of the moment.

Some of this we’ve chosen, other pieces have just evolved.

In many ways the living is easy.

The benefits?

I don’t have to schedule maintenance on anything or keep up with a yard. I don’t have to do much cleaning these days. We have no house payment, no car payment. (To be honest, we were done with those payments before we sold the cars or the house, but it’s still good to know.) We keep an non-owner auto policy that gives us insurance coverage for rental cars, and we maintain a mailing address so we can receive the few pieces of actual mail that come our way. We have a monthly storage fee on a one-car garage size unit, which we occasionally access to switch out clothes or seasonal items.

When we travel, we’re not locked into a specific destination…no returning to an RV or one location. We plan to use this time to explore and check off places on our must-see lists.

We get to try a variety of vehicles on for size. We did the math. We can rent a car for about three months of the year before we cross the line of spending more than we would spend annually on insurance and vehicle maintenance and storage fees. When we work, transportation is provided, so we don’t need to rent during that time. Depending on where we’re staying when we’re not working, we may or may not need a vehicle. And even if we end up spending more in rental / shuttle / cab fees than we would typically spend to own, there’s still tremendous flexibility.

Making these choices helped us purge, clean out, and really consider which possessions are important, necessary, and worth keeping. In particular, I, lover of my stuff, have done a lot of soul searching as I think about what I need to hold, and what I need to release.

It’s not always easy, but the freedom is amazing.

The drawbacks?

I sometimes miss a sense of home that is familiar and inviting. Clinic housing tends to be functional and comfortable, but it isn’t homey. It isn’t beautiful. And it isn’t mine. Hotel or vacation rentals are generally comfortable and even inviting, but of course they don’t feel like “home.” Family spaces are certainly familiar and homey, but that’s a different experience as well.

None of this is bad, as much as it is different.

Our littles won’t know what it’s like to visit our home, at least for a while. It’s already been too long since we were settled for them to remember visiting us in the last house we had. We see them at their house, or when we connect elsewhere. That’s fun, but different too.

I miss my things, sometimes. I mostly miss my kitchen. I know everything is safely stored away, awaiting the next nest. But I don’t know the date of “next.” There’s no move-in date on my calendar to plan toward, yet.

The cautions?

You must be good at planning ahead to live like this. We can be spontaneous with our time off, but when we’re working, (we work about half the year) we have to commit to that schedule far enough in advance to arrange travel. Usually we’re planning two to three months out. There are a lot of logistics issues to keep up with.

We’re thoughtful about how much and how often we land on family. We don’t want anyone to get tired of seeing us, and we don’t want to be a burden or take advantage of family because we’re choosing to live like this. This is our choice, not our family’s. That means when we visit, we pay for a lot of things…meals, or gas, or help with whatever we can, and we don’t stay too long. A few days is usually about right.

There are some oddities about living this way. It’s hard to give a short answer when someone asks where we live. It’s challenging to schedule some things…dental cleanings and haircuts, health care, tax prep…sometimes we’re in the right place when one of these services is due, and sometimes not. Just another area of life that makes careful planning essential.

So far I’ve been able to keep up with the right clothes for the right season / climate, haven’t found myself in a summer location with winter clothes in my suitcase. But it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure. So far, our luggage has kept up with us, every step of the way, every flight. Nothing lost or damaged. But it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure.

Of course we’re not the only people on the planet living an unconventional lifestyle. A lot of people are nomads, my husband’s term of choice. I sometimes think about trying to chronicle all the stories, the lessons I’ve learned from living like this. Maybe I’ll do it. Right now I’m busy juggling work and new site, new book in final pre-print phase, personal travel, work travel, the occasional blog post, staying connected to family and friends.

One of these days we’ll land again, unpack, get into a routine. One of these days..

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost

 

 

 

 

Fighting fear

Fear is the great paralyzing force of life. For me that’s certainly been true.

Let me count the ways I fear:

I fear death, illness, or injury to people I love.

I fear catastrophe…the unforeseen and unstoppable forces that assault life.

I fear loss…loss of relationships, loss of security, loss of order.

I fear uncertainty. I fear choosing poorly.

I fear my own inadequacies and failings.

Out of all of these, what do I control?

The reality is: not much.

I can do my best to be prepared, to be the person I want to be in any given circumstance.

But so much is beyond me, beyond my reach.

When I accept that, the next step is to look at what I can control.

Fear is never going to completely go away. But I can divide fear into the category of “what can I do about it?” and “I can’t do anything about it.”

Thinking about fear this way helps. Helps me focus on what I can manage, prepare for, guard against. One thing I’ve learned to do: I ask what’s behind the obvious fear. For example, if I’m afraid of losing my job, what’s that really about? The job, or what the job represents? Is it the specific job I want to hold, or the security for my family that the job provides?

If I can break fear down, know what’s really behind it, I know what’s critical. I can plan for the possible loss I see on the horizon, do what I can to brace myself.

The other kind of fear? Well, that I have to set aside. No worrying or planning can prevent natural disasters, accidents, life-threatening disease. I don’t want to lose the best of life worrying about the worst of life. That would be a tragedy in every way.

Fear can be a good thing, a motivating thing, when I know how to manage it. It can be a cautionary response to something dangerous.

I won’t say fear is a friend. But it doesn’t have to be the enemy either.

Fear is just an emotion that can give me information. ~ Ed McClune

When I think of it this way, it’s manageable. Fear no longer controls me. I won’t say I control fear. But at least I’m no longer paralyzed by it.

And that’s a good beginning.

When I’m not paralyzed, I can move, and when I move, I progress.

It’s never going to be easy to beat back fear. It is doable. But you have to be fierce about it…fight it. Grow strong. Become resolved. That only happens with time, and proving to yourself that it’s actually possible to outlive your fears.

Yes, sometimes the worst happens. This is life, and there’s no escaping the realities that cause fear. But somehow, somehow, survival may be possible. And if you can survive, you can find your way through fear. One baby step at a time.

What information is fear giving you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standards

“Get caught doing something right.”

I started working in the field of health care in 2006. I had a side-door entry, coming in through an administrative role. My experience of health care is from largely from the business perspective. Still, though I have no clinical skill myself, there’s a lot of overlap with the clinical world, specifically with staff.

I spend a lot of time working to recruit providers and nurses, to coordinate meetings, trainings, and arrange for temporary provider coverage. I write newsletters and policies and the occasional grant.

I swim in corporate email.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming…all the technology, regulation, terminology, bureaucracy, acronyms, staff changes, opinions, personalities…and that’s before patients are added to the mix…the world of the modern family practice clinic.

There are so many patient needs that this community addresses every day, with a shared commitment to ethical care and a standard of best practices.

In the midst of this busyness, there are lessons to be learned, lessons worth observing and passing on. In the whirlwind that envelopes the day-to-day of the clinic, these are the practices I believe in.

This list isn’t a standard for the delivery of health care; it’s a standard, period. You don’t have to be a health care worker to treat someone with dignity, and you can be a leader with great vision and skill even if you were first trained as a provider. These attributes are not incompatible. I’ve known people who exemplify the wonderful blend of compassionate care giver with a head for business and leadership.

These worlds, the often competing worlds of business and health care, overlap so much: they intermingle, and there is no separating them. Sometimes it is to the detriment of each. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all learn, and perhaps remove some of the cynicism in the process.

I have to believe it’s possible to bring out the best in each other. And with all the meaningless and trivial, there is actual good accomplished.

Here’s how you do it, pure and simple. Turns out, good business and good medicine have a lot in common.

  • People rise to their potential when they have clearly defined structure and expectations, and work in an environment of trust, integrity, and transparency.
  • Right makes might! Doing the right thing commands respect and gives moral authority. Leaders are most effective when they are respected. Respect is a product of living with character and integrity. (If you’re unsure about a decision you’re making, visualize yourself explaining your choice to someone you respect. If you can’t feel good about sharing your decision, you should probably reconsider.)
  • The greatest deficit in most organizations is at the leadership level. Leaders need to set the tone, remove barriers to success, then get out of the way.
  • Principles are timeless, process is not.
  • Promote an environment of creativity and thinking outside the box. When an idea has merit, it deserves recognition and promotion. But don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that because a decision or method has been accepted, it is set in stone. Leaders understand innovation is the balancing tool of structure. Great organizations regularly evaluate and adjust process.
  • Do one thing at a time. Focus! Concentrating on one thing at a time is actually more productive than multi-tasking.
  • Define the problem. When something is not working, take the time to get to the bottom of the issue. Sometimes the most obvious difficulty is only a symptom of a greater problem.
  • When you’re problem solving, listen and then ask questions. Survey everyone involved. The perspective of an entry-level employee may be just as valid as the opinion of a department head. People with different roles in an organization have very different insights into how things work, and every point of view is important.
  • Separate noise from the real issues. Sometimes people are just focused on the drama, rather than the root cause. If you correct root causes, the noise will usually go away.
  • Change is inevitable. No individual, position, or process will last forever. Change can be unsettling, but it can also be refreshing.
  • Acknowledge mistakes. Apologize when necessary. Be gracious when someone apologizes to you. Set the example.
  • Express ideas as simply as you can. Be direct. Don’t use “corporate speak.” Simple is best, and people know when they’re being patronized with a lot of flowery words.
  • Promote an atmosphere of calm. Chaos is unsettling and leads to loss of productivity. People do not thrive in an atmosphere of uncertainty.
  • Promote a positive environment. Discourage gossip. Catch people doing something right. Reward that. Honor that.
  • Give honest value and treat people fairly, and both you and your organization will reap the rewards. Perhaps not every time, but in time. Plus, doing the right thing has an impact on the doer. As Abraham Lincoln said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad.”
  • What you reward, you repeat. What you permit, you promote. Set the tone, and most people will rise to the expectation.

I’ve sometimes been accused of being idealistic. Well, I’ll take that. I would rather have high hopes and expectations than weary cynicism.

Find your brave.

Go forth and slay dragons. Get caught doing the right thing.

Love is

Love is perhaps the most over-used and least understood word in any language.

And today, Valentine’s Day, it is especially overworked. Love is the key word in all the cards and messages that go out across the world.

But what is its essence?

To love without condition means selfless reaching out, a giving up, putting the other person first.

Love forgives, and doesn’t look back.

Love holds on, and doesn’t give up.

Love doesn’t measure past faults.

Love stands up and braces against the challenges of life.

Love is strong.

Love is soft.

Love is amazing when you feel it flowing out, and overpowering when it comes in like a tide.

The greatest love is not found in a season of new. It can only be fully discovered and revered in maturity. How can we know what we have without comparison, without recognizing we’ve weathered and grown? And how can we know how strong love is unless it has been through the fire?

We can only know we love unconditionally when we’ve confronted conditions.

The beautiful moments make the photos, the Facebook page, the Twitter feed.

The hard times make the love. 

It is the hard times that tell you if you have the real thing or the pretty thing, the last-a-lifetime connection or the last-as-long-as-it-feels-good relationship. There are plenty of those around, and yes, it is easy to mistake one for the other.

Who doesn’t like it when it feels good?

No one has the answers, a formula worked out neat and predictable, least of all me.

But I know it when I see it.

And I know it is worth having, worth working for.

On a day of icons, roses and chocolates and pretty cards, if you’re receiving or giving, I hope you’ll enjoy the moment.

Just know…the real thing is likely to show up on a Tuesday, disguised as something not glamorous, not photo-worthy, even unexpected.

And I guarantee…the Tuesday moment when love is demonstrated, not with beauty and ceremony, but in a flash of nitty-gritty, real life, and inconvenience…look there for the meaning, for the stamp of belonging.

Look to those moments to see love in all its power, showing up without the disguise of romance, standing in the gap and holding firm when you need it most and maybe deserve it least.

We can all be pretty and sweet on date night. But on a Tuesday…that’s when the real thing happens, and the bonds are forged.

Happy Valentine’s Day, to all the romantic souls who dress up today and celebrate the moment.

And may your Tuesdays be beautiful too, full of opportunity to give and receive real love, without condition, with all your heart.

Love is Blind

Too busy to choose?

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.   ~ Old Zen saying

I find it easy to be busy. Easy to let the tasks of life fill the days and create a sense of pressure. And though I’ve streamlined my holiday plans, December is not a month that lends itself to a slower pace.

Well, let’s be honest…is there any month that slows down? Not on my calendar.

And if I’m already busy, how am I supposed to carve out extra time to sit and meditate? Or find the quiet for reading and reflection?

It’s like so many other paradoxes in life:

The more love you give away, the more you have.

Without darkness there can be no light.

The pursuit of happiness makes people unhappy.

What is this strange logic that works in spite of itself?

The way I make sense of it is to understand the power of deliberate choice.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve lost doing useful things that were unplanned. I sidetrack myself when I sit down to online work and before I begin I have to check email, my bank balance, my credit card charges, my this, my that, my other….All helpful, but not necessarily helping me to the end point, the goal of why I sat down with my computer in the first place.

Other times it’s errands. I have something that I need to do, but I tack on other stops since I’m out. Sometimes I lose whole afternoons to things that didn’t have to be, just because I was out and about anyway.

That may sound like good planning, batching running around and being efficient.

But the busyness also gives me a false sense of accomplishment. It’s easy to get to the end of one of those days and kid myself that I’ve done a lot, when in fact I’ve done very little that I needed to do, or wanted to do.

I’ve done what was in front of me to do, just following the line of busyness right into exhaustion.

But when I choose and stick to my choices, I control the game. When I set aside an hour to meditate, or an hour to read something powerful, I know I won’t have time to check all my favorite sites, or watch a casual hour of TV. I’ve chosen, I’ve committed myself. The decision is made up front, and I’m not even tempted to the things that nickel and dime my hours.

I’m still working on the discipline to set a specific time to read, and a time to meditate. I’ve been traveling, and that’s never a time to create a new routine.

But the paradox is also…if I put off until it’s convenient, it will never happen.

When I tell myself I’m too busy, I’m not always truthful. I may be filling my time, but I’ll acknowledge there’s a big difference between busy and productive.

Not that I think there’s no room for down time in life. Of course I need the down time, the lazy afternoons or slow mornings when I feel the luxury of a change of pace or the joy of the unexpected.

I try to get around this with lists. Yes, I’ve written about the power of lists before, and how as a list maker I’m compelled to check off things as they’re done. But here’s the thing…if I’m deliberate about sticking to my list, I’m better about avoiding the time-suckers. Because you know what never makes it on my list?

Funny, I never list browsing on Pinterest.

I never schedule time for catching up on Facebook.

I never set aside time to aimlessly wander the internet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, she hastened to add!

But you know what I mean. It’s ok to do it now and then. But too many of those side trips and I’ve eaten up my hour to sit, or my time to read something inspiring, given away all my opportunity for real, and substituted illusion.

Do you ever catch yourself doing that? Give up real for illusion?

One of the words I heard over and over again at the meditation retreat was “balance.” The need for balance is a struggle for most people, and that’s pretty well acknowledged. There are whole book store aisles devoted to time management and work/life balance, personal/family balance, etc., etc., etc.

However you manage it, here’s my tip: Choose, and choose wisely. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Be picky. Be focused. Be honest with yourself and with your time.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time you’re really busy? You’ll find yourself sitting for an hour, and you’ll know it was just what you needed to do.

Hope overcomes doubt.

No guilt, no telling yourself you don’t have time.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.  ~ Frank Herbert