Monday, February 26, 2018

Coming Full Circle

"We never know from one day to the next what surprise lurks around the corner."
  ~ Joy Loverde, Who Will Take Care of Me When I'm Old 

I know, heaven knows I know, what Joy is talking about.  From the major surprises like disease, death, or natural disasters to the minor surprises like a garage door that suddenly won't open or a burst water pipe or a flat tire, we never know.  But we also never know when we'll meet someone who will change the course of our lives or pick up a book that gives us the answer we've been looking for for months.  Or, as happened to me last week, the information that I made a difference in someone's life who continues to make a far greater difference than I ever could have made.

Joy is an old friend. We go back over 25 years.  More than a friend, more like a much younger sister or the daughter I never had or would have been proud to have had.  There was a day when she asked to come in for a coaching session as she wanted to talk about a career change.  A change from the marketing career at which she was skilled, experienced and successful.  A change to something that would use those skills for something that made a bigger difference than promoting someone else's product or business.

I remember that conversation as though it happened yesterday.  I've shared the experience of it many times in coachings and trainings in the years that followed.  I asked Joy only one question.  "What issues are you passionate about - in what arena would you like to make a difference?" She answered quickly - "The way children are treated and the way old people are treated."  I then suggested she go home and choose the one she would like to focus on and think about how she could apply her skills and talents to the problems she saw.

It was as simple as that.  She returned shortly saying she had chosen to approach the issue of eldercare and knew exactly how she might carve out a new career.  What followed was her first book, The Complete Elder Care Planner, speaking engagements, workshops,  consulting and ultimately recognition as a major contributor in the growing eldercare advisory industry.

Fast forward to a week ago.  I was searching for a book, any book that might address the overwhelm I was feeling about a future without my husband.  The perfect book appeared, at least the title suggested that it might be.  As though the author could read my mind - Who Will Take Care of Me When I'm Old.  And the author - Joy Loverde, my Joy.  

I downloaded it immediately and started to read it.  Exactly as I expected, it is well-written, well-researched, clear and compassionate.  But what I didn't expect was to find my name in her acknowledgments.  After all these years.  I didn't expect the tears, gratitude, and the profound sense of satisfaction and delight that almost overwhelmed me.  To know that I had influenced someone who now influences so many others and will continue to do so.  And that I am now a recipient of what was set in motion in that simple conversation long ago.  We have come full circle.  And that knowledge, in itself, may be more important to me than anything in the book.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Random Acts of Kindness

"Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, most underrated agent of human change."
~ Bob Kerrey

I woke this morning to a damp and dreary day. A good day to rest, read, and reflect - especially since we are still recouping from our recent trip to MD Anderson Cancer Center.

This trip can take a lot out of us. It's not just that air travel has become more difficult. It's also the emotional stress of not knowing what we might hear from the hematologist, the physical stress of pushing John everywhere in a wheelchair, the physical stress for him of yet another bone marrow biopsy.  And when we're done, managing another day of travel and our morale for at least another week until we receive the biopsy report.

We've made this trip three times within 17 months. Each with a similar routine, yet each yielding radically different reactions. The first visit we met with the hematologist assigned to us, an austere Russian trained research physician, whose honesty bordered on bluntness, a shocking confrontation with reality while we were already shell-shocked. By our second visit, she was warmer, gentler, but the news she delivered still bleak and unpromising. Still no cure on the horizon. No appropriate clinical trials available. And her concern for John's appearance disconcerting. The biopsy took two attempts, and the results still were inconclusive. Overall, every bit as challenging a visit. Maybe even more so.

It was a surprise, therefore, when we both affirmed as we left our accommodations that this trip was a much more positive experience even though we couldn't pinpoint why at first. Yes, our doctor was even warmer, more personable, more patient with our questions, clearer with her answers.  But still no cure, no appropriate clinical trials. The biopsy went smoother. But still no results yet.

And then it hit us in the airport as someone offered to help with our luggage. This what was different. The constant stream of kindness that had enveloped us the entire trip. People who lifted luggage without being asked. People who held doors and offered help with the wheelchair. People who not only gave directions but walked with us to be sure we were headed the right way - and not because they were paid to do so. People who smiled first. People who genuinely seemed pleased to see us and willing to listen. People who reminded me with every gesture that there are wonderful, kind and decent people all around us.

Simple, unrequested, unexpected acts of kindness. I'd like to think I would always be aware of and grateful for them. But I suspect they have meant so much more because I am so much more aware of our fragility, so much more susceptible to cynicism and despair. Powerful, inexpensive but not underrated in this household.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

One Step at a Time

"Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths."
~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

As much as I love a good quote and have notebooks and computer files filled with them, I have committed very few to memory.   This quote by Goethe is the most recent.

In reflecting on how few I have memorized, I realize there are three reasons a quote makes the cut - it conveys something I already believe but with fewer and more impactful words, it evokes a feeling or belief I wasn't aware I have, or most importantly, it challenges and impacts the way I am thinking.  This quote falls into the third category.

Prior to coming upon the quote, I was most influenced in the way I think about life and its challenges by a transaction with a friend in December l999.  We had just moved to Vegas with my mother, who was grieving the sudden death of my dad that October.  Determined to give her a decent Christmas and reassure her that this was now her home, exhausted and grieving myself, I nonetheless pulled out all the stops and decorated the house (with many boxes still unpacked in the garage) and invited friends for a holiday party.  

The evening hadn't progressed very long when my friend pulled me aside to paraphrase the Breda O'Connor quote and remind me that my future as my mother's caregiver was a marathon and not a sprint - a simple, immediate, and effective image for me.  So effective that I clung to that image for the next 18 years, through caregiving for mom, my battle with breast cancer and John's stem cell treatment for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  And it served me well.

But today, soon to be 77, once again a caregiver, the metaphor or image of running a race, even if a marathon and not a sprint, is no longer helpful.  Not that I would have recognized this were it not for stumbling on this quote.  Somehow the image of walking a winding path feels more congruent with my experiences these past 18 months since John was diagnosed with a currently incurable form of MDS.  Plugging uphill, with unpredictable switchbacks, dips in the road, obstacles to be cleared or avoided, moments when I can barely breathe, the path ahead poorly marked - yes, a winding path up a mountainside.  The more I have reflected on this quote, the more validating it has become.  The more helpful it looms for the months ahead.

I don't know the shape of the mountain ahead of us or how far up the path we will make it together, but I do know, without a doubt, that it will be winding and circuitous, in spots even treacherous.  I do know that we can and will take it one step at a time.

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