Sunday, August 28, 2016

Helpless is not Hopeless

Image result for helpless imagesBack in 2009 just before I was to run the Boston Marathon I wrote a blog called “Hope is a 4 letter word”.   I’ve included the link below for those that might want a trip down nostalgia lane but here’s a snippet from it:

But HOPE also has a different meaning. Wikipedia defines it as “an emotional state different from positive thinking.”  Hope is the emotional life jacket that we hang on to when everything around us seems to be crumbling. The real test of the word is when you face those really hard times that life throws at you like the loss of a job, your home, a child or spouse, or a long term or critical illness. Often times it is the HOPE that if I keep moving forward things will get better.

Ever notice how much easier it is to get your "hopes up" when you are surrounded by teammates, or family, or fellow workers supporting you? I like to think about hope as a light that needs power to shine. Everyone can give a bit to it themselves but it shines brightest when there is support to help.

I’ve had a blessed life.  Some might say it’s a credit to hard work but anyone who had read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell knows there is more to it than that (basically things that are out of your control, like your birth date, can have a significant impact on your success).     Yet, over the last 10 years there have been three life changing events that have brought me up short (not counting the time my older brother fed me rocks as a baby and I had get my stomach pumped, or the time my other brother smashed me over the head with a golf club….brotherly love). 

Next month our family faces the 10th year anniversary of the death of my youngest child.   As any parent who has gone through this knows it is a loss that you never really get over, you just learn to deal.  Some never do.   

The second was the premature birth of my first grandchildren, twin boys.    They were so small when they were born that when I held them in the neonatal care unit at the hospital I could actually hold them in the palm of one hand.   

The third was waking up one day to find out I have Leukemia.  The doctor had to say it twice before it sunk in and even then I was in complete denial.  Obviously they made a mistake, I don’t get sick.  As it turns out, facing your own mortality is actually easier than facing the affects it has on the loved ones around you. 

What all three of these situation had in common was the total feeling of helplessness.  The ability to “fix” the situation is totally out of my control.   For a fix-it person like myself it is totally unnerving.   It’s easy to see how this could lead to feelings of hopelessness, a sense that it will never get better.

For me, it was learning to accept being helpless and relying on other people to help (doctors, nurses, counselors and most of all friends and family).    I think it was said best by the double amputee soldier in the Tina Fey movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.   “Embrace the suck and move the f--- on”.    There’s a certain peace to letting go and turning the outcome over to the experts and God.   I can be helpless but not hopeless.

And the biggest part of staying hopeful has been the support and prayers all of you have sent me.  I can’t thank you enough for sticking by me in the tough times.  We won’t be out of the woods for a few years but the preliminary analysis from the bone marrow biopsy is looking good.  We will have the detailed chromosomal analysis latter this week that will tell us next steps and the likelihood of recurrence.  Fingers crossed…I’m hopefulJ.

Wishing you all great health…..

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Chasing a piece or a peace

It’s hard to believe that for the last 40+ years I’ve been working in the high tech industry (hold the age jokes….I’ve heard them all).   Partially because it’s hard to believe there was a high tech industry 45+ years ago.   The computers back then were nothing like what we use today, in fact the laptop I’m typing on is more powerful than the multi-million dollar, room wide systems that I first worked on.    It’s also hard to believe I worked 50+ hour weeks for that long.  If someone had said to me at 21, “Look son, welcome to the high tech industry.  You will spend the next 40+ years working long hours and in the process have to not only do your job but relearn everything you know about your industry every 4-5 years.” I think I would have chosen to scoop ice cream or be a forest ranger.  Frequently not knowing what’s ahead is a blessing.

 The other issue with not knowing what is ahead is that we have a tendency to assume there will be plenty of time for all those “other” things beside work……family, dreams, travel.     A very wise man once asked “What do you want on your gravestone once you are gone?   Right now you are behaving like you want it to say He was a great workaholic.”    Intellectually I understood it at the time but when you are chasing getting your “piece of the pie” it’s hard to internalize the unpredictability of life.   There’s nothing like a serious illness to take a 2x4 to your sense of invincibility and reset your life priorities.

Here’s the thing (I’m going to get philosophical so feel free to stop reading here, I won’t be offended)…when you are faced with your own mortality how will you react?   Will you panic and try to scramble to make up for lost time?  Will you wallow in self-pity and woe is me?   Will you become self-centered and demanding of the people around you?   Or angry, obstinate and crotchety?   With all the time I’ve spent in hospitals over the last 5+ months I’ve seen them all.    But I’ve also seen the best of people.    Patients who have chosen to ignore their illness and reach out to help others.  Nurses who have survived cancer and are now giving back with a sensitivity that only comes from having walked in their patient’s shoes.   Best of all, terminally ill people who have faced their disease with such grace that to be in their presence make you believe you can be a better person.     One great example is a person I know who is in the final stages of his fight.  He blogs about his journey and his last blog brought me to tears with his insights and grace.    You can read it here:

It’s easier for me to talk about this given I’ve had my life stopping 2x4 up the side of my head.   I’d like to believe that we don’t have to face a life changing illness or event to find a way to provide balance in our lives but I’m more realistic than that.    But for me, I’m trading the goals of getting ahead and getting more, for a greater recognition of what I already have and enjoying the hell out of it.  There is a tremendous peace to accepting the way things are and striving to find peace in how I deal with it and what I do.   Finding that peace has become my new goal.

I’ve realized however, that just because I can come to grips with my circumstances doesn’t mean my family and friends can.   I worry more about them worrying about me than I do worrying about myself  (if that makes any sense).  I can only hope that my acceptance and peace lightens their worries and my circumstances in some small way helps them recognize the value of seeking balance and peace in their own lives.

Image result for great tombstones quotes
As for my tombstone, I don’t particularly want one but assuming others feel the need, something like the following will do just fine:

 He had fun and didn’t piss off too many people