Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Won't Wear Black...and Where We Go From Here

Interesting title, huh? Yeah, I thought so, too.  You didn't?  Too bad - you're already reading, so why not keep going?  C''re already trying to figure out where I'm going with this.  Here's the thing - I don't know what a requisite period of mourning should be.  I don't mean that to sound callous, but I'm new at this.  Understand one thing, though - I will not dwell.  That's the point of me saying, "I won't wear black."  I actually fancy (oh, yeah, I said 'fancy') that shade in clothes so, while you will see me in black, it's because it makes me look taller.  Maybe not, but work with me here.

Already, I am walking around trying to figure things out.  Not so much the 'why's' but, rather, the 'what the hell do I do now' types of questions.  Regardless, the title of this post was meant to be a signal to myself and a direction of purpose.  When things like this happen, we have choices.  We always have choices.  It's what we do with those choices that signals to the world what we truly are as individuals and the fiber of which we are made.  Again, I'm new at this so I'm not sure if there is a proper way to act.  No one, so far, has handed me the "Widows/Widowers for Dummies" manual.  In its' absence, apparently, we all guess...and lean on others for guidance.  I bring this up because, though it was less than two weeks ago that it happened, I ventured out of the house and back to work earlier this week.  True, it was only for a few days, however work took me to a convention in Atlanta.  I wanted, and more importantly needed, to be there.  I did not go for the sympathy hugs and handshakes that I new would come.  I did not go so I could share my pain with others.  I went, quite honestly, because I needed some normalcy.  I heard from a friend late last evening that a few people said they could not believe I was there.  I suppose they thought I was being cold or heartless or that I did not care or was not affected by all that has transpired.  Though I do not feel the need to explain to anyone, I will...because I choose to.  There it is again - a choice.  Being around the people that I see annually at this convention provided me a sense of normalcy which, truth be told, will have to come eventually anyway.  Gee, folks, I wasn't there to find another wife or another woman.  I was there to be around normal which, knowing some of my friends, is the last thing they'd be called.  It's a relative term, though, so I'm using it.  They're MY normal....and it did me wonders.  Being there allowed me to laugh again, find my voice again, and work again.  These things are important to me as I'm certain they are to you.  I spoke of my grief and pain when asked, as well as gave advice on preparing when it came up in conversation.  If you haven't read the previous post, what are you waiting for?  It's what I have to offer.

So where do we go from here?  I use a collective, "We," because I've come to realize that, no matter how we think of it, we're not on our journeys alone.  We all have friends that are along for our ride, as we are theirs.  Personally, I've already come to a few 'truths' that will make every day better.  Things like...the love of a family and an incredible bond with your parents, children, and siblings can make you feel as if you can conquer the world, and that you are truly unstoppable.  You'll make it through anything because they are simply there.  I've come to realize the incredible power of a simple text message from (and to) my daughter, as well as my sisters.  I realize that true friends leave an indelible mark on our souls that changes who we become - we are now the sum of all those parts....and it is amazing.  I realize that the power of laughter can cure much...and that tears don't always have to be for sorrow.  Yes, I knew that before, but some people made me laugh to the point of tears this weekend...and it felt great.  I realize that someone whispering in your ear, telling you, "Things are going to be okay," and, "I'm here for you," makes you gain strength and recover a little as you find yourself again.  I realize that people are inherently good...and they care.  I know I've said it before, but will continue to do so for as long as I have a voice - I am grateful and appreciative of my friends.  I've known some, literally, all my life, while others I've only known for a few months.  I value and cherish them all.  They are where I will get the strength to, as I said before, end the chapter and start a new one.

Lastly, I've come to understand the value and power of love and the many forms it takes.  Whether it's from family or friends, it's important and, as I said earlier, all we have.  None of us will be getting out of here alive - we all know the two unavoidable things are death and taxes, right?  So what do we do with that?  I say we try to make a difference.  A difference in our lives, the lives of others, and in the world.  We'll be leaving people behind, so why not make it a better place?  At the risk of sounding like Miss America hoping for 'World Peace', or doing a Rodney King impersonation and asking, "Can't we all just get along?", I dare say we can do right by others at very little cost to ourselves.  In the end, it's the best we have.  As I sit here writing this, there was a knock on my front door.  When I received the package and opened it, I thought how appropriate and fitting with what I am writing.  It was from yet another dear, sweet, thoughtful friend that I love and adore.  She sent a plant - it's name is the Red Rose of Sharon Hibiscus - in honor of Sharon's love for red roses.  How incredible and amazing.  Are you understanding the point of all this?  It took very little, yet made such an impact!  I was, and am, moved beyond words.

I've said before that my beliefs lead me to try and understand the lesson from all of this.  As I sat pondering this again the other evening, a familiar quote I've always liked from one of our favorite series, The West Wing, came to mind.  It was a simple story being related:

This guy's walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can't get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, "Hey you, can you help me out?" The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up "Father, I'm down in this hole, can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. "Hey Joe, it's me, can you help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here." The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out."

I know that, when a friend experiences this very same thing (as we all surely will), I want to be the one that jumps in the hole.  I will state with certainty that I have, in fact, been there.....and know the way out.  Many of you have given me much to think about recently.  As I said, new chapter - not the end of a book by any means.  I will look back, eventually, at the previous chapters with fondness and love, knowing they shaped who I have become today.  Think about that as you're going through the day-to-day.  Learn to live in, and be keenly aware of, the moment.  As I sit here now, I have images that I recall from the 'good times' we all experience...and I am smiling.  There's much to be done and I will figure it out.  No, I'm not becoming philosophical (well, any more than usual), but want each of you to take the time that I know I will surely embrace as I experience everything from this point forward.  As my daughter pointed out to me in a text message earlier - Dad, I just wanted to let you know that if anything ever happened to either of us, that I love you and you're the best dad in the whole entire world.  Life's too short not to tell the people you love that you appreciate everything they do for you, so thank you.  People could be gone in the blink of an eye, so I don't want anything to happen, ever, without telling you that.  

This from a young lady not quite 17 years old yet.  Am I the best dad in the whole world?  I never thought so, but if she does...if your kids do...isn't that what matters?  Go.  Right now.  Hug them for absolutely no reason.  Find your spouse/significant other and put your arms around them and whisper in their ear how much they mean to you.  Kiss them on the cheek and look into their eyes...really look...and tell them how much richer your life is for having them in it.  If your relationship isn't the best, think back to what drew you to them in the first place so that your grumbling and complaining might lessen.  You do NOT want anything to happen without letting them know how you truly feel.  It will cost you nothing but a little time...and in the end, you'll feel better, too.  I'm not trying to be 'sappy' (what does that mean, anyway?) but I am here to bear witness - some of us missed chances when we had them.  That goes for friends as well - tell them how you feel, always.  Then, after you've done those things, walk outside and take a look around.  We're still here and have much, all of us, to be grateful for.  Lastly, remember to like yourself and enjoy life....and simply breathe......

Until next time...........

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Letter of Thanks...and The Importance of Friends

Death is not easy.  It's certainly not something we choose to deal with every day.  Actually, it's not something we choose to deal with ANY day.  Still, it happens.  It is as much a part of life as living.  By now, everyone reading this knows that my wife died last Sunday.  Certainly not something I'd wish on anyone.  Still, it forces a few things upon us when it does happen, and we are put in a position to examine, reexamine, question, and plan as never before.  It is, in short, a life-changing scenario.  I was asked, shortly after it happened, "Dave, why do these things always (seemingly) happen to you?"  First, I don't think I have any more or less negative experiences than anyone else.  My personal belief system allows me to expect things to happen as a matter of destiny, then try to understand the lesson I am to be learning from it.  It doesn't work for everyone, but suits my needs.  It's how I choose to deal with situations such as this and make sense of them, if even in a small way.  This particular situation has brought many revelations and clearer meaning even in the short time I have had to examine it.  For many, these lessons need to be shared and repeated. If what I have to offer helps anyone in the future, then the lessons and pain have not been in vain.

The first lessons I can share involve planning.  I will always be the person, from this day forward, that stresses the need for planning 'In the event of...' an unexpected emergency.  Allow me to ask of you a few questions.  Do you have a will?  If so, great - you are a head of the curve.  If not, why not?  Do you have your papers in a safe place where someone knows where to find them?  I suggest everyone go to Wal-Mart and buy a fireproof lockbox for $25 - $30.  Place your will, life insurance policies, instructions for your funeral, etc, in that box, then label it, "OPEN ME FIRST IN EVENT OF DEATH."  If you think that sounds morbid, cold, ought to see what happens when you don't have this in place.  A nightmare - trust me.  Are your named beneficiaries current and as you truly wish them to be?"  Just because you think something will go to the people you want to take care of, don't assume.  PLEASE.  You never know, there might be a policy you forgot to update.  Your spouse might be thinking they can use that policy to help cover some of the costs of the funeral.  If you haven't updated the policy, you might be gifting a former spouse that was abusive to you....all because you assumed it had been done or you were too lazy to take care of it.  Look around your home at the people you love - your wife, husband, children - are you really too lazy to fill out a form to ensure they aren't struggling at the time of your death?  Trust me, all you want them to do is miss you and grieve.  If you were not maintaining your policies, their grief may be short-lived as they try to figure out how to cover the costs of your ill-timed demise.  Please, for the sake of the people that share your life with you, plan for the eventual end.  That includes considering pre-paying your funeral.  It's similar to a term-life insurance policy.  You make a payment for a period of 10 years, then the costs are covered.  The good news is, if you make one payment and something unexpected happens, the costs are covered.  100%.  Completely.  Why am I making an issue of this?  Because when the funeral director says, "Here's the cost for the package you've chosen," he will expect a check.  No, there are no payment plans at that point.  Your plan then is to hand him a check.  I have yet to find a package that is less than 5 figures.  Do the math and take care of paying it ahead of time.  It's the message I have, and I'm spreading the word.

The other lessons I have gleaned from this experience involve the importance of friends.  Not just having them, but of being one.  I was amazed and speechless at the outpouring of love, caring, and kindness shown by so many people from all across the country.  For what seemed like days, I was carrying two phones and receiving calls from people almost non-stop sending their condolences.  In the days after her death and as the plans were being made, people began to arrive in Alabama.  They came from Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and as far away as the State of Washington.  I received cards, thoughts on Facebook, and individual e-mails from people expressing their concern and sorrow, while asking if they could do anything.  My response to these calls was to let them know that the only thing I really wanted them to do was turn back time.  In the absence of that, there was nothing they could do...or so I thought.  The calls I received were, honestly, enough for me.  To know there are people in your life that take the time to attempt to console you during these periods, is amazing and wonderful.  The fact that many of them continued to call (and still are, actually) is something that makes me shake my head in wonder and disbelief.  Again, powerful and amazing.  I realized, too, that many of them made the comment, as I thanked them for being there, calling, etc, "Don't be silly, you'd be the first one there if it happened to me."  It's nice to have them acknowledge that as I strive to be that kind of friend.  Of course, they are the same (as they showed this past week) and, truth be told, I will always be there for them.  I just hope it never has to be for the same reason.

I have been blessed with amazing, incredible friends and this is an open letter of thanks to you all.  The words, thoughts, prayers, kindness, and concern you have shown for me, not only this past week but in general, touch me beyond belief.  You have absolutely no idea how it affects me in such a positive way.  One couple could not attend...yet made certain that we were all fed after the viewing.  A caterer showed up at 2:00 on the dot...and proceeded to put out a spread to feed many.  We walked in to the funeral home and the floral arrangement above greeted us - something near & dear to Sharon's heart - and these were sent from our Penn State friends ('family', actually), along with a few Crimson Tide fans (more 'family').  There were coworkers of Sharon's that had not seen her for over three years...yet they always loved her and attended her service.  To have someone tell you that your wife considered you the 'love of her life' is something we all want to hear, and when they shared it, it brought tears to my eyes.  To have people continually call just to, "see how you're doing," is something that, for me at least, will never get old.  To have a home filled with people that will share their fondest memories of your spouse, the times they spent with you both, and the crazy things the two of you did, is what it takes to ease the pain.  My home was filled with laughter a few nights ago as we recalled a life that, while taken too soon, was lived as fully as possible and I appreciate all of you for making me smile.  This is not going to be easy, I realize that.  The support has come from my family - my daughter, my mother, my sisters....and all of you.  I cannot consider you anything BUT family.  I have said since the day it happened - I will continue to wake up, get dressed, put one foot in front of the other...and breathe.  I said at her funeral that I wanted hers to be a celebration of life rather than a somber occasion.  This situation, more than any I can recall, made me think of a quote I think we've all heard - "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."  I could be incredibly, horribly sad and, though I am having my moments, will admit to being grateful that I had seven years of a great life.  I consider this the end of a chapter, not the book.  The rest of my journey begins now - in fact it's already begun - and I want each and every one of you along for the ride.  You are my support, my family, my life.  I promise to make yours as special as you have made mine.  Thank you from the heart...and more than I can ever express.  I love you all.

Until next time.......