This should help get your weekend off to a nice start…
This should help get your weekend off to a nice start…
“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Thirty-nine years ago today my father passed away suddenly, less than a day after we buried my thirty-two year old brother-in-law who died of cancer. When you spend a week and half sitting in a funeral home making final arrangements for two people of your immediate family, life has a way of changing you. Not immediately, and sometimes not even in ways you can understand or explain. But it does change you.
It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by and even more difficult to think about everything they missed and everything we missed sharing with them. We lost a part of our future and past in a matter of days. I don’t know if we ever really recover from loss or just throw a blanket over it to allow us to function each day. We carry on, we laugh, we welcome new family members, we enjoy life because there is no other choice. We live for the living and for ourselves. Still, there’s always a hole, always moment in days where we stop and maybe smile at a memory or what they might have done or said about a family situation. Or the way life has changed so much over the years.
Here’s the strange part of the story…
A couple of weeks before my Dad died, I had a dream. In my dream, I saw him in a coffin at the funeral home, exactly as he appeared after he passed away.
Ten years earlier, my grandfather, (my father’s father), died unexpectedly. A couple of weeks before he died, I had a dream. In that dream, I saw him as he appeared in the coffin. My grandfather lived in Brooklyn so I had never been to that funeral parlor. And yet, when I walked in, everything was as I had seen it. In detail. I remember it very clearly.
A couple of days after my father was buried, I told my mother about both dreams. For obvious reasons, I had never told anyone about them before. She wanted to know why I didn’t tell her. She wondered if there might have been something we could have done if she had known. But as soon as she said the words, she understood.
You can’t alter your life chasing those types of dreams, just like you can’t alter your life chasing what might have been. There’s no time for that, no secret recipe for the secrets of life.
So hold the ones you love close. Those that are here and those who are not. And if the ones who are here don’t understand, hold them closer.
It’s not what you gather but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you’ve lived.
I was thinking about my childhood the other day and trying to remember how far back my memories went. I settled on somewhere between four and five years old but there were only a handful that were clear to me. That bothered me, especially when I took what was then and applied it to now.
Making memories with the people you love or care about is one of life’s greatest gifts. Some of the times we’ve laughed most were with our children and grandchildren, especially during their early years, when everything is on the table, learning is a daily adventure, innocent words are a sound byte and your sense of wonder sometimes equals theirs. Those are memories that we’ll keep with us forever. Unfortunately, it’s all one-sided. Because in those early years it’s not anything they’ll remember. Influenced, yes. But all the things that were said or laughed about until there were tears in our eyes will not be a definitive memory for them.
That shouldn’t bother me because it’s just another cycle of life, but it does. I remember things that we did with our children and now our grandchildren that were special moments, and though we can relay the stories, it’s not the same as being there in our mutual minds. I sit and have conversations now with our grandchildren, play games, tell stories, laugh at the silliest things, hold them if they cry and sit back and wonder if they’ll remember any of it.
I’ve always understood this but I suppose as I’ve gotten older, Helen Walton’s quote has taken on a different meaning. You want those you love to remember every last laugh and cuddle and hand holding because you know that time of innocence, like life, is so short. Eight or nine comes too quick and soon they’re moving on. Parents will always be more invested in the lives of their children/grandchildren than the other way around. That’s just the way it is. It’s not a matter of loving or caring, it’s just the emotional investment that begins long before they open their eyes and never goes away.
So selfishly you want them to remember it all. Every amazing moment. Big and small. Hoping that you’ve scattered enough love and joy into their lives that one day they may laugh at something silly for no reason at all. You may not know it or even be there. But if it brought them happiness, then maybe something in their two year old lives stuck, and you’ve scattered enough.
And maybe, just maybe, the shade of a memory will not only be yours.
When I was young, and even as I grew older, I believed we had one life to live. I suppose, in a literal sense, that’s still true, but I’ve come to understand that there is a difference between life, and the lives we live within that life.
The transitions are so gradual that we don’t always know they’re happening. But one day, when we choose to stop for more than a few moments and look back at the different phases our lives have visited , we realize the person in that photo may not think or act the same; may not believe what he or she once did when they were innocently smiling at the camera.
When we’re young we live a life of innocent freedoms. Days that never end, summers that last forever, years that we trust will always be there. School is a double decade that gradually introduces us to less freedom, some stress and relationships with family and friends that have the power to shape and influence our lives forever. We were born into these first twenty years and when the transition into “adulthood” happens, we head into it as a continuation of what we know, combined with changes to our daily life and schedules, but never really looking back. Well, maybe when loss rears its ugly head, when we find that we have to navigate the future without someone we always thought would be there for us. We may take a moment to look back then. To remember what was.
But there are things to do. A life to live. Or at least this part of our life. We have jobs, sometimes marry, sometimes begin families and for the next twenty or so years, become that person. We live that life of advancing our careers or attempting to keep our jobs. If we’re married and have children, we run as if the next event, game, concert, field trip, party, sleepover or dance is life altering. Until it abruptly stops, and children go to college or find a job and hopefully move out.
And we transition again.
Sometimes this change is a little more noticeable. Sometimes we pause a little longer. Our families grow smaller before they get bigger. Family celebrations are different because some of the people at the center of those celebrations are no longer with us. So we sometimes move to other homes and begin different traditions. Our mornings are a little more quiet, our evenings require less running and we find more time for ourselves to enjoy this part of our lives. If we’re fortunate, our working lives begin to wind down and we find time to appreciate time.
If we’re lucky.
These lives we live change us in different ways. Our centers become different or altered at times. Our judgments, mindsets, and beliefs all find different ways or equations to the answers in front of us. Hopefully our core values remain the same but that’s never a given. We may want to believe we are the same person today as we were twenty or thirty years ago, but we aren’t. In truth, how can we be? We’ve lived and lost too much. We’ve gained new experiences, travelled, developed new friendships, learned new ways and came to appreciate the lives we live now, more than ever.
I look back at old photos now and wonder what that boy or young man was thinking of at the time, what his day was like and what he was looking forward to tomorrow. I wonder if he had a plan or dream that day. I wonder what was making him laugh in that moment, why he chose to buy that ugly shirt and when he was going to finally get a haircut. I wonder if he would change anything if he knew everything.
Personally, I believe he wouldn’t change a thing.
P.S. I’ll be back soon.
A couple of years ago, while visiting a small book store in Newport Rhode Island, I came across an interesting book titled, Empty Mansions. I didn’t buy it then but strangely enough, my brother gave it to me as a gift several months later. I always meant to read it but for some reason it sat on my reading shelf for over a year.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago and one of the blogs I really enjoy following is Book Club Mom. If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend giving her a look. Barbara does a terrific job reviewing all kinds of books and opening up interest where none existed before.
Coincidently, she reviewed Empty Mansions just as I was beginning to think it might be a good time to read it.
I have included the link to Barbara’s review of the book below since I could never do it as well as she did. In short, it is a story of Huguette Clark, an incredibly wealthy woman, who owned and maintained palatial homes in California, New York and Connecticut, though some remained empty and not visited for over fifty years. It’s the story of a woman who, in spite of her wealth, lived the last twenty years of her life in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health. She was 104 when she died, choosing to live in the strangest form of seclusion.
But there is much more which you will find here….
One of the things which touched me the most and, in some ways, helped me to understand Huguette, was an old French fable titled, The Cricket. Sometimes it is called, True Happiness and is included at the end of the book. It was written in the late 1700’s by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian.
A poor little cricket
Hidden in the flowery grass,
Observes a butterfly
Fluttering in the meadow.
The winged insect shines with the liveliest colors;
Azure, purple and gold glitter on his wings;
Young , handsome, foppish, he hastens from flower to flower,
Taking from the best ones.
Ah! says the cricket, how his lot and mine
Are dissimilar! Lady Nature
For him did everything, and for me nothing.
I have no talent, even less beauty;
No one takes notice of me, they know me not here below;
Might as well not exist.
As he was speaking, in the meadow
arrives a troop of children,
Immediately they are running
after this butterfly, for which they all have a longing.
Hats, handkerchiefs, caps serve to catch him.
The insect in vain tries to escape.
He becomes soon their conquest.
One seizes him by the wing, another by the body;
A third arrives and takes him by the head.
It should not be so much effort
To tear to pieces the poor creature.
Oh! Oh! says he cricket, I am no more sorry;
It costs too dear to shine in this world.
How much I am going to love my deep retreat!
To live happily, live hidden.
The fable, which was a favorite of Huguette, has a powerful lesson.
The book is both fascinating, and sad.
I can’t tell if she really wanted to sleep or stay awake. In either case, this video of our six month old granddaughter, Taylor, should make you smile.
Some of you may have noticed that I have been absent from our blogging world since the end of November. Then again, some may have not noticed at all…) I understand either way…) Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way and prevents us from following our normal routines or pleasures. In this case, the reason is breast cancer.
My wife was given the diagnosis in early December, had surgery a few days before Christmas and will begin treatment shortly. The good news is that the tumor was small and we caught it early. The not so good news is that chemo and radiation is ahead of us, but the outlook is very promising.
My purpose in writing this post is not so much for us, though prayers and good wishes are always welcome. My purpose is to let you know that this cancer was caught very early through a yearly mammogram. Because it was so small and deep, it could not be felt through self-examination or by a doctor, only through a mammography.
Her decision to be tested yearly probably saved her life. My hope is that my words here may encourage someone out there to go for a test they may have put off for too long. Whether it’s a mammogram, colonoscopy, yearly physical, blood work, dermatologist visit or whatever else you should be checking, please take the time to take care of yourself.
I don’t know if anyone dislikes going to a doctor or for tests more than me. It’s unnerving, stressful and easy to convince yourself that you’re feeling fine and don’t need to rock the boat when the waters are calm. But we recognize, in time, that waters don’t always stay calm.
I also recognize that some people don’t believe in tests as a preventative tool and I’ll be the first to admit that not all tests are necessary. So let’s get that excuse out-of-the-way and focus instead on those tests that may save your life. You know what they are.
If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then do it for those who care about you. Do it so you have no regrets. No what ifs. Do it so you have the joy of living life to its fullest, even if that means a test reveals a detour that takes time away from the things you planned. Do it so you have many more days to make plans. Do it because you understand that while time is a depreciating asset and we can’t control everything in life, there are things we can do that just might help us, help ourselves.
I recognize this is not an uplifting post and it’s a topic we sometimes shy away from. But I’m hoping these words encourage just one person to make a phone call and do what you’ve been putting off. Making the appointment is the hardest part. Don’t wait.
Do it for those you love.