Now, I understand.
Losing a parent. I’ve seen plenty of people go through it, but you never really understand until it’s you. My dad died suddenly last week at 93, leaving behind my 93 year-old mother and four children, who are all trying to help and support our mother, while processing our own feelings of shock and loss.
Losing a parent leaves you feeling like a trap door just opened underneath you; like your tether to a fixed object has just been cut, leaving you floating helplessly in space. It smacks you between the eyes with the vivid truth that you are a grown-up and now is the time to act like one, despite whatever family dynamic you’ve been used to.
I’m the youngest child or as my mom still says when she introduces me to people, “the baby”. When that’s your label for over 50 years, it sinks in. I know that my mom uses that label with affection, but it can mean that you’re never quite taken seriously as a functioning member of the family; I’ve always kind of hated that role. All of my siblings are at least a decade older and I’ve always felt little ‘apart’ from them, since they all grew up in a herd, while I was solo as a child. “The Baby”.
None of that really matters now, since death and loss bring people together in a way that no other event can. We will find a way forward and I like to think something positive will come from this; a deeper understanding of how our parents formed all of us and maybe a commitment to stay a little more connected as a family. We all have one common purpose now and that is my mother’s care and welfare. That makes for a very powerful bond.
So, as I grieve the loss of my sweet father, I will continue to write. It’s helpful for me as I sort through my feelings and think about his legacy. Judging from the many visitors and well-wishers over the past few days, he had a great impact on a lot of people that are complete strangers to me. That’s a good feeling during a very difficult time.
I got the call that my father passed away suddenly this afternoon.
It’s the final destination for everyone and everything. It’s inevitable and common and….shocking.
My dad was 93 and in the true spirit of a stubborn, old, farmer he died in an accident. Not natural causes. One would think that at 93, some sort of organ failure would be the culprit. Not my dad.
He was so intent on getting his yard cleaned up after a long winter, that he apparently forgot all of the safety rules. Or maybe it was just a freak accident. It gives me comfort to know that he was outside doing his favorite thing on a sunny day.
I know he would be kicking himself for leaving my mom. His tireless devotion to her made it possible for them to stay in their home all of this time. My mom is also 93, but no longer capable of caring for herself. She is frail and sort of foggy about time and events. He fussed over her and made sure that she took all of her pills and drank plenty of water. He had her on so many supplements that she was barely able to swallow them all. He wanted them both to live forever.
All of us assumed that my mom would be the first to pass, but feared that it would be my dad. This is the worst case scenario. Now, she has lost her caregiver and her life partner of over 70 years. My heart aches for her loss. I can’t imagine waking up next to someone for that many mornings and now suddenly, they are gone. She is the remaining half of a perfect pair.
So, tomorrow, I head home. To the house where I came of age and flew out the door at 19. This is the reason we moved back to Michigan. To be geographically close as death closed in on my parents. This is why I am here and I hope that I can offer love, aid and comfort to my mother and my family.
I loved my dad and he loved all of us. Fiercely. In a few days, I’ll be in a better place to eulogize him. This is my stream of consciousness from an awful day.
Be well. Be grateful and never forget that life is finite.
Our lives are a series of tipping points. Some are subtle shifts in our awareness or behavior or circumstance; some are like a teeter totter falling when your partner jumps off and you crash to earth. But, they happen.
Sometimes these tipping points are forced on us by events that are out of our control, but sometimes they are the result of making a decision; usually a decision that we KNOW we have to make. In my experience, these are decisions that our intuition has already made, but our brains override.
I have been mentally balanced on the fulcrum of a tipping point for over a year now, weighing both sides of that teeter-totter. My heart and intuition on one side and my brain and logic on the other. The balance has shifted from one day to the next, but as I began to feel more than think, the balance shifted and I made the decision. The tipping point arrived.
One of my goals for 2014 is to tune into my intuition; to stop analyzing and crunching numbers and feel my way forward. I had to finally ask myself, “Jane what do you WANT to do? Not what SHOULD you do.” That is a freeing moment when you answer yourself honestly; it’s like the first breath when you emerge from underwater.
We have to unravel ourselves from other people’s needs and expectations. We have to let go of the belief that we are so intertwined with our past and present that we can’t move forward. This happens professionally and personally, despite huge piles of evidence that when people quit a job, quit a relationship or in the worst case, lose someone to death, we all move on. We grieve these losses and we survive.
Nothing is permanent, is it? That’s why tipping points are so important. They remind us that change and evolution have always been and will always be, the drumbeat of our lives. They remind us that we have choices; that we can either be an active participant in those choices or have them forced upon us by default.
So, listen to your little inner voice. It’s often drowned out by the louder ‘voice of reason’ (in my mind, that is the voice of my mom or dad…for you, it may be James Earl Jones. Whatever). That voice has served me well on many occasions, but when it becomes constrictive and stifling, sit quietly, sometimes for months and allow the quiet, but insistent voice of intuition to have a say.
Here’s a warning. The voice of reason is not just internal; it shows up in your friends and family when you tell them that you’ve made an important shift. “But, why would you do that? You’re in a great situation and jobs like this don’t come along everyday.” “It will be get better. Just work harder.” “Give it another year or two. You can do that, right?” “What if this doesn’t work out the way you think it will?” “You’re being kind of selfish, aren’t you?”
Tipping points are about choices and dreams and knowing what you have to do; they lead us to the next phase, a new outlook, an end, a beginning. Don’t fear them.
I’m thinking about success. What is it? How do we define it? How do we achieve it?
This is on the heels of the radio show that I co-host winning another Morning Show of the Year award from the Colorado Broadcasters Association. It’s great to be recognized for excellence; it’s what we strive for and once we get there, it feels pretty good. Success.
But, I think that that we put professional success on a pretty high pedestal. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life working toward professional and financial success, while letting the personal stuff slide. Over past couple of years I’ve begun to ratchet back my hunger for professional growth in order to grow personally and spiritually.
I know that a lot of people have managed to tie the two together. Okay, a FEW people have been able to do that. The rest of us read their books and wish we could manage that kind of balance.
Personally, I think that trying to integrate professional and personal success is nearly impossible; it’s the big lie. Something has to give. Professional success requires that the job comes first. Period. Your allegiance is to the folks who write the check. That’s the way it works in our country, for better or for worse.
Put your needs or your family’s needs first and you are seen as ‘not a team player’. You’re ‘not committed’. You’re told to ‘get your priorities straight’, meaning work is first. Work is all. Your family and personal life will just have to wait.
I understand these requirements. I get that businesses must make a profit and that business success relies on productive and committed employees. However, I also know that people are not machines and that a personally happy employee is a professional asset.
Maybe I can question the American definition of success because by most measures, I’ve achieved it. I’ve had a long and ultimately successful career as a radio host because years ago, I committed myself fully to that goal. I’ve done well financially and have managed to build a decent nest egg.
But, I still struggle personally. I battle guilt, insecurity, loneliness. I worry about growing old and who will help me do that with grace and dignity. I feel like my marriage is in a dangerously stagnant period and I’m not sure how to pull us out of the quicksand. Success?
On the other hand, everyone struggles, don’t they? Life is full of challenges and in the greater scheme of things, I’ve done okay. But, I feel like I’m not successful in the ways that really count. The success of the soul.
Maybe the word “success” is wrong. It sounds so definitive; so black and white. Maybe other words would help define what I’m seeking. Peace, meaning, acceptance, clarity, truth, wisdom. They are all softer, gentler words, aren’t they?
Fill me in. What is success to you? Teach me.