12 Months, 12 Lessons Learned

It has been a crazy year and there are many things that I’ve learned about myself, my son, my life, other people.  You name, I’ve experienced it.  Here are twelve life lessons that I’ve learned that have made me a better person.

  1. Everything that happens to you is a life lesson – The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. All these things force you to grow, move outside your comfort zone and move forward.  As humans, we only have one path and that is to go forward.
  2. Live each day for the gift that it is – It is so easy for us to get caught up in thinking about tomorrow. We put off until tomorrow things we can do today.  Don’t delay, for tomorrow is never guaranteed.
  3. Do not sweat the small stuff – For the same reason listed at the end of #2, let things go verbally and emotionally. I was blessed to have time to prepare for Theresa’s death.  Not everyone is that fortunate.  Do not be the person harboring sadness for life because of one foolish thing said.
  4. Grief changes you, forever – I should have known this already. I lost my dad in 2003 and the first time I had the Divine Liturgy said for him in 2010, the wave of emotion caught me by surprise.  The reality is we will never stop loving those who we have lost.  Don’t feel guilty for that or try and change it.  The human heart has a tremendous capacity to love and there is room for many people in it.  People are not replaceable, and love is not mutually exclusive.
  5. Get life insurance – Oh, the stupidity of me on this issue. We had life insurance that was not being paid via an automated withdrawal.  With all the chaos in my life I missed paying it, missed the letter that it was lapsed and they cancelled it.  When Theresa was diagnosed, she asked how much insurance we had and I realized the answer was $0.
  6. Don’t waste time on things that don’t better your or make you happy – Life is too short to not be happy.  If there are things or people in your life that do not make you a better person, eliminate those things.
  7. Take pictures and video – The greatest thing that Ryan and I have done over the past year is watch home videos, look at pictures and remember all the memories they represent.
  8. Don’t try to win over the haters – I have a picture taped above my desk at work that says “Don’t try to win over the haters – You’re not the Jackass whisperer” Walk the path you choose and don’t let anyone tell it’s not the right one.  Remember, you aren’t the Jackass whisperer.
  9. We are stronger than we imagine – I remember when Theresa was first diagnosed and it became a terminal condition. I thought, how in the hell am I going to juggle a demanding career and an Asperger child alone?  Well, I can tell you that not only did I juggle it, I crushed it.  We are thriving and living life.
  10. Do not try and numb the pain – One of the smartest things I did was to swear off alcohol in the months after Theresa’s being born into eternity. I read this advice once and can say, it is priceless.
  11. Write letters to those you love – How our world has changed. We used to write cards and letters to those we love.  Now, it’s text messages, phone calls.  Why not write these down so someone can print them and keep them forever?  These things are priceless gifts to those who receive them.
  12. We are not made for this world – in John 15:19, Jesus said “If you were of the word, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” This life, this world, is not our ultimate destination.  We are destined for life in the Kingdom.  Whatever you do, whatever you strive for, keep that destination in mind.

Life Ain’t Always Beautiful, But It’s A Beautiful Ride

“No, life ain’t always beautiful, tears will fall sometimes.  Life ain’t always beautiful, but its a beautiful ride…”

 

Those of you who use Facebook are familiar with the On This Day (memories) feature.  They will bring up pictures that you previously posted.  Today, Facebook brought up a picture of an event that took place 365 days ago.  On 3/21/16, Ryan’s life was turned completely upside down when he asked me “Is Mom going to die”.  With those five words, and my one word answer of “Yes”, things got complicated really fast.  I had already known this was happening some 6 months prior, but we decided to keep that from Ryan until it was getting closer.

As I was driving to work after that reminder, I thought of the five words that I finally prayed in October 2015, “If It Be Your Will”.  There are those who have written that the number 5 in the Bible symbolizes God’s Grace.  There is no doubt in my mind that the 5 words chanted by me in 2015 and the 5 words asked by Ryan one year ago unleashed a flood of grace on our lives.

It has been 365 days of crazy, exhaustion, sometimes emotional chaos, a total reordering of priorities and healing.  For two years my life was chaotic.  My mom was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer in 2014.  I was running her around town to various appointments, surgeries and treatments.  On top of that, I was working full-time, applying to the Diaconate program, parenting an Asperger child and keeping everything moving forward.  In 2015, Theresa was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, mom’s ovarian cancer returned and the chaos intensified.  There weren’t enough hours in the day to get things done and I let myself go.

 

In the chaos that was my life from 2014-2016, I shot up from 185 to 220 pounds and had let my fitness level get to an abysmal level.  I remember my FBI physical that listed my BMI at 31.6, labeling me as obese.  My blood sugar was elevated, my cholesterol was off the charts high.  I was an absolute mess.  In the month leading up to the death of Theresa, I managed to drop 5 pound due to the chaos that was my life.  Shortly after Theresa died, Ryan told me that he was worried about losing me too and that was the moment I knew I had to make some changes.

I had already decided to swear off alcohol as I didn’t want that to become the crutch to lean on which could spiral out of control.  I started an exercise program called Insanity and looked forward to the ass-kicking that it gave me every night.  Exercise for me was cathartic.  When I was in the zone, nothing else mattered or concerned me.  The results were quick and energized me.  I wanted to be healthy; to be around for Ryan for another 50 years.

It felt great to focus on me.  When things got confusing, when things started to pile up, I would lace up my shoes and run.  Exercise was the single greatest thing for me in dealing with the giant mess that had been made of our lives.

Strength in Mending

Ryan and I had a long talk a few weeks ago about mending.  He told me he was feeling anxious about the upcoming anniversary of Theresa’s being born into eternity.  We talked a while about all of the hard things we’ve been through and how much stronger those things made us.  As I’ve written about before, dates mean something to me and we wrote those dates down:  Our anniversary (4/28, +10 days); Mothers Day (5/8, +20 days); Fathers Day(6/19, +62 days); First day of school (8/8, + 112 days);  My birthday (10/1, +166 days); Nana moving to Kansas (10/8, +173 days Nana’s birthday (10/23, +188 days); Thanksgiving (11/24, +220 days); St. Nicholas Day (12/6, +232 days); Christmas (12/25, +251 days); Ryan’s Birthday (1/24, +281 days); Valentines day (2/14, +302 days).  There is something very visceral, something very therapeutic about looking back on the road you’ve travelled.

 

I shared with him an article on a blog entitled “Don’t Get On The Anniversary Train”.  This article was forwarded to me by Jennie, who had read it and thought it was a great article.  http://www.secondfirsts.com/2014/05/dont-get-on-the-anniversary-train/  I asked him to read it and talk through what it meant to him.  The crux of the article is that we do not honor our loved one by getting sucked into sadness and focusing on the end. Life is difficult regardless of your road, but you won’t ever make it better if you become bitter or angry. Instead, we remember all the good times we had, all the good memories that we made, enjoy telling people about Theresa and what a wonderful person she was.  We agreed to focus on the memories, the celebration and the journey.

 

As it turns out, Pascha falls very late this year, April 16th.  Jennie and I talked about what we were going to do and the idea came to spend Easter weekend in Phoenix.  We are going to celebrate the hope of the Resurrection: Jennie, Patrick, Ryan and Irene, spending time with Kathleen, Art, Briana, Gabe and Emmy.  We will attend the Divine Liturgy at St. Stephens Cathedral, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ and remembering this gift by visiting the St. Nicholas Columbarium to celebrate Theresa’s being born into eternity.  We can honor our past, remember our good times, all the while making new memories on our journey forward.

 

We have been blessed abundantly in the last 365 days.  Out of the pain of sitting on the cold tile floor with my sobbing 10 year old, one year ago, has come a wonderful vision and path that we are walking.  Into our life came a beautiful soul, Jennie, along with 3 wonderful kids who have captured my heart and soul.  All the kids met for the first time on February 25 and it was such a wonderful time.  Watching them interact, talk, play; was like they were biological siblings, not strangers who just met for the first time.  Two families, each who have walked very different, painful paths, intersected and started walking forward together.  When I look at our journey forward, I know the depths of the love that God has for Ryan and I.

 

 

 

 

 

δόξα στον Ιησού Χριστό

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Today Is A Good Day

Back in February, Ryan and I went to the clubhouse. I was going to the gym and Ryan was going to play at the teen room.  As we were leaving, he pointed at the advertisement below and asked if we could do this.  It looked like fun and since he asked I said lets do it.

The story behind this walk centers on the builder and designer of the Rancho Sahuarita community.  His name is Bob Sharpe.  He was diagnosed in 2016 with a terminal brain cancer, but chose to actively live out his remaining days.  He said “I realized I had everything to gain by spending the remaining days of my life having an optimistic, positive and grateful attitude.”  “Waiting for the other shoe to drop can be stressful, but only if I allow myself to waste the precious time that I may have left by worrying and postponing doing the things that make me happy.”

One day, Sharpe’s son called him and asked how he was doing.  He responded by saying, “Today is a good day.”  That simple phrase became the rally cry for his family and the theme of the walk.  They had T-shirts, bracelets and other items with that phrase.  Everyone got a water bottle and bracelet that had that phrase written on them.

Before the 5k began, Ryan ran over to the craft table and created a sign to carry during the walk.  As we were walking, several people asked him about his sign and he was quick to tell them why he was walking and all about his Mom.  Those were great moments.  He has moved so far from the little boy who didn’t want to stay in our house, ride in our car or have anything to do with past memories to one who chooses to thrive and seize life every day.

We started walking and Ryan thought we should stop after 2 laps as that was good enough.  We talked about the people who gave us money and that we owed it to them to finish the race.  As we were walking around for lap 2, we talked about how hard Theresa fought the fight even when she was tired, sore and didn’t want to continue.  As we rounded the top of the lake, Ryan asked if we could run the last mile.  I figured this would last for about one minute so I said let’s do it.  To my surprise, he ran all of the last mile, only stopping to walk for 30 seconds.  We ran that last mile in just under 9 minutes.  That’s pretty good for an old man and a 11 year old Minecraft gamer!

 

 

 

 

 

After the walk was over, we drove up to our Oro Valley house to take some items and setup some equipment. As we were driving, the song It Is Well came up on random play.  I could hear Ryan singing the song as he was playing on his phone.  “Far be it for me to not believe, even when my eyes can’t see.  And this mountain thats in front of me, will be throw into the midst of the sea.  Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you.  Through it all, through it all it is well.” Yes, Ryan, it is well.

To everyone who gave money to this cause, thank you from both of us.  The event raised over 360K for cancer research.  Factoring out the family members of Bob Sharpe,  Ryan was the 7th highest fund raiser for this event.  Today is a good day!