Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Silver Linings

"Grief is not just the absence of a loved one: it's the complete and total changing of one's life." ~ Shelley Bosworth

On this day two years ago and over the course of the next few days after it, I learned firsthand how life can change in an instant.  My relatively peaceful life was suspended when I returned from an out-of-town business trip and was told that it had been discovered that there was a large mass in my dad's brain.  

As my family and I started down the road of Cancer and grief and all the things that come with both of those things, we clung to Hope, not just because we wanted to but because we HAD to.  And, following Dad's lead, we got through it by trying our best every step of the way to emulate his glass-half-full perspective by consciously looking for Silver Linings, an outlook that has also served to carry me down some of the darkest alleys of my grief since his passing only ten weeks after his diagnosis.

If there's one thing that can keep someone in the midst of tragedy from falling to their knees in desperation, it's the realization that, in any pretty much any situation, things could always be worse.  There could be so many more things that could be going wrong, things like lack of insurance coverage, poor access to health care, or insufficient family support.  I will never understand why the things that happened with my dad happened, but I can clearly see that we could have encountered so many more obstacles along the way in taking care of him, and I am grateful for the blessings that we had in the midst of what we experienced.

In talking about cancer and death and loss with other people over the last two years, this point has been reiterated time and time again.  Despite the horror and the unfairness and the awful blow of what happened, I still feel lucky, for so many reasons, largely due to the perspective that I was given by my dad.

With that outlook, it's easier to see those Silver Linings, the things that might not have happened otherwise, or at least things that I probably wouldn't have been in a position to notice and/or appreciate.  I believe that Silver Linings exist in almost every situation; we just have to choose to recognize them along the way.  And, to be clear, I'm not saying that I think that Silver Linings can take away the pain or the sadness in a given situation, but I do think they can provide balance and perspective, two things that we may need in grief more than ever before.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Run The Mile You're In

When I was training to run my first half-marathon many years ago, I asked my dad if he would run ten miles with me so I could work on pacing before the race.  He agreed, and so my husband, my daughters, and I went for a weekend visit to the town where my parents lived.

On the morning after we got there, my brother-in-law drove Dad and me out into the country and dropped us off ten miles out of town so that we could run mostly farm roads with limited traffic, a course that Dad had run many times before.

I remember I was wearing a running shirt that said "Run the mile you're in." After we got out of the car and started on the run, Dad looked at my shirt and said, "I don't get it - what else would you do?"  That turned into a Who's On First-type of conversation that lasted for over a mile: "I think it's referring to how people should be happy with what they have," I explained, and Dad replied, "Why wouldn't somebody do that?"  "You know, Dad - some people aren't grateful for what they have; they always think that the grass is greener somewhere else or that somebody else is luckier than they are," I told him, to which he responded, "I just don't get that.  I mean, if you think you're lucky, then you are!"

And that's where the quote that has carried me through the time since Dad was diagnosed, two years ago this week, and up to this point, came from.  

Growing up, I knew that I was lucky, but not nearly to the degree that I knew it as an adult.  And these days, I'm finding it more and more bothersome that the more I look around, the more it seems that the feeling of gratitude is becoming a rarity in people in general.  It almost shocks me when I hear a person talking about how good they have it, how much they love their job, how grateful they are for things they have and for the opportunities they have been given.  People much more often seem to want more ... more money, more stuff, more power, more whatever ... and one thing I've learned over the past two years is this: none of us knows when the buzzer at the end of our game is going to go off, and, if we live with gratitude in our hearts instead of always wanting more, we are much more likely to feel fulfilled, not only at the end of the road, but all along the way as well.  A big part of living the lives we are meant to live comes from making the choice to see our lives as complete, to be happy, and not to dwell on the sadness that is bound to befall us at some point in our lives.

As a parent, I know what I want for my children when they grow up: happiness.  And I'm sure my dad's parents wanted the same for him, and my parents for me.  And really, happiness is nothing but a choice.  It's one that my dad made every day, whether he was doing something he truly loved, doing something out of necessity, or just having an average kind of day.  That's something I have really thought about a lot since he went on ahead, and that's where the irony comes in:  I know what he wanted for me was for me to be happy, and I know that's what I should make the choice to do, as part of how I want to honor him.  But, at the same time, I sometimes see being happy without him as too lofty of a goal, and other times I see it as even disrespectful, as if I am over him, or as disingenuousas if this loss didn't change who I am to my very core.  The paradox comes from the fact that I know it's what he would want for me, and yet it's his absence that makes it so very challenging.  For me, at this point, realizing that I'm lucky - running the mile I'm in - isn't the same as feeling complete.  

"Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out."
~Oliver Wendell Holmes