Wednesday, May 29, 2019

June sucks!

June sucks.

When I say that, I am not talking about anyone named June. I am talking about the month of June. And you may be asking yourself, "Why do you hate an arbitrary moment in time?" That's a very good question. June has many good qualities. It is a summer month, the weather is nice, swimming pools are open, the kids are out of school. Ok, maybe the parents aren't so fond of that last one. June is also a fairly common month for weddings. Some people might even think that's a good thing, too.

But still, June sucks. June 24th, 1999. Thursday afternoon. While I'm at work I get a phone call from my sister, which never happens. She says, "Mom's had a stroke, she probably won't make it through the night. Come home now." So I do. After a small delay to change a flat tire on my week-old car on the side of I35 in downtown Dallas I arrive at the hospital late in the evening. (By the way, it's super exciting to change a tire on the side of the highway during rush hour traffic with cars whizzing by at 80+ MPH.)

Mom suffered severe neurological damage from her stroke, had no neurological activity, and never regained consciousness. Two days later on June 26th we elected to take her off life support, and she passed away.

In May of 2015, just a week or so after his 80th birthday, my dad had a heart attack. He made it to the hospital and survived. He had a lot of blockage, so a few days later the doctors performed bypass surgery. It was a very difficult surgery. (Afterward, the surgeon told the family, "Your dad's heart was very angry with us.")

While this was going on I stayed in Austin. In my mind the last time all of us got together with a loved one in the hospital that person died, so if I stayed home everything would be OK. It was not. While recovering from bypass surgery dad suffered a pulmonary embolism and died on June 3rd.

June 3rd. That date will come up again.

For my brother Richard we're going to go back a little in time. Richard started drinking and smoking (cigarettes and pot) in his early teens. He went to county jail many times for drunk driving and went to state prison a couple of times for burglary and assault. He made a lot of bad decisions.

In the late 90s Dad thought it would help if Richard moved away from his "loser friends" (Dad's words) so he moved him to Kansas, where Richard worked driving a forklift. He still had some the same bad habits (smoking and drinking), but he stayed out of trouble and worked hard.

Around 2011 Richard collapsed at work and was rushed to the hospital. He was in a coma for 29 days. The doctors eventually determined that his liver was failing and were able to find the treatment to get him out of the coma and stay out of it. He was placed on the transplant list, but the doctors told him that he was very low on the list, and that he probably would die before he got to the top.

Things change. A few months later during a checkup the doctors found cancer on Richard's liver. His spot on the transplant list was bumped up, and within two months he received a new liver. He was still unable to work, but it was the healthiest he had been in years. Dad was spending most of his time in Kansas with Richard, making sure he took his medication and taking him to his appointments. Richard once said, "I think I'm one of the very few people whose life was saved by cancer."

Fast forward back to 2015. Dad has just passed away. Richard was still living in Kansas. In order for my sister and incredibly handsome twin brother to help we decided to move Richard back home. At his final appointment in Kansas, in August of 2015, the doctors found cancer in his lungs.

We get him back to Texas. He sees some cancer specialists, but because of his transplant his treatment options are limited. The treatments don't work. The tumors have gotten bigger.

In April of 2016 he fell and broke his leg. Well, that's what we told everyone. Actually, his leg broke before he fell. The cancer had spread to his bones. He had surgery to repair the break and started physical therapy. During this time he had trouble eating and started hallucinating. The cancer had spread to his brain.

I came home for a week to help take care of Richard. It had been a few months since I had seen him. Now, there have been many movies about terminally ill people. The actor will lose a dangerous amount of weight, the critics will praise their "courageous" performance, and they might even win some awards. And it's true, losing all that weight to portray someone seriously ill is not easy. Kudos to them.

But it's not even close. To see the hollow shell of a loved one, a hundred pounds underweight, is devastating. So it was shocking when I came back home. It became apparent that we could not take care of him ourselves, even with the home care nurses we were using. So he was placed in hospice and eventually a nursing home for 24 hour care. He passed away on May 31. His funeral was exactly one year after our dad died. June 3rd.

June sucks.

Anyone who has ever met me, or follows me on social media, or has come in contact with me at any point in their life knows that my favorite day of the year is my birthday. I announce "only 6 months until my birthday" or "only 1 month until my birthday" with the added tag: Shop early, shop often. (It's October 7th, by the way.)

I have other favorite days. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. But I recently added a new favorite day: July 1st. For the past few years when I pray during the month of June I say, "Please don't let any of my immediate family members die during the month of June." So when July 1st rolls around I breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Thank you."

Most people have heard about the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are a framework for grief, but they aren't set in stone. People may go through them in a different order, or they might only go through a couple of them. Others might go through more than these five.

I'm going to focus on the last two. Depression is the phase most people associate with grief. The earlier ones tend to be shorter, while the depression phase could last many years. When people think of depression they usually think of the extreme cases, like debilitating sadness and suicide. But depression has a wide spectrum of behaviors, such as withdrawal from society, lethargy, weight gain. Routine helps, such as going to work or church, or friends checking in. People may also need counseling or self-help groups to get through this phase.

The final stage is acceptance. Here's is what says about acceptance.

Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live. We must try to live now in a world where our loved one is missing. In resisting this new norm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died. In time, through bits and pieces of acceptance, however, we see that we cannot maintain the past intact. It has been forever changed and we must readjust. We must learn to reorganize roles, re-assign them to others or take them on ourselves. Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones. As we begin to live again and enjoy our life, we often feel that in doing so, we are betraying our loved one. We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, new inter-dependencies. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given grief its time.

You never move on from grief. You just move forward. That might seem sad, but pain is a part of life in this world. We can't control the world around us. As it said above we might still have bad days. In 2011, twelve years after my mom had passed away, I was watching the Footloose remake with my girlfriend. The main character has to move in with relatives because his single mother has passed away. Early in the movie there is a discussion about the mother, and I started crying in the theater. I wasn't loudly sobbing, but I kept having to wipe the tears off my face. My girlfriend kept asking if I was OK. After the movie I explained what was going on. She's an ex-girlfriend now, but it had nothing to do with the crying. Probably.

Everyone (who isn't a sociopath) grieves. My dad, who never cried at any other time in his life, cried at mom's funeral. Even Jesus grieved. In John 11:35 it says, "Jesus wept." While this verse is a favorite for people to memorize because it's only two words, it's important to note why He wept. Jesus wept because Lazarus has died.

But why did He weep? He knew what was going to happen next. He knew Lazarus was going to be raised back to life. Jesus wept because he was grieving. He sympathized and empathized with the grieving family. And just because you know how the story ends doesn't mean you can't cry at the sad parts.

So yes, June still sucks. Most days are good, but there are still some bad ones. But July 1st always comes around. And I know how the story ends.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Yes, I really am that smooth

On occasion I have been known to stick my foot in my mouth, so to speak, as has been demonstrated in several blog posts.  Here's one more ...

In my late teens I went on a few dates with a girl named Kim.  Since I was away at college most of the year it didn't progress much further than that.  After that she started dating another gentleman, and she later got pregnant.  I had heard that they were thinking about getting married, but not until after the baby was born.

Fast forward to the next summer.  My incredibly handsome twin brother Ron and I were walking in the mall (kids, ask your parents), and we saw Kim.  Here's how part of the conversation went:

Me: When did you have the baby?
Kim: I had a miscarriage.
Me: Oh, I'm so sorry.  Did you and your boyfriend get married?
Kim: No, he dumped me right after.
Me: Are there any other questions I can ask to pour salt in your wounds?

After we walked away my brother said, "Well, that went well. At least you didn't ask her out."

I replied, "Yeah, I thought I would wait a couple of weeks for that."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It was funny to me

Surprisingly enough, not everyone finds me funny. (Ok, it's not that surprising.) My sense of humor is sophomoric and sarcastic, bordering on obnoxious, and it makes frequent trips across that border. Many times, after making a joke that bombs, I have to add, "Oh well, it was funny to me."

You may ask, "Do you have any examples?" And if you didn't, I'm going to give a couple anyway.

I am an adult in my 40s, and fart jokes still make me laugh. The other day I watched the movie Blazing Saddles for the first time in several years, and I was surprised at how loudly I laughed during the campfire scene.

"I'd say you've had enough!"

Ok, maybe not that surprised.

And to this day I can't watch a Ford truck commercial without giggling like a schoolgirl every time they say "super duty." (I even laughed when I typed it.)

"Ok Don, those were some nice examples of juvenile humor, but what about obnoxious?"

There are far too many examples of my obnoxious humor, so I'll use a recent example. In my church choir, I sit next to a blind gentleman whose name starts with the letter Earl. Earl is a wonderful man, upbeat, always with a smile on his face. And he is always dressed very well on Sunday mornings.

At the church we have several screens that are used to display the lyrics of the songs being sung, for video presentations, or to display various messages. One such message welcomes people to the church and contains a montage of photos of church members taken during various activities.

One of those pictures is of Earl, nicely dressed, singing in the choir, looking very dapper. It is a beautiful picture. And since he didn't know about it (you know, being blind and all) I thought I'd be nice and tell him about it.

I said, "Hey Earl, on the screen is a welcome message with a montage of photos, and one of them is of you, singing in the choir."

Earl responded, "Really?"

I added, "Yeah, and you look terrible!"


Oh well, it was funny to me.

POSTLOGUE: Yes, I told him I was kidding.

Monday, December 03, 2012

It's the only possible explanation

Over the past few years cycling has become my primary method of exercise. It's not nearly as hard on my knees and feet as running, and it's something I can do on my own. And most of my rides are not on roads with a lot of traffic, so it provides some level of peace and quiet.

Now, I still like playing in team sports like softball and basketball, but neither of them provides much of a cardiovascular workout. And they are definitely much harder on the knees and feet than cycling.

When I do my road rides I usually do long distances at moderate (AKA slow) speeds. (I save the faster speeds for my shorter trail rides.) Typically, the shortest road ride I do is 40 miles. When I'm on these rides I pass other riders occasionally, but I get passed a lot more often.

I've been passed by men and women, younger and older, people in much better shape, and people who could stand to lose a pound or two (or thirty). On one ride I was even passed by a man in his 60's who had three broken ribs.

I've been passed by people on bikes costing several thousand dollars and others on bikes they got at Target. I've even been passed by someone riding a bike that had fenders and a basket. Thankfully, they didn't have streamers on the handlebar.

I've thought about why I get passed so often. I thought perhaps it's because I'm doing such long distances and need to pace myself, or that I'm trying to maintain a moderately high heart rate for a long duration. Perhaps I'm just enjoying the time outside, and I'm in no hurry to finish.

But, after much thought I finally came to the only real possible explanation for me being passed by all these other riders.

Obviously, they are all using performance-enhancing drugs.


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

I'm more of a horrible warning

In February of 1992 I was transferred to Austin by IBM. I didn't know anyone outside of work and had a lot of free time, so I decided to do some volunteer work. In August of that same year I joined Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I was matched with Chris, a 10 year old boy who lived with his mom in south Austin.

Chris and I tried to do something every week. We played laser tag (and made a little girl cry). We bowled. Terribly. We played football and basketball. We watched movies. We went roller skating. (Or in my case, roller falling.) We went sailing. We went camping. And we once got "lectured" by an employee at the Austin Children's Museum for knocking over several stacks of building blocks. (It should be noted that we were the ones who stacked the blocks in the first place.)

I watched his middle school football games, I taught him how to drive a manual transmission, I went to his high school graduation.

And last weekend, I flew to Colorado to attend his wedding.

We haven't seen each other in a few years, and the event was a couple of states away, but I wouldn't have dared to miss it. Chris and his bride Sierra had a beautiful wedding, surrounded by their friends and family. It was an honor to be invited.

As I watched the ceremony, I reflected on our match. Chris was always a good kid, didn't get into a lot of trouble (despite my best efforts), studied a little here and there, was friendly and gregarious. And he's turned into a fine young man.

He also taught me patience and how much I enjoy working with kids. It's because of our match that I went on to coach sixteen seasons of youth soccer and three seasons of youth basketball (so far).

His mom once asked me if I considered myself a role model. I joked at the time, "No, I'm more of a horrible warning."

And if she asked me that question today my answer would still be no. All I had to do was spend time with a good kid.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

That's the first good call you've made all game!

Growing up I played a lot of sports. I wasn't necessarily any good at any of them, but I played. Sometimes. :) And with all the sports I played in my youth my parents made it to almost every game. There were times when they couldn't miss work, especially with the occasional 10:00 AM basketball game during the week, but those were rare. Bottom line, they supported all of their kids in all of their activities.

But sometimes Dad was a little too enthusiastic with his support.

My sophomore year in high school I played on the junior varsity basketball team. Well, I didn't really play that much, but - as I've said about other sports - I was part of the 20/20 club: late in the game, if we were up by 20 or down by 20, I got to go in.

One game, we were playing a rival school in their gym. Varsity games required UIL-sanctioned referees, but JV games didn't have that requirement. So, the opposing team's Jr. High coaches were refereeing the game.

And the game wasn't exactly called fairly. There were times when our players were being punched and no fouls were called. However, if one of our players even looked at one their player cross-eyed a foul was called.

My dad likes to yell. Especially at sporting events. He doesn't usually yell at the players, especially if they're kids, but he will yell at an umpire or referee. A lot. During this game, Dad voiced his displeasure, loudly and with much cursing.

At which point, the ref called a technical foul on my dad, the spectator.

Dad yelled down at the ref, "That's the first bleeping good call you've made all bleeping game!"

And he got a second technical foul.

Our coach then started yelling, got three technical fouls called on him, and was ejected from the game. And out of concern for our safety he took the team with him. We hadn't even made it to halftime.

As the team was riding back home on the bus, I thought about the game and came to this conclusion:

That really was the first good call they had made all game.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I gave her a C-

Back before the internet, e-mail, unlimited long distance, and text messages people used to write letters. By hand. And I still have every letter ever written to me (and to me and my incredibly handsome twin brother Ron).

Except two.

One of them was a "Dear John" letter I received from a girl I was dating while I was in college. She lived back home so maintaining a long distance relationship wasn't easy in the time before instant communication (that was free). I wasn't that surprised by the letter, but it wasn't anything I wanted to be reminded of, so I threw that one away.

The second letter was from a friend I met on a cruise in the mid-90's, who I will call Meagan. I was on the cruise with a couple of buddies, and she was there with some friends of hers. She had a boyfriend back home, but he was unable to come on the cruise. Her group and my group were pretty much the only ones our age that weren't married, so all of us spent a lot of time together during the week-long cruise.

A few months after the cruise was over I got a birthday card from Meagan. (October 7th. Shop early, shop often.) She wrote a very sweet message inside. It was nothing other than friendly, so I mentioned it to one of her friends (who I also remained friends with after the cruise).

A few weeks later I got an angry letter from Meagan. She was very upset that I had told other people about the card, said some mean things about my character, and told me to never speak to her again.

I was confused. I didn't think there was anything private in that birthday message, so I thought there might be more to her anger than what was mentioned in the letter. A mature person would have contacted her to find out the real reason for the anger, resolve the issue, and maintain our friendship.

I was not that person.

Instead, I took the letter she had written me, and I circled all of the spelling and grammar errors, added some notes in the margin, graded it, and mailed it back to her. I had no idea if she was going to read it or even open it, but I mailed it anyway.

What grade did I give her? I gave her a C-.

EPILOGUE: Ten years ago I decided to track down a few people I had wronged over the years and apologize, and Meagan was one of those people. She responded, explaining what really had upset her back then, and it wasn't the letter. In fact, it had more to do with something outside of our friendship. And for the past ten years she has been one of my dearest friends.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The sweet sound of grace

John Newton was a wretched man. He was born in Britain in the 1700's. His mother died just before he turned 7, and he later joined his father at sea at the age of 11. After his father retired, he began sailing with a merchant ship. He was later pressed into service for the Royal Navy, was caught attempting to desert and was flogged in front of the crew. He later transferred to a slave ship bound for West Africa.

While on the slave ship, John was such a problem for the crew that they left him in West Africa with a slave dealer. The dealer gave him to his wife, who abused and mistreated him along with her other slaves. He was later rescued by a sea captain sent by John's father to find him.

John Newton was a wretched man. But while sailing back to England, his spiritual conversion began when the ship he was sailing on was miraculously saved from sinking after he called out to God. Although he began reading the Bible and avoided gambling and profanity, it took several years before he finally renounced the slave trade and apologized for being an active instrument in that business.

He later became an evangelical lay minister, and he was eventually ordained as a priest. He was a popular speaker and was sought out for advice by young churchmen on religious matters. While serving in Olney he wrote several hymns that were later published. One hymn, "Faith's Review and Expectation" as it was called at the time, began with this familiar line:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.

John Newton was a wretched man. But despite the wickedness of his youth, he was saved by God's amazing grace. He knew the depths he had sunk, and he knew the gift of that grace. He didn't write that it saved a wretch like you. He wrote that it saved a wretch like him.

"Amazing Grace" became one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world, performed in one form or another an estimated 10 million times each year. And each time it is performed the same words are sung: That saved a wretch like me.

And that is the sweet sound of grace.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

We held them to 63

When I was a sophomore in high school I played slot receiver on the junior varsity football team. One week, when we were playing a big rival, several of our starters were moved up to varsity, leaving 13 players on the junior varsity. We called ourselves the Baker's Dozen.

As you might expect, when you're playing with only 13 players, including the backup quarterback (who was the starting running back), the backup running back (to replace the one now playing quarterback), and a couple of backup linemen, the game is not going to go well. And it didn't.

During the first half, the left guard blew out his knee. We didn't have any backup linemen, so I had to move to guard for the remainder of the game. I weighed 120 pounds, so I was a bit over-matched.

Later, after being punched by the guy he was blocking several times (in full view of the referee) our left tackle finally punched him back and was thrown out of the game (as was the guy on the other team). One of our wide receivers had to take his place, and he weighed less than I did. And unlike me, he had never played on the line before. He also didn't know any of the blocking assignments, so before each play he would ask me who he should block. I would point to one of the players lined up near him and say, "Block that guy."

Since we had two lineman on the left side who were much smaller than the opposing side, and since our quarterback was a runner and not a thrower, our entire offense consisted of running plays to the right side. We were very easy to stop. I'm not sure if we got a first down the rest of the game.

And since all 11 starters on offense also had to play defense, we were very easy to score on. In fact, the opposing team kept their starters in the entire game, running up the score. They were attempting to score 70 or more points.

But we held them to 63.

EPILOGUE: The following year, when I was on the varsity football team, this rival team was favored by 14 points when we played them. We won by 29.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Just Keep Pedaling

Over the past few years of cycling I've learned a few things.

First, always look behind you before you spit. Or clear your nose. You never know when another cyclist (or a vehicle) is coming up behind you, and you want to make sure the coast is clear before you do either. And I certainly hope any rider in front of me offers the same courtesy.

The second thing to remember about cycling: it is a metaphor for life.

Riding is an activity that is often solitary. Other people may come along for a time, but often it's just you and your thoughts. Or thought, as the case may be. There are hills and valleys, sunny days and rainy days, injuries and accidents, and days with struggles and days without.

And then there's the wind. A strong headwind on a ride can make you feel like you're actually going backward. But a strong tailwind can make you feel like you're flying.

In life, you may get married and divorced, have kids, send them off to be on their own, but there will be times of solitude. There are ups and downs, good days and bad days, illness, and days with struggles and days without.

And there are days where you feel people or forces are pushing against you ... you feel your headwind. It feels like you'll never get ahead, no matter what you do. And then there are days where you feel like you're on top of the world, like there's nothing you can't do. You feel your tailwind.

The interesting thing about a tailwind is that you don't always know it's there. We like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, that we don't need any help. But often, an unseen someone or something was there all along, pushing us and guiding us.

With a headwind, you always know it's there. You can feel it when someone or some force is keeping you from moving forward, and it's a struggle to continue. But no matter which wind you have on your ride or in your life the most important thing I've learned is this:

Just keep pedaling.