Fight Like A Girl: A Matter of Perspective

Monday night I opened up the laptop and sat down to write a blog entry. I’d been kicking around a few ideas for a good rant. I thought about writing my thoughts about the terrible shooting in Santa Barbara, California last Friday and the related issues of misogyny, mental illness and gun control. I also considered going off about my lousy backyard neighbor whose puppy escaped his yard and attacked several of my chickens in my backyard earlier in the day. I even considered unloading some thoughts about parents who shout and scream at their children in public as their form of discipline. Yet, nothing really worked for me as I sat there. My heart and mind just weren’t in it. Instead of trudging onward I closed the laptop and went to bed. As I laid there, I realized what I needed to write about; what was bothering me. It was the status update of my friend, AJ.

Well, results of Frehley’s MRI last Friday have shown that the tumors are continuing to grow…. It was our last visit at children’s hospital today, there is nothing more they can do on a medicine point of view. We will truly miss the oncology team at Childrens, they have been our saviors for the last 2+ yrs. They did say they may come for a home visit. As of today we will discontinue chemo meds and continue with just keeping Frehley comfortable. Lisa is taking the summer off of work to be with Frehley, She is doing ok….. we are working on a bucket list of things to do this summer. We will keep you posted on all our adventures. We continue to be in awe of all the support we receive from our friends, family and community. Please STAY STRONG FOR US we are going to need it.
Frehley is his 11 year old daughter. For more than two years she’s been bravely fighting a brain tumor. Her family and friends have rallied around her as she has received many treatments. Her friends started a Facebook page called “Stay Strong Frehley“. T-shirts were sold with the slogan “Fight Like a Girl” across the front. She even got to meet her idol, Selena Gomez. All in an effort to give Frehley encouragement and strength in her battle. While I’ve never met Frehley, I can tell you from following her story these last few years that she is one tough kid. Along with countless others, I’ve been praying for her to beat this. But, barring a miracle, she’s not going to win this battle. I cannot begin to imagine the wide spectrum of emotions AJ and his wife, Lisa, are experiencing right now as they are coming to terms with the fact that there is nothing more that can be done medically for their daughter. For me, as a father of six, I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I guess it took reading this terrible news about Frehley to shake me a bit, to help give me a little perspective. Those other blog topics can wait. They’re not really that important. I can write about them another time, if at all. But, for me, what really matters right now is thinking about what’s important in my life. It’s far too easy to take things like health and loved ones for granted. Sure, we’ve all lost loved ones, maybe even watched them die. We’ve all experienced times of sickness, maybe even extended sickness. But, for the most part, we’ve recovered and moved on with life. It would be easy to get depressed thinking about how sad it is that this young girl is going die way before her time. Instead, I’d like to challenge each of you, including myself, to use Frehley’s story as inspiration and motivation to shake out of the day-to-day routine and refocus yourself. Live. Love. Laugh. Appreciate. Make a family bucket list and start crossing items off as you make memories together.
While I’m not going to pretend to be close friends with AJ and his family, I can assure you that I’m going to continue praying for them as they go through this difficult time. Please note that I asked for and received permission from AJ before sharing Frehley’s story with you. Please share this story with others so that Frehley and her family may be encouraged. I’m sure that they would appreciate knowing that you’re staying strong for them, as well.

Funerals Are Fun

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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen several friends post on their blogs or Facebook pages about funerals and it caused me to think about my own experiences with them over the my 41 years of life. For me, funerals are fun. I mean, if it wasn’t for someone dying, I love enjoy going to them. Before you think I have some sort of weird and darkly morbid personality, consider my reasons for such a statement. First, it’s a family reunion of sorts. Nothing brings family together like a wedding or funeral. It’s an unfortunate chance to see and visit with many relatives who live in other parts of the country. In most of the funerals I attended in small towns in Wisconsin the actual ceremony was followed by a meal in the church’s fellowship hall. It was then that the gathered family (and friends) started to reminisce about the good old days with the dearly departed. Which is my second point. The sadness of death becomes a celebration of life as people share why or how they remember the “guest of honor”. I’ve learned so much family history from just listening to long-lost uncles from Milwaukee or Manitowoc tell their stories, each one trying to top the other. The amount of laughter was almost inappropriate considering it was at a funeral. I guess it was an early lesson about how to remember that a funeral doesn’t have to be a sad and somber time if you can use it as a chance to tell the story of the one you loved and miss. By the way, I don’t mean to diminish anyone who is sad and somber at a funeral. People grieve and mourn in different ways and speeds.

Third, you get to see how many lives are impacted by just one person. When my dad died seven years ago, I was amazed and a little surprised by how many people showed up for the visitation and funeral. I expected the family and friends…but I was blown away by the number of people who knew my dad professionally through his career working as a city employee in the public works department. Several guys came through the line and shook my hand, telling me that they never worked with someone who had such integrity. Others praised his tireless work ethic. Even former neighbors that hadn’t seen him in 20+ years showed up and shared nice memories of him. During the luncheon that was held after the ceremony, there was a microphone available for anyone to share a memory about my dad. It was moving to see people stand up and tell how he had impacted their lives.

Fourth, one word. HUGS! In case you missed it, I’m a big hugger. Literally and figuratively. I suppose it took the deaths of the two most important men in my life, my grandfather in 2005 and my father in 2007, for me to realize the power and importance of human touch, particularly the hug. For some reason, people don’t approach tall guys like me for hugs very often. But, hey, giants are people, too! Hugs are good for the body, mind and soul. Don’t wait for a funeral to give someone a hug, though.

Finally, funerals are inspirational. Hearing the stories and seeing how many people are impacted by just one life inspires me to be a better person. It makes me consider what I’m doing with my life and why I’m doing it. And any time I take to look inward and reflect for a few minutes is time well spent. It also gives me a chance to look around and see how many blessings I have in my life and to remember to not take them for granted. After all, you never know when your time is up, so say what needs to be said and live your life!

Good Bye, Dad. See you in Heaven.

Holding Dad's Hand

My dad passed away seven years ago today. It’s hard to put into words how much I miss him or how often I think of him. Like all of us, he was not a perfect person. He was flawed. Yet, I knew without a doubt that he loved me and was proud of me. How did I know that? Because he got pancreatic cancer that ultimately took his life. But, in the six weeks between his cancer diagnosis and his passing I was able to spend a lot of time with him. At that time I lived two hours away, so I was able to make frequent day trips with my two year old son (pictured) to visit him. y dad was about 10 days from his death, and his body was being ravaged by the effects of the cancer. His skin was turning orange. He lost so much weight that he looked like a concentration camp survivor. And his once-sharp mind was failing, leaving only fleeting moments of lucidity. It was so hard to watch this man I loved all my life suffer while there was nothing I could do to help him. It was during one of those visits at the Hospice facility that my dad had a brief but oh-so-meaningful conversation with me.

He awoke from his sleep and smiled upon seeing me at his bedside, not remembering that I had been there for several hours already that day. I didn’t know if he was going to talk or go back to sleep, but he spoke, asking about how my family was doing. After my reply he proceeded to tell me that he was very proud the man I had become; of my choice to become a Stay At Home Dad six years before. He continued to tell me that he thought I was a good husband and father and that he was pleased with me. This was new to me, as he had not been very verbally supportive of either my college major (Elementary Education) or my career change (teacher to SAHD). He finished by looking me in the eyes, pulling me in for an embrace, and whispering faintly into my ear, “I love you, Carl.” It was the last meaningful conversation I would have with my dad.

Nine days later, on the evening of May 12, my mom called to tell me that the Hospice staff had called her to let her know that they didn’t think my dad would live much longer. Since the next day was Mother’s Day, I was already planning on driving up to see my mom (and dad). But, after her phone call, I left a bit sooner, arriving at the Hospice center around 11 pm. I entered my dad’s room to find my mom and younger brother (and his wife and young son) already there by his bed. We exchanged hugs and kisses and chatted for a few minutes. After a couple of minutes of silence, we decided to sing a few hymns that were among my dad’s favorites, as music had always been a big part of his life. Once the songs were sung, my brother left to take his family back to my parents’ house so they could sleep (my brother would return). My mom and I sat quietly on either side of my dad’s bed, each of us holding one of his hands as he lay in an unresponsive slumber, the silence only broken by each of his labored breaths. We knew that his time was near. As it was already well past midnight by this time, I quietly noted “Happy Mother’s Day” to my mom.

A little after t 1 am that night I noticed that my dad’s breathing had slowed considerably. I held my mom’s hand while we both held my dad’s hands and said a quick prayer, asking God to take my dad home soon so that he wouldn’t suffer any longer. Minutes later, while we were singing a solemn “Amazing Grace” between tears and deep breaths, my dad breathed his last breaths and entered his new home. It was the most sacred and solemn moment of my entire life, to be with a loved one, praying him into the Kingdom. I take great comfort in my faith, believing that I will see my dad again, only this time it will be in Heaven and he won’t be suffering. Later that day, while talking with my kids on the phone about what had happened during the early morning hours of Mother’s Day, one of my kids said something that changed my perspective about the sadness of him dying on Mother’s Day. “It’s okay, Daddy. Now Papa gets to spend Mother’s Day with his mommy in Heaven.”

Good bye, Dad. See you in Heaven.