Death

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the process of death.

Last week Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries died suddenly at the age of 46. That shouldn’t happen. People shouldn’t die at the age of 46 yet they do. People die every day. Despite knowing this, many of us choose to navigate through life thinking it will never happen.

While I myself am not sick, I am still dying. We are always marching forward toward what I have accepted as inevitable. I know death is inevitable, but it amazes me so that so many people think they can cheat death.

My dog Jack, who has been a faithful companion over the last 15-years has seen a rapid decline in his health. He has lost weight, his eyes are cloudy with cataracts and his hearing is all but gone. His vision is so bad that food placed directly in front of him cannot be seen. I felt guilty a couple weeks earlier when I watched him walk directly off the top step of our back porch. He was unable to see that he was on that level. He has been an amazing companion. When I have experienced a difficult day at work, there is nothing better than experiencing his greeting at the door. There is no judgment, only unconditional love. I would rather spend time with Jack than I would with most humans. Now, he is unaware of the comings and goings of others.

Jack

My dad, who will turn 80 on March 31st of this year has continued his march toward the inevitability of death. I visit him and my mom every week and every week I hear about another medication or another test. When my dad is not present in the room, her worried look returns as she tells me of another new concern, of another test received and another test where results continue to be processed. When my dad returns to the room, her smile, forced has returned. Anyone who knows my mom knows this is not a true smile for there is much pain behind it. I find myself becoming frustrated when I hear others complain about her complain. My words to them would remind them they had asked her how she is doing and if they didn’t want to her response, then don’t ask.

dad1

If you look at my dad, he appears healthy with the exception of managing post-polio syndrome. He is one of the 25-40% of the people who will have to manage these symptoms after having had polio as a boy. Dad sits on his powered scooter, his back twisted forcing him to sit to one side. He never complains. I mean even when I was small, no matter what the issue, no matter what the stressor, I never heard him complain.

On a recent visit, my mom explained how “it’s getting really tough.” She told me how it took him over an hour to sit up and transition from the bed into his chair; the chair that has been his home for the last decade. His feet, swollen and useless as his legs no longer offer him any support. Instead, they are appendages which than likely cause him more stress today than they ever have in the past.

His chair is useless in even the smallest amount of snow. This forces my mom to leave him behind when she runs errands or attends church services. I know he enjoys the time spent away from her as much as she enjoys the time away. Despite their love for each other, the stress on my mom’s face when arriving for a visit reminds me of the reasons why we are often afraid to age and ultimately die.

My dad and I have spoken of death on many previous occasions. He shakes off the thought saying, “It is what it is. It’s going to happen to all of us. The good Lord will take me when he’s ready.” While appearing superficial, I know there is much truth, much acceptance of these statements.

It the time I spend with him now as I approach my 55th year on this planet that reminds me of the importance of living each day as it arrives. I have done much work to make this process easier for me and for the clients with whom I provide counseling. I have long ago adopted my dad’s phrase of “it is what it is.” It is this phrase which has helped me to shrug off much of the insanity with which I find myself throughout the day. This world I live in today is one far more complicated than the world in which I was raised in the 6o’s and 70’s. Many times I long for the simplicity of those days and those times. I long for the different stress with which we all lived during that time.

Despite what I know about death and growing older, I continue to find myself also occasionally struggling with priorities. I see approximately 35-40 clients every week often leaving myself emotionally drained by weeks end. I have to remind myself daily to find the joy, which despite being ever present is often difficult to see through the crowded forest of life events and stressors.

I too will die one day. I work hard every day to ensure I am not one of the individuals who die having regretted the life they have lived.

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2017

“Tomorrow the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” – Brad Paisley

As I sit to write, there remain just 12-hours in this 2017 year. Like any other year, there have been highs and lows. Life is like that. Ips and downs. So many of us complain about those changes, I like them. It is what keeps me strong and focused. My life does not remain on autopilot for long. There are too many things which can go wrong with that setting. The things in life over which I have no control are filed under the tab “fuck it.” Those things over which I have control, I accept what I can do and I do it. If I need assistance, that too is OK. I ask for help and use the additional tools and support to achieve success.

I have had in my life the opportunity to have my path cross with that of some amazing teachers. The best teacher I have ever had is my dad. More on him later when he reaches his 80th birthday at the end of March. dad1

The one undeniable truth which I have learned is that in everything there is both happiness and sadness. Sadness is not a bad feeling. It is not a feeling from which we should run nor is it a feeling from which we should cower in fear. If we remain in contact with our feelings and accept them for what they are, we take the opportunity to accept any amount of power we may have to make the changes necessary in our life to overcome those down times and manage the destructive negative feelings in which so many of us wallow in self-pity.

You’re right if you’re thinking there is little in our lives over which we have any if much control. That’s OK. That’s life.

The quote by Brad Paisley goes hand in hand with the man who I have referred to as my spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. Thay, as he is often called by his students said, “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.” It is sad for me to know too few of us realize and accept this fact. Instead, we travel through this wonderful journey kicking and screaming. Instead of problem-solving, we complain expecting things to get better.

Musashi

“Without effort, there are no rewards. The results you achieve will be in direct proportion to the effort you apply.” – Denis Waitley

I had an interesting year. Like any other, there were ups and downs. I manage the downs like I would hope any of my clients do.

I finished 2016 still frustrated with a knee injury. Instead of following up with a doctor, I sat idly and hoped for it to heal. It did not. There’s that thing about putting forth the effort. I had surgery on my knee on April 6th, just 5-days after waking and experiencing ringing in my ears that would later be diagnosed with Tinnitus.

presurgeryThe ENT I went to see sent for testing to rule-out a diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease. I am grateful the tests were returned negative. Knee surgery resulted in the partial removal of the meniscus in my right knee. The surgeon asked repeatedly that I not return to running but being the stubborn individual that I am, this was not going to be the case. I gave loved running for many years. The solitude from which I reap from this activity is boundless and helps me to maintain some modicum of being centered throughout the day.

surgery

As the year progressed, I felt the ringing in my ears which has been a relatively consistent companion had begun to improve. Now improve may be a rather stroing word because there is no cure for this diagnosis, but nonetheless, I found the ringing becoming less and less intrusive. I am sure my daily practice of mindfulness has played a strong supporting role. Regardless, I have looked at this diagnosis, like I have with any other problem, as a challenge to overcome and not just a bad hand of cards from which I have chosen to fold and walk away. That’s one of the beautiful notions of life; there is always another hand. The rules aren’t like poker where we have a single opportunity to trade in a few cards. Until our death, we can have as many do-overs as we want. I love this book. I found it perusing one of my Instagram friends. It contains simple quotes which are more like reminders to not take life too seriously.

never have a bad day again

I don’t look forward to the end of the year for the same reasons that many others do. I don’t make resolutions. For me, that is a lot of wasted time and energy. Instead, I use my daily journal, my daily mindfulness meditation either through sitting meditation or running to help maintain the balance I need to face the adversity that is life. There will always be ups and downs in life. I have accepted this fact, and as a result, my life is much happier.

Happy New Year to everyone and Namaste.

Searching for the spirit of Christmas

The last couple of years I have searched for the spirit of Christmas. I began writing this post two to three weeks before Christmas. I went back to it off and on. most of the time I sat idly in front of my computer, fingers poised over the keyboard as if waiting for a spontaneous rain of thought to begin to move them.

When I was younger, the spirit of Christmas meant something very different from what it does for me today. I suspect this is similar to what many others think. We have grown into such a materialistic society. I know that means that I don’t have to jump on that bandwagon. It is difficult as much of the advertising begins months before this season.  When I was a child, Christmas meant gifts, fun, food and more importantly spending quality time with family. Christmas also revolved around endless discussions with friends about what we hoped to get and the day after Christmas was when the competition for who got the best gift began. These comparisons were often emotionally painful.

cookies

My wife and I decided not to purchase anything for each other. I, being the guy asked several times if she really meant what she had said. I didn’t want to get caught up in “Don’t get me anything for Christmas” and then when I don’t, I look like the schmuck.

Materially, my wife and I are pretty simple individuals. We choose experiences, spending time with each other and surprising each other throughout the year with small tokens of our thoughts for each other.

Our gifts this year were spending time with each other and with family. The icing on the cake as it was, was watching our soon to be 3-year-old grandson open his gifts.

Chase1

 

It’s early and I am still searching for the meaning, the spirit of Christmas. It is actually the day after Christmas and I just returned home from a very early run in temperatures which are sure to make any normal person think twice about leaving the house for anything, let alone a run. The Christmas tree remains lit in the darkened living room, the house quiet with the exception of the fountain pen I am using gliding across the pages of my journal. Beneath the tree remains the material trappings of Christmas. As I start at the tree, I try to find some meaning in the lights and the ornaments. My heart, worn and tired from always giving reminds me that the meaning of Christmas remains elusive.

mom & dad

I continue to write because I know writing always helps to clear away the noise. The smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee and a freshly inked fountain pen help me as I continue this search for the meaning of Christmas.

I find the road, as I grow older is not always a straight line. I also admit I can be a slow learner. Chasing childhood memories of the simple pleasures cause me to struggle to see the path which I am on. When I was younger I found myself despising this fact. It was the destination and now it has become more about the path and what I notice along the way. I am able to see because I allow myself to see the gifts which are bestowed upon me along the path. They can be difficult to see because they are not wrapped nicely in bright paper and with a bow. There is no name written on the gift denoting it is for me. It is my willingness to look inside which tells me this is a gift. I find it easier to accept the often relentless pace of change and accept the inevitability of change as part of my life.

 

hands

Long ago I stopped comparing myself and my life to others. My father remains the master of pointing out the fact that when you think your life is terrible, a simple look around serves as a good reminder that this is not always true. This definition, in and of itself is subjective and serves if we maintain it as truth to allow us to grow more disillusioned, angrier and ultimately, less happy.

My children, now grown and having their own lives still gather with us to celebrate dates on the calendar which we have identified with some level of importance. For this, I am grateful. It is times such as these that remind me of the importance of understanding those things which bring a smile to our faces. For me, my gift this Christmas was being with my family and sitting back, with a smile watching. Christmas, as I write is now two days old. Retailers will tell you there are now just 363 shopping days until Christmas visits us again.

Chase

As I write these words having come inside from a run where I found myself fighting to stay warm against the 6-degree temperatures. I am in my element, the element of silence. It is silence which allows me to witness the gifts around me and to know, that regardless of what happens, I am blessed to have this time on earth. “Waking up this morning” as Thich Nhat Hahn says, “I smile knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me. I vow to live fully in each moment, and look at beings with eyes of compassion.”

The spirit of Christmas, was right in front of me the whole time. It is encompassed in the photo of my parents, the hands of my mother as she passes around chocolates, more worried about the happiness of others; it is in the photos of my grandson both as he looks toward me and as he smiles playing with his favorite gift of the night. It is sitting back and enjoying the chaos of family and the time spent with loved ones.

In the Shadow of the Mountains

Roadway in autumn forest

I rose this morning, the floor cold to my bare feet.
Golden daylight falls through the barren branches of the stand of white birch trees.
As I stare through the stand of trees, I see the silhouette of one of the Adirondack ranges standing majestically.

Hot black coffee.
Alone with my thoughts,
As I stare out the window.

Things are simpler here.
I can just be…
There is no judgment, no expectations, no goals,
No fears.

There is no one to please, no one to help.
The quiet solitude of leaves as they dance on the breeze.

Black Friday

I slept well last night until I rose at 2:30 AM to use the bathroom. I looked out the window and wandered back to bed. Sleep did not find me as easily as it did when I first retreated to bed. Thoughts on my daughter’s predicament danced through my head. After tossing for the next 30-minutes  and focusing on my breathing, sleep finally found me again.

I rose, showered, made coffee and drove with Marissa and Chase to the Buffalo Science Museum. We spent the next four hours looking at many of the exhibits and watching Chase partake in all of the hands-on activities. It’s always rewarding to watch him play. Even when my kids were small I found more joy in watching their exploration of their surroundings. Watching Marrisa engage with him also brought a smile of joy.

I kept my distance and at times found myself sitting by myself, by choice. Thoughts of her predicament and trying to manage my thoughts regarding her life decisions kept me occupied sometimes staring blankly into space. I wonder about her decisions and hope medication and counseling will assist her. My role as a social worker causes me to struggle because like the relationship with my clients, I also cannot fix her problems. Watching her encourage Chase helped bring me back.

We returned home and I sat outside with a cigar enjoying the solitude.

Temperatures today reached 51 degrees which is unseasonably warm for November 24th. I become lost in thought about all of the things for which I am thankful. It is 5:40 PM. Daylight is fading fast, but before it leaves, there is a reminder of the beauty which graced us today. Fading sunlight backlights the clouds with brilliant oranges, which, as they continue to fade change to bright pink.

sunset

I could not think of a better way to spend “Black Friday.”

Namaste

Dogs Love to Play

I turned 54 recently and my dog Jack, 14; that translates to 72 in human years. I am grateful we’ve had the last 14-years to spend together. He has brought an immense amount of joy to my life.

20170729_200806We are both growing older. Jack spends the majority of his time sleeping on the couch, rising and finding a different spot to sleep. We still go for walks but they have become briefer. Instead of inspecting the neighborhood and everything, and I mean everything in it; we cross the street where he does his business and returns home. Gone are the days where he would sit outside with me while I read or completed therapy notes on the laptop. He does remain excited about the “walk around the house” Sunday morning when we retrieve the morning paper.

It is a sad thought that at some point he will no longer greet me at the door with his nub tail wagging but we will all reach that point in our lives. Death is one thing which we will all encounter. What we are unaware of the when.

I have learned so much from Jack. He has been an amazing teacher. Like so many moments which take place every day, there are those pearls of wisdom to be gleaned from the sea of life. Too many of us choose not to take the opportunity to see them as lessons.

Jack has taught me and then reminded me of the importance of “taking it easy” and gratitude for the things which I have

Life has a tendency to slow down as we get older. The things which we once saw as being on the list of “need to do” are often relegated to “maybe.” We begin to review our priorities seeing what is truly important and what no longer matters or matters as much. As a therapist, I feel sad for the individuals I see on a  regular basis both in my practice and simply traveling through life who don’t take the opportunity to slow down and reflect. We use this excuse “I don’t have any time” too much. We’re all busy but are we actually accomplishing anything or are we just busy?

One of the greatest gifts we have received in life is time and since we don’t ever know what our expiration date is, it behooves us to take every day and the see the beauty which it beholds. This morning as I was making coffee and getting ready to leave for work, my wife in the shower and my daughter had left already, I heard my grandson say, “Play with me Popi.” He was sitting at his little table and chair playing with his play-doh. I poured my coffee into a thermos and took a seat next to him playing make-believe with his play-doh. This ranks as high for me as sitting outside the other night watching the Notre Dame game with my son while enjoying a cigar.

Make sure you make time for those things in your life which are truly important. You’ll regret it if you don’t and no one likes regrets. Oh yeah, don’t blame others for the time you feel you don’t have and the time you don’t take for yourself.

 

Time

I greet you with hands clasped together in gratitude for being given another opportunity to grace this earth. For being able to take another breath and enjoy the things in my life which brings a smile to my face. For my eyes and being allowed to see my beautiful wife, children and grandchildren and whatever else graces my view throughout the day.

I have spent quite a bit of time in thought thinking about how I spent this past Sunday. I was on call for Crisis Services. Despite this and my usual Pavlovian response as I nervously wait for my phone to ring; I decided to relax and spend the day the way I wanted to spend it. When I’m on-call I make no concrete plans because a call can come in at any time. As I grow older I see less and less value in filling each day with concrete plans. There are things which need to be done, tasks which need to be completed. Those will get done for there is little which needs to get done at that moment. I found the world will not cease turning if something is left undone.

Jack and I rose and we went for our usual Sunday morning walk. Before returning to the inside of the house, we perched ourselves on the front porch and based in the solitude of the morning. There is, for me no other time of day which brings so much joy. The morning paper was where it is normally tossed by the delivery read and the CBS Sunday Morning News was watched. There remained two cups of coffee in my thermos. I chose to take those outside and sit. To simply sit.

The morning paper was where it is normally tossed by the delivery person. It sat protected in its orange cocoon protecting it from the elements which may have otherwise disturbed my ability to read its contents with some modicum of joy. Jack watched as I ground beans for my morning coffee. As his eyesight fails at his age of 15-years, his eyes grow cloudy with cataracts, he thinks he is going to be fed again. I allow him to smell the freshly ground beans. he takes a quick sniff and turns his head away in obvious disgust as he realizes this treat is not for him. read and the CBS Sunday Morning News was watched. There remained two cups of coffee in my thermos. I chose to take those outside and sit. To simply sit. I have this new coffee an Instagram friend suggested I try. Don’t tell my friends at Death Wish coffee, but I really enjoy this smooth taste. All of the information if you’d like to find them on the Internet and give them a try is right on the bag.

coffee

For those of us who reside in the year 2017, sitting and doing nothing is difficult. We all know this and many of agree using one of the excuses which make every hair stand on end; “I just don’t have the time!” First of all, this is Bullshit!!!! We have nothing but time. It is all in how we choose to spend the time we have. So, when done correctly, the ability to sit and do nothing productive, is, in fact, a momentous achievement. There are some people who see me doing nothing as defined in their terms because whatever activity in which I am engaging does not fit their definition of productivity. These are the people who would disagree with me. That’s too bad because I find reading, lying in my hammock, playing with my grandson, writing, smoking a cigar and drinking a couple fingers of a good whiskey are being productive.

coffee

In the past, I had struggled with sitting quietly alone. I felt like I need to be in perpetual motion. It seems as though the minute I sit my brain begins to wander. My eyes also wander. I begin to see things around the house which may or may not require my attention. Most certainly those things do not require my attention at that time. My son joined me. We both noted it had taken him 4 hours to clean his car inside and out. It’s not that the car was that dirty, it’s that he stopped several times, sat and we talked.

I have a salve for my spirit. It comes in the form of silence, of solitude. When I am physically able to run, it comes in the solitude which I feel during a run and which accompanies my spirit for some time after the run has concluded. It also comes in the form of reading, journaling and smoking a good cigar. My entire professional life I have found myself chained to a calendar and a clock. Questions abound such as “Do I have enough time to do this or that?” These things have resulted in a perpetual feeling of anxiety; of being on-edge. When I apply the salve, which ever one I have chosen, the grip which anxiety has had on me begins to weaken. The difficulty arises when I do not apply the salve as often as is recommended. When I neglect an application, I feel out of place. My mind wanders and guilt, self-imposed guilt reenters or should I say I allow it to reenter. I regret now not doing more in my work life to disrupt that configuration.

Try it sometime. You might actually become addicted to “not doing anything productive.”

namaste