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.

Early morning run

Early morning run. The sound of my running shoes as they mingle with the frozen snow the only sound. My breath forming a cloud as it leaves my nose and mouth seem to hang in the air before dissipating.

The temperature is 15 degrees. The wind-chill dropped the temperature to a “real feel” of 0.

I rounded a turn and headed east. A gust of wind blown directly into my face stealing my breath but at the same time reminding me I am alive.

For others, life has been fleeting. They have entered and left this earth bothered by the trauma of one kind or another; alcoholism, drug addiction, and other issues, often beyond their control. I now look for the magic in each moment. At times this is a difficult task despite the magic being directly in front of me. I have allowed myself to be distracted and not witnessed the gifts which may be hidden from my view.

As I grow older, I look for these moments and cherish the good health which, at this point has been bestowed upon me. My mother, like her mother, have suffered fromsunset macular degeneration. I am sure this “gift” will be lurking around the corner for me like a receding hairline. Until that time arrives and as long as my vision remains intact, I will continue to enjoy reading, making photographs and witnessing the beauty, which, despite being in plain sight, remains hidden from view for many.

I am a Therapist

I am a therapist.

I have worked more than three decades to get where I am today.

The work I have done has allowed me to remain on this path which has helped me to achieve success and happiness so I can help others find the same degree of success and happiness.

I have worked hard to overcome difficulties in my own life to achieve the happiness in my life which I have come to enjoy.

People come to me for therapy and have unrealistic expectations.

People expect me to make changes for them. This is NOT the way this process works.

Change in the lives of others is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of the individual seeking change.

I am simply a guide. I am the person who you approach asking for direction and support.

I am that person who you want to be open and honest with you when you ask that I provide feedback and support.

I am not that person if you are not looking for honest feedback. If you are looking for someone to lie to you about the problems which you experience in life as a result of decisions which you make, I am not that person. What you need, what you want is a friend. Most of us have had friends who tell us what we want to hear. This is NOT a friend. A friend, a true friend will provide us with honest feedback. We are lucky to have walked a path in life with at least one true friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will hold a mirror to you and help you see the flaws in the process.

I am that person you hire when you realize you need more than a friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you identify and find the path which you desire to make the changes which you decide need to be made to achieve the happiness for which you have been searching.

Our life, your life is one in which we have the opportunity to either stop reading or to make the changes we desire to make to come to a happier ending.

I am that person.

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.