Tag Archives: Death

The Fastest Way to Stop Feeling Angry: How a Dying Child Changed the World

father hugging children

(Image/penneylaw.com)

“I hate you, dad!” he yelled from his bedroom. “You always want me to do things how you would do them, and I don’t want to! I’ll never be like you! You’re the worst dad ever!”

I was getting a divorce the last time I lost my breath while standing still.

The little person I love most in the world is about to turn 9.

He had refused to follow some simple instructions, said something dickheaded, so I sent my only child to his room to think about it for a while and threatened to cancel his upcoming birthday plans if he didn’t leave the door closed.

I’m sure I did it wrong.

He got angry and yelled a bunch of unkind things from behind his door that I’d never heard him say before.

It feels sometimes like he’s all I have. He’s the only person who gets everything I have to give. My entire life literally revolves around his wellbeing and needs.

I hate you, dad, he’d said.

That left a mark.

I’m pretty sure Maria McNamara never said something like that to her parents. And I’m pretty sure her parents—Ed and Megan—never sent her to her room for being a little shit-machine.

Maybe that would have happened at 17. Maybe after dad told her: “You’re not walking out of this house looking like that, young lady,” or after mom told her: “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do with your phone, Maria. We love you and if we have to read your texts to understand what’s going on in your life and keep you safe, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Probably not, though.

maria mcnamara - prayers from maria

Maria McNamara (Image/Prayers From Maria)

Look at that cute freaking face. That’s the face of a future class president, or the girl who won’t let others feel left out and who always stands up for the kids getting picked on, and then credits her parents for instilling good values and setting a great example.

Maria McNamara would be 17 today, enjoying her final high school summer break before senior year. She’d be getting her senior photos taken pretty soon. Maybe she’d have a boyfriend.

Maria died when she was 7.

One day, everything was normal and her parents probably felt frustrated with her and maybe occasionally used frustrated-parent tones with her. And then the next day doctors told them their baby girl had a cancerous brain tumor and would die within a year’s time.

“We knew on that day that our lives had changed forever and that we would never be the same again,” Megan McNamara wrote.

[NOTE: If you want to quit reading or are in a hurry, please at least scroll quickly to the bottom of this post to learn about a child killer we can identify AND do something about.]

I often wonder how much I’m getting wrong as father.

He’s my only child.

I wonder how verbalizing my frustration with certain things he does or doesn’t do might harm him. There’s a happy medium somewhere between not sweating the small stuff and providing adequate parental guidance.

I replay moments in my head and wonder to what extent he maybe feels like I’m too critical of him, or somehow disappointed in him.

I write a blog with a name symbolically rooted in the powerful human desire to feel adequate and accepted—to feel like we’re “enough.” If I foster feelings of inadequacy in my little boy, shame on me. He must always know he’s enough. I hope I can figure out how to always make him feel so.

What if I died today?, I wonder sometimes.

Maybe my heart will stop suddenly in my sleep. Maybe I’ll get T-boned at an intersection by a high-speed driver who never saw the light. Maybe I’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get killed in an armed robbery.

What will my son feel and believe about himself because of these moments?

I don’t know.

But I do know that if I knew today was my last day with him, I certainly wouldn’t be wasting time on anger or sending him to his room.

I know that if I knew today was my last day with my son, he would never feel like I’m being hard on him. He would never feel anything except all of the intense and unconditional love I have for him.

In a life where ANYTHING can and does happen, one wonders how we so easily lose perspective on The Things That Matter.

Whoever you would want to see and talk to. Wherever you would want to be. Whatever activity you would want to be doing. In our final hours.

Those are the things that matter.

How easily we forget.

Little Maria had a brain tumor called a glioma. It is the second-deadliest form of cancer in children.

Her dad and mom, Ed and Megan, searched desperately for a way to save Maria. What they discovered was that cancer research focused on glioma prevention or recovery was virtually non-existent.

They then spent the next 14 months feeling unimaginable things—they and their three other children.

“In the course of the 14 months from Maria’s diagnosis, we watched her go from having balance issues, double vision, sleeping excessively and vomiting to bouncing back almost completely to normal after radiation in what is known as the ‘false hope’ stage,” Megan McNamara wrote. “From there the tumor began to grow back and eventually rob her of everything a child loves to do. She endured horrendous debilitating headaches. Eventually eating, swallowing and breathing became difficult. She watched as her body slowly began to shut down. I wasn’t even able to hug her tightly as it caused too much pain. As she saw herself becoming worse, Maria would tell us ‘I think we should go back to St. Jude’s.’ We had to tell her that St. Jude’s could no longer do anything for her anymore.”

How Little Maria Spent Her Final Days

She didn’t feel sorry for herself nor spend time praying for herself.

She spent her final days intent on praying for other children and other families battling cancer.

“Through it all, Maria showed tremendous character and dignity. Her strength, her courage and, most of all, her faith, left marks on our souls that have changed us forever,” her mom wrote. “She never thought of herself. Instead she chose to pray for all children suffering from cancer and their families. She prayed that the doctors would find a way to help them. She is our hero and her fight became our inspiration. Her prayers became our mission.”

Lighting Up the Darkness

People sometimes say “Everything happens for a reason,” and I don’t like it for the very reason that sometimes little kids get cancer, and I’m sorry, but I’m not okay with attaching concepts like Fate or Purpose to Maria’s death and the agony felt by her parents and siblings.

But I also understand that THIS is why people say that.

The suffering endured by Maria and her family provided an opportunity for a tiny person with a giant heart to inspire those around her.

And now we have Prayers From Maria – Children’s Glioma Cancer Foundation, dedicated to funding global research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for these childhood brain tumors.

 

Why I’m Writing About This and Why it Matters So Much to Me

I know a guy.

He is easily among the best and most-inspiring people I know. He has become a personally significant mentor and friend. He owns a web-design firm with a few business partners. They are amazing people doing amazing work. Their company’s stated mission and purpose is “to help humans flourish.”

Not to maximize profit (though they run a fine business). But simply to—as a business—lift people up.

Their remarkable team walks that walk on and off the clock. My personal admiration for them knows no bounds.

They are donating a bunch of their time, talents and money to Prayers From Maria.

They didn’t stick their hands out asking my consulting partners and I, or anyone else, to help offset their costs. They said simply that this is an amazing organization doing difference-making work and invited us to be a part of helping people who need and deserve it.

I feel honored to be asked, and would have wanted to help them EVEN IF the cause didn’t matter to me.

But I’m a father. This matters to me.

I think about how fast my son is growing. Too fast.

I think about how I’m not promised tomorrow, or even five minutes from now.

How everything can change at any moment.

How truly, humbly, grateful I feel right now to have a healthy little boy.

How grateful I feel to have another opportunity to hug his precious face and see about mindfully adjusting how I communicate with him. About mindfully adjusting how I choose to think and act today with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To be here.

Right now.

Soon it will be time to go hug my son.

Almost 9 years old. Who’s luckier than me?

Maybe you. I hope you feel this too. The thing that replaces hurt and anger when we see things from another perspective.

Thank you for being you, Maria McNamara. For all you gave. And all you continue to.

Do Something Amazing Today

I don’t feel good asking you for things. If I ever get a book finished, I’ll surely be spamming you with pleas to purchase five copies.

I’m trying to save whatever goodwill I’ve earned for that.

But some things are bigger than me and more important than how comfortable I feel.

Right now, there’s a father somewhere who is about my age who has a son about 8 or 9 years old. Like me. But instead of getting ready to celebrate his birthday, he’s saying goodbye. Helpless. Trying to be strong for his wife and family. Trying to keep it together at work.

Right now, there’s a little boy out there around my son’s age who will grow up to be a father himself. And one of his kids is going to be diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Today, that diagnosis would be a death sentence.

But tomorrow, it doesn’t have to be.

Please join me in helping people save the lives of children and give hope to their parents.

There is no amount too small to give.

Thank you so much for reading this and doing something meaningful for other people today.

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Husbands Are Negligent Criminals, Wives Are Flawed Judges

Lady Justice

(Image/blogs.monash.edu)

There are several ways I could kill three people.

One way would be to successfully craft and execute a plan to murder them. Using a weapon or poison or something else, I could intentionally take three lives.

Another way would be to do something dangerous, reckless or negligent that ultimately caused their deaths. Maybe I attacked them with the intent to cause physical harm but they died from the injuries. Maybe I set their house on fire not realizing they were inside. In the end, three people are dead because of something I did that was bad.

A third way would be to somehow be involved in a total accident. Maybe another vehicle hits me. My tire blows. I spin out of control and my car hits some innocent pedestrians, and three people die.

The U.S. criminal justice system takes the particular circumstances into account when determining an appropriate punishment or whether to press charges at all.

The premeditated murder of three people will likely send you to prison for the rest of your life, and might get you a death sentence. It’s very bad because you deliberately planned to do one of the two most horrible things imaginable, and then actually went through with it.

When you do something bad and then people die incidently, it’s usually labeled involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide. You didn’t intend to kill. But you clearly were doing something you understood to be harmful or dangerous and it resulted in people dying. A common sentence for such a crime can range from months to 10 or more years in prison.

And then there are no-fault accidents. Deaths ruled as accidental don’t result in any criminal charges or punishment.

Fighting Couples Often Mislabel Crimes, Then Improperly Punish Them

I used to say it to my wife all the time when she was getting on me about some random thing I’d done that she thought was a big deal: “Ummm. The calibration on your This Is How Mad I Should Be About This Right Now thingy is totally broken. It’s like the punishment never fits the crime with you. I accidentally do something, and you want to try me for murder. I love you, for God’s sake. Get a grip.”

As is true in most relationship disagreements, we were both a little right and both a little wrong, and since neither of us were willing to admit we might be wrong nor made any effort to acknowledge where the other might be right, we’re not married anymore.

When you’re in the middle of those fights, you sometimes feel like you’re the only person going through it. It’s not something I wanted to talk about. Whether it was because I loved and respected my wife too much, or whether I was worried about someone judging me for marrying someone that “crazy,” I didn’t talk much about marriage fights with friends or family.

One of the most important things to ever happen to me happened while I was reading this relationship book in the guest room bed trying to figure out how my life had fallen apart. And the book described, in exquisite detail, a common argument between a husband and wife.

We all know what it’s like to make a connection with someone or something by discovering some common bond. It’s great. It’s how we make friends, or fall in love with music and fictional characters and art. But it’s different when you’re desperately trying to keep your entire life and everything you know intact.

I read a stranger describe my marriage for me.

The truth smacked me in the face and it felt like the eighth shot of tequila at a beach party—amazingly mind-expanding, and also like I needed to vomit.

If a stranger can accurately describe the same exact fight I always have with my wife, then that must mean that pretty much EVERYONE has this same fight.

It’s awesome, because you realize you’re not the only one and that if everyone’s going through this, then it’s all the more reason to keep the marriage alive and continue to grow and evolve.

And it’s intensely sickening, because this is so common that ANY experienced couples therapist or even just some dumb blogger can accurately describe the common fight and dynamic that causes half of all marriage to fail, yet it’s somehow still a major secret the vast majority of people walking around are completely oblivious to. They just keep trying and failing in their relationships, moving onto the next one, because maybe this new person will make me happy!

That’s always it, isn’t it? We want other people to make us happy, and we don’t want to take any responsibility for it. We deny our partners certain treatment they say will make them happy and then get bent out of shape when we’re treated the same in return.

Husbands mess up.

We inflict emotional pain on our spouses in ways indistinguishable from neglect. These are pretty good guys I’m talking about. They’re not looking for ways to hurt their wives. They’re not murdering.

When I was a senior in high school, someone killed my uncle in a hit-and-run highway accident. We never found the guy driving the white Pontiac Grand Prix heading south toward Chicago. Eyewitness accounts say the driver aggressively swerved into my uncle’s truck which led to the accident.

My uncle was 37, just like I’ll be in a few days.

White Grand Prix Guy didn’t murder my uncle.

But he’s also not completely innocent in his death.

Husbands hurt their wives accidentally insofar as they do harmful things that inflict emotional damage without intending to. And because they “didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” they expect their wives to give them a total pass for it.

Someone died. “It was an accident!” the husband says, asking his wife to not press charges. “It’s not fair because I didn’t hurt you on purpose!”

That husband is White Grand Prix Guy.

I was White Grand Prix Guy. Only I eventually got caught. And I deserved it.

Wives mess up.

They often don’t try their emotional criminal cases based on the facts of just one case. In the United States, there are laws in place to protect people from being tried twice for the same crime.

Our wives don’t give a shit about criminal justice analogies, though.

You just left the damp towel wadded up on the bedroom floor, and she’s freaking had it because she’s asked you to not do that about 50 times, and you apparently don’t care how bad you make her feel, which pretty much means you don’t love her, because people who love people care about respecting and protecting the feelings of the people they love.

During your trial, you will not be charged with leaving the damp towel on the floor one time. You are being charged with leaving the towel on the floor all 50 times, PLUS every single other thing you have ever done or not done that produces within her this feeling that you are INTENTIONALLY not doing some little thing she’s asked you for, and all 14 million of those moments have her at her wit’s end.

You committed negligent homicide.

She’s charging you with premeditated murder.

And then you make it worse by arguing for all charges to be dropped.

There’s a line, and I don’t know how to identify it.

Men, in my estimation CAN honestly and legitimately claim ignorance regarding how their behaviors sometimes adversely affect their wives.

But how many times does she have to say it with you dismissing her before it stops being innocent? At some point, innocent ignorance becomes willful ignorance becomes neglect.

Unfortunately, the people least-equipped to make that determination—the husband and wife themselves—will be the ones making that call and getting it wrong.

The husband claiming total innocence while his wife suffers.

The wife applying malicious intent to accidental carelessness while her husband withdraws further.

The negligent criminal. And the flawed judge.

Unwittingly sprinting to divorce court.

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If I Die Before I Wake

(Image/fbccoverstreet.com)

(Image/fbccoverstreet.com)

I think about dying sometimes.

I think about dying because sometimes people die.

I can’t decide how afraid of it I am. I tend to feel a little afraid of any situation in which I have no prior experience, or am missing a lot of information and don’t know what to expect. So I guess I’m a little bit afraid to die, which I like better than three years ago when being awake hurt so much that staying alive too long feeling that way seemed much scarier.

One of the worst things about being a divorced, single father is that there’s no one around to document life with my son. My little second-grader, thankfully, has several family members on his mom’s side who he sees pretty regularly.

But because we live far from my extended family, and I’ve been single for three years, there’s this huge chunk of my son’s life that only exists in his memory and mine. If I die today, he’ll only have a few pieces of visual evidence documenting our life together.

He curled up next to me on the couch last night. He wanted to look at old photos of him and us. Even though I’m an infrequent Facebook user, it’s still my largest repository of old photos.

It’s a time warp, because there’s close to nothing from the past three years.

If you judged and measured my life in terms of Facebook activity, it’s not hard to see the world turned upside-down in 2010, and stayed that way. My son didn’t recognize some of his friends from today because they were so young in the photos.

We got to Fourth of July photos from 2010.

“Look dad! That’s when mommy still came with us when we go to visit grandpa’s,” he said.

“That’s right, bud. You’ll see mommy in a lot of these photos,” I said. “See? There you both are. Look at that face.”

“That was one of my happiest years.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I was 3, and mommy still lived here.”

That sort of thing used to make me cry. I’m tougher now.

“Do you remember when mommy still lived here?”

“Yeah. I remember.”

We flipped back to Christmas 2009. There was a photo of him standing in the middle of my in-law’s old living room, a place he spent much of his first three years before the whole world changed.

“Where is that, dad?”

“Are you serious? You don’t know where that is?”

“I just don’t really remember,” he said.

I think about his grandfather—my father-in-law—all the time. We lost him unexpectedly one day, and some of us went into an involuntary tailspin afterward.

I don’t presume to know what happens after we die, but if it’s possible for him to peek in on his grandson, I know he is. He was an awesome grandpa.

I wonder what he thinks of me. Maybe he feels like I failed his daughter, and considers me a major disappointment. Maybe he hears me sometimes when I get upset with his grandson, and wishes he could tell me to chill out and maintain perspective.

You know?

Because we’re all going to die one day. And really? Who gives a shit about a few crumbs on the dining room floor?

Sometimes, I think about dying in my sleep.

I hope my son is with his mom if that happens any time soon.

She and I rely on mobile phones to communicate with each other. Sometimes when one of us is particularly busy and distracted, or we have our phones plugged in and away from us, the other worries that something bad might have happened after we don’t get responses to texts, or our calls go unanswered.

If enough hours go by, I start concocting potentially terrifying stories and possible explanations in my head, because that’s what I do sometimes in the absence of facts.

At my son’s age, even though he’d be really upset and afraid, I think he’d be able to use my phone to reach his mom. I think he knows to go to the neighbors for help in an emergency.

I hope he’ll be okay.

I hope my life choices didn’t add up to a freakish moment where a young child has to face the body of his dead father and try to figure out what to do next, and then not even have very many photos of our good times together to look through afterward.

I worry about my parents. I don’t call them enough, so maybe they secretly think I don’t love and appreciate them as much as I do.

I worry about my family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. I hope they know what they mean to me. They probably don’t. It’s probably my fault. But I hope they guess correctly.

I worry about you. Most of you won’t care or notice. But some of you will. If you’re still reading this meandering, self-indulgent post, you’re probably someone who cares. You’re probably someone who might notice when the updates simply stop. Hopefully by design. But maybe not. Maybe one day there just won’t be any more heartbeats. Then, no more posts. And maybe some of you will wonder what happened. Maybe some people will think I quit, or ran out of words.

Maybe some of you will guess correctly that I died, and be frustrated that there may never be a way to know for sure.

I might not die today. I probably won’t, since I’ve never died any of the other days I’ve been alive. But maybe I will. Maybe this is the day the top of the hourglass runs dry. That’s the point, really. We never know.

If I’m out of time, what is it that needs to be said, and to whom?

Is that really worth feeling upset over?

Shouldn’t the things people think about in their final moments be the things we put most of our focus on?

I think so.

I hope this isn’t the last thing I ever write. That they don’t find the plates I left in the sink. The stack of mail on my desk. The unmade bed. The unfinished Pinewood Derby car on the bench downstairs.

The last father-son project. Unfinished, like this life.

We probably don’t wake up one day feeling ready to die—feeling like we got it all right, and accomplished all we set out to do.

Maybe the best we can do is whatever’s in front of us today.

Offering to help.

Forgiving them.

Forgiving ourselves.

Trying hard.

Loving harder.

Choosing hope.

Choosing courage.

If I knew this was the last thing I would ever write, I would finish with a note to my son (Love you, kid.):

Thinking about dying is only awesome if you use it as motivation to take nothing for granted. I did many bad things. But I always chose hope, and it has never failed me. I hope you will, too.

I don’t spend most of my life thinking about dying. I promise.

I spend most of it thinking about living.

I spend most of it thinking about living because sometimes people really live.

Be one of them.

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How to Be a Man, Vol. 3

Monty Williams

Be like this man. Monty Williams. Because he’s what we’re called to be. (Image/pelicandebrief.com)

“This will work out,” Monty Williams said at his wife’s funeral the other day.

Out of context, you might find the comment flippant or emotionally detached. It was anything but.

The phrase I like to use is: Everything is going to be okay.

And that’s what Williams, an assistant coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, meant when he said matter-of-factly: “This will work out.”

Life is hard. And the most fortunate of us don’t know it when we’re children, because nothing is hard. You just wake up every day in comfort and safety that you didn’t earn, pay for, or work for, and then people love you, give you stuff, provide your needs, educate you, and allow you to spend—compared to adulthood, and within the context of appropriate behavior—a lot of time doing pretty much anything you want.

It’s magical, and none of us appreciated it because we all wanted to be big so we could “do whatever we wanted” like the little morons we were.

But then we grow up and no one just gives us things anymore. We have to work for what we have, and we have to work to maintain those things.

Instead of living with people who tend to love us no matter what, we now live with people who have to choose whether to love us—but because we don’t know better, we take that for granted and often assume they’ll love us like mom and dad did, because we exchanged vows, or share an address, or share a bed, or share children. But then we sometimes learn the hard way that we were wrong about that, too.

Many other hard things happen in adulthood.

Losing friends in adulthood is harder than when we were kids. Financial pressures in adulthood weigh heavier than they do for mostly insulated children. Because Father Time stops for no one, those fortunate enough to stay alive longest must in turn deal with the most amount of death.

Life is hard.

And because it’s so hard to think and feel and exist beyond our own minds and chest cavities, it’s difficult to not wallow in self-pity during the darkest, most difficult, most painful moments.

A dead wife.

Just 44.

Mother of five children, three of whom were with her in the car crash.

Killed in a freak accident by someone recklessly driving 92 miles per hour on a four-lane Oklahoma City road with traffic signals and a bunch of other cars on the road.

And the grieving husband and father said, with courage and conviction: “This will work out.”

All roads lead somewhere. Even the excruciatingly painful and treacherous ones.

And no matter how much we hurt, someday tomorrow will get here, when we will get to see exactly how things worked out so we could arrive to a better, perhaps beautiful, today.

Everything is going to be okay.

A Tangent on Personal Beliefs, God, and Faith

I deliberately tend to avoid writing about spiritual beliefs, God, religion, etc.

These are human beings’ most sacred beliefs, and they often generate strong emotional reactions, and by proxy, controversy.

This blog is mostly about two things: Personal growth and reducing the frequency of divorce. And since I feel strongly that both believers and non-believers can experience personal growth, and that regardless of belief system, people will continue to get married, I want to stay focused on those things.

If we start screaming at each other about which story about God is most credible, and internet-damning all dissenters to eternal damnation, I think the important personal growth and Let’s Make Marriage Suck Less conversations might get lost in the noise, or ignored entirely.

“Hey, Matt! Why don’t you ever write about faith as an important part of making marriage last!?”

Because I think if I tell an atheist she needs to pray to God; or a Buddhist that he needs Christ’s mercy; or Christians that they need to read the Qur’an; or Jews that they need to accept the New Testament; or the faithful that there is no god, that all of our conversations will become about that, and not what I’m actually thinking and writing about.

I’ve said it before: Does it matter how right you are, or how much truth you’re sharing if no one hears the message anyway?

I’d rather people from all walks of life strive to be better people and have healthy, positive, loving relationships, than spend time quibbling over disagreements that will never be settled in this lifetime, let alone these blog comments.

But if you must know, I believe in God. I just don’t presume to know how God works, or what God wants, or why God would want whatever that is.

I personally believe that God doesn’t want people screaming at one another and dividing up into camps of angry people telling others they’re going to hell if they don’t change all of their beliefs to whatever their particular camp believes, or worse, killing people with different opinions.

Something is true. And maybe we’ll find out what that truth is someday if the lights don’t insta-shut-off when we die. I hope so. Maybe in the meantime we can speak and act with humility, treat others kindly, teach our children to do those things, try to get 1% better at something every day, and try to live in such a way that we are giving more to others and the world than we take from them. Maybe we can do that no matter what we believe.

Coach Williams is a Christian man with a strong faith in God.

And should you listen to this courageous and inspiring eulogy to his wife at the bottom of this post (and I really hope you do), I’d like to ask all non-Christians not to get distracted by Bible references and churchy things, but simply on Williams’ class, bravery, humility, and forgiveness. I hope any men reading who believe how they treat and talk about their wives should be measured in blow-job frequency or what other guys think about them, will watch it.

Coach Williams probably messes up just like every other person, ever.

But he strikes me as a man who loved his wife as wives are meant to be loved. Who loves his children as fathers are called to love. Who wakes up each morning and falls asleep each night with a peaceful heart and relatively regret-free. Because he WALKS THE PATH.

Sometimes guys like to internet-shame me because of the things I write about marriage. They think they’re tough guys, and that I’m a huge pussy.

I used to be sensitive about that back when I spent every day wallowing in self-pity over divorce and feeling sorry for myself about how unfair life had become. I spent a lot of time doing the Why me, God!? thing. It’s because I was being a huge pussy.

But that’s not what I’m being today. Things were always going to work out. Everything was always going to be okay. And now they are.

Coach Williams’ manhood has never been in doubt, despite always touting the merits of his wife to anyone who would listen. Her beauty, and strength, and importance in his life.

When he wasn’t with her, he wanted to be.

When he isn’t with his children, he wants to be.

It’s what love looks like. And courageously choosing it even when it’s inconvenient is what makes a dude, a man.

Williams is a leader of men. And for those brave enough to listen, we can learn how to be men, too.

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When a Partner Grieves: The Moment of Truth

hands1

“Your life is about to fall apart, you’re going to get divorced, and things will never be the same,” is what my wife’s cousin could have said.

But she didn’t. She told me in vague and confusing ways that we’d lost my father-in-law without warning and that I needed to tell his daughter.

Oh no.

She had to be mistaken. We had just had dinner with him the night before and he was the same great guy I’d known for a decade. He was fine!

It doesn’t always make sense when people die. I don’t think it makes sense for people even when they see it coming.

But sometimes we don’t see it coming.

We just wake up and have the same kind of day we always do. And then someone surprises us with a phone call.

And now, even though the earth will need to spin a billion more times before you can finally process it, you know: Everything is different now.

And it’s true. Everything you think and feel now has a new layer in it. Something uninvited. And it casts shadows. And makes things heavier.

The day my father-in-law died was the day my marriage died. I just didn’t know it yet.

Hold On, Don’t Let Go

One of my favorite cousins got married two Saturdays ago and I was fortunate enough to attend the wedding. It was the first day of my summer vacation visiting family and friends.

It was my second wedding since my divorce.

They feel different now.

I used to go to weddings and (even if I was wrong) I just knew they were going to be married forever. Now, it’s not like that. Statistically, one of the two marriages I’ve witnessed as a single guy will end in heartbreak and misery.

There are all these themes of love and loyalty and togetherness at weddings. All this talk of unselfishness and service and forgiveness.

It’s the kind of stuff most people tune out as they smile and take photos for Instagram and Facebook while looking forward to the party afterward.

I used to be just like that. But then my marriage died and all the symbolism and messages of love took on much deeper meaning. The sacredness of the occasion feels much greater now.

I look at these two people and (even if I’m wrong) I just know they have no idea what they’re in for.

Probably not soon.

Probably later.

Once complacency or resentment or sadness or grief sets in. My cousin is very close to her mother—my aunt. She moved to Florida a few years ago for all the same reasons I did after graduating college. Her daughter missed her very much. Would start crying the day BEFORE she or her mother would have to say goodbye to one another during visits, which is why my aunt moved back home.

It’s a beautiful mother-daughter bond. And one of them will have to say bye to the other someday. No one gets forever in this life.

My cousin is going to break on the inside when she loses her mother. She has a dad and brother, too. And lots of friends and other family members. Loss is part of life, but it’s one we don’t think about until it sucker punches us without warning.

Will her new husband know what to do when that day comes?

How could he?

I shook hands yesterday with a man at his wife’s funeral. I hugged his three daughters, all standing next to their husbands in the receiving line. And as much as I attempted to focus on these women trying to cope with and process the loss of their mother, I spent most of the time thinking about these husbands.

I can’t be certain this will be their greatest tests as husbands, but I’m pretty sure it will be their biggest one yet.

In Good Times, and In Bad

This is what we promise standing on that alter or in front of whoever is officiating our marriages.

We know there will be good days AND bad days, but we’re going to love our partners forever, no matter what. At least, that’s what we all say.

But then shit hits the fan without warning and life gets really inconvenient and THAT’s when we’re measured.

Everyone grieves differently.

I don’t know what I was expecting from my wife when she lost her father, but it wasn’t what I got. She seemed like a different person. One who no longer wanted me around. She said as much about a month into the grieving process.

I don’t know what the optimum way would be to deal with that, but I chose the wrong way. I moved into the guest room and felt sorry for myself every day until she left a year and a half later.

I would advise against that strategy.

I don’t know what it will look and feel like when your spouse or partner loses someone close to them. But it’s safe to assume they will hurt and feel brokenness on the inside. They’re going to feel lost and scared because they won’t feel like themselves anymore and that’s a terrifying experience.

I wish I could tell you what to do. How to make everything okay for your partner and you.

But there are no instruction manuals for this stuff. There are no blueprints to follow.

I thought it was unfair that because my wife was sad about losing her father that I had to be treated like a leper. So instead of being strong and EVERY DAY asking: “What can I do to make your day better?,” I pouted like an asshole instead of asking myself the hard questions about why my wife wasn’t coming to me for comfort.

When your spouse is grieving, this is NOT your time. This is THEIR time. Put them first. They hurt very badly. And you need to be the rock they can lean on instead of selfishly hoping he or she gets over it soon so your life can get comfortable again.

I write it a lot: Love is a choice.

When your spouse isn’t his or her fun self anymore and they don’t make you feel good because they’re lost in a vortex of emotion that changes day to day and they don’t know how to manage their own feelings, let alone yours, it’s easy to throw up your hands months later:

“Does she really think this is more important than our marriage?”

“If she’s not going to try, why should I?”

“Why is she doing this to me?”

The Moment of Truth

No one’s out to get you, and unless you and your spouse are master communicators (and you’re not, otherwise there wouldn’t be any problems) about half the things you believe your spouse is thinking and feeling are wrong. We’re sometimes bad guessers.

The phrase “The moment of truth” originated in Spanish bullfighting, referring to the moment in a bullfight in which the matador is about to make the kill.

Specifically, the dictionary tells us it’s “The moment at which one’s character, courage, skill, etc., is put to an extreme test; critical moment.”

When your partner is grieving and you feel your life unraveling because you don’t know how to help them, and you’re hurting yourself because you feel the relationship slipping away—it’s your moment of truth.

Theoretically, it won’t be the only one.

It’s hard to put yourself on the back burner and selflessly love without asking for anything in return.

But that’s what it takes. It’s a test of your character.

And you’re afraid. So afraid. Because you don’t know if the sacrifice is going to pay off because you’re not promised love and loyalty in return. It’s a test of your courage.

No one teaches us how to do this. To serve others at the expense of our own comfort, and sometimes, happiness. It’s a test of your resourcefulness. A test of your skill.

Because you’re being put to an extreme test.

And it’s a critical moment.

And many of us don’t make it.

Because we’re lost.

Because we’re not heroes.

But maybe you are.

And even if you’re not—maybe you can choose to be.

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The Things That Matter

13599-Memories

One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite shows had a man sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed talking on the phone to his ex-wife sitting on the edge of her bed.

He had just learned she was dying of cancer.

His eyes well with tears and he calls her by his pet name for her. His voice breaks.

Her eyes well with tears because she hears this stoic figure breaking on the other end of the phone.

No one says anything, but they don’t have to, because the audience gets it. A silent moment where so much is happening. Two people who have completely let go of every ounce of anger and resentment toward one another because their time is short and they’re not going to waste any of it on anger. Two people focusing not on all the bad times, but on all the good.

He can’t speak.

She says: “I know.”

And we know that she does.

This was the end. Sadness and regret. Because it used to be so good and beautiful.

And they both remember those times.

The things that matter.

A Letter from my Grandmother

I’ve joked many times in this space about what will happen if my grandmother ever read my writing here, and about other things. Because I use a lot of bad words and occasionally write about mature themes, the working theory is that my super-sweet, kind, prayerful grandma will read it and then have a stroke and die.

I am her first grandchild, and was for nearly seven years. I am closer in age to my grandma’s youngest child than I am to her second grandchild.

I think when we are lying on our deathbeds, we are going to think about the life we lived and it’s going to be painfully obvious to us where our missed opportunities were. Where we failed to meet some standard to which we hold ourselves.

I think most of us are too afraid.

To go on that adventure.

To give up the day job.

To kiss the girl.

To dance.

To leap.

We like to do things that feel safe, and I think in the end we are going to regret all the chances we didn’t take. All the safe, comfortable choices we made.

And I think when we’re dying we are going to only think about the things that matter. The people we love and the people who love us. The people who shared in our pleasure and pain and celebrated or suffered along with us.

I’ve written a lot about what a charmed upbringing I had, despite not having much money. My childhood is the ultimate example of how money and having lots of “things” has never, and will never provide the happiness and contentment we seek.

I was happy because my family loved me, paid attention to me, treated me well, and always made me feel safe. My friends did the same.

That’s why adulthood has felt so uninspired. At times, so disappointing.

That’s why divorce was so hard. Because I’d never really felt the kind of pain divorce causes. When you’ve never bled before, I think the pain of the cut and the sight of blood is more traumatic than it is to those with battle scars.

My grandmother—a wonderful, kind woman; the matriarch of a large family (eight children and 19 grandchildren)—is largely responsible for the envelope of love, happiness and contentment in which I was raised.

She wrote me a letter.

Dear Matt,

Time goes so fast. I want to write you a letter and let you know how much you are loved. The time we came to Iowa. You got lost at 2 years old. We were to blame. I was so scared. But we found you and all was well.

The time I flew out with you to Iowa so you could be in Debbie’s wedding, and when we left, you sobbed for a half hour on the plane and I couldn’t fix it. You didn’t want to leave your dad. The time you went out to live with your dad when you were a junior in high school. Oh, how I missed you. I’m so glad you decided to stay here for your senior year and graduate with all your friends.

I remember all the times just you and I went to lunch together when you were little. It was so special for me to have you with me. I love you so.

As grandpa and I are getting older we want you to know how much we love you and always will. Our time on this earth is so much shorter than it was and I don’t want to waste any time, so I hope you know how much we care for you and our great-grandson.

Matt, you’re a good father and we are proud of the man you have become.

Just know we love you and always will. 

Grandma and Grandpa

How will we know? What matters, and what doesn’t?

We won’t always know while it’s happening.

But I think one day we will.

I think, one day, we’ll just know.

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The Ghost Upstairs

(Image courtesy of PlayBuzz.)

(Image courtesy of PlayBuzz.)

On Tuesday, I came home late at night to an empty house and heard footsteps coming from my upstairs bedroom even though no one else was home.

It was scary.

I’ve lived in my house more than nine years and have never heard anything like that. It shook me up so much that I grabbed my shoes and keys and left without turning anything off. I thought there might be an intruder.

I wrote about it in my last post, acknowledging it can only be one of three things: 1. An intruder. 2. A ghost. 3. Nothing.

Yesterday morning, I got a comment on that post from someone who has never before commented on this blog. She didn’t mince words.

“Do you have a deceased uncle whose birthday is around this time? I sense he is on your father’s side and you knew him quite well in life. Just say hello, happy birthday, and I am pleased that you still think of me,” she wrote.

When I was a senior in high school, my father’s only brother was killed in a hit-and-run car accident on Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Chicago. He was 37. His birthday was in April. I’ve mentioned the incident in a few posts without going into detail. It’s something that’s crossed my mind more than usual lately.

Maybe that’s why he decided to visit.

I don’t believe in ghosts.

But people who think they have all the answers are maybe a little bit foolish, so I’m always open to new ideas and the strong possibility that I can’t really be sure of anything, ever.

I’ve seen lots of ghost shows on TV. I’ve heard lots of ghost stories. I’ve heard many stories from people I absolutely trust that could more easily be explained as a haunting than anything else.

I don’t mean “I don’t believe in ghosts” like: No way! There’s no such thing! I simply mean I’ve never, not even once, seen anything that appeared radically supernatural or ghosty.

Until now.

I texted my psychic friend (I’m serious) yesterday because she visited Wednesday when I told her this story. When I told her that it had to be nothing, an intruder, or a ghost, she said: “Do you really want to know?”

This is the second time she’s asked me that in my house, and I always say no because I live alone and don’t like being scared.

But after getting that blog comment, I texted it to her and asked: “Penny for your thoughts?”

She replied: “He tapped me on the shoulder as soon as I sat on your couch but I didn’t say anything because it would freak you out.”

I know what some of you are thinking.

It’s because I don’t believe in psychics either.

Not because I think it’s impossible, but simply because I always am a little skeptical of supernatural things I don’t witness for myself. I really mean that more as a past-tense thing, because being friends with someone with this girl’s intuitive abilities has forced me to reconsider my position on all of that.

So, quick recap: A total stranger sensed it was my dead uncle and offered enough plausible detail for me to consider it possible.

My friend who was ACTUALLY in my house and has unique spiritual gifts corroborated.

There was only one conclusion for me: My uncle’s ghost is hanging out in my bedroom.

My Ghost Uncle

I don’t mean for this to sound irreverent, because I love and respect this man. But there are all these obvious questions that pop up when you learn the ghost of your deceased uncle might be hanging out in your bedroom.

What, pray tell, might you have witnessed in there, Uncle Dave?

If you accept the premise that the spirits of the dead can observe what we do undetected in private, it’s really not that hard to get over your own uncle doing the same thing.

And once I got past that, I started wondering how long he might stay and to what extent there might be subtle signs of his presence or even some interaction.

I don’t believe in any of this, but maybe it will happen anyway! Who can say?

Of all the people I’ve known who have died, my uncle Dave is easily in the top five of the Most Welcomed Ghosts in My House list. Not kidding. It didn’t scare me at all, and a small part of me was even enjoying the idea of feeling his presence once in a while.

Uncle Dave was awesome.

We never got to drink beer together because I was 17 when he died, but maybe now we’d kind of be able to!, I thought. I’m not making that up.

And Just Like That… He Was Gone

The blog commenter who first called to my attention the fact that my uncle was responsible for the footsteps I heard Tuesday night left another comment this morning.

“He is gone now,” she said.

Huh. I felt something akin to disappointment.

And I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. Not unlike my senior year of high school when I got the phone call about the accident.

It was a road-rage death. Another driver intentionally ran my uncle and his fiancée off the road while they were driving to a Chicago Bears football game. Their pickup truck flipped over, trapping my uncle, but not his fiancée in the vehicle. She had been sleeping, but was able to crawl to safety.

My uncle remained lodged in the vehicle. Because of how he was situated, circulation to his brain was cut off for longer than living beings can handle. His mind was gone. His body quickly followed.

His murderer fled the scene in, according to witnesses interviewed by police, a white Pontiac Grand Prix. He was never found.

It was my first experience with an out-of-nowhere death. They’re the worst kind.

Rest in peace, Uncle Dave.

I’m glad you stopped in.

You’re welcome anytime.

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When Life Erodes Faith

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

Maybe it’s different when all you know is hopelessness.

When warlords kidnap your children and force them to murder.

When mosquito bites or severe weather or missile attacks annihilate your village.

When all you ever know is poverty and illness and violence and death.

Maybe then, life is so bleak that you never really care whether you live or die. Maybe death and an eternity of nothingness sounds like sweet relief when nothing good ever happens anyway.

That’s not how it was for me.

Even though my earliest memories are living in a trailer park.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4 and I didn’t get to see my dad very much because he lived 500 miles away.

Even though we never had a lot of money to do a lot of things other kids I knew were doing growing up.

Everything was great. I didn’t just feel loved. I felt special. I think it’s because my mom and grandparents were trying to compensate for my parents’ divorce by telling me how great I was all the time. Over and over again, my family would recount the story to me and anyone who would listen about how I wasn’t even supposed to be here.

The doctors told my parents I wasn’t going to make it on the day of my birth in 1979. The nurses took to calling me “the Miracle Baby.”

The unlikely human.

That’s me, I guess. I can’t remember much before about age 4, so I’ve never been particularly moved by the story.

I was showered with love and affection from my mother’s rather large extended family. There was no shortage of attention.

“Do you know how special you are, Matt?” my grandmother liked to ask me.

When you’re a child, you believe everything you hear, especially from parents and other trusted adults.

They told me things. My parents and other adults. And they could never lie or be wrong because when you’re little, it seems like they’re never wrong.

We believe fantastic stories.

Santa Claus. Delivering presents to every little boy and girl in the world in one night. Magic.

The Easter Bunny. I never imagined an actual bunny. More like a guy in a large bunny outfit. And that somehow didn’t give me nightmares.

The Tooth Fairy. I pictured someone small and Tinkerbell-like. But she had full-size money.

Mythical beings. I believed all of them to exist at varying points in my life.

When you accept these things on faith, and you grow up going to Sunday school classes followed by 12 years of Catholic school, it’s really not that hard to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, or that Jonah survived inside a whale for three days, or that the entire world was once flooded and everyone died except for Noah and his family who survived on a really large hand-built boat with a bunch of animals they rescued.

When you’re a kid, you just think: Sure! Noah and his incestuous family repopulated the Earth! Makes sense to me!

I used to get uncomfortable when I’d hear people ask questions that challenged any of my beliefs. You’re supposed to just BELIEVE! Like me! Trust me! I’m right! My parents told me and they’re never wrong!

Then my uncle died in a hit-and-run car accident and his murderer was never found.

Then I was a student leader on a Christian retreat in high school when total chaos erupted because my friend was accused of raping my other friend in one of the dorm rooms. So, either I’m friends with a rapist, or I’m friends with someone who lies about being raped.

Then my mom left my stepdad after 20 years.

Then we lost my father-in-law and my wife was never the same.

Then she stopped being my wife because I apparently wasn’t THAT special, grandma.

Then I sort of stopped caring whether I died because—honestly? Fuck this.

It’s totally unsettling when all the stories you ever believed about life and yourself turn out to be wrong.

Not lies.

Not fake.

But, wrong.

You find out secrets about people you know and then you can never think of them the same and you wish you didn’t know the secrets.

Your friends get divorced and everything feels a little bit tainted and broken after that.

People die. And you use to think: I’m sad that you’re gone, but I hope you have an amazing time in heaven and that I get to see you someday.

But now, you just think: I hope they’re there, but what if they’re not?

What if this is all there is?, and you scare yourself because now you know that you don’t know. Now, people talk about heaven, and in the back of your mind, you secretly think: I want you to be right, but I don’t want you to know how unsure I feel about that.

The loss of innocence that happens, usually incrementally, between childhood and adulthood is a quandary. Better to have everyone go through the shock-and-awe process? Or maybe, should we be doing a better job of preparing children for some of life’s harsh realities?

Protect and preserve their innocence for as long as possible? Let kids be kids? Or try to make it so the adult transition is less of a brutal mind job?

You have to be an adult before you learn there are no easy answers.

The sun shone through the gorgeous stained-glass window. St. Matthew’s name is at the bottom. There’s a purple flower I can’t identify just above the Star of David.

The priest was speaking from the pulpit. About faith.

Per the Gospel reading, Christ had resurrected from the dead. But Thomas was doubting the story his friends and fellow Christ followers were telling him because people just don’t come back from the dead. Doubting Thomas needed to see for himself.

Per the story, Jesus shows up. Lets Thomas touch him. See his wounds. Hear him speak. And, of course, Thomas believes now. Physical evidence of the greatest miracle ever told.

I use to feel sorry for Thomas because he couldn’t have faith like me. But now, I just totally get him. A sobering and depressing realization.

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,” Jesus said to Thomas and all within earshot.

But now I’m sitting in the pew, no longer knowing what I use to know.

I’m not saying I don’t believe it. I’m saying: I don’t know. And I need it to be okay with everyone that I don’t know because that’s what’s true, and truth shouldn’t need defended.

The priest talked about how when people don’t eat intelligently and don’t take care of their physical bodies, they tend to get sick and die.

When you do eat smartly and build your body up, you tend to feel youthful and vibrant and prolong your life.

Then he transitioned to matters of faith.

“This is why we PRACTICE our faith,” he said. We always get better at things when we practice them.

The only way to have a strong, youthful, vibrant, unwavering faith? To practice it, he said. When you neglect your spiritual health, your faith erodes, he said.

Withers away into nothingness like our dead bodies in the ground.

I was reading a space encyclopedia for kids with my son. A pretty thorough explanation of our solar system and what we currently know about the universe.

As best as science can tell us, everything we know to be physical matter—that is STUFF, like planets and stars and comets; all physical objects—makes up about 5 percent of the known universe. That’s it. Five percent.

“26.8% of matter is ‘dark’, we know it’s there because on large, cosmic, scales stuff moves around faster than it should and because the way that galaxies strew themselves across space is consistent with the existence of vast amounts of slow-moving gravitating ‘stuff’ that never turns into stars or planets or anything, just stays as diffuse, invisible, incredibly antisocial particles,” wrote Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia University’s Astrobiology Center, in Scientific American.

We don’t really know anything about those particles, either.

The largest percentage of stuff in the universe is called “dark energy.”

“Something is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. It didn’t used to. Until about 5 or 6 billion years ago the stretching of space following the Big Bang was in decline, but then something started to counter that, another unseen component, perhaps a type of vacuum energy density that fills up space as space itself grows. What exactly is it? We do not know. We have lots of ideas though, which is great, always good to have ideas about 68.3% of the universe,” Scharf wrote.

It’s possible that life is meaningless and that how we spend our time and how we treat others doesn’t matter.

But it doesn’t feel that way. No matter how right or wrong my parents were, it very much feels to me like our choices matter.

I look around and see an astounding amount of beauty. Spring has sprung where I live. Color and life returning as it does each year. Rebirth.

A cycle that feels entirely too intricate to me to have just happened by chance.

I really look.

I don’t see random chaos.

I see order.

I see creativity.

I see design.

Scharf said it all.

What EXACTLY is it? We don’t know. We have lots of ideas, though. Which is great. It’s always good to have ideas about the universe. About all that stuff we can’t explain.

Hello, God. It’s me, Matt.

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One Month to Live

This is Paul Coakley. He's my age and he died Tuesday. This is what love looks like.

This is Paul Coakley. He’s my age and he died Tuesday after just a month of knowing anything was wrong. I think this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I think this is what love looks like.

Someone important died and I never got to meet him.

He was married with three kids and has a fourth on the way. He and his wife learned just before Christmas that he had cancer. He had surgery the day after Christmas.

He died Tuesday.

I didn’t know Paul Coakley.

But we have a bunch of mutual friends.

They all say he was amazing and I believe them because they’re pretty amazing themselves. Every one of us knows someone who represents the best of humanity. Those people with an endless supply of kindness and smiles. With infectious laughter. That squeeze the most out of life while constantly giving more of themselves to others than they take for themselves.

That’s who he was. 

What if You Only Had a Month Left?

Paul’s friend asked me that.

“What would you do?”

How do you answer that question honestly without feeling like you’re wasting every second of your life? Maybe that’s the point of asking. It’s in our nature to take things for granted. To lose sight of the fact we all have a one-way ticket out of this life with our names written on them. We get caught up in our routines. And we forget to live.

What would I do?

I have a son. He complicates the answer to this question. My life is for him. I think I would do all the things we do now. I would just be more mindful of every precious second.

But I would also have a lot to say. I’d write more. I’d write and write and write and write, because a month isn’t long enough.

I’d write here. I’d try to finish a book.

But most importantly? I’d write something to each individual in my life, past and present, who left a mark. Something specifically for each person. Maybe it would matter to them. Maybe it wouldn’t. But there would be an actual piece of me living in those words and maybe they’d care.

Why do we wait for deadlines? Why do we need to lose someone else to reflect once again on the opportunities we waste?

Tragically flawed, humans are. I try to think of it as endearing. Because irony makes me laugh.

I didn’t know Paul Coakley.

But had I gone to the university my mother wanted me to, we’d have probably been friends.

Guys like Paul make me feel a mixture of things. And even though he’d hate it and even though he’d insist it was unnecessary (because I know people just like him), some of it would be feelings of inadequacy.

Feeling inadequate is almost always a bad thing and a useless human emotion that holds us back. But maybe not in this case. Because Paul’s was a life worth emulating. I don’t have the first problem with an exceptionally good man making me want to be better than I am.

I think he made a lot of people feel that way.

There isn’t a greater legacy.

Do you know people in your personal or professional lives that you find difficult to get along with? Maybe you avoid them because you don’t have much in common, or because they make you feel stressed? Maybe you don’t invite them to your parties or for Friday after-work beers?

I think most of us do that.

Paul either didn’t know how, or didn’t want to.

If someone was getting marginalized socially, he turned up the friendship with them because no one was getting pushed to the side on his watch.

I think about all the times I had the opportunity to be a better friend to someone in school or at work or to show kindness to strangers.

And I pray in those moments I remember how I feel right this second to remind me to walk that higher path.

People always ask: What do you want out of life?

I want people to talk about me the way they talk about Paul Coakley.

I have a lot of work to do.

Be Good to Others

Everyone in your life—everyone you dislike or fear or hate or shun or avoid—they’re all going to die. All the strangers you pass on the street or in the store and pay no attention to are going to die. Every single one. Maybe tomorrow.

Why aren’t we more kind?

Someone important died and I never got to meet him.

Light up the darkness. And live. Hard.

Because life’s too short.

Because yours is a life worth emulating.

Because you’re important.

The Coakley Family

This is the Coakley family.

As you can imagine, the lives of this pregnant mother and her three children just got infinitely more challenging. If they weren’t just about the most-beautiful people I’ve ever read about or heard about, I wouldn’t ask. But this family is worth it. If you want to make a difference in the lives of deserving people, you can read about the Coakleys and make a donation here.

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We Do What We Know

suicide king

He shot himself.

Right in front of his wife because he learned she was sleeping with someone else. Just a few months ago, she gave birth to his third son.

And now he’s gone.

It feels so unfair to love someone when they don’t love you back. You want so badly to settle the score. To balance the scales. To make the pain go away.

A dramatic act of violence in front of his wife who’d rejected him seemed the most-effective way to even things out.

Taking his own life seemed the most-effective way to make the pain go away.

Pulling the trigger seemed the most-effective methodology.

He was a man who grew up surrounded by crime and poverty. Death and violence are interwoven into most stories that begin there.

Despite overcoming enormous odds and achieving financial success and settling into family life, death and violence are what he knew.

He died yesterday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound intended to eliminate his pain, and as an unforgettable goodbye note to his wife.

We do what we know.

The Suicide Kings

People sometimes call the King of Hearts in a deck of playing cards “The Suicide Kings.” Because they appear to be stabbing themselves in the head with their swords.

There’s no blood. It’s not a violent image. So maybe the artist meant to show a brave king wielding a sword behind his head, preparing to strike an enemy.

Or maybe it’s designed to evoke images of a sad, lonely man considering taking his own life, but unwilling to do so.

Maybe the heart has something to do with it.

All we really have in life are the people we love and care about, and the people who love and care about us. That’s why it’s so hard for many people to move far away from home.

Our roots are important to us. They provide sure footing during uncertain times.

And when we’re away—disconnected—and facing life’s inevitable hardships, we can feel lost at sea without that anchor of comfort and familiarity. We can feel isolated, lonely and lost when we don’t have, or are far away from, home.

Because home is what we know.

I don’t think we ever lose the natural instinct to run into our parents’ arms when we’re hurt and want someone else to make it better for us. It becomes more of a metaphor as an adult. But our human instinct to crave comfort and reassurance remains.

The hard times—particularly the first ones we experience as people—feel REALLY hard.

I often use the word “dying” to describe it. It feels like how I imagine dying to feel. Maybe worse. There’s a difference between the pain we feel in a physical sense—like a flesh wound or bone break—and the pain we feel when something happens to us internally.

To our hearts.

To our minds.

To our souls.

When we break on the inside. They don’t make painkillers for broken hearts. For poisoned minds. For torn souls.

Your entire body is tense, aching, and you feel like a prisoner inside it because there’s nowhere to run and hide.

And when it happens for the first time, it’s the most-frightening thing that’s ever happened to us because we didn’t know our bodies were capable of feeling like that.

What if I never feel like me again?

Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my life?

I didn’t know it was possible to hurt this much.

Only in that moment can a person understand why another human being could take their own life.

You can’t know until you know.

Misery Loves Company

I didn’t know how common this reaction to a life hardship was until I was feeling it myself. When you go through difficult times, other people sometimes are more willing to open up about their hard times. Sometimes, those talks can help both people heal a little more.

I’ve talked to SO MANY people going through challenging times over the past couple years. Divorce and broken families are the most common. But sometimes people died. Sometimes people’s children were suffering in extreme and unimaginable ways.

The theme is often the same, and it’s the EXACT same thing I said after my wife left and I eventually learned about her new relationship:

“I don’t want to die. But I kind of don’t care if I do. Because at least then I won’t feel like this anymore.”

My friend texted me about yesterday’s suicide. She was shocked and devastated to lose someone she talked to and worked with every day. She was asking so many questions.

“I keep thinking… ‘What if Matt had done that?’,” she said, drawing parallels between how her now-departed friend was feeling relative to how I was feeling 18 months ago.

I remember driving by the hospital where my wife met the other guy. Sometimes, I had to drive by on my way to the office. Tears fell more often than I care to admit. My insides twisted. And I couldn’t escape.

And I’d think: Would it really be so bad if I just went head-on into that massive concrete Interstate pillar? Do I really care whether I wake up tomorrow?

It’s the closest to suicidal I’d ever been and ever hope to be. It’s scary to understand that. I spent my entire life not understanding how someone could ever want to kill themselves, and I’m confident in reporting that it’s infinitely better when you’re too innocent, happy and ignorant to understand it.

The truth is, I didn’t want to die. But I felt like I’d exceeded my pain threshold. And all I wanted to do was make it go away. I couldn’t function in any area of life, making the entire exercise seem somewhat moot.

Just. Shut. It. Off.

The Sun Will Rise

“Why does one person shoot himself and the other start a blog?,” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I know why. It’s what they know. He grew up in the slums. He knows violence. Guns. A lot of gun death.

“You know words.

“We do what we know.”

Why did that man kill himself when I wouldn’t?

Is it because I don’t know gun violence? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I don’t know.

But I do know some things.

I know life is precious.

I know good conquers evil.

I know happy is better than sad.

I know happy is good.

I know perspective matters.

I know there are billions of people who would gladly trade lives with me right this second if they could because they believe I have it so good.

I know we have purpose and it’s our job to seek it.

I know I love. Deeply. My son. Life. You.

I know every day I wake up could be the best day of my life, and sooner or later, that day is going to come, and I choose to look forward to it.

I know I have a choice: Despair. Or, hope.

And I choose courage. I choose love. I choose hope.

That’s why I’m still breathing.

That’s why I started writing.

And that’s why I’ll keep trying to do both for as long as I possibly can.

We do what we know.

So, know it: The sun will rise tomorrow. Everything’s going to be okay.

Without the low, there ain’t a high.

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