Tag Archives: Loss

When Someday Gets Here

someday

(Image/riereads.blogspot.com)

I used to believe depression was code for “weak,” and that criers were wimpy losers.

I had heard of people described as “broken,” but I didn’t know what that meant.

Then I lost everything that really mattered to me, and I broke. So now I know what that means, and that if crying is wimpy loserdom, I was a huge wimpy loser, and that if depression is weakness, then I was the opposite of strong.

It taught me one of life’s most critical and valuable lessons: empathy.

Now, when someone is grieving, I can more accurately guess how they’re feeling and am better equipped to support them.

Now, when someone is crying, I know they shouldn’t feel shame, and that it might just be years and years of bottled-up shit coming out in an inevitable and psychologically necessary purge.

Now, I know what’s really at stake. Inside of a person. Now I know the importance of taking off masks in relationships. Of a good night’s sleep. Of the support of family and friends. Of health and wellness. Of peace.

When the lights are off, and it’s just you laying in the silent darkness. Just you. Not the one wearing any of the masks we sometimes wear at work or school or church or socially or on dates or whenever because we’re so afraid of people seeing the real us and running away or pointing and laughing or telling us we’re not good enough.

When the lights are off, and it’s just you? When you take a deep breath, and smile, and feel good, because you like and respect yourself? There is no amount of money we would trade that for. Because there is no thing in this world that can heal that brokenness. When you come apart internally, you feel it every second of every day no matter where you are.

There is nowhere to hide.

People try to numb the pain with alcohol or drugs or money or sex or other escapism. But it just follows you around because wherever you go, there you are, which is, I think, why people sometimes kill themselves. Because maybe then the hurt will finally stop.

Learning about that hurt—and what it really means to be a broken person—changed everything for me. Forever. There’s no going back after that. There’s who you were before, and who you are now. And they’re not the same.

There’s Always Someday to Look Forward To

One of the best things about writing this blog was the discovery that so many other people knew the same pain.

People here got it. People here really understood. It helped. It mattered. I’m not the only one.

One of the worst things about writing this blog more than two years later is that I’ve crawled through the shit, and now I’m pretty much Andy Dufresne standing fearlessly and triumphantly in the cleansing rain while the thunderstorm rages, but countless others are still desperate to find a way out.

Every day, someone in the throes of despair—someone who can’t even catch their breath—discovers this blog for the first time and finds a guy who was once just like them.

And then sometimes they write me: “I’m so afraid. This hurts so much. How do you make it stop?”

But you don’t make it stop.

You just serve your sentence and bide your time. And when the time is right, you crawl through the shit tunnel just like everyone else had to. No cheats or shortcuts. Just the way. And then you’re less afraid. Because freedom no longer represents the loss of everything you were ever sure of—of everything steady in your life.

On the other side, freedom looks like hope and possibility.

I didn’t get much right in the early days of divorce. But on my darkest days, I always chose hope. That part, I got right.

I’m so afraid. This hurts so much. How do you make it stop?’

It’s good to be afraid, because it’s the only time we ever have the opportunity to choose courage.

It’s good to hurt, because when everything’s broken, it’s the only way you know you’re still alive.

And it’s good that we’re forced to be patient. Because forcing things generally yields undesirable results.

I used to give myself a pep talk to maintain my sense of hope.

And now I find myself giving it to others.

In the context of the human experience, I think it’s one of the most important ideas I’ve ever had.

Someday will eventually get here.

When we feel like we lost everything—when we hit the floor and know it’s rock bottom—we have a few choices.

But there’s only one good one. And that’s holding the following truth close to our heart and remembering to breathe every day, because your only job is to stay alive:

If you just keep breathing, tomorrow always comes. Someday eventually gets here.

Someday. When it doesn’t hurt anymore. When everything will change.

Someday. When something inexplicably beautiful happens.

Someday. When you get to feel like you again, only now you have these superpowers because now you have courage and wisdom and strength that you didn’t have before.

Because of fortitude. Fortitude and breathing and bravely getting out of bed in a brazen attempt to live.

And finally—finally, dammit—you get to look at a puzzle image coming into focus. A picture of your life that helps explain that you could have never gotten to today—to someday—without every single experience before it. Even the bad stuff. Maybe especially the bad stuff.

In my experience, there is very little in this life better than anticipation. Like a child staring at unopened presents under the Christmas tree.

We don’t need much. Air. Food. Water. Shelter. And something to look forward to.

And that’s one of life’s secrets that not enough people think about: We ALL have something to look forward to. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know what it looks like or when it will happen.

Someday will arrive. Every single day we wake up, someday is closer.

Sometimes someday arrives. Awesome! But now we have no idea what might happen next. Afraid! Because the unknown is scary. That’s when all that courage and something like fearlessness helps. You earned those things. You earned them by crawling through the shit.

And now the wind, thunder and lightning don’t faze you. I’ve survived worse.

And now the heavy rain feels like an old friend.

Because salvation laid within.

When someday finally gets here.

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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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Everything’s Going to be Okay

christmas-beautiful-tree “I’m struggling today,” she said.

Her kids are 500 miles away. The mandatory waiting period for her state to finalize her divorce will end in 2015. This is her first Christmas where everything’s broken.

“It’s amazing what you can get used to,” I said.

From now on our troubles will be out of sight.

I waxed philosophically about how in the grand scheme of our lives this really doesn’t matter and everything’s going to be okay and don’t let your emotions ruin an otherwise beautiful occasion. She gets me and claimed it helped.

But I bet it didn’t. I bet it didn’t help at all.

 …

I was in the store earlier. So much life. Everyone moving this way and that buying drinks and snacks and last-minute ingredients for Christmas parties and dinners with friends and family.

That’s when you feel the most alone after divorce.

That’s why divorced people don’t enjoy the holidays as much as they used to. That’s when it can still hurt.

I was trying to make her feel better, but maybe I was being a bad friend by not acknowledging how perfectly normal it is to feel loss during the holidays, especially when your two young children are so far away.

You see a pretty girl with a guy. What’s he have that I don’t?, you wonder. And you feel more alone.

You see a child with his mom or dad. I wonder what my son’s doing now.  And you feel more alone.

You see an old couple. The patriarch and matriarch of a large family and you know you can never be that. And you feel more alone.

Because I’m semi-smart, I know I won’t feel bad about it next month, or even next week. I know that it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of my life. But right in that moment, there’s hurt.

And maybe it’s okay to acknowledge it and not pretend to be tougher than we are. Maybe it’s okay to just own it even though I’ve been trying not to, wanting to believe I’m impervious to pain from something I’ve “gotten over.”

We sat there, the three of us. Father, mother, son. Like Christmas magic.

Our six-year-old opened a bunch of presents. Around the tree, in a room, in a house, all that used to be ours but is no more.

Other than that child, there is no “ours.”

But then it was time for them to go. I held him tight. His life, my gift.

And then a “see you later, dad.”

And then a wave from the car window.

And then driving away.

And then a tear.

And then a deep breath.

What am I more sad about?, I wondered. That I can’t be with the person I love most? Or because I was feeling sorry for myself and I’m a little too good at that sometimes. Another Christmas alone. How many more might there be?

I know so many people recovering from, or going through, a divorce. Everything changes.

But everything always changes.

And maybe I just need to keep my mouth shut when my friends are hurting and let them hurt because I can’t fix anything because I can’t even fix myself.

I think maybe it’s okay to hurt because that’s what’s true and real right now, but it won’t always be. Maybe the only way to get to the place where it never hurts is to acknowledge it and not pretend it isn’t happening. Because it is happening. And next year? Everything will change again.

From now on our troubles will be miles away.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem: I’m struggling today.

But maybe not tomorrow.

Everything’s going to be okay. I know it.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and blessed Christmas and holiday season.

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18 Months: A Post-Divorce Milestone

I Googled "Look of satisfaction." I got John Locke from "Lost." Fine. We'll go with that.

I Googled “Look of satisfaction.” I got John Locke from “Lost.” Fine. We’ll go with that.

I panicked when I lost my family.

You freak because those you love are gone. You freak because you feel broken on the inside. You freak because you didn’t know rejection could feel this way.

People resist change. We don’t like when our favorite menu items go away at the restaurant, or when our favorite television shows get cancelled, or when we’re forced to adjust our routines.

And then your family disappears. It feels like a lot.

Things were totally shitty between you and your wife. Cold and distant. But you knew her. There’s comfort in the routine and reliability. There’s something reassuring about growing old with someone. It’s the closest thing we get to the safety net most of us feel as children with our parents.

But then they leave. And you question everything you ever believed because now you can’t even trust your own judgment.

And maybe you have a son. Maybe he’s four, going on five, and getting ready for kindergarten. And maybe you’re not the best father in the world, but you love. Hard. You love hard. So much. Because that child is your lifeblood. That child in four short years has become your primary reason for even existing.

You didn’t know you could love something that much—this little person who you’d only imagined in some theoretical Imagination Land when you talked about having kids one day.

And here he is. Your son.

And then he’s not. Then he’s not there.

And so you lose your wife. Your pride. Your purpose.

As a prisoner inside yourself, there’s nowhere to run.

I’m always thinking about five years from now. I can’t help it. It’s a real problem after divorce, because there can be no five-year plan.

There’s so much just trying to figure out how to bleach your laundry without ruining it, and how to shop and cook for one, and how to fill the now-empty hours that your brain can’t fathom five years from now.

You thought you had the rest of your life mostly figured out and it all blew up in your face.

How can you possibly know what’s going to happen tomorrow?

You can’t.

And after years of believing your world was going to keep spinning as is, that’s a pretty frightening realization.

Dating After Divorce—A Double Life

I was overwhelmed by fear in the beginning.

In a week, I’m going to hit the 18-month mark. A year and a half since everything I counted on every day stopped being a thing.

And I need you to know, Person Who Just Lost Their Family And Is Totally Freaking Out: You’re going to make it.

It’s funny.

I was pretty panicky about this idea of dating after divorce. Right away I knew what a challenge it would be.

  1. I’m 35 with a son in first grade.
  2. I live far away from where I grew up, so I don’t have that large, institutional network or built-in family support system locally that some people have.
  3. Nearly everyone I know here consists of married couples that my ex-wife and I used to hang out with all the time—people who are friends with both of us, so it’s not exactly a breeding ground of like-minded singles.
  4. I’ve lost much of the confidence I possessed in my youth.
  5. I’m a 35-year-old divorced dad who works in a cubicle. When I was 20, there was still some question about my potential. Maybe I’d run a magazine one day. Maybe I’d write a bunch of books. Maybe I’d win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. I don’t have those maybes on my side anymore. Now, I’m just this guy.

And let me be clear: Just this guy—he isn’t so bad.

I was pretty down on myself right after getting left, but I’ve fought my way back and will continue to.

I’m not such a bad guy. I’m not undateable. I’m not a failure.

I’m just not in the place in life I thought I would be when I imagined myself as a thirtysomething. And failed expectations are always disappointing.

I didn’t know it before. But I know it now: Life doesn’t always work out like you think it’s going to.

At the beginning, you feel something close to hopelessness.

But once you get through the initial emotional gauntlet of horror, you start to realize: I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But maybe that’s okay.

My dating life has been a colossal failure. I’m horrible at it. And I’ve learned to accept it.

But I guess if the goal is to end up with another partner again (and that idea appeals to me much more today than it did 18 months ago when I was losing my shit), then that means I only need to get it right once.

I never meet anyone because my social life is disjointed and weird and my various social circles pretty much only include married people hanging out with one another.

I also never meet anyone because I’m the world’s biggest chicken shit about introducing myself to strangers.

I could have a bunch of casual relationships, I suppose. And some people do choose that path in their post-divorce lives.

Maybe if I wasn’t a father, I would have too.

Maybe you’re different than me. Maybe we’re not all as much alike on the inside as I believe we are. But lustful, meaningless, empty sex just doesn’t do much for me except make me feel bad on the inside.

I wonder sometimes to what extent it’s a factor in marriages breaking up—people using sex as a tool to feel good.

Casual can work. Two well-intentioned, honest people agreeing to make one another feel good is a viable option. It feels morally bankrupt to me. But it makes sense. Because there’s an element of unselfishness to the proceedings. An element of giving.

If sex is only about pleasing ourselves, one wonders what the point of a partner is at all.

If sex is about service—an expression of love—an act designed to give more to the other person than we take. Then I think maybe the foundation is there for something lasting and meaningful.

I say all that because so much of these past 18 months have been about exploring who I want to be moving forward. If this is a second chance at choosing a life for myself, then I want—need—to get it right.

And my son is at the very center of that desire and thought-process.

I cannot teach that boy about the finer points of love and self-respect and choosing a partner down the road if I don’t know who I am, and if I’m not walking the same walk I wish for him.

That Was Totally Rambling and Disjointed

Sorry.

I just want people like me to know it’s going to be okay. That’s it. I could have saved you a thousand words, and simply said that: Just wait 18 months!!! Mark it on your calendars and look forward to it!!! Everything’s going to be okay!!!

Bam. Message delivered.

Because it’s true.

It is scary and horrible when you get divorced.

It is messed up and wrong when you lose so much time with your children.

It is daunting to think about how you’re ever going to move forward functionally in a post-divorce world and find someone to love you again.

If you’re in the beginning, I’m so sorry. Don’t give up. Because something beautiful is on the horizon.

If you’re here with me?

Smile.

We made it.

Still breathing. Still alive.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

*shrug*

That’s okay.

Probably going to be awesome.

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The Godsmack

I said I wasn't grateful. And then I had a wake-up call.

I said I wasn’t grateful. And then I had a wake-up call.

He gets this look on his face sometimes. My son who is nearly six.

It looks almost like panic.

I have a super-low tolerance for whining. But this wasn’t whining this morning. This was legitimate sadness.

Because he didn’t want to invite a mean kid at school to his upcoming birthday party.

“I’m sorry, man. The rules are that we have to invite everybody in your class.”

He’ll come to my party just to be mean to me.”

“Oh, buddy. I bet he won’t. I bet he won’t come at all. Is anyone else at school mean to you?”

“No. He’s the only one.”

“Is he mean to other kids?”

“No. I’m the only one he’s mean to.”

“What does he do when he’s mean to you?”

“He calls me mean names.”

As we brushed his teeth and combed his hair for school, he explained to me that this boy in school is going to go to the same college as him some day just so he can continue to be mean and call him names.

They say you learn everything you need to know in kindergarten. How silly.

Kindergarten doesn’t teach you that you’re not alone. Other people feel just like you.

Kindergarten doesn’t teach you that life is hard. That tends to happen later.

Kindergarten doesn’t teach you that life isn’t fair and the sense of entitlement we all feel is a byproduct of being particularly lucky right up until we’re not anymore.

That first really hard smack from life tends to leave a mark.

It breaks my heart to see my son sad. He’s way too young to feel sad.

And all I want to do is save him. All I want to do is hug it all away. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. But you try anyway. Because that’s what parents do. We try to fix the unfixable with magic.

Don’t cry. Everything’s going to be okay.

I whined yesterday even though I have a low-tolerance for whining. I’m a hypocrite sometimes because I’m a person.

While writing about how sad I was about only seeing my son half the time because of my ex-wife and I’s shared-parenting agreement, I mentioned that I should probably be grateful I get to see him more often than most divorced fathers typically see their kids.

I believe we should always feel grateful.

But I told you yesterday that I don’t feel grateful. I told you that I feel cheated. Because this life is not what I wanted.

Because the Universe is supposed to acquiesce to my every beck and call. But the Universe never got that memo. Or maybe the Universe thinks I’m an asshole. Or maybe both.

Wake-Up Call

A beautiful nine-year-old girl named Abby Grace Ferguson is not likely to ever get her driver’s license. Or attend prom. Or graduate high school.

Abby is probably going to die a teenager.

Abby’s mom and dad watched their daughter achieve every typical developmental milestone until she was about my son’s age. A kindergartener.

That’s when Abby began to exhibit a learning disability and a developmental slowdown. After a few years of medical testing, the doctors told Abby’s parents that their daughter has a disease with no cure.

Hopeless?

Terminal, the doctors said.

Always?

100-percent of the time.

I try to put myself in that moment as a father. Breathe. In. Then out.

“She was diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome, a rare disease that we passed on to her. How could that be? How could our precious daughter be born healthy and at age 8, we find out she is not healthy at all?” Wendy Ferguson wrote about her daughter.

“Her disease causes progressive brain damage. She will lose her ability to walk, talk and feed herself. She will more than likely lose her hearing and have seizures. Most children diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome do not live past their teenage years. Aside from losing her, our biggest fear is watching her suffer. The thought of watching her lose abilities that she once had, slowly fading away, just makes my heart ache even more.”

And I wrote that I didn’t feel grateful.

Because my biggest problem in life is that I only get to see my son half the time mostly due to the fact that I was a shitty husband who didn’t appreciate how good I had it enough to cherish it when I could have.

I wrote that I didn’t feel grateful.

Because my—near as anyone can tell—perfectly healthy child is sad because of one mean kid at school who might plot to ruin his birthday party and intentionally attend the same college as him in 12 years just to be a dick.

I wrote that I didn’t feel grateful.

And I meant it. I wrote that I felt cheated. And I meant it. Because the world delivered me a shitty hand and now I’m sad when I never really knew sadness, and afraid when I never really knew fear.

After Abby’s diagnosis, we live by the cliché, “enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

It Tastes Like Perspective

Your pains are yours.

The reason divorce is so hard for me is because life had mostly been easy for my first 30 years.

I don’t think people should feel guilty for the pain they feel. For the sadness, or the fear. We only get one set of eyes with which to view the world. We feel what we feel.

Let the truth be the truth.

The reason my little son is worried about this kid at school is because something must have happened recently. He has, literally, never mentioned this kid throughout the entire school year. Not until today. An unkind exchange on the playground likely led him here.

It hurts to see your child upset or suffering. Physically hurts. Helpless. So you hug, because that’s your best move.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Fake magic with a placebo effect.

I think about Abby Ferguson’s parents and it takes my breath away.

In. Then out.

Because I’m so afraid of things in my life now—things that maybe I shouldn’t be afraid of since I see all these other people living so bravely.

Every day, the Fergusons have to say goodbye to their little girl.

Because tomorrow, Abby won’t be like she is today.

“We found strength we never knew we had.”

The Fergusons are literally living like there is no tomorrow. Where clearly drawn lines separate what’s really important from what isn’t.

“Now, I just want to enjoy a smile, a hug, or a laugh from my daughter. I want to sit with her and play. I want to help her brush her teeth, wash her hair, and help her put her shoes on. I can’t take enough pictures of her. We celebrate the smallest accomplishments as if she won an Olympic Medal. I am aware of what the future holds for her but try not to think about future milestones. It is too painful. I just want to live in the moment and enjoy her right now, the way she is.”

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

Thank you, God, for the well-timed smack.

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

Thank you, Ferguson family, for teaching people how to live courageously.

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

Thank you, Abby. You will teach so many lessons in your precious life. All of the things most adults haven’t figured out. About love. About gratitude. About what it means to be alive.

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

And I’m so sorry I did.

I’m going to go home tonight and hug my son. I’ll ask him how his day went. If the situation requires, we’ll have a fake-magic hug.

And maybe it will actually help. Mom and dad hugs do that sometimes.

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

So, I’ll squeeze him again.

And maybe it will actually help me. Hugs from a child do that sometimes.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Real magic.

Abby Ferguson has a lot to teach us about life.

Abby Ferguson has a lot to teach us about life.

Author’s Note:

A special thanks to Wendy Ferguson for allowing me to share her family’s story. You can follow Wendy’s blog here. Also thanks to her close childhood friend Gretchen at “Drifting Through My Open Mind” for sharing the Fergusons’ story with me.

*Please visit Abby’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CureSanfilippo to learn more about her progress and fight for a CURE.

*To learn more about Sanfilippo Syndrome, please visit www.mpssociety.org or www.teamsanfilippo.org

*There is HOPE for a CURE for Abby and other children like her. Gene Therapy has shown promising results but has not gone to clinical trial yet. We are raising awareness along with other parents of affected children to help start the trials at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio. If you are interested in donating towards a CURE for Abby, please visit her Go Fund Me page at www.gofundme.com/abbygracecure. All donations are tax deductible and 100% go toward research and finding a CURE for Abby.

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The Greatest Generation

willow-tree

After my parents came back to the house to tell me which one of them I was going to live with, everything’s a little fuzzy.

I just know the judge picked mom.

So, I said bye to dad—see you in several months!—and mom drove four-year-old me 500 miles east to her parents’ house back in Ohio.

I have memory flashes of sleeping and bathing at my grandparents. We lived there for a while. Celebrated my fifth birthday there.

My first life-reset.

My grandparents lived on a 43-arce farm in the Ohio countryside. A big, white farmhouse with black shutters.

A huge concrete porch where I spent countless hours playing. Barbecuing with my grandfather. Staring at the majesty of the vast night sky.

A red barn. Where I was chased by angry chickens. Where I would sometimes sneak into the hayloft to read books. Where I killed, cleaned and filleted untold numbers of fish caught by my grandpa and I.

Huge grassy expanses for unlimited running. Fields full of arrowheads and exotic-looking rocks to be found after the soil had been tilled. Tall maple trees I used to climb.

There were pear trees. Cherry trees. Apple trees. They attracted bees.

I was never afraid of them.

The flower beds were full of some of the biggest spiders I’d ever seen.

I was never afraid of them, either.

The surrounding fields and forest, highlighted by a gorgeous fishing pond and a one-room, non-plumbed cabin with a picturesque weeping willow tree represented my playground.

My new home.

Even when we didn’t live there, we lived there.

I spent more weekends there than not throughout my childhood.

That was a good thing.

My grandfather owned a mom-and-pop furniture and flooring store in the small town. A business started by my great-grandfather.

My grandparents have eight children.

My mother is the eldest of them. I am the first grandchild by several years. My mom’s youngest sister is only four years older than me.

What that means is I grew up in a big-family environment even though I am an only child.

Salt-of-the-earth kind of people. Barbecue chicken and hamburgers on summer nights. Fish frys. Chicken and dumplings. Hot dog and marshmallow roasting over an open fire.

These are the people who showed me how to love.

These are the people who taught me about family.

These are the people most responsible for me being whoever and whatever I am today.

My grandfather included me on his fishing trips. On his excursions to watch his beloved local high school football team vie for state championships. Running errands on the farm.

He taught me patience when the fish weren’t biting.

He showed me what it looks like to handle a life where so many people are pulling you in so many directions.

He has been a loving and faithful husband for the better part of 60 years.

As a child, I got lost two times.

Once, when I ran off to go see Santa at a relatively large shopping mall during the holiday shopping season when my mom wasn’t looking.

The police found me.

The second time, when I wandered off into the woods in search of a large waterfall like one I’d seen in a book or on television.

That time, my grandfather found me.

My grandmother often included me on trips to see her parents—my great-grandparents—about 45 minutes away.

My great-grandfather was a chess champion. And a very kind and gentle man. I can’t remember one visit where he didn’t do something very gentlemanly toward my great-grandmother. He ALWAYS helped her with her coat.

His funeral was my first experience with a family member passing with whom I was very close.

My great-grandmother could run in her 90s. Not, like, jogging. But I remember seeing her run from a doorway to a car in the rain. Things like that. One of the most-amazing women to ever live. She always had cookies. Always. Cookies.

Thick German accent.

My great-grandparents were so magnificent, it stands to reason that my grandmother would turn out so wonderful.

And that’s what she is.

I’ve shared many afternoons with just her.

We used to play Yahtzee and Boggle together. Boggle is one of the games that helped me find my love of words.

She hopped a plane with me on my first flight to visit my dad, once everyone decided me flying back and forth made more sense than driving back and forth.

Despite her unhealthy crush on Liam Neeson, my grandmother is a picture-perfect model of love, patience and forgiveness. For her husband of nearly 60 years. For her eight children. For her 19 grandchildren.

My grandmother had another surgery on Tuesday. Her legs are in bad shape after they were run over by a car.

While she was still knocked out from the surgery, my grandfather, who has had open-heart surgery twice, was admitted to the hospital due to chest pains.

Apparently his heart is only operating at about 20-25 percent. Every day we have him is a blessing at this point, mom says.

The Greatest Generation

Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to describe Americans born during The Great Depression who grew up in poverty, and then went on to fight, or contribute in some way to the war effort during World War II. My mom’s parents just missed the window, born just a few years after the generally accepted span between about 1914-1929.

I’m not going to get in the business of ranking generations of people.

We are all dealt the hands we’re dealt. We have no control when or where or to whom we are born. Whatever that reality is represents our individual “normal.”

Some people never knew a life with electricity and running water.

Others will never know a life without iPhones and self-parking automobiles.

Every generation’s job is to do the best they can with the resources available to them. So that the next generation can do the same.

There is a lot of neglect and apathy in this world. But I sure do see a lot of people choosing good. Choosing the harder path for their children and future generations.

More than a century ago, my great-grandparents were like me. They gave life to my grandmother. Who gave life to my mother. Who gave life to me. Who gave life to my son.

And maybe he will give life to my grandchild someday.

Everything is gone.

Youth. The time together. The big-family environment. My great-grandparents. The farm. The fishing trips.

Innocence is gone.

But everything is not lost. The stuff that really matters tends to stick.

That stuff that lives inside us.

In our memories. And stories. In our personalities.

In our ability to love. To share. To connect. To be generous. Charitable. Forgiving. Hopeful.

It won’t be long now. Until I have to say goodbye to them.

Maybe this year. Maybe in a few years. But not long now.

The people responsible for getting me through my first life-reset after my parents’ divorce.

And now I’m going through life-reset No. 2.

My own divorce.

And everything’s mixed-up. Inside-out.

There’s no rock anymore. Nothing steady to lean on.

The world’s asking me to become my own rock. So I can be a good father. A good son. A good friend. And someday, a good partner.

The world’s asking all of us to do that as we slowly lose everything on which we once relied.

So we get strong. Because we must.

And we hold one another up.

We do it for ourselves and each other. And we do it for our children.

Because our ancestors mattered.

They gave you your grandparents.

And they gave you your parents.

And they gave you yourself and an opportunity to do something great.

Maybe that’s some great big thing that everyone’s going to see and hear about in our media-saturated world.

Or maybe it’s not.

Maybe it’s just making the world a better place.

Maybe it’s just raising a child who will bring a child into the world who will bring a child into the world who a hundred years from now will change the world.

Maybe that’s why you’re here.

Maybe that’s why I’m here.

Like my grandparents.

Like yours.

The greatest generation.

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The Almost Stepdad

There are multiple ways to lose a child. To lose a parent. None of them are good.

There are multiple ways to lose a child. To lose a parent. None of them are good.

One of my best friends just lost two children.

Two little boys. The oldest, 5, and his younger brother, 3.

The kids are still alive.

They weren’t kidnapped.

But he lost them just the same. Because his adult relationship with their mother broke. Because of disagreements and friction and differences and misunderstandings that had absolutely nothing to do with them.

One day, a man had sons. Boys had a father figure.

The next day, they did not.

The five-year-old and my friend Randy were particularly close. The three boys—3, 5, and 34—would pile into bed together at the end of a long day and watch a football game. Or a race. Or a cartoon.

The boys’ mother owned a house adjacent to a golf course. Randy would take the five-year-old out to the 150-yard marker on the hole nearest the house each night, and the two would hit approach shots into the green and putt out, practicing, trying different shots, working on their swings and ball striking.

“He’s a little stud,” Randy told me over breakfast this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio. He beamed with pride talking about how awesome this five-year-old boy could hit a golf ball.

“His dad taught him well.”

How it’s Supposed to Be

I have a stepdad. A good man. A guy that did these EXACT same things with me.

Taught me to read. Taught me to ride a bike. Taught me to swim. Taught me how to kick, punt and catch a football. Taught me how to use follow through on my free throw shots in basketball.

He was the man I sat next to throughout most of my childhood, watching all those ballgames.

My biological father who I wrote about in The Champion is a fan of Chicago sports teams. The Bears. The Bulls. The Cubs.

But I grew up in Ohio since before my fifth birthday. With my mom. And eventually, my stepdad.

And when I was five and six and seven I was sitting on the couch watching the Cleveland Browns—the sports team I still love today above all others.

That was my stepdad’s influence. His doing.

My father probably felt a little knife twist anytime I’d mention my affinity for the Cleveland Browns. He had to know it was because of my stepdad.

I know I wanted to light myself on fire anytime my son mentioned Rich Guy’s name—the man my wife was sleeping with.

But my father respected my stepdad. Because he knew he was a good man. And that he genuinely cared about his son. His only child. Me.

In return, my stepdad never said an unkind word about my father, even though my mother wasn’t afraid to verbalize all of her frustrations with him in front of me.

In their own, unspoken way, these two men—my two fathers—had one another’s backs. On my behalf.

I recognized that same dynamic when my friend Randy spoke fondly of the boys he had spent so much time with, forming that special stepdad-child bond even though he and the mother had yet to make it official.

Life has a way of delivering really important people to us during critical times.

Like angels.

And while these friends, mentors, spiritual guides, guardians play invaluable roles in our life journeys, the end of those relationships can sometimes be a little messy.

Things always get a little messy whenever humans are involved.

The Loss No One Talks About

Divorce and broken homes are more common than ever. And there are more people on Planet Earth today than ever.

Which means this loss is being experienced by more and more people all the time.

I won’t insult the all-important biological bond that binds parents and children. My stepdad is one of the most-important people in my life. But he can’t replace my father.

On the flip side, I believe strongly that we choose our families. That some people are so important and special and spiritually connected to us that a new kind of family relationship is born.

You see it in relationships between adopted children and their new parents.

You see it in best friends.

You see it between coaches and players. Teachers and students. Soldiers. People united in crisis or tragedy.

Losing children this way must be horrible.

My home is broken. And I miss my son every day he’s not here. And I didn’t deserve to lose him. But I still get to see him. Half the time.

And, I must feel gratitude for that. No matter how bitter that pill is to swallow. No matter how screwed over I feel from my wife’s exodus the day after Easter just a little more than six months ago. I need to maintain perspective.

Because my friend Randy loved two children. Unselfishly embracing the role of stepfather. And doing a great job.

And now he lives alone again. No warm body in his bed. No children to tuck in at night or greet in the morning.

I stood on the deck behind Randy’s townhome last weekend. The one he had to take off the market and move back into after vacating the house where his ex-girlfriend and two sons live. A bunch of people were at Randy’s with me, drinking beer, eating delicious food, telling jokes.

A lady named Molly and I were talking. She’s good friends with both Randy and his ex-girlfriend. On the wall of the little boys’ home hang photos of their little league teams.

Randy coached those teams and is in all the photos.

“There’s Randy! There’s Randy!” the boys always say, excitedly when they spot him in the photos.

“Those boys miss him so much,” Molly said to me in a quiet moment. “They love him.”

“We don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to,” I said to Randy over breakfast. “Believe me, I know how unpleasant rehashing everything can be.”

“No, it’s fine,” he said. “You know, it’s funny. Not being with her isn’t nearly as hard as not getting to see those boys.

“I really miss them. They’re the best.”

“Do you think there’s any chance for reconciliation?” I asked Molly outside Randy’s house.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But there’s always hope.”

Author’s Note: A special thank you to any stepparents who might be reading. You’re doing God’s work. And I appreciate you. And for those of you who have lost children you love because of broken relationships with the kids’ biological parents, my heart breaks for you. God bless all of you.

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