FINDING JOY WHERE THERE WAS NONE

Above is a picture of a trail I was walking on this past Monday. As you can see, the trees are turning colors and many of them have already lost their leaves entirely. It is fall here in the city of West Allis Wisconsin where I live. This means temperatures are starting to dip, birds are packing their bags and flying south for the winter ( I am a little bit jealous but I will get over it ) Snow will soon cover the ground and there will be a few days when even stepping outside will be hazardous to your health. This is truly not the climate for me. I suffer from a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is where feelings of emotional depression and hopelessness can creep in as the seasons change. In short, my mood tends to drop with the temperature. This has something to do with the bodies reduced exposure to sunlight they say. All I know is, for me, winter sucks.

As I continue to further my plan to become a best-selling author and move to San Diego, I am also on the lookout for ways to make living in a northern climate more bearable. My beautiful Margie bought me a “Happy Lamp” which mimics the sunlight. As a matter of fact, I am using it as I write this blog for all of you. I make sure to exercise daily, take vitamin D and do all of the other things they recommend. Still, at times especially after the holidays, I can find myself in a serious funk! As I was walking on this breezy fall day watching the leaves fall from the trees I noticed something off to the side of the trail – a mushroom growing right out of a tree!

As you can see in the picture above, it almost looked fake. My mother, who was walking with me at the time, laughed with me as we marveled at the strangeness of it. About a mile further down the trail I saw something else, a sign in the middle of some tall grass. This indicated there was some additional side trail we had not known about earlier. Although we choose not to explore it that day due to an over consumption of coffee prior to heading out on this walk, we certainly made a note of it. Here is the funny thing, neither of these things would have been noticeable if the leaves had been on the trees or if the grass had been full and green. It was only through the ‘death’ of the season that we discovered these things.

I began to ponder as we walked along. Thinking as I walked, which I so often do. This is true for the passing of the seasons, but it is also true in many other areas of our lives. When we lose a job, we not only develop a sudden appreciation for the reliable income that comes with a job we must go to everyday, but we also are forced to be creative in our search for new employment. We brush up both our resume and networking skills. Perhaps we consider taking a new course or starting that side business. We may even have an opportunity to pursue something more in line with our passions. It is only with the loss of the job that all of this is usually made possible.

Even the sad situation of losing someone we care about brings many things to light. Memories and things you may not have appreciated about that person. Love for, and the importance of, life itself. The value of the relationships we have with others. Making sure that we live our lives in such a way that we give the most to others while we are here. All of these very important, and often positive, events seem to occur after we lose someone close to us.

Could any of these things happen without the loss? Perhaps. I could venture off the path while I am walking and see what I find. We can always start our passion based business or brush up our resume while still employed. Perhaps there are also ways to more fully appreciate the fragility of life without losing someone who means so much to us. These things are possible, but are often only brought to light through a loss. It is a great lesson the change of seasons can teach all of us. Even a future best-selling author in a state with 9 months of winter and 3 months of very poor sledding could come to appreciate some aspect of winter.

The point here is that in many situations that we feel a loss of joy, there are gifts to be found. In every challenge there is the seed of equal to or greater opportunity. This winter, in addition to the steps I am already taking, I will look for additional gifts the cold weather reveals. Snuggling closer to the beautiful woman I have in my life. Appreciation for the wonderful meals I can enjoy without leaving my house. The simple pleasures of a hot cup of coffee on a cold winter day. That is not to say that I would pass on that ocean front villa in the islands, but until then I shall look for the joy where there once was none.

WHAT TO SAY AT A FUNERAL

One of the most difficult times in anyone’s life is when someone they love passes away. Two years ago I lost a great deal of people I cared about. As it so happens I was asked to say a few words at several of their services. What an honor that is. At the same time it is a lot of pressure. When you are selected to speak at a major life event a good deal of trust is being placed in you to capture the moment in five to ten minutes of time. These are moments when words fail to live up to the gravity of the situation. How can you possibly do justice with words the feelings that are in the hearts of someone at such an occasion? Everyone is feeling a wide range of emotions from anger and sadness to loss and regret. How can you possibly speak to all of those?

I am going to give you two extremely valuable lessons I have learned that will help you in what can be very trying times. Let us first talk about being asked to speak at these occasions. Most of you reading this may never be asked to speak at a memorial or celebration of life event. That is probably a good thing. In recent studies, people placed the fear of public speaking ahead of the fear of even death. Which means, in a nutshell, most people would be more comfortable being the person the service is about than speaking at it. Still, there is questions like, “What do I say to the family and friends of the person who has departed?” and “What could I possibly write in this card that would do any good? In a way all of these questions can be answered using the same idea

When I was about to speak all these crazy thoughts came into my head. “What if they don’t like what I have to say?” “What if I break down and cannot finish what I have written down?” These were all legitimate concerns, but only to me. Realizing I was focusing on my concerns and worried about if I did something wrong how it would be received. What I had to do was change my entire mindset. Whether it is filling out a card, giving a heartfelt words to family and friends or standing up in front of a large gathering filled with emotion to give a speech when you are also filled with that same emotion, the answer is the same. When Albert Einstein was asked why we were here his answer was quick and simple, “We are here to serve others.” That is what we need to focus on during times of sorrow.

When I changed my mindset to one of service and began to ask myself what can I say that can give a little comfort or solace to those who were gathered there, the rest took care of itself. Was I emotional at some? Yes. Did I have to take a moment and compose myself before continuing? Yes. I believe that is of some service too. Knowing that your words come from a place of love and respect mean just as much as the words that are being said. I am generally thought of as a positive chap who promotes motivation and positivity. I thought things like that had no place at a memorial. What I have learned is being yourself and speaking (whether that is in person or in a card) words from the heart is all that matter.

Another thing to remember is that losing someone sucks…big time. This may seem like a no brainer but we must remember death affects everyone differently. We must also remember each of us grieve differently. People will be sad and that is alright. It is not our job to try to lift that sadness. Leave that to a power much great than yourself. Our job as fellow humans is to offer a bit of love and light to those who are hurting and to do so in our own particular way. To let everyone know we care. The way to do so is by being the wonderful caring people we are. We may stumble over our words and even get mixed up and say things completely wrong. That is okay. What matters is the love we have and the service we give. One day we will need the same.

HOW I DEAL WITH DEATH

Today we are going to look at one of the hardest moments in life, the loss of a loved one. How can we possibly make it through this pain? I do not have any magical answers for you. What I can do is share what helps me and hope it will offer you some sort of solace in a difficult time. Death is one of the most difficult situations to handle in our lives. However, if we want to have the secrets to an amazing life, we need a plan to face the tough times as well as the easy times. Let me explain what I mean by facing the tough times.

One of the trickiest things about death is remembering it is indeed one of the most difficult subjects you will go through. That may sound ridiculous, but it is true. When going through the grieving process many people ask how they will return to being their ‘normal selves’. As if magically things will some how go back to being as if they were before. The bad news is they never will. You will always have that feeling of emptiness inside you. The closer you were to the person you lost, the bigger the hole will be. There will be times when you see something, or something happens that you will want to call them and share the news. Then the realization that they are gone will hit you all over again. There is no getting around it, that sucks. There are jokes that will come to mind that only you two would understand. There may be phrases that you shared, or even certain activities that will never be the same. I recall playing cards with my grandmother for hours. This often happened several days a week. I am not sure I know of many other people who would be willing to do that with me now. I recall heading up north to visit my great uncle with my grandfather. There were a million stories they shared about the family. Some of which are probably lost forever.

Now comes the healing portion of our post. Again, this is what I do. It may or may not resonate with you. Just as everyone grieves in their own way, everyone heals in their own way. With every person I lost there is something that reminds me of them as we mentioned in the first part of the post. When their memory is especially prevalent or I just happen to be missing them a great deal, I do one of two things. The first is do the very things we used to do. Yes, it makes me miss them, but I end up feeling connected to them in a strange sort of way. My mother and I play some of the same card games that my grandmother and I used to play. Recently, while visiting our friends tap room at their brewery, Margie sat down and joined us in some games. This makes my heart happy. My grandfather and I used to research different health and natural healing subjects. I even have some of his books. Continuing that research is one of the many ways I keep in touch with his memory and spirit. My Aunt Virginia and I both appreciated Native American traditions and music. These, along with a host of other subjects. When I read a book, or listen to some Native American music I feel extremely connected with her. Again, it does make me miss her and wish I had just one more day, as I am sure we all have felt about someone we lost.

The second thing I do really helps me to feel like I am close to, and honoring those who have passed away. I think of the particular light that person brought into the world. That light is now missing. Not only in my own life, but in the lives of everyone who came in contact with this person. That light needs to be carried on and replaced in their memory. Take my great uncle Ray, the one my grandfather and I used to visit. He was a social fellow who, on any given day, would still rather be in the woods talking to animals than in the city talking to people. Although I appreciate my fellow humans who grace the planet with me, I also love being in nature talking to animals. My grandmother liked to cook and I am excited to say I have a copy of her cookbook which is several inches thick. I am now blessed to have an amazing cook as the love of my life and hope to recreate some of these recipes to share with others. Speaking of my amazing love, we sadly lost her mother a little over two years ago. One of the lessons I will always remember from her is the importance of still “being your same sweet self” even if you haven’t had your coffee. I also do my best to honor her spirit by taking care of her ‘favorite daughter’ the best I can. I know she was Margie’s biggest fan and that my love misses having her support. With the help of her children and grandchildren we do the best we can to let her know how wonderful she is and how much she is loved.

These are some of the methods I use that help me understand that those I love are still around me. On occasion I donate to a cause they believed in or supported. I look at pictures and consider this amazing fact from the world of physics – at the smallest level everything is made of the same thing -energy. A fact about energy is it is never destroyed, it just changes form. To me, the people that we love do not cease to be, just have changed form to an energy that at present we are unable to communicate with. I am not even sure that is the truth. When the thought of a loved one comes into your mind and you feel that warm feeling in your chest, is that them? When some of the sad memories come to mind and you miss them all over again is that just their spirit reminiscing with you? I hope these methods I use may offer some help to all of you out there. I would love to hear things that help bring your heart a sense of peace in difficult times of loss. Let us all share with and help each other.

OUR HEROES CAN TEACH US LONG AFTER THEY ARE GONE

Above is a picture of a very young me next to my grandfather at I believe was his 80th birthday party. Also included in the picture is my late aunt Virginia. When I was growing up my grandfather was one of my heroes. He had a presence that commanded respect. He didn’t have to raise his voice or do anything to get it either. (My mother might have a slightly different memory of that) He was a man of great integrity. He was honest, fair and did what he felt was right. Just last night as Margie and I were pulling into the grocery store I was thinking about things my grandfather had told me when I was young. Many of them at the time I didn’t either understand or I thought I knew better. If you read the last post you may see a pattern developing.

There are things that happen in my life even to this day, long after he passed away, that have me thinking, “That is what my grandfather meant!” His favorite singer was Eddy Arnold. I thought if I ever had the choice I would never listen to the song Cattle call again. After he passed away I missed hearing it. I was fortunate enough to meet a great man named John Whelan who shared the same affection for Mr. Arnold and often sang this song. Sadly, John has passed away. I was grateful to be able to speak at his funeral. My grandfather had a good knowledge of healing herbs and foods. He served in the second World War. He loved the tropics and had fond memories of being stationed in Hawaii.

Another reason my grandfather was my hero, was the way he conducted himself in the relationship he had with my grandmother. My grandmother was an amazing woman as well and taught me many things about cooking and being hospitable. She was, to one degree or another, an opinionated and on several occasions, an upset woman. She had several medical conditions that I imagine weighed on her. During some of her more earnest ‘correcting’ of my grandfather, I noticed he just shook his head and rarely seemed to offer much of a rebuttal. Even when the situation was obvious he was correct and she was not. When that truth revealed itself, he seldom made mention of it. One day I asked him why he never said anything. I asked how he managed to stay happy and some days even sane being yelled at for things that were often not his fault. I recall what he told me to this very day. I can picture it as if it were yesterday. As we sat in his kitchen he told me, “The secret to a successful relationship is to bend but not break.”

I won’t tell you how long it took me to figure out the wisdom of that statement. Let me just tell you that in my relationship with the beautiful Margie we often disagree on things. I have learned to differentiate between things that I just want and things that go against what I value. If they are issues that do not cause me to sacrifice my principles or my standards, then there is always room to compromise. In this way you have to bend. Sometimes you might even just let the other person have their way to keep the peace. If it is something that truly goes against what you believe then you have to take a stand and not break. Applying this knowledge that my grandfather gave me so many years ago in that kitchen has allowed me to build the best relationship I have ever had. I guess if I had learned and applied it sooner I would not have had the opportunity to share life with the amazing woman I do now.

Just a reminder that my grandfather is still teaching me and still a big part of my life long after he is gone. If you have recently, or even not so recently lost someone, realize they will live on and be a part of your life. When someone we really love leaves us, it is only physical. Their lessons, their words and their love will continue to affect us until we are the ones who leave.

A STRANGE OPPORTUNITY

It amazes me how life presents us opportunities that we routinely miss. Misfortune, challenges and pain. Those are three things nobody likes to have in their life and things that everybody does have in their lives. When you are going through something it is often very hard to see the positive in it. Whether that be a heartbreak, job loss, loss of a loved one or a host of other unpleasant situations, we can put them to use for us and others.

This is the very method I used to put the situation of getting the Coronavirus to work for myself and for others. When we go through something challenging, there are 3 ways in which it can be turned from a negative to a positive. Are you interested? I hope so. If we can turn the negatives in our life into positives, can you imagine how that would improve the quality of our life? It would make it, dare I say, amazing! Let us take a look at them one at a time. By using even one of these 3 secrets we can begin to put life to work for us instead of being at the mercy of life.

The first secret is learning and growing. People have one of two relationships with challenges and failures. Either they view it as the end. They lost. It won’t work. Things such as that. Then there are others who view it as a stepping stone to success. As Thomas Edison continued to fail in his attempts to find something to use as a filament in the light bulb, he remarked, “I have not failed, I just discovered another way not to make a light bulb.” Even something as painful as the loss of a loved one can teach us many things. It can help us discover ways to help us heal our heart. It can deepen our spiritual connection. It can even show us who will be there for us when we are at our lowest. Lessons are most often not fun to learn, but they help us grow and develop more than any other period of our life. We always learn more from our trials than our successes.

The second thing we can do is what today’s picture speaks of. We can inspire others by the way we handle things. When I shared my virus Journey with everyone it helped me as much as I helped others. On the days I did not feel like getting up and writing a post or shooting a video for my YouTube channel, I thought about the people watching my journey. Often, things are not that public.

We can use the fact people are watching us to motivate us. I am always on the lookout for ways I can improve and be the best man I can be in my relationship with my lady Margie. One of the many ways I use to stay motivated is that I remind myself how many people are watching how I treat her. Her family, her children, our friends and even those who might want to take my place in her heart. I would say at least once a week someone comments on our relationship. Usually, these are compliments about how loving we are. To me they serve not only as a reward for working so hard on our relationship, but a reminder that her and I do not live in a vacuum. People are watching.

The last positive thing we want to discuss about challenges is this – it provides you tools. When you go through something it gives you skills you can then use to help others going through the same situation. It gives you credibility. When someone is troubled, they will be more likely to listen to someone who has actually went through what they are going through. Following this equation, the more things you go through in life, the more you can help others. It is almost as if every challenge is a painful gift of sorts.

These three things may not take the pain or feeling of loss out of a situation in the moment, but they will help in time. Here is an added bonus – the more you use these three things, the more they become a part of you. When they become a part of you, the time it takes to go from pain to learning, inspiring and teaching becomes quicker and quicker. In my own life when something bad happens it has become so quick that I catch myself thinking, “Well this sucks but I will be able to use it for something good.” I would love to hear what you use to turn the negatives in your life into positives. The more ideas we share the more we can help each other!

WHILE THEY ARE HERE

Here is a picture of my mother and I. While at least the bottom part of my head. As you can see we are out to eat. The place we were eating at, Crawdaddy’s Roadhouse, is a local favorite here in the city of West Allis where I live. They feature amazing Cajun cuisine, live music and super friendly service. Sadly, the owner of this establishment, Jonathan Klug, recently passed away at the young age of 51. Before he opened this amazing restaurant, Jon messaged me and asked if I would come and do a review. It is not often a restaurant owner would welcome a food critic, but so confident was Mr. Klug that he did. Let me tell you he had the right to be. Crawdaddy’s Roadhouse became a favorite with the group of coworkers whom I brought there the first time I went. Groups of family and friends I entertained there always walked away full and happy.

This post is not only to honor that great man, but to share with you something very important. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, that is my mother sitting next to me. She joined a group of coworkers as well as Margie and myself to dine and review the restaurant that day. We joked and laughed as the night went on. She has attended other restaurant reviews I have done in the last few years as well. She always has interesting and insightful things to offer. Being a former personal banker, she knows the importance of great customer service and how it can impact the overall experience you have in a business.

This is yet another picture of my mother. I have to be sneaky and catch these moments because she is NOT a fan of having her picture taken. What is even more important than capturing such moments is sharing them. Sure, parents can drive us crazy as I am sure we can do to them. They are forever worrying about us making the same mistakes they made and we are forever wishing they would let us live our lives unfettered. Especially when we are teenagers and think we have this whole living life thing down pat. The truth is, those who have come before us have the benefit of experience and are offering advice they think will only add to our joy in life.

This picture was taken during an event called the Soup Crawl. It was a brand new event our city wanted to start. Area businesses made soups and offered them at locations up and down main street. For just a few dollars you could sample ten soups all while seeing the city and meeting your neighbors. My mom and Margie even were able to make a bracelet at a local jewelry store. My mother has taught me the value and pleasure of experiencing and being involved in local community activities. We often dine at local places like Urban Joe’s Cafe and even work out at the gym in our city of West Allis.

We also enjoy getting out in nature. This is a local park we walk in. Being physically active as a family serves many benefits. It can do a lot to help us prevent and limit the effect of some genetic issues our family is predisposed to. It also can be a great stress reliever. Nature is a great therapy providing physical fitness, oxygen, scenery, a sense of well-being as well as allowing us to meet some of our unique animal friends. Doing so with your parents can help both of you to be around to enjoy those pleasures for years to come. Being able to relax over a cup of hot coffee after a walk in the woods on a chilly spring or fall afternoon allows us a chance to discuss all of nature and it’s wonders.

Celebrate important events together. This is us at a ‘birthday party’ for Smokey Bear. It was taken at the Wisconsin State Fair, which my mom and I have been going to for…oh…the last 44 years together. We enjoy attending the food awards they do there every year as well as fun events like a 75th birthday party for a bear that helps us prevent wildfires. This year she also came over to Margie and my house for New Year’s Eve. We all were able to toast in the new year, enjoy a wonderful meal Margie created and watch a movie. A few years ago she even stopped by as we were working to bring in the New Year. These are memories that will be cherished. If not always with pictures, due to her not being a fan, at least in memories. We are working on planning a vacation together as well.

It is important to create memories with your parents as often as you can. Just as the untimely passing of our good friend Jonathan Klug reminded us, time can be more fleeting than you know. Take time to enjoy the company of those you love before either one of you is gone. Creating memories and capturing them can be one of the most valuable treasures in life. Something all the money in the world cannot buy once someone is gone.

THE GIFT OF GRIEF

The gift of grief? This sounds like one of those cliché book titles you may see as you make your way through the bookstore. If you are reading this while going through a moment of grief,  it may be a sentiment you are tempted to give a middle finger to. What gift could possibly be gained in a feeling of such tremendous loss and pain? What is there to possibly be gained by having part of you forever taken from you? How can we call the loneliness and emptiness that we feel upon waking, or when we are alone in our beds a gift? Is there anything good about those random moments of sadness we experience when we witness something that reminds us of the loved one we lost?

I am not here to tell you grief is a good thing. It sucks. It is not something any of us would choose to feel, nor anything we wish others to feel. What I am here to say is that there are things that only grief can teach us. There are things that our hearts may never know, or at the very least, never fully appreciate without grief. This, in its own way also sucks. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go through life without ever having to experience loss or grief? Why can’t we all learn everything we need to know without having to experience these emotions? That is not how life works, unfortunately.

While there is no correct way to grieve, or time limit for grieving, there are some things that are universal when it comes to grief. Lessons that grief teaches us all regardless of faith, race or nationality. This was brought home to me the other day. Last year I had lost two aunts in one week’s time. The hospice they were at along with a funeral home, hosted a ‘group memorial’ for everyone who had lost someone. As we pulled up to the building we noticed the parking lot was full. Upon entering we sat in two of the last seats available. You were given a program in which all of the names of the deceased were listed. There were over 100 names. They included every nationality, every race and as they read details of the individuals, it became clear every age as well.

I noticed all of these very different people were experiencing the same thing – grief. We may not have agreed on politics, religion or even what sports team to cheer for, but at that moment all of us could relate to the feeling of sadness and loss we felt. In this way, grief can be a common denominator. No matter where you live in the world, what faith you follow or what sports team you like, death will visit you in your lifetime.

Grief also teaches us humility. In the parking lot you could see there were people who drove very expensive sports cars and those who drove cars that were barely moving. Both of these people had experienced loss. Money cannot save you from grief. It does not matter if you are a CEO or if you work in the mail room, grief will visit you.

Grief, in its own odd way, teaches us the value of life. There were those who were quite young that passed away from auto accidents or perfectly healthy individuals that were suddenly taken from cancer or other terrible health conditions. Loss teaches us to value the lives and times with those in our life. We may never know when we may loose them. It is often after a loss of someone we love that we are tempted to call those we love just to tell them we love them. We go home to hug our children or our spouse and hold them extra tight, grateful we still have them to hold.

Grief also teaches us the value of our own lives. When I was diagnosed last year with several heart problems it made me realize how fleeting life could be. It motivated me to be the best man that I can be. Every night I make sure that the woman in my life knows how beautiful she is to me and how much I love her because I may not have that chance to tell her tomorrow. My second book had been in the works for five years leading up to that point. I was diagnosed in June, it was finished by September. Knowing intellectually that we only have so much time on this earth is motivating, but feeling that emotionally is far more motivating.

Grief and loss suck. There is no arguing that. It is through grief, however, that life becomes so precious. Memories become treasures more valuable than gold. Every blooming flower and song of a bird become a gift to be appreciated. Loved ones and the love we share with them become our most valuable possessions. Our time becomes the most important asset we have.

Grief is terrible. Grief is hard and grief is terribly personal. Still, even in the darkest of times we are given many gifts. Let us not waste our grief, but let it color our life. Not just with sadness, although that will always be a part of our loss, but let it also intensify our love. Let our grief allow us to appreciate the beauty in the little things, and understand they really are the big things. Let us not only treasure our memories of those we have lost, but let us be motivated to create memories with those who are still here so that when we are gone we may leave with them the gift that those who have went before us have shared with us.