Friday, November 1, 2013

Are you ready for the Time of Death?

        Americans hide from the reality of death, even though it is in everybody’s future. Today, on what Catholics call “All Souls Day” or “Day of the Dead” a new documentary is premiering on Showtime titled "Time of Death" which will take viewers inside the last days of a group of Americans with terminal diseases. It will show us all the reality of the dying process.
I have been there. 
In a span of only three years, I held the hand of three beloved family members at the very instant they died. The first was my father; the second, two years later, was my mother; and the third, a year after that, was my mother-in-law.
I felt blessed to be there in that moment. Even though I experienced the weeks leading up to death as hard; so very hard.

Yet here’s what I learned:

The process of dying is difficult, and often not pretty. The person has become a shell of the person you remember. There is a certain odor —not distasteful, exactly, but one that you will ever-after recognize. A person’s final breaths may sound harsh, raspy.

The morphine needed for pain control may render the dying person comatose, so you hold the hand of someone who no longer responds to your voice.

And yet…and yet…the actual moment of release—when the soul or spirit or whatever the essence is that makes us human—when it leaves the body, it does so gently, like a small butterfly wafting away from its empty cocoon into the warm waiting light of God.
Because I experienced this three times, I now feel a peaceful tranquility about death. As I ponder the moment of final passage, I recall the words of the poet Tagore: 
“All the treasures I’ve gathered during my lifelong preparation, I’m now arranging for the last day, to give it all to death—the day death comes to my door.” 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How to Sweat the Sacred

It’s hard enough to squeeze a physical workout into our busy days. How to add time for our spiritual side? Try this: combine the two. 

Here are five ways:

  1. Start with Right Motive. Affirm your intent to combine the physical and spiritual before you begin exercising. I like this affirmation: “Let my spirit and body move in concert.”
  2. Breathe slowly and deeply. ‘Inspire’ originally meant to breathe in the Spirit. As you inhale and exhale, say to yourself, “I release all negative toxins of anxiety, fear, impatience.”
  3. Open your fists. While you walk or run, keep your hands open to signify your willingness to surrender to your life as it unfolds moment by moment. 
  4. Add a word. Repeat a mantra word over and over while you exercise. It could be secular (Peace, Love) or from your religious heritage. (Jesus, Mercy. God be praised.)
  5. Exercise outdoors when you can. “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees,” wrote naturalist John Muir. 
  These ideas are from my book, Meditation in Motion. To view on Amazon, go to link:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rules to Follow Once You Hit 50

While preparing a talk I'm giving next week to a group of people older than 50, I came across the following In my files. I pass it on with a smile.

"Rules to Follow at the Age of 50 and Beyond: A Baker's Dozen" 
  1. Peace of mind (and a piece of property).
  2. A will and a little Willpower.
  3. A little black dress that makes you look five pounds thinner.
  4. A sense of humor, style and purpose.
  5. A good bra.
  6. A good spa.
  7. A library card (used often).
  8. A credit card (used sparingly).
  9. A personal relationship with God.
  10. A personal trainer.
  11. The ability to converse on any subject without benefit of concrete knowledge or access to facts.
  12. A friendship that has stood the test of time.
  13. A dream, and a plan to make your dream come true. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Happy Father's Day to All

I'm posting the reflection written by my son Andy. It's a wonderful read for anyone who is a father, who loves a father, or who has lost a father. 

"Today marks a unique milestone in my life. My boy Braeden is exactly the age I was when my father was killed some 45 years ago. Braeden turned 5 on April 27th. I thought I would share some pictures from then and now and some reflections.

Growing up I often got the question, “Do you remember your father”? The question always took me by surprise. Of course I remember him! My father was bigger than life to me. How could I not? But I realize I’m never really sure what is my memory or just an image of a story someone may have told me. What I remember is more of an overwhelming feeling of warmth, love, happiness, and comfort. I know he was a big part of my life.

My sister once wrote that his death was like our childhoods had been split in two. On one side Daddy was alive and life was bright and sunny. On the other side he was dead and life was filled with grief and despair. My mother recently recalled how she became concerned when a teacher told her that when she asked me why I never smiled I replied, “I keep trying on different smiles but can’t find one that fit’s. I coped with imaginary phone calls to the Navy where they told me he didn’t really die. He was stranded somewhere on an island waiting for the Navy to pick him up. I couldn’t picture him dying because he was Superman. Every time I tried to visualize the crash he would always parachute out. In my imagination his body would be bigger than the airplane he flew. I’m not sure how long it took before I started to smile again but It seems like a long time. When the day finally came that I didn’t think about him, I remember a feeling of guilt. It felt like I had betrayed him. How could I let go? Overtime that feeling went away and life went on. I became a regular kid struggling to grow up like other kids. I stopped thinking about him constantly the way I did those first few years after he was killed.

In my 20’s it started again. I thought about him often. I searched for answers and clues about who he was. I sought out men who served with him who could tell me something about his life. Maybe I was trying to disprove the myth in my mind of what a great man he was. After all, I was just a little boy. He couldn’t really be bigger than life. It felt like if I could just get a little more information maybe I would reach some “aha” moment. But more information didn’t fill that void. I came to the realization that my memories were fading and what I lost I would never get back. The paradox of losing a parent at a young age is that no matter how good your life is (and my life has been good), your life would have been so much better without that loss.

In recent years I’ve discovered that I was wrong about never getting back what I lost. Someday I hope my children come to appreciate the gift they have given me. With the births of my two children, the memory I have of my father has flooded back into my life. Each day is an overwhelming feeling of warmth, love, happiness, and comfort. It feels like I’ve picked up where my Dad and I left off, just now my role is reversed. I find myself in endless pursuit of giggles from my kids. When I shout out in the car, “everyone who loves Mommy raise their hands”, I smile when I see their hands dart up to be first. I laugh when they climb over each other to jump onto my back to ride the “mechanical bull”. I cherish the moments and experiences we share on camping trips, outings to the beach, or just quiet moments early in the morning cuddling in bed as a family. My children have brought me back to a place I thought was gone forever.

In the grand scheme of things we are all on this earth a very short time. Weather you die at 34 as my father did or live to 101 as his father did, life is what you make of it while you’re here. My father did a lot in his time. He pursued higher education, a career, adventure, and service to his country. But most of all he created a family and left a legacy of love and commitment for each other.

After all these years, I’m still in awe of my father. Having my own children now, I have a greater appreciation for how hard it must have been for him to put himself in harm’s way every time he catapulted off a carrier or flew missions over North Vietnam. I don’t mind saying I’m half the man he is. I’m just proud to be his son.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up and my boy will be a day older. He can climb into our bed and put his arms around me. I’ll still be here for both my children and I hope for many more days and years to come. I want them to know how much they mean to me for as long as I’m around. I will never take for granted how much I mean to them.

Monday, May 27, 2013

How do we feel when a friend leaves us?

We have known each other for 35 years. And now she is leaving.  Her eyes sparkle. She and her husband are moving to Colorado to be near their grown daughters. She wants me to share her excitement.

And part of me truly does rejoice for her. But at the same time, it's all I can do to hold back my tears. I feel bereft. She’ll be gone.

We call that person who loses his father, an orphan; and a widow is someone who loses her spouse. But what of the person who knows the heartache of losing a friend? By what name do we call her? We have no special words; no rituals to express our grief. 

Losing a friend can come at any age, but somehow the loss hits us harder as we get older. Maybe it’s because, as the old saying goes, “A good friend is like a tree; it takes a long time to grow one.”

Our deepest friendships bring so much more than the social chitchat of people I call my “Friendlies.”  Anais Nin wrote, ”Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

My friend and I have had such a special world. We tell each other things we tell no one else, not our husbands, not our children, not other friends. We share our mutual spiritual journeys.  We feel safe to confess our foibles to each other. We laugh together! 
We comfort each other.  We easily say “I love you.” 

I know my friend will always feel deep affection for me, and I for her. 
But it won’t be the same.
She no longer will live 1.2 miles from me. No longer be someone I pick up to go places. No longer be the person I see almost weekly; the friend I know is “there.”

So I remind myself, 
Friendship is like
    Intertwined branches.
We grow toward the sun
    In similar fashion.
Our branches blossom.
But we are not one tree.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

How do you celebrate Mother's Day after your mom has died?

I didn’t expect it when I passed the rack of Mother’s Day cards. But suddenly it hit me like a fist in the gut. “I can’t send one of these any more. My mom is gone.”
She had died 6 months earlier.
Losing a parent is the one life passage that all of us experience. If our parent is at an age when death is  more or less expected, the depth of our grief may catch us by surprise. 
But, just as I nearly doubled over at the sight of a Mother’s Day card, we realize, “It doesn’t matter that she’s 90. She’s my mom! And she’s gone!”

Here are 3 ways to help you over the hurdle of that first Mother’s Day:
  • Honor other moms in your life. I now send cards to my mother’s sisters and my daughter and daughters-in-law; even to an older friend who’s been like a mom to me.
  • Talk to those whose lives your mom touched: her friends, her siblings. Ask questions that you've never taken time before to ask. Learn to see her not only as your mom but as the special person she was to other people.
  • Remember your mom is creative ways: three sisters I know go to their mother’s gravesite and share stories and laughter. Another friend always makes an upside down cake from her mother’s special recipe to serve on Mother’s Day. Another  wears a ring that belonged to her mom.
After my parents died just two years apart, I wrote the book, NOBODY’S CHILD ANYMORE: Caring, Grieving, Comforting When Parents Die (Ave Maria Press, ISBN 1-893732-21-5)  I wanted to offer compassionate help to other ‘adult orphans’ and I’m grateful to know it has been in print for 15 years.  Perhaps the true stories--and the “steps forward” that accompany each story-- will be a help to you. You can find it on Amazon or 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why Today's "Lean In" was yesterday's Self Esteem for Women

In the 1990s---twenty years ago--I flew around the country giving business seminars for a major seminar company. One of the most popular topics was  “Self Esteem for Women Professionals.”  

Now comes the new best selling book, LEAN IN,  by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, which gives advice to women on how to become successful leaders. How to break the glass ceiling! 

  • Be all you can be!
  • Climb high! Dare to risk!
  • Don’t be afraid!

Yes, says Sandberg, although women are sometimes held back by poor public policies and inflexible organizations,  mostly women hold themselves back. She gives tips on how women can rethink.

And guess what?  I was giving the very same tips in the 1990s. Can it really be that we haven’t progressed in the last 20 years? 

As I pondered this, it occurred to me that perhaps certain basic attitudes and actions are ALWAYS necessary; but that we forget. So, periodically, we need to be reminded.

It is important to affirm our own abilities; to “color ourselves visible” (as I once titled a business article), to risk stepping outside our comfort zones, to pick ourselves up after failure, to realize our own personal best, to go for the top job if that’s our dream. 

Ms. Sandberg’s ideas are good ones. Click here to look at 
And also ask yourself, are you already following most of her ideas? I do think we should give ourselves credit where credit is due. 

What do you think?

Are you taking time to feel the Mystery?

           I was a tourist, strolling along the shore of Lake Michigan, when I spied two dots of yellow bobbing on the water. Two women, their bright yellow kayaks enclosing them like fins,  came ashore. One of the women--Louise--explained how she started kayaking.
        "I was an over-achieving workaholic, climbing the ladder of success, working 70-hours a week, with no outside life.  And then I got cancer."

          After a year of treatment, Louise had a "a whole different perspective." She began working reasonable hours and spending her weekends outdoors.  Hiking. Camping. Eventually, kayaking.
         "My illness made me realize there's more to life than business achievement. There is a profound Mystery larger than and I.  In my kayak,  I feel as if I'm part of the boat, the water, the sky, the whole Mystery." She raised her arms, brought them down, raised them again. "I give thanks as I paddle."

          "Paddle prayer?" I said.
          She smiled. "A good name for it."

         So often we get sucked into the tyranny of the urgent. Sometimes it takes a crisis to remind us that --no matter how hard we might try--we are not in complete control of life's flow.  Are you staying balanced? Don't over-focus on career.
         The next time someone says to you, "Don't work too hard," why not reply, "I won't."
And then---don't.  
          Take time to experience--and appreciate--life's Mystery.