My friends and I aren’t spring chickens anymore. And we’re at the age where our parents are at that age… the age of getting their “celestial discharge” as my wife called it when she worked at hospice. Their earthly journey is coming to an end. As a child, it’s never easy. And unfortunately, the final chapter is often quite sad, as we watch the people who raised us diminish in body and/or mind. But never in spirit… that lives on in each of us.
My buddy Tom Kuhl (a.k.a. The Kuhler, a.k.a. Freaky Tiki) recently lost his beloved mom. His Facebook post about her really captures the conflicting emotions many of us have as our parents approach their earthly finish line.
Well said, my brother from another mother! Love you!
When my friends lose a parent, I usually pass along a copy of one of my favorite short stories by my absolute favorite author, Ray Bradbury. The story is called “The Leave-Taking” and it’s about an elderly woman who is dying. And Ray — master writer that he is — managed to weave the sadness of death and the true joy of living and the blessings of family into a mere three-and-a-half pages. The full story is here, but this is the money quote:
Important thing is not the me that’s lying here, but the me that’s sitting on the edge of the bed looking back at me, and the me that’s downstairs cooking supper, or out in the garage under the car, or in the library reading. All the new parts, they count. I’m not really dying today. No person ever died that had a family. I’ll be around a long time.
It’s raining in Cincinnati today… our house must have a leak because I’m down in our basement and my eyes are all misty.
In case you hadn’t heard, Christmas is coming soon. The whole “peace on earth, good will toward men” part of the equation can get lost in a sea of shopping. Buy this! Buy that! “Makes the perfect Christmas gift!”
Chances are pretty good that you’re reading this from the cozy comfort of your home. Or perhaps you’re perusing this post on your smartphone while you’re out and about (you need a new hobby!). Either way, you have shelter… and an internet connection. So you probably don’t need any more “stuff” for Christmas.
Here’s a novel idea: give experiences instead of “stuff”… give the gift of time together. (Time is the most precious gift of all, right?)
That’s what I did last Christmas. Instead of buying my wife a bunch of stuff, I created “The 12 Dates of Christmas” – I planned out an excursion for each month of 2022, to a different neighborhood, where we could “buy local.” Patronize locally owned shops, dine at local restaurants, enjoy a beverage or two at a local watering hole,… visit local parks and attractions too.
We’ve been married for 25 years, and have lived in this city even longer, yet there are so many neighborhoods that we hadn’t fully explored, so many new (non-chain) restaurants to try, new breweries, or places that we hadn’t been to in ages (looking at you, comedy club).
Yes, it’s still commerce, but at least our dollars are staying in the community instead of going to China.
And it ensured that we had a planned “date night” every month. (OK, not every month – we missed a few. We skipped the February one because the Bengals made the Super Bowl – didn’t see that one coming!)
Your 12 Dates don’t have to be with a significant other. It could be lunch with a parent or grandparent. A ballgame with an old friend. Spending your time with someone you love is much more valuable than more “stuff.”
Below I’m republishing a post that originally appeared in July of 2017… because it’s been five years and we still miss “Uncle Neil”…
The year Without A Santa Claus
As I sit down to write this, it’s 10:40 a.m. on a Sunday. Normally I’d be at Mass right now, sitting in the same pew as my wife’s uncle Neil, and his wife Gayle. They were with us on vacation in Florida July 1-8, along with a bunch of Neil’s relatives, and everyone rolled back into town late last Saturday night. After every Sunday Mass, all the family members in attendance always gather and talk for a bit, with Neil at the center of the conversation.
A week ago, it was just Neil, Gayle and me. We chatted for a bit, and said our “see you next week” goodbyes… Neil had a heart attack later that day, and passed away on Thursday. Yes, he was 78, and overweight, and had already had a heart attack and heart valve replacement several years ago… but I still feel like he was stolen away from us way too soon. That’s the way it always is with great folks, and he was a fantastic human being.
There are so many stories I could tell about “Real Deal Uncle Neil” as I called him, but to me the one that best epitomizes his character and caring is this: for nearly 40 years, Neil would dress up as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and spend several hours visiting the homes of dozens of relatives, friends and co-workers, spending a few minutes at each house talking to the kids that lived there, having them sing a Christmas song, reminding them to go to bed early, asking them to leave a snack for his reindeer… totally getting into playing the part of Santa Claus. Our house was one of the stops when our kids were younger, and I’ll never forget the look on our kids’ faces when “Santa” showed up and spoke with them. Pure magic.
Think about that for a bit. For 40 years, Neil sacrificed his Christmas Eve to make others happy. It was no fun riding around dressed up in a sweat-inducing Santa suit, with heavy boots and an itchy beard… but bringing some magic into the lives of others superseded that.
Here’s the thing – the Santa suit was just a prop. Honestly, Neil was the type of person that brought magic into the lives of others every day – kids and adults alike. He had the Irish “gift of gab” and never let the facts get in the way of a good story. He was comfortable talking to anyone and everyone, and always left you with a smile on your face.
In hindsight, as we look back at a few things Neil did on vacation that were a bit more sentimental than usual, we think he knew his time on earth was drawing to a close. We’ll miss him dearly. But I’ll also take solace in the words of Ray Bradbury, from his beautiful story about dying called “The Leave-Taking“:
Important thing is not the me that’s lying here, but the me that’s sitting on the edge of the bed looking back at me, and the me that’s downstairs cooking supper, or out in the garage under the car, or in the library reading. All the new parts, they count. I’m not really dying today. No person ever died that had a family.
About a month ago, Paul Stanley of the band KISS sent out this tweet:
Such a sweet sentiment from an unexpected source… this is the guy who wrote “Love Gun” right? The Twitterverse responded in kind(ness):
Never thought I’d get great life advice from a guy who wears kabuki makeup, spiked boots and spandex for a living, but there you have it.
Of course, there is a flip side to this sentimental record…
Today is my mom’s birthday. She would be 87… but she only made it to 33. This photo was taken in July of 1968. By November of that year, she was gone. That dapper young lad on the far left (striking the perfect JC Penney catalog pose, might I add) left plenty unsaid… and has zero memories to cherish.
I’m not trying to throw a pity party on my mom’s birthday. But I have plenty of friends who are dealing with the many challenges of having elderly parents – multiple meds, doctors appointments, surgeries, chemo, dementia, cleaning out decades of accumulated “stuff” from a home, paying the bills, assisted living, nursing home, hospice. I’m sure it can be a pain in the butt. If you’re in this situation and feeling the burden, please re-read Paul Stanley’s notes for a bit of perspective. Remember that you’re blessed. And it sure beats the alternative.
Tell your parents how much you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Tell them how much you love them and remind them of all the memories you cherish. What you do today will give you peace of mind and comfort tomorrow.
She has 10 flatmates in her student housing at the University of Glasgow… that would double my current readership! So here goes….
Leah has been in college overseas for about 8 months now. During that time she has:
Lost her passport
Lost her Ohio ID
Lost her student ID
Lost the credit card tied to our account
Had her phone stolen
For Leah, those incidents have been aggravating. As a parent who is nearly 2,000 miles away (sorry, flatmates, I meant nearly 3,000 kilometers away), it’s super-frustrating.
But that’s all “stuff.” It can be replaced. It has been. What’s much more important is what she’s found during her “fresher” year of “uni.” (Man, these flatmates better appreciate how I’m adapting my vocabulary!)
She’s found friends. Ones who helped her with booking a hostel and a new flight when she had to stay a couple extra days in Krakow, Poland after she lost her passport there back in October.
Friends who made an American-style Thanksgiving feast when she was missing home in November.
Friends who will stay up until the wee hours to watch the Cincinnati team play in the Super Bowl… even though they think rugby is better.
Friends who invited her to their homes…. in London:
And in Derry:
She’s learned how to navigate unfamiliar cities in foreign countries.
She’s met people from all over the globe, and learned about different cultures.
She’s found that’s she’s capable of much more than she thought she was just 8 short months ago.
Our “baby” boy got his driver’s license yesterday morning, and went to his school’s prom last night.
Just like that, we went from one phase of life to another. From Parent Uber to keeping your phone unsilenced and on the nightstand. Better the devil you know…
He’ll turn 17 in a month, so he’s a bit late to the driving game (thanks pandemic!). I’m fine with that. My auto insurance premium was fine with that too. He’s a cautious driver, and he’s put in his hours, but those are no guarantee of safety. Far from it.
Our baby has a lot more freedom. My wife and I will get a few more gray hairs. That’s how the wheels of life turn… and you can’t slow them down.
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