A great tree.

I had the privilege today of honoring men and women whose lives were taken by a devastating disease called Mesothelioma. My father is one of those people.  Each year at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Dr. David Sugarbaker and his thoracic surgery team host a luncheon for the families of loved ones now deceased who “dug their heels in” and fought the fight of their lives.  Each one of these people stood at the edge of the “dark forest” and walked forward, braving the unknown, fighting- for themselves and their loved ones.

May God bless the courageous souls that we have lost, and give strength to the members of their families who stood beside them, and the health care providers who against adversity continue to forge a path through the dark forest for all of us.

a rose for each great soul

When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

~in memory of one of the greatest…

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Guest Writer: Shane

This was written by my son Shane, who spoke at my father’s funeral in October 2010. My father was 71 years old when he died, and Shane was 15.  I want to share it on this Memorial Day 2012.  In our excitement for the unofficial start to Summer, may we always take a moment to remember the  meaning of Memorial Day.

At my school there is a chapel speaking program for all grades, but there is a special program for seniors.  Every Monday morning the whole school gathers in the church and they are treated to usually about 3 students who share a story about somebody or something that has changed their life.  I really thought that my “Pop,” known to most of you here today as Bob, would be the topic of my speech when I became a senior. I envisioned praising my beloved grandfather, only to be welcomed to a warm hug afterwards and then listen to Pop talk about how he is honored and humbled by my decision to choose him as my topic.  I know this would be Pop’s reaction because he has been the topic of several papers I have written.  He has always been my “go to guy” for important people paper topics.  After every paper I have written about him, I always receive a letter or a call from him telling me how he is honored to have me as a grandchild.  This is truly the best feeling in the world.

I think everyone here agrees Pop’s death was too soon.  In many ways he is like a fine wine.  He simply got better with age  As I became older I have grown curious about the life of my Pop.  My family often spoke about the obstacles of Pop’s past, and how he has grown to overcome them and become at peace with himself.  Pop experienced and lived life to the core, and he really got an understanding for why we as humans are put here on this earth.  He analyzed and studied everything he undertook down to a tee.  Anyone who is here today that had Pop work on their home knows what I mean.

I feel as thought God took Pop away from us early to stress the example of his life and how we can all learn from him and his achievements.  Pop was at the pinnacle of his life just before he was diagnosed with cancer.  Christmas ’09 was perhaps one of the happiest moments of his life in my eyes.  I can still see him sitting back in his chair looking over his family together with a grin on his mouth as if to say, “I’ve done it.”

About mid August I received a call from Pop.  At the time I was at the mall with a group of friends.  I was surprised that Pop was calling me, knowing that he was recovering from surgery at the hospital.  I was greeted by Pop’s customary welcome of a “Hey, how ya doin’ buddy?”  We chatted and he told me to always extend a helping hand to others and then he told me he loved me.  I hung up thinking nothing special of this call until a few minutes later when I thought that Pop never ever stops caring.  Sitting in his hospital bed while on several medications, he still took the time to call me and stress his message of love.  It was these actions that made Pop special.  As the eldest of Pop’s none grandchildren I want to be his messenger to his grandkids.

When I heard the news that the doctors found more cancer in Pop’s abdomen and that there was nothing else they could do, my first reaction was to go to the hospital.  I went in and sat bedside with him.  He was unaware that he had merely days to live.  I cried on his shoulder and told him I loved him.  He told me not to worry, and that he will always be with me.  These memories of Pop are imprinted into my head like hand prints in concrete.  I wanted to spend every moment of his few final days constantly at his side.  I am glad that I did.  I was able to express feelings that were deep inside me.  I told him how he was the best grandfather I could wish for, and how I have nothing but good memories with him.  He expressed his feelings to me.

In his last days you could tell he was getting tired.  He said he wanted to go to sleep but he couldn’t.  I, too, was getting increasingly tired and started to doze off. Pop instructed that he be moved onto the side of his bed so that I would be able to sleep next to him.  My Mom and I made a nook for each of us to rest on the small twin hospital bed and I laid my head upon Pop’s soft stomach as he wrapped his arm around me and drifted asleep.  Think of that.  A man knowing he is dying, puts aside his own comfort to make room for his grandson to sleep beside him.  That is truly special.

A woman came up to me at the wake yesterday and said, “You gave a lot to your grandfather.” “No.” I said, “he gave a lot to me.”

I love you Pop.

~Shane

another man’s shoes.

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much. And look at you… I don’t see an intelligent, confident man… I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you’re a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you.”

~Sean: Good Will Hunting

 Most people will recognize this quote, but it is definitely worth a re-read from time to time.  It speaks volumes about life, and how we as human beings really can only fully understand what someone may be feeling inside, or what has made someone they way  he/she is…when we have lived through the same experiences. Even then, we cannot completely understand because everyone is different.  Be it through nature or nurture, we all have a pool of experiences to draw from and guide our reactions.  Be that as it may, to practice empathy is a wonderful thing.  It allows  us to step outside of ourselves, and into someone else’s shoes.  In my opinion, it is one of the most important qualities…to be empathic. It makes the playing field even, difficult as this is to do.  Because life is not “even”.  Life is not “fair.”

 As a parent, one of the biggest challenges I face daily is remembering that my children have not experienced all of the things that I have, although they may think they know more than I do about so much.  What they really know is how they feel, and it is up to me to try and understand exactly that.  Easier said than done of course.

I will share with you the spark that prompted this post, as I admit I have not felt many of them lately:

I pulled the last blanket onto my bed and tightly tucked it in, fluffed the pillows, turned on the baseball game, and plopped myself down.  There was a red fleece blanket sitting rolled up at the foot of the bed, and I covered my legs with it.  Next thing I knew, I was overcome with memories.  The blanket was given to my father when he was hospitalized, during the last few months of his life.  I vividly saw myself covering him in it after I had realized how cold it was in his room.  He liked it cold.  I still covered him with the blanket because it was a refreshing change from the scratchy white hospital ones, and it made me feel like we could have been at home, instead of where we were.  It was nighttime, and his room was dark, and as he slept I watched him, thinking…”now he looks comfortable.”  I remembered the late night drifting into the wee morning hours after one procedure he had done.  The procedure that took his voice away.  I knew he did not completely understand what he would wake up to, and so  I sat  in the chair in his room- against the rules of the ICU.  I remember the moment when his ICU nurse looked at me, huddled and almost hiding in the corner in the chair for fear she would ask me to leave.  It was then that she probably saw in my eyes that “the term ‘visiting hours’ didn’t apply to me.”  Thus, these memories prompted me to share one of the greatest movie quotes ever, written so perfectly and spoken so well.

On one level in this life we are all the same.  We will all experience moments of happiness, excitement, disappointment, loss, and longing.  It’s life. We just need to live it.  I don’t believe people are expected to immediately identify with another’s circumstances.  It’s difficult.  I do believe that if we remember to be kind to one another, the rest will follow in time.

Life is a journey, and the people we meet along this journey are there for us to learn from and learn with.  So I write it again:  Be kind to one another.

Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”. ~Cherokee tribel of Native Americans

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”~Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960

“But you’d have to walk a thousand miles in my shoes just to see what its like to be me.  I’ll be you.  Let’s trade shoes.”~ Eminem, Beautiful

 photo: http://www.mybabyradio.com/my-baby-blog/archive/do-wide-fitting-shoes-for-children-exist/