Some random observations

Some things that have intrigued, angered or pleased me.

  • I hate cancer and its ravages so much, I feel sometimes as if I could punch it in the face.
  • A lot of ink has been spilled complaining  about United Airlines and its fiasco with Dr. David Dao. Focus on the fact that this reprehensible incident would not occur if United had put their customer’s interests before their internal needs. Too few American businesses today focus on maximizing their customer’s experiences because it is easier for them to make their own internal systems or processes serve the bottom line. When you read today that another government regulation has bit the dust, ask yourself if that move will improve your life as a consumer. Unlikely.
  • I know people who refuse to give a few bucks to a homeless person because they say they fear funding an alcohol or drug problem. How about this? You could buy a bunch of $5 McDonald gift certificates and hand those out. Or if you want to take an extra step, hand out “kindness bags” to the homeless folks asking for money. Simply buy some bags and put in a juice box or two, beef jerky, instant soup, a can of tuna and some protein bars. Needy people get real food and you have shared your gifts.
  • I get frustrated by a lot of things, but I still find myself happiest when I find the good in things and concentrate on gratitude.
  • It amuses me when I hear someone say, “That is hysterical” and they barely crack a smile. If it’s really hysterical, shouldn’t they be rolling on the floor?
  • I have seriously wondered if coffee shops would make more money if they gave away the coffee and took a percentage of all the deals conducted in their space.
  • I hate the fact that I need to approach Google with such a cautious “buyer-beware” attitude.  I like a business called Phoenix Flower Shops because  of its customer service, high quality and it is local. But when I Google Phoenix flowers  I get four listings and Phoenix Flower Shops is not the first. Other companies try to slide in on Phoenix Flower Shops brands. I know it’s my fault if I mess up and do business with one of the pretenders. It still ticks me off.
  • I have decided one of the keys to enjoying retirement is to avoid thinking about what you are not doing and focus on all the good you did before you retired. And, maybe some of the screw-ups too.
  • A few weeks ago I found myself crying when a friend completed a major accomplishment. Tears of joy over another person’s triumph are warm and gooey and probably a sign that maturity may await just around the corner.
  • A good sandwich of one of life’s most underrated gifts.

Steve Buttry lived a wonderful life and he lived a great death

Steve Buttry lived a fascinating life. His death a few weeks ago was tragic and sad as all deaths are, especially to the family who loved him, and to the many people who called him friend. His death was also intriguing, instructive and  provocative. Provocative, because I think Steve did a great and powerful good with how he LIVED death.

Steve and I considered each other dear friends even though we were actually together less than a dozen times. Our friendship was fueled by the digital age. We grew close through blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Our bond became strong.

I deeply respected Steve’s determined efforts to move the stodgy newspaper industry into the 21st Century. He was outspoken when he needed to be. To my delight he tilted at more than a few windmills and he passionately cared for journalism. He did all that with unerring kindness, concern and attention to people’s feelings and emotions.

To be candid, I was lucky that Steve said nice things about me and my book in his compelling blog and in private forums. Steve and I had a comfortable mutual admiration society.

You don’t have to take my word about Steve’s successes and his impact. This salute from a student editor is heartwarming. Wonderful tributes are  here, here and here. And this incredible collection of salutes should tell you everything you need to know about Steve and his professional and human contributions.

Assuming I have established how well Steve lived an extraordinary life, let me travel the road less traveled (Steve would expect nothing less of me) and talk about what I find the intriguing and instructive part.

Steve was a deep believer in transparency before he got sick so it was unsurprising that when he faced his third bout with cancer he discussed it openly on Caring Bridge, Facebook and on his excellent blog. Steve especially impressed me with his constant gratitude for his life, his loves, his experiences and his friends. He eloquently wrote about all the gifts he received since he survived his first two cancers. His omnipresent optimism also fueled that particular blog.

The striking thing about Steve’s path to his death was his amazing commitment to his relationships. His devoted, funny and strong wife Mimi could never have doubted Steve’s love, and her love for him shone like a guiding star.

Last August, Steve and I shared breakfast at a suburban hotel outside Minneapolis. We both knew his path was growing short and I brought the relatively fresh scars of my late wife’s death to the table. We both shot straight and hid nothing. Before Mimi joined us, Steve told me he was spending a great deal of time writing letters to his three sons and Mimi. These were not dashed-off letters. They were comprehensive stories about the family, his interaction with each of them and reflections on his deep love for each of them.

Steve did the same for his friends with far greater brevity. A few weeks ago I received a delightful two paragraph letter from Steve thanking me for being his friend. Apparently several other friends received similar notes. My note thanked me for what I had done for him, wished we had known each other better and concluded with some nice compliments.

Now to the provocative part. Here is how Steve began that note. “I’d rather die suddenly, but a slow death does let you leave with less unsaid, so I am writing letters to some friends.” I responded with this:

Thank you for your brilliant and kind letter. Writing these took guts.

I was a little surprised that you said you would prefer to die suddenly. From afar it seems to me you are LIVING a perfect death.

Colleagues and friends have been able to honor you in several different ways. You had a wonderful opportunity to share with and embrace your family and your devoted wife.

I think I have told you that the greatest thing my Dad ever taught me was how to die. Well, friend you are my new model. Your transparency, your courage and your integrity are fantastic examples for all of us.

Now that gentle Steve has passed there is a small tinge of regret for telling him how he ought to feel, but it is a small tinge.

As I said in the first paragraph, I think Steve did a great and powerful good with how he LIVED death. I wanted him to realize that, in my view, he accomplished so much with that death.

Steve has left us with three instructive lessons.

He fashioned a model of strength that any and all of us should strive to follow. His courage, his candor, his attention to to others and his selflessness set a standard that I pray I can match when the time comes.

He allowed people to honor him. LSU’s Manship school honored him with a scholarship in his name, and he was awarded a Chairman’s Citation from the National Press Foundation in 2017. Certainly those honors should have pleased Steve, but they also allowed so many givers to formally thank him for his great contributions.

Steve taught us to attend to relationships in an intimate and professional way. His wife, his sons and his friends are not going to forget his final communications.

I remain surprised by Steve’s wish for a more sudden death. I have a dear friend who lost his wife about five years ago. Dan Untiedt;s  wife Ginny’s car  inexplicably hit a tree and she died suddenly. Dan was incredibly distraught and dearly wished he would have had some time with Ginny before she died as I had with my wife before she passed three years later.

I told Dan shortly after my wife died, that a sudden death is horrible, awful and terrible. I also told him a lingering death is horrible, awful and terrible. They are simply different.

Steve Buttry’s slow death must have been painful, horrible, awful, terrible and a loathsome burden. But for my money one of his many legacies will be the great lessons he taught us with the way he died.

God bless Steve Buttry’s soul and his outstanding family.

 

Gratitude for one day is not enough, let’s stop taking stuff for granted

So many millions of Americans will gather for a huge dinner Thursday and practically all will profess that they are thankful for all that they have.

And yet, we are reading every week just how angry Americans are. Americans are angry at government and the economy and it is obvious that we are pretty angry at each other.

Relax, this is not a political post. It’s not even a traditional Thanksgiving gratitude post. I am full of gratitude this Thanksgiving for my new wife, my fantastic children and happy, active grandchildren and despite my aches and pains, my health is pretty darn good.

But my reading and reflection recently forced me to think about all that I take for granted.

I have read a several important World War II books recently such as Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson and 1944 by Jay Winik. Guns at Last Light taught me how much I have taken for granted about the courage of my Dad’s generation. So many young men from so many countries suffered pain, starvation and death and most of us just take it for granted. We don’t genuinely bleed for their suffering or even put it in perspective. Our world would be dramatically different if the world’s leaders had not marched so many young men people to their death, so many of them might have attained greatness.

The book 1944 is a difficult, emotional read that taught me more about the Holocaust than I have ever known. It becomes clear after reading that book that our ancestors’ treatment of Jews, Japanese and even German-Americans was despicable. As the hate, vitriol and prejudice swirls around Muslims and the American political campaign, I bow my head in shame because we have been here before. And those of us with German, Japanese,or Jewish heritage should take absolutely nothing for granted. We won a cruel lottery.

The other day, a good and valued friend who has brightened my life beyond measure, told me his cancer is terminal. On Thanksgiving one of the happiest and strongest men I know will have little to take for granted. I need to stop taking my life for granted too. Every day is an amazing gift and I have to give deep, personal thought to how I want to spend the days left in my bank.

Last week, a regular showed up at our daily coffee klatch. The man is what my wife would call an “Eyore.” He is not an effusive or positive guy, to say the least. When he displayed his typical forlorn nature another fellow said “Things tough at home?” Our friend Eyore brightened up and said something like “things at home are great, but work sucks.” As he griped about work, I interjected, “but things at home are great, right, let’s celebrate!” He stopped griping, looked at me long and straight and simply said, “Thank you.”

True gratitude doesn’t assume anything. It takes nothing for granted. The universe, or karma or God owes us nothing. Every morsel, every dime, every friend, every loved one we have is a pure gift. We are owed nothing. Do be thankful Thursday when you are celebrating with family and friends, but take nothing for granted. Celebrate everything you have and for heaven’s sake, stop being so angry. If you are in America, you are pretty darned lucky.

The illness played a more important role in grief than I understood

As the difficult overwhelming pain of grief turns into a sustainable and tolerable melancholy, perspective increases. I have replayed all aspects of my wife’s illness and death and one of my great discoveries is that my wife Jean’s actual illness started the grieving process and took a far greater toll than I realized.

Only distance and observation of the struggles of other people who have grieved, and are grieving, have allowed me to appreciate that I started grieving months before my wife Jean’s death in June of 2014.

I wish now that I would have recognized the fears and tumult I experienced as Jean struggled with countless blood transfusions and long-shot medical treatments were really a part of its own kind of grief.

It it now clear to me that the powerlessness, guilt and total frustration I felt was indeed grief. And, I was even more unequipped to deal with that grief than I was with the grief brought on by Jean’s death.

Not too long ago a friend told me his wife was chronically ill. It was as if a spear lanced my heart. I actually started to cry because I suddenly remembered that’s when my life and perspective changed. When we found Jean had cancer I was frightened, but when we were told she was chronically ill my world started to slide into an abyss. In retrospect, I can clearly see that is when I started to grieve. Somehow I was rocked by that observation more than I was by the cancer diagnosis.

Within six months of that observation Jean died. I know that some people live several years with that chronic designation with the same sad result. My heart bleeds for them.

I write this not to frighten, but to gently suggest that those people dealing with a seriously ill spouse may be fighting grief without appreciating it and should consider finding someone to talk to about it.

I have written about the immense value of a grief counselor as I dealt with Jean’s passing.  In hindsight, I would now advise someone dealing with a chronically ill spouse, where death is a possible outcome, to also seek counseling.

I belief it would have made me wiser, a better husband and far more peaceful.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

When someone tells you they’re having chemo they have told you nothing

Here is one more post on cancer stimulated by my friend Steve Buttry.

Between his Twitter account @stevebuttry and his Caring Bridge entries Steve is, as I said on his Caring Bridge account, “the patron saint of transparency.”

Steve is convinced he can help people by explaining his struggle. Obviously, as someone who has just written a candid book called “Some People Even Take Them Home:” A Disabled Dad, a Down syndrome Son and Our Journey to Acceptance, I also believe the power of our personal stories are the best teachers.

This week Steve wrote a fascinating post on the drugs that fight the drugs that fight the cancer. The post reminded me of a major truth I learned during my late wife Jean’s encounter with cancer: When someone tells you they are getting chemo, they have told you nothing.

I share this truth in the hope it will educate and edify friends and loved ones. Do not assume anything when your friend tells you they are getting chemo.

Jean and I used to sit in a chemo infusion lab for six to seven hours while she received two really tough drugs and an antidote three times a month. Right next to us would be a man who was getting thirty straight days of chemo and next to him would be a woman who was getting a monthly treatment. And then there are people like Steve who have in-patient chemo treatment.

The chemo drugs are very different too in their side effects and their potency. Some people suffer intense pain and discomfort. Others find themselves consumed in a battle between hope and despair. Not to put too fine a point on it, but chemo sucks.

When Jean and I started her chemotherapy regimen I admit I naively believed the process was much gentler than it turned out to be for her. I guess I had a false faith in how far the science of chemotherapy had come.

I lost Jean despite the chemo and I am sure that is why when I hear someone is undergoing the treatment a little piece of my soul chips away. I now have an empathy that comes from being the spouse of a chemo patient who couldn’t defy the odds. Of course, that makes me sad, but even more important to my personal character is now I can truly feel for the chemo patient.

My only point here is when you hear those words “I have to have chemo,” don’t assume a walk in the park, but don’t assume a horror show either. Be gentle in your assumptions, cautious with your questions, complete in your empathy and pray like hell.