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.

 

Do the kind thing and don’t worry about gratitude

There is a meme running around Facebook that goes like this: “Have you ever gone out of your way to help someone and then find out how ungrateful they really are?”

I suppose it is a harmless expression of frustration, but it really bugs me. That’s really a self-destructive attitude and it’s mighty selfish. You did a nice thing and now you expect a parade? Good luck.

My late dad actually taught me that years ago. He would tell my mom and the kids, “do the nice thing but don’t sit around waiting for thank yous.” My dad wasn’t a great philosopher but every now and then he absolutely nailed it. When we get upset because somebody wasn’t grateful enough we give them control over our happiness and our goodness. And, your motive for being nice gets thrown into question too.

For me there is a tangible joy I get from doing the nice thing. Oh sure, I enjoy a hearty thank you and occasionally some recognition for the nice things I do, but I am working hard on not needing that. More and more I try to do silent acts of kindness.

Four or five times a week I have been buying coffee for the car behind me at the drive-thru Starbucks. Just because. It’s only a few bucks and I often jokingly tell the barista, “I need the good karma!” I make it a point not to linger or look back, to be sure I don’t do it for the acknowledgement.

It is nice when it comes. The other day I bought a $2.27 coffee for a guy. He apparently violated a speed limit or two because he caught up with me and hoisted his cup in a happy, appreciative, toast.

I thought little of it until I got to my office. I was a good 20 feet from the door when an exiting student stopped and held the door for me for several seconds. He went way out of his way to do the kind thing. Karma?

I didn’t know the young man. He had no duty to do the right thing. He didn’t hold that door for the thank you. He held the door because it was a nice thing.

As I walked away from that encounter with a little glow, I could not help but think about all the anger we see in the world and wonder if  being nice could help.

Perhaps we all need more good karma. Maybe we can find it by doing the nice thing and not getting pissed when people don’t bow down before us in gratitude.

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

 

 

“Happiness” wants to be my friend and some people actually fall for it

I received this email on Sunday.

Hello
My name is Miss Happiness, I read your profile today in (facebook) and it was very good for
me. i feel you are the only one, I am interested to be a friend
first.please contact me
Happiness.

Now that note, of course, spurred several bawdy jokes with friends about Miss Happiness and one of my more erudite friends took serious issue with the peculiar brand of “Happiness” grammar. I suppose I should have been relieved that Happiness wants to take it slow.

After the shenanigans I became pretty melancholy as I thought about the many men who will answer a shameful con like that one. I started to feel bad for the men who are so lonely and so desperate they would look past all the red flags and make contact with Happiness, an act that would inevitably lead to Miss Sadness, if you will.

There is another painful fact about this scam, and I am not reluctant to label it what it is, a pure unadulterated scam. You see I actually believe Miss Happiness or a sophisticated algorithm did, in fact, read my Facebook page. And, I would bet the ranch and all the cattle, I know what part of my profile triggered that email.

About four months ago when I was in the depth of my grief over the death of my wife, Jean, I changed my relationship status to widower. I remember well I was particularly sad that day and I was trying to come to grips with the hard reality that now I was alone. I changed the status on a bit of a whim, almost as an experiment in grief to see what it felt like to say and write the word widower.

Since I made that change I get four or five “bimbo” friend requests or emails a month. I am convinced the computer bad guys are trolling Facebook profiles to search for lonely widowers who might bite on any scam that includes a pretty, sexy woman. Thankfully I am savvy enough to know that those alluring pictures were probably sent by some clown named Bruce with several ugly tattoos. But what about those men who don’t know that.

There may be no limit to how much they get victimized by “Happiness” and her merry brand of internet scammers. And, that really ticks me off.

Facebook and Twitter are great. I love social media, but vulnerable people need to be vigilant and realize that not everybody is going to be sympathetic to your grief. Some jerks want to exploit it.

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

Hang on tight as if it is the last day, because it might be

I probably did a bad thing the other day. A couple I have always admired and liked a lot marked their 26th wedding anniversary and announced their fairly modest celebration plans on Facebook. I was at their wedding in their living room and it was an incredibly happy moment for my now deceased wife Jean and I. I wrote this on their Facebook page: “I remember that living room and the ceremony like it was yesterday. It was an incredibly happy moment in my life and Jean’s.We were proud as parents would be. I’ve also gotten great joy out of watching your love grow. “The cute couple” have both been incredible friends to me too. Congratulations and all my best wishes. And, not to be a downer, but please hold on tight as if it is the last day. Unfortunately I know it can be.”

You could probably argue I could have and should have dropped that last line. After I wrote it I stared at it for some time before I posted it. I finally posted it because those words have become my mantra.

I find myself almost compelled to say those words to every couple I encounter. Marriage and partnership is easy to take for granted. Couples get into patterns. Patterns is the nice word, ruts is the pejorative.

The days we found out Jean had cancer, and then that it was stage 3, and then that the treatment plan had much lower potential for cure than we originally thought, are days that blur together into one horrible memory that our life would never be the same.

I pray those days never happen to others but we all know they will. And just as horrible an experience are the partners who leave for the day and never return.

Always kiss your partner goodbye. Share, hug and laugh. Maximize every single day with your lover because nothing is guaranteed.

If being an evangelist for hanging on tight to the one you love is boorish or overbearing I guess I will have to plead guilty to that rap. But my guilty plea carries no regret and I promise to keep re-offending.