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.

 

Relaunch of my blog and answering the question, why do it?

Anti-climax has its place I suppose. This post was originally going to serve as my reentry into the blogosphere. News events prompted me to change that plan with a well-received blog post about Meryl Streep and Donald Trump.

Before that, I last posted a regular blog entry in mid-May as I retired from the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University.

I promised in that last post that during a planned hiatus, I would decide if I was going to continue the blog and exactly what form it would take if I did continue. I also needed to sort out why and whether I might continue.

This blog was born as McGuire on Life, Disability and Grief in August of 2014 out of three needs. A) I needed a broader canvas for my thoughts and feelings than my blog McGuire on Media offered me. B) I wanted a forum on disability to discuss my book, “Some People Even Take Them Home.” C) I needed to bare my soul about my grief after my late wife, Jean Fannin McGuire died in June of 2014.

My hope was that my personal experiences might offer comfort at the same time I provoked people to think deeply about grief and disability. I am convinced personal stories intrigue, stimulate and educate.

Contemplating the relaunch of the blog forced me to confront why I should do it. The truth is writing the blog on any kind of a regular schedule is perilously close to work and I just retired from that practice.

Rumination led me to realize that writing is not really work for me. It’s how I think. I add flesh and blood to all the weird ramblings in my head by writing. I need to write.

I also need to touch people. Few things make me as happy as the realization that my writing touched someone. My book, “Some People Even Take Them Home”  did not sell near as many copies as I’d like. Yet, writing that book is one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. I know it affected some people profoundly. For a writer, all you really need is to affect one person.

I admit to a deep desire to encourage people to think through issues and prompt them see things in a new light. I completely understand my opinions are my  opinions and I am wrong a lot. Writing on a public blog allows the give and take from an audience that will make you painfully aware of your errors in judgment and will applaud your successes.

So that’s why I am relaunching the blog. I changed the name to McGuire on Life so that all the old subjects are fair game, but I can also broaden my canvas to include travel, retirement and the people I meet on those new adventures.

I am still disabled. I still have a disabled son. I still think a lot about illness and grief even though I have found a delightful new love. Those topics will remain a part of this blog.

After I retired, I needed new business cards. My new card says Tim J. McGuire, Life Enthusiast.

At root, that is who I am.  To the frequent consternation of the two women I have lived with, I wake up every morning bubbling and happy and usually stay that way all day.

We are at the point in American history where too many people are  struggling to be enthusiastic about their spirituality, their politics and their futures. I don’t propose a Pollyanna approach. If I were to redo those business cards I might make it  “Realistic Life Enthusiast.”

I hope you will find that describes these blog posts.

Tim J. McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retirement, a time to pause, enjoy, reflect and plan the future

The first three days of my retirement from teaching at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism I slept until 9 am and lollygagged around the house until about 11.

I felt guilty and pained. It felt like I was reneging on my commitments. Except I didn’t have any commitments!

My wife says I have done a better job “learning to be retired” in the last several days. I am completely unsure what that actually means so it is obvious I have a long way to go.

I retired once before, in 2002 and that one didn’t take.

It is apparent to me that like everything else retirement means different things to different people. I have a busy six months of national and world travel planned with lots of time reserved for grandkids, kids and brand new adventures with my wife. Yet, when that subsides I do not plan on climbing into a hammock with lemonade and bon bons. There is simply no way I can shut my mind off and withdraw.

I am going to be open to any and all possibilities, but I especially want to explore where my writing might take me. I have some specific book-length projects in mind, but by the time I sit down to a keyboard those concepts may morph several times. I think I have some important things to say. Finding the vehicles and style to say them are still a bit mysterious to me.

Where this blog fits is one of the key questions I need to reflect on for the next several months. It is obvious to anyone who has been following that my output has diminished. I could blame that on a hectic final semester with two new courses and one new mode of presentation. I could blame it on a reluctance to weigh in on certain topics because they struck me as too political. That all obfuscates the real reason which is that my mission became foggy.

When I started this blog in August of 2014 I had just lost my wife of 39 years and I was on the precipice of launching a book, “Some People Even Take Them Home,” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey to Acceptance.

My passion was great and my mission was clear and simple: Offer insight into grief and the experience of disability. I pray I provided wisdom. You never get past either of those experiences, but the role of these posts became murkier as I found new love and married.

I am certain I will never run out of opinions, but over the next several months I want to think carefully about the mission of this blog and about who might care about my thoughts. The direction of my major writing projects will definitely have a major influence on whether and how I continue this blog.

I would love to hear your thoughts about what has worked over the last two years and what hasn’t. And, if you have thoughts about where I should take this blog from here I’d like to hear that too.

Until I weigh in again, be kind to each other.

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

You can remember your loved one and be happy at the same time

I was talking to a close and incredibly smart friend over the holidays about memories, grief and loved ones.

I told him how happy I am with my new wife, Candace, and how happy she seems to be. As the conversation meandered I mentioned that Candace was a little down because the four year anniversary of her husband’s death was New Year’s Eve.

My smart friend expressed confusion. He could not understand how one minute I could say Candace was incredibly happy and then tell him that she was melancholy over her late husband’s death.

I was briefly surprised before I realized again that people who have not experienced the loss of a spouse just can’t understand how conflicting emotions exist with you all the time.

I gently told my friend he was thinking about emotions as a zero sum game and they are not that at all. I told him melancholy and happiness co-exist. One does not replace the other.

I completely understand how difficult that is for someone who has never lost a spouse to comprehend. Intellectually it probably does not compute, but for someone who has lost a spouse the feelings are genuine. To explain to my friend, I put out my left arm in a straight line. Then I did the same with my right arm.

I said the straight line represented by my the left arm is my late wife Jean. I miss her. I loved her and I loved our life together. I regret that our wonderful nuclear family no longer exists. I am deeply saddened that my kids lost their beloved mother. I think about her and what she would have thought about scores of events and people each week.

Then I moved to my right arm and told my friend that was my life with Candace. We laugh uproariously practically all the time. We learn and come to enjoy eccentricities like my sneezes and my constant aches and pains,  and her obsession with Christmas decorating and her cats. We cultivate a new love with all sorts of tender moments each day.

The two lines are wonderful in their own right. They do not subtract from each other. One of those lines is a memory. It cannot be lived again, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be treasured and remembered fondly without detracting at all from the other line. That other line is now. It is real and it can be savored, felt and hugged.

So when Candace was melancholy about David’s death I never felt a single pang of jealousy. Because I experience the same emotion all the time, I knew that she could remember, honor and miss David at the same time she loves me with all her heart.

One of those straight lines represents yesterday. The other line represents today. The two separate lines just are. They are distinct worlds and they are as real to me as my right foot.

Candace holds both of her lines in her heart at the same time and so do I. We treasure yesterday and our late spouses. We savor and live today with our new spouses with everything we have to give.

Most readers will ignore this advice but clean out your “stuff” now

I suspect I have never written a blog post or column that will be as roundly ignored as this one will be. Oh, the typical number of readers will read this post, but very few people will follow my suggested action. They have been procrastinating before today. I fully expect that procrastination to continue tomorrow.

So, there I was standing in front of an elevator at work with two good friends. We were discussing the fact that I had closed on the sale of my old house. One of the women asked me about moving out. Posing this question to me is like dangling raw meat in front of a starving bear. Moving out of two domiciles over a year’s time has been torture. And in complete truth, my now-wife Candace and her close friend Cathy, my close friend Frank, my daughter Tracy and my brothers, David and Marty, did far more of the actual work than I did.

My major job was to make the tough, emotional decisions about what to save from my old life. That is a huge, tortuous job.

That’s when I raised my voice to my two friends. “Clean out your junk/stuff/valuables/memorabilia/paraphernalia, pictures now!” I exhorted them not to hold onto that stuff for one minute more unless it truly has value and precious memories are attached to it. I plaintively shouted, “Do not wait for someone to die because it gets a helluva lot tougher then.”

Once you lose a loved one, you have to make all those tough calls by yourself. Many years of emotion and experience  get impossible to sort. So many times I looked at something of little value, not in terms of whether I or my kids wanted it, but I wondered if I was betraying my late wife Jean by discarding it. I gave my all for Jean when she lived, but that sense of betrayal is a hard guilt-trip to shed.  My new wife Candace struggled with the same thing when it came time to clean out her house. Her husband David was as much a part of her moving  process as Jean was in mine.

With the wisdom earned though tough choices, I told my friends to make the tough decisions about “stuff” now and with their beloved partners at their side. I also told them to talk those choices over with their kids. It is silly to save stuff for Johnny when Johnny doesn’t care a lick about that piece of memorabilia that nobody remembers anymore.

There are lots of practical reasons to clean out your junk now including being sure nothing of legitimate monetary or emotional value gets thrown out later. But the biggest reason to do your cleaning now is to avoid the inevitable second-guessing that will plague you when you are forced to do it alone.

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