20130402-2 Speaking of Boxes

Here’s a little story about boxes you might enjoy. I wrote it a dozen years ago.

“The Box”

The box was actually two boxes that lay undisturbed in the attic of our family home for more than thirty years.  My father discovered them when he cleared the attic to make way for some better insulation early in 2001.  Late in March as we worked together to move my sister into her new home Dad mentioned I should stop by and see if I wanted anything out of the boxes he salvaged.

Later that day he and I strolled into the garage and over to a stack of several cartons destined for the trash.  He pointed out the two he thought belonged to me.  As I knelt over the first and pulled open the flaps I was silenced by a wave of mixed emotions as I recognized the textbooks and favorite Readers Digest Condensed Books squirreled away from my freshman and sophomore years of college at Michigan State.  I had packed those books away for a move they never made. 

I had left home for good in the summer of 1970, just two years after graduating from Central High in Kalamazoo.  That summer I was off to Air Force ROTC field training in Kansas, and a Christian Music Camp as a counselor just before that.  I never had time to look back.  College, marriage, active duty, and moves to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Texas, Colorado and back to Grand Rapids started me on a new life and a journey into adulthood that left no time and no room for a few old textbooks, or even for some favorite stories.

When I opened that first box I saw the record of those early college years.  The view triggered a flood of reflections on campus life, military life, and church experiences; fleeting shadows in the life of a fifty-something graying husband and father of two nearly grown children, and further along life’s road than I cared to admit.  But those memories didn’t prepare me at all for the second box.

We set the first box aside and gingerly positioned the second one, patched together as it was with duct tape that barely held the torn sides and broken corners enough to keep the contents from spilling out.  As I pulled back the tape along the top and reached to open the flap the sight of a blue cloth cover and metal edges on an old binder stirred memories buried even deeper, memories not revisited since I made them more than thirty-three years before.  It was labeled “Music, Art, and Letters”.  In its pages were letters from the love of my life and poetry we wrote to each other.  I discovered futile attempts at song writing and favorite folk songs I used to play on my old guitar.  There were the house plans I drew after our visits to the beach and favorite quotes that appealed to my young mind. 

Beneath the binder were old classroom notes from those first college years, and the journal of my trip to New York and Washington, DC in the winter of 1968 with Methodist Youth Fellowship leaders from all over the state of Michigan.  I found mementos of my military training days, and many more treasures to explore on a cold winter day when I could spare the time.

My Dad smiled as we packed up those two boxes and carried them to my van for the trip back to Grand Rapids, and I knew he was pleased at helping me recapture pleasant memories through the pages of those old letters and books.  He sensed the importance to me of the treasure he had uncovered, but I don’t think he grasped God’s impeccable timing in this glorious find.

You see that same love of my life and I were teaching a Sunday School class on coping with life changing events.  We just finished phase one, offering tips for sorting through the work, relationships, and home baggage we each carry in our lives.  The assignment for the next four weeks was to unpack and examine our bags, sort through what we find, lighten the load, and load up what we need and want to carry with us on the journeys that lay ahead.  The next day as I sorted through those boxes on our living room floor, I thanked the Lord and my father for the perfect lesson and the chance to cherish a few old but precious memories as I carried out my own assignment, and gently re-packed a few more bags.

Good stuff folks … Terry

20130402 – Thinking about Boxes

My son and I found ourselves talking about creative things the other day, things like graphic design, logos, business cards, and business names. And then he said something that caught me by surprise. He said, “I don’t like the term ‘thinking out of the box’.” “Hmmm,” I said, “Why not?” Well, sometimes you have to work with certain constraints, particularly in graphic design. Business cards have limited space, images can’t be too large or too small, certain specific information must be included. It becomes more of a challenge and you’re forced to be even more creative given the limits imposed. So in creative endeavors, a box can be a good thing.

Boxes are good for other things too. I keep a box, actually what they call a banker’s box, to store things of sentimental value from my past, things my wife and children have given me, letters, cards I particularly enjoyed, small knickknacks that really don’t need to be on display, but that I like looking at from time to time. I limit myself to one box, a memory box if you will, so that my memorabilia don’t clutter up the house. I think my memory box is a good thing.

On the other hand, I’m also a packrat of the first order. I have several boxes of tax returns, the oldest of which dates back to 1966, my very first return. I also have boxes of magazines that I might like to reread, and boxes of computer parts that I might re-use (not!). I have boxes containing items of unknown origin from my desks at prior jobs. There are boxes of old business records from thirteen years ago. There are more boxes of electrical parts and plumbing parts and wiring parts and painting supplies and tools and scrap wood and camping supplies and beach toys and, well you get the idea. Most of these boxes are not good things, they are clutter, they are stuff, they are stressors in my life and I don’t really need them.

I’m a big fan of fellow blogger extraordinaire Glenn Morrissette. He writes “To simplify … the pursuit of happiness through simple living on the open road.” He bagged apartment living in LA, sold or discarded almost everything he owned except a few clothes, basic living supplies, and tools of his trade, and began living in a 19 foot motorhome. After 16 months he upgraded to a 21 footer because it had a better layout but still allowed him to stealth camp on city streets. He’s now decided the current home is way too big, so he is rebuilding a Vanagon to his own specs and will downsize to that ‘home’ fulltime in a few months. I guess he’s gotten rid of a little clutter! But he’ll be able to live virtually anywhere by turning the key and pointing in a new direction. That’s a little too much simplification for me.

On the flip side, my wife and I have been cleaning out her folks’ condo since her Dad passed away last year, and her Mom moved to assisted living in January. The condo had always looked nice and relatively uncluttered but oh what surprises those closets and storage nooks held! Dad must have had a hundred pairs of socks and nearly as many pairs of slacks. We donated over six dozen golf shirts to Goodwill and at least a dozen coats and jackets. I have five nearly complete sets of golf clubs in the garage, and I’ve already donated three dozen assorted clubs. We found over $175 of coins squirreled away throughout the house, and nearly two dozen golf caps and hats tucked away in various places.

Mom’s clothing situation is almost as daunting. Plus she has four sets of china and a collection of blue glass pieces that numbers over 50 as well as drawers of photographs and cards that need to be sorted and identified. The bathroom, four dozen rolls of toilet tissue. The kitchen, spice containers that were so old they were selling on eBay for five dollars a tin.

I’m realizing that I don’t want my kids to go through this when my wife and I are gone. The time to simplify is now; not to Glenn’s extreme, but as he often points out, to the extent appropriate for us and our own choices about how to live our lives.

Lest you think I’m getting off track, let’s get back to boxes. I think Glenn lives in a box, but he’s unencumbered by it and it actually gives him freedom. Mom and Dad lived in a box and it seems like it constrained them as much as their age and health did. And I’ve been living in a box too, one that my wife has been bugging me for years to dump out and recycle. I think the flaps have been pulled back and I’m beginning to see the light.

A few months ago I visited my primary care physician for a checkup.  I tend to be a little anal about my health, always checking weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. And I ask a lot of questions. Not sure if my doc was getting exasperated with me but after we talked he had this to say, “Terry, everything you can control and manage is controlled; so the best advice I can give you is go live your life.”

I pondered that comment and realized that I had put a box around my life, based on perceptions about my health and what I thought the limits should be. I was worrying so much about my health troubles that I was letting those concerns unnecessarily constrain how I chose to live. This was not a good box, not even a healthy box.

So the lesson in this post is you really need to be picky about your boxes. Keep the good ones and get rid of the ones that just clutter up and confine your life. In fact I suspect there’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

I guess my wife is right (she usually is). I’ve got a lot of boxes to empty and recycle. It’s about time to go live my life, and put a few more experiences in the memory box.

Committing to living outside the box … Terry

20130326 – Coming Out of the Dark

OK, I’ll let you know right up front that this is a post about depression, but hopefully not a depressing one. Maybe I should tell a little story to lighten the mood: My wife had this ceramic piggy bank as a kid; it was a foot tall, a half inch thick and weighed about ten pounds empty. It really was a big plaster pig, now painted black. These days we think of it as a large, chipped, seedy and rather ugly looking relic. She didn’t want it later in life but her parents kept it around and kept feeding it coins.
So we were doing some cleanup work over at my mother-in-law’s condo last weekend and my wife had brought back the piggy bank, recently emptied of some twenty pounds of coins. I left it near the trash bag in the garage. As we drove away, my wife and daughter-in-law were discussing the pig and agreeing that “someone” should throw it out; then the car went silent and I knew who that someone was. “OK.” I said. “I’ve put down two dogs in my life; I guess I can put down a ceramic pig.” An explosion of laughter ensued, including mine, and at that moment I knew something else, I was coming out of the dark.
I read a great story in Guideposts the other day by Gloria Estefan, about her own experiences after a horrible traffic accident while on tour that could have left her unable to walk and possibly destroyed her career. And now she’s a joyful Grandmother of a ten month old and still enjoying a great singing career. She didn’t let the accident and her circumstances defeat her; she leaned on her determination and the love of her family and eventually she came out of the dark, and wrote the song.
I feel a little like that song title today, after nearly five years of living in the dark, of living in a tough place personally. I’ve always let what other people say about me influence how I feel about myself; I think we all do that to some degree because we feel good about compliments we receive, and most of us take to heart constructive criticism and improve ourselves by applying what we’ve heard. The problem comes when we let ill-intentioned words and misguided perceptions influence our self-esteem, self-image, and self-confidence. I had fallen into that trap.
After a series of events over the past five years, and a recent flaming and judgmental email in which I was tried, convicted and sentenced before being given the opportunity to explain myself, and last week’s follow up letter, I found myself in a cave, one I’d already been in for a long time, only deeper than before. I suspect that is exactly where the person wanted me to be – ill-intentioned words and misguided perceptions had the desired effect and I let them push me into the darkest place I had ever been in my life. An unlit cave can be extremely uncomfortable, scary even. I know because I’ve actually been in one. A total absence of light, you can’t see your finger touching your nose.
That person challenged, no, taunted me to respond, and asserted that I probably wouldn’t because I just didn’t have the guts. How did I respond?  I didn’t. I just stewed about it. But then, after a couple of wasted days, I took up the challenge. I sat down at the keyboard, shed my humility for a brief while (sorry, I know that sounds a bit egotistical), and in a draft letter unloaded on the person who had put me there. I told him about all the disappointing behaviors he exhibited that I never before had mentioned because I thought I shouldn’t judge the man. I told him how spiteful, vindictive, and vengeful he was. I told him how abusive, self-righteous, and judgmental he appeared, and not just to me. I told him he was the only person I’d ever known who was able to turn honesty into a club and brutally beat someone with it.
And then, in the midst of that tirade, I found a path, I saw a bit of light. I told him that I would always listen to and apply constructive criticism, but that I would never let ill-intentioned words and misguided perceptions define me. I told him that I had never wanted to judge him because I believe everyone deserves forgiveness and a second chance. I told him that because of him I was a better man. I told him that I knew there was a good man in there somewhere; and reminded him that I had even seen him in tears from a situation that had deeply hurt him, and that I couldn’t believe all of my perceptions were so diametrically opposed to the flashes of good that I had seen in him. And in that moment I stopped dead in my tracks. I got it; the light finally dawned on me.
My own depression had kept me withdrawn and fearful for a long time. He felt so badly hurt that I hadn’t been forthcoming, that I hadn’t shared my comments or any constructive criticism or recent activities with him that he was lashing out at me out of his own pain. And when I realized that the situation suddenly rotated 180 degrees. I apologized for how, even though unintentionally, I had hurt him, and I forgave him for how he had hurt me. And finally, after these several long years I walked out of that cave and into the sun.
Did I ever send that letter? No. Will his personality ever change? Probably not. Will the rift between us ever be closed? Unlikely. Will we both learn from the experience and move on? I fervently hope so. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll see this post and understand more about what I’ve been going through.
The darkness of depression is uncomfortable, scary, and incapacitating. It can envelop you and become a prison.  It can cause you to exhibit behaviors your loved ones, friends, and business partners find unexpected and even hurtful. Sometimes you find your own way out, sometimes you need love to light the way, and sometimes you need professional help.
If you’re experiencing the darkness of depression, talk about it. Talking about it, or writing as I did is cathartic; it starts you on the path toward the light. Start with yourself. If that doesn’t work talk about it with someone you love and trust. And if that doesn’t work, get the support of your loved one in seeking out a professional to talk with. There is light out there folks. It may take some stumbling around and just going through the motions, but keep the faith, and don’t give up. You’ll find it.
For me it took Gloria Estefan, a very non-humble retort, and a ceramic pig, but I’m finally coming out of the dark … Pops

20130319 – Meandering Thoughts, Fond Memories

It’s funny how the mind can wander so many places in the space of about ten minutes. When I started blogging I had specific ideas about what I wanted to say. I wanted it to be a helpful place where people could identify with the experiences of life in the sandwich. I wanted it to be a resource for things I’ve found useful during the last few years. And I think it’s beginning to shape up that way. But today the mind is just wandering, unfocused, but pleased with its travels.
Visibility ¼ mile, temperature 23 F, highway traffic 30 MPH, McD’s patrons – 26, mostly coffee, some sodas, keeping warm, having conversations, watching close captioned news, wondering if Cyprus will confiscate 10% of its citizens’ bank accounts, seniors, couples, a mom with a child, oldies on the radio, contemplating errands, remembering yesterday’s business meeting, business task list, home task list, satisfaction with three laundry loads finished, more snow showers and howling wind, praying she made it to work safely, alpacas at the zoo, gas at $3.959, “Do the Locomotion”, Avila Beach, “California Dreamin’”, hiking in Boulder Mountain Park, Kenosha Pass, 4wd trips, granddaughter’s funny expressions, grandson’s cooing, biking, kayaking in South Carolina, financial peace, hot water (not enough).
Mental vacations are useful things: refreshing, invigorating, thought provoking and relaxing. Daydreaming can lead to inspiration, new subjects for writing, new plans, new tasks, and sometimes getting back on task. Today it’s leading to mostly pleasant memories.
I remember the last few years listening a little more carefully to my father-in-law as he told his Army Air Corps stories, and his childhood adventures. I listened to my mother-in-law as she told about being a 20 year old military wife traveling on her own to be with her husband at different bases in the US, and waiting patiently for him to return from the war. I remember Dad’s own passion for the game of golf, and that the last two rounds he ever played were with me.
I remember repeating his stories to help him remember as his own memory was failing him. I remember his amazement that I knew a lot of his life story, and his questions, “Did we know each other back then?” Or, “How do you know that?” “Because you told me Dad.” “Remember driving the delivery truck when you were fourteen? You told me that story!” “Remember, I’m your son-in-law Dad?” “Really?” “Yup, married your daughter.” “My daughter? Ah, Debbie!” “Right Dad!” “Wilma, that’s the Big Guy, he’s my friend!”
Sometimes the memories are painful; more often they’re pleasant and happy. Learn the life stories well, and tell them back to your parents often as they begin to forget; that is a big part of the “best friends approach to care giving”. I know that retelling those stories helped keep my father-in-law in touch with reality for a little while longer. And just being the Big Guy, well that’s good enough for me. These days remembering that never fails to bring warmth to my heart and a tear to my eye – even here, on a cold and snowy Tuesday morning in March.
Fond memories Dad; I miss you …

20130226-4 – Where Am I?

Let’s see, pull out my smartphone, open Mapquest, enter destination, get directions – oops, Mapquest needs to know FROM WHERE! If you’re going anywhere you really need to know where you’re starting from. Given my last post, probably a good idea. So let’s take a little inventory.

OK, we live in a nice two story, three bedroom home that can easily absorb groups of 16-20 people for entertaining, with a finished basement apartment (no kitchen) on four tenths of an acre in a well maintained neighborhood of mixed ages from young families to retired folks to multigenerational households like ours. We’re in a township with low property taxes, good schools, convenient amenities and friendly people (hey, I even get to chat occasionally with my township clerk at breakfast on Tuesdays). We’re five minutes from grocery and convenience shopping and from a state university.

We’re less than a ten minute drive from a 1500 acre county park with over 20 miles of paved and maintained hiking and biking trails, lakes and a river, a large public beach, a boathouse with kayak and canoe rentals, and an open air amphitheatre. We’re just over ten minutes from shopping at one of the largest and most diverse malls in the state, surrounded by many really good chain restaurants. We’re less than fifteen minutes from a metropolitan area of over 250,000 people with a nationally recognized heart center, major hospitals, pro sports, first class arts and entertainment, fine dining, excellent shopping and a strong and growing business community. We’re less than an hour from several of the largest and highest rated freshwater beaches in North America. And we have easy access to air service anywhere in the world just half an hour away. Hmmm, sounds like a commercial for Pure Michigan™.

My wife’s mother is in assisted living just a mile from the house – we can and do see her nearly every day, and help with finances, mail and any other support she needs that isn’t provided by the facility. Our son and daughter-in-law live with us and work from home, as do I; our son is also employed part-time outside the home. My wife works full-time outside the home and is our primary source of “steady” income – she’s been the “breadwinner” of late. All four of us help with home and grounds maintenance. Our daughter and her family now live on the West Coast about four hours south of San Francisco.  My 85 year old Dad and my siblings live less than an hour and a half away. They’re all independent; but any living and lifestyle decisions we make will affect all of these people.

This all sounds pretty analytical, but I like having lists. My natural instinct is to slip into strategic planning mode so this kind of assessment is right up my alley. What’s interesting is that it’s not just “location” that’s our starting point. It’s relationships with family, friends and neighbors, along with those dreams and ideas in my previous post. In reality though, what matters most is the two of us, and next to us, our family.

In these last three posts we’ve thought about options, what we see for our future and where we’re starting from. You might want to do the same … being in the sandwich can really help you focus on your own future and lend some urgency to those thoughts and actions. I wish you well as you engage in the process. Remember, a little planning is OK, but don’t forget to live your life!

Peace my friends …

20130226-3 – Dreams, Desires and Time

So thinking about my previous post and considering what we have recently been through with her parents, my wife and I need to take a look at our own situation. Seems like a good place to start is with an honest assessment of health and health care needs (reality), followed by dreams and desires for our future, and time. I think I’ll start with time.
Hyrum Smith, of Franklin Planner fame once said, “We have all the time there is!” It’s true, but his point was that it’s entirely up to each of us how we use that time, hopefully to do those things that are most important to us. I met Hyrum at an Executive Excellence seminar back in 1985 and he told some great stories about managing time. One of my favorites was about his mother who decided at the age of 62 to go back to college and complete a degree. Her friend questioned her plan and said, “But you’ll be 65 when you finish!” Her response, “I’ll be 65 anyway!”
Exactly! Not one of us knows how much time he has left, and many of us let life pass us by while making other plans. Too many of us don’t spend enough of our time actually living, loving, sharing, and enjoying life, and shame on us for that. I’m sure that’s not God’s plan for us. I want to use my time wisely, but always with the realization that this could be my last day so my goal should be to live it well.
It’s a desire of mine to live well into my eighties and maybe even reach my nineties; but frankly, I’m a 63 year old overweight man, borderline diabetic with metabolic syndrome, heart arrhythmia, and coronary artery disease. I’m taking medication to manage cholesterol, glucose, hormones, and heart function. I’m working on lifestyle changes to mitigate or correct these health issues; but it’s likely considering my current health and my family history that I will need assistance with living at some point.
One of my dreams, owning a ten acre hobby farm in the country a half hour from the nearest hospital, is probably not a wise choice of lifestyle for me, but it could work and maybe even contribute to an improved health outlook. It’s been a dream of mine to build and live in an energy efficient home my wife and I custom designed for us. It’s also been a dream of mine to live in a home that would welcome grandchildren and other family visitors with enough space for large family get-togethers. Those dreams require a physically able person or couple to maintain the home and grounds. For a time we can handle that. However, over the long term, if I’m to achieve those dreams, my health needs imply that I have enough financial resources to arrange for in-home assistance with living, and for hired help in maintaining the place.
I’d also like to canoe or kayak, hike, bike, and write more, as well as camp, travel and be able to visit my children and grandchildren wherever they decide to settle. The latter three suggest some sort of RV living in my future. My wife and I have been campers for over forty years, the RV of choice being a pop-up camper. But I wouldn’t relish the thought of living in an RV for months on end. I think I’d prefer four to six week stretches of travel, returning to home base after each trip. Having the flexibility to travel and exercise like this suggests a trade-off with time required for home and grounds maintenance, hence my wife’s inclination toward condominium living.
What’s this assessment telling me? Well, maybe a nice sized condo with ample room for visitors and family get-togethers, decent parking, and access to local park and trail systems might be a reasonable compromise (see Sweetie, I’m getting there). What’s interesting about the condo idea is that many transitional living facilities present condo style living as their approach to “independent living” and the entry point to transitional living options. In other words, when you’re in independent living you’re in the system and have top priority for moves to assisted living and nursing care as the need arises.
Ouch, this all seems like quite enough to consider for one post; so for now, that’s what’s in the mental hopper. Besides, I probably better clue my wife in to all this pondering, she’ll need to catch up … hmmm … or maybe I’m finally catching up with her!

20130226-2 – Independent and Assisted Living

This will be the first of three posts regarding living and lifestyle choices we all need to consider as we age. Caution: it may sound a little formal, rather than a casual conversation like I would prefer …
As part of this caution you’ll notice that I’ve slipped into “strategic planner” mode for this series, that’s my instinctive MO (modus operandi or method of operation for you non-Latin speakers), in other words, my natural way of doing things. What that means is that I list and analyze options and I take into account things such as the likelihood that something may happen. However, I tend to over-think and over-plan things and not spend enough time actually executing my plan; so as you read this try to keep in mind the philosophy, “Do as I say, not as I do”. You might avoid the over-planning trap that way!
I subscribe to the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared”, so when there’s a significant possibility that something might happen I try to take that into account. Yes, I try to plan for it! What a novel concept! This series is all about planning starting with what triggered the need, considering the desired outcomes, and figuring out where you’re starting from. These posts are about those pieces of a planning process for retirement or senior living, starting with “what triggered all this intensive thought?”
Being in “the sandwich” and having ongoing conversations with aging parents about where they want to live and the lifestyle they want to have opened up our eyes to a lot of options that we need to investigate as we plan our own retirement. My wife’s Mom and Dad decided to spend their winters in Florida and summers in Michigan near their grandchildren. During the winter they desperately missed their family, but not enough to stay in the “cold country”.
As they entered their eighties they talked more frequently about living in a place like Freedom Village in Holland Michigan, where they could be independent but have access to assistance as the need developed. The advantage of independent living facilities is that you quite often end up at the top of the waiting list for associated assisted living facilities when the need arises. Otherwise you find yourself on a much longer waiting list for assisted living. Another huge advantage is the opportunity to begin building new relationships with residents and staff that will carry you through the more difficult transitions to come.
Mom and Dad talked, but never took the leap, opting to stick with their condos and continue putting off the decision despite the fact that their health suggested assistance with living was very likely going to be a necessity. They delayed the decision so long that they reached the point where they could no longer treat it rationally. In fact, we retrieved them from Florida at the end of the 2008-09 winter season because Dad couldn’t be trusted to safely make the long drive back home. They had already pushed their living arrangement beyond the limit, but we couldn’t convince them otherwise.
With both Dad and Mom we were extremely fortunate that assisted living openings were available when they were needed during this last year, just not in what we thought would be their preferred facility. When Dad moved in, the staff could not believe that Mom had continued to care for him to that point given her own condition. Their assessment was that he should have been in assisted living for a year or more before we actually moved him in. And Mom, having spent every day since last Christmas in the hospital, rehab, and now assisted living finally realized that she should have moved much sooner as well.
The emotional attachment to “home” can carry people much farther than they really should go, and motivate them to continue taking care of themselves when they would be much safer with outside help. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not. Emotions often drive the putting off of decisions about living arrangements when rational thinking should prevail. But how can you tell your parents that the time has come to choose and insist that the choice be made, and tell them they are not being wise to persist in putting things off? There were several occasions when we were told we were being pushy, and were being asked why we were being so nasty about this; we definitely hit their hot buttons.
We really needed to have faith that we were doing the right thing, and to keep reminding ourselves that we were being rational and caring, and that concern for their own safety and well-being was paramount. We wish we had found a way to help them see that the time they were first discussing independent and assisted living options was the right time to make and execute the decision. The best idea is to be sure we don’t make the same mistake, and risk not having affordable accommodations when we need them.
So now it’s time to start thinking about our own lifestyle choices …

20130312 – Parenting, Finances and Circumstances

I’ve been pondering a few things lately as you’ll notice from the title of today’s post. We’ll see where the pondering takes us…
How do you end up in the sandwich? Is parenting a contributing factor, finances, health or just plain circumstances? I’m going to chalk it up to circumstances, keeping in mind that where you are today is the sum of all the decisions you made over the course of your life combined with some coincidences or, as I prefer to think of them, God-incidences, that directed those decisions, and maybe, just maybe, some decisions your parents made on your behalf. OK, parenting has just become the subject.
I must admit that I approached parenting with serious fear and trepidation. I must also admit that I was the softy thus forcing my wife into the role of chief disciplinarian, an unfair position that she never particularly relished, but one that I felt she was much better at than me. It’s always been a regret of mine that I didn’t learn enough and talk with her enough about our parenting style to ensure we were consistent and of one accord during those years; mea culpa and deepest apologies Sweetie.
Anyway, life goes on. And that leads me to the conclusion that parenting can be a factor in later participation in the sandwich generation. There are some really important things about parenting that differentiate between becoming a teacher, mentor, coach, and friend to your children, and becoming an enabler in the negative sense.
What is it the Bible says? From NIV Proverbs 22:6,” Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. And from Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible:
“Train up a child in the way he should go – The Hebrew of this clause is curious: חנךלנערעלפידרכו chanoch lannaar al pi darco, “Initiate the child at the opening (the mouth) of his path.” When he comes to the opening of the way of life, being able to walk alone, and to choose; stop at this entrance, and begin a series of instructions, how he is to conduct himself in every step he takes. Show him the duties, the dangers, and the blessings of the path; give him directions how to perform the duties, how to escape the dangers, and how to secure the blessings, which all lie before him. Fix these on his mind by daily inculcation, till their impression is become indelible; then lead him to practice by slow and almost imperceptible degrees, till each indelible impression becomes a strongly radicated habit. Beg incessantly the blessing of God on all this teaching and discipline; and then you have obeyed the injunction of the wisest of men. Nor is there any likelihood that such impressions shall ever be effaced, or that such habits shall ever be destroyed.”
 
I think those words apply to everyday teaching as well as religious teaching and include things like responsibility and accountability. Our children are both strong Christians and study the Bible and its context. They have good hearts and pray hard and often. They spend time discerning God’s plan for themselves and their families, and their spouses do the same. They have firm convictions about money, financial responsibility and social responsibility, and hold themselves accountable for their decisions and actions.
 
So maybe we did OK, maybe we swerved into the right stuff, but we did study a lot of references about infant care and raising strong-willed children, the classic Dr. Benjamin Spock guides to parenting and health and Dr. James Dobson on strong-willed kids. What we could have done better is to be more intentional in these times of our children’s lives, maybe have a better plan for the process rather than just swerving into it. Our daughter has been very studious in her role as a parent and her husband very supportive of her learning and application to their family. She’s been very intentional about parenting and has earned our deepest respect for her approach and mothering style. It really seems to be working. She could teach this stuff!
 
We wish Dave Ramsey and his books Financial Peace and The Total Money Makeover had found their way into our household a little earlier than just the past few years because we would have used them to talk about the financial side of growing up and growing financially responsible starting at the pre-teen point in our kids’ lives. Their financial lives have been no cake-walk but neither has ours. Hmmm … I think we just shifted to finances in this discussion of factors contributing to life in the sandwich.
 
Just to be clear, we have a definite position on finances and the sandwich:
Philosophically, we like multi-generational living, but we firmly believe in financially independent family units, whether we live apart or together. We don’t want to encourage inter-generational financial obligations, but we’re prepared to provide a financial assist when a family member needs it. We’ve done it for both of our kids and their families, and our parents have done it for us. We expect all family members to take responsibility and accept accountability for their lives and their choices.  In particular, we never want to be a burden on our children or our parents, financially or otherwise, but as a family we’ll give and accept support whenever the need exists.
 
Our kids understand the financial realities of life, the need to work, and the responsibility to take care of their families. For one of our kids career decisions, circumstances and personal health issues have interfered in carrying out those responsibilities, the sum of which has resulted in multi-generational living in our household, and left my wife and me in the sandwich.
 
So, one kid is living apart from us with a family of her own. The other kid and his family are living with us. Some people would consider us to be enablers and suggest we should have just kicked the kids out of the house at age 18 or 22 and told them never come back. I would agree if this living arrangement was permitting our kids to shirk their responsibilities, but I don’t think it is. They’re working hard to become independent, to get their careers on track, and to support themselves. They’re making progress, and they’ve never backed off from that commitment, nor from their commitment to pay back the loans we’ve made, which by the way are documented and incur interest, thank you Mr. Ramsey.
 
I think that rather than enabling, we’re giving out of abundance and caring for our family the way we should, both biblically and socially. I know; I probably just painted a big target on my back so go ahead, fire away with your comments. After all is said and done, everything I talked about contributed to our arrival here; this Tuesday, in the sandwich …

20130311 – Thinking about Our Current Situation

Yesterday was one of those “routine” days that you’d just never have if you weren’t in the sandwich. After church and a light lunch Sunday we headed over to Mom’s condo to clear out a few more things and grab a portable phone and some clothes she needed. Then we headed over to her room at “the manor” to sit and chat for awhile.
Mom can handle about half an hour of visiting and then she gets tired. Her pain medication was wearing off so she decided it was about time to head down the nurses’ station to get her next dose. As we left her room her new best buddy, Helen, swiveled around with her walker in the hallway and gave Mom the biggest hug I’d ever seen. Mom introduced her “kids” and then we moved along with Helen tailgating and waiting for a chance to pass when the aisle widened out. Not for long though as she cruised up to the next doorway, saw another friend sitting just inside the door and spooked her with another great big hug from behind! Well it was pretty obvious to me that just because Mom thinks she’s not very good at making friends didn’t stop anyone else from making friends with her. I think Helen is a blessing and a speed demon in a four wheeled walker; I doubt she has much use for the brakes on that rig!
Anyway the nurse caught us in the hallway, Mom got her pain meds, and we continued on with Mom explaining that sometimes the aide will even offer her a cup of coffee as she strolls toward the dining room, where we parked briefly to continue our chat. As we got up to leave another aide made our acquaintance and, sure enough, offered Mom a cup of coffee before dinner (of course you can always sell Mom on a coffee but what she secretly yearns for is her cola – they avoid serving carbonated beverages at the manor). Turns out this aide is the daughter of a guy who used to work as an RA in one of Western Michigan University’s residence halls where Mom was an admin assistant years ago. Small world and I love small world stories, but once again Mom had captured another life story in her strolls around the manor. Didn’t I say something about that talent in a recent post on boredom?
We said our goodbyes to Mom, headed back home and started to chill for a bit and get some dinner going, when in popped Scott and Liz after work, promptly dropped all their stuff and started filling us in on everything from chats with the celebrities visiting town (for Laugh Fest 2013, a huge fundraiser for Gilda’s Club) to the latest happenings at the museum. Plus we got to hear about the next producer job opportunities and plans for Tuesday night’s visit with Wayne Brady (yes, that Wayne Brady) plus free tickets to his “improv” program. It’s kind of neat to think our daughter-in-law gets to work with all these entertainers and celebrities in the various producer and photographer jobs she does through her company, Happy Hat LLC. As the evening wound down, the dishes were done, and Deb put the finishing touches on a cake for today’s office potluck, I began to think about our current situation.
I can’t imagine a less boring, more interesting life than what we share in the sandwich with our family. We get all the current stuff, all the details, hot off the presses. If we weren’t in the sandwich everything would be filtered and distilled to the essentials by the time we’d hear it. Do we yearn for some quiet time, or some together time for just us two. Sure, and we occasionally get it. But, if we weren’t living in this situation and had all of the quiet and together time we wanted, would I miss taking care of Mom and sharing our home with the kids? Absolutely! So for now, that’s just another day in the sandwich …

20130308 – DNR

Dear Mom,

Thank you for making clear your end of life wishes as you learned more about your condition. You made your passing a gift to your family by making sure we were not left with those difficult decisions that often tear families apart. Your decision was a blessing in disguise.

I love you,

Terry

I’ve been trained and certified in CPR. My Mom had terminal complications from a less prominent illness than those we all know well such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, but she made it clear that she was not to be resuscitated and that no extreme measures were to be used to prolong her life. At the end of her life she remained of sound mind and we were conversing almost to the moment of her passing. When she suddenly began that transition every fiber in my being was screaming at me to do something, but her eyes reassured me that I was doing exactly what I should as I let her go. Then I felt strangely calm as I watched her slip away, and comforted as I whispered “I love you Mom” in her ear one last time.

DO NOT RESUSCITATE or “DNR” can be a scary topic, but it is an absolutely critical piece of an “advance directive” or a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care necessary for others to make decisions about your care when you are no longer able. After my father-in-law’s passing last year and prior to my heart catheterization and stent insertion last fall my wife and I visited our family attorney to arrange for these essential documents for each other. We knew from my experience with my mother and ours with my father-in-law that we couldn’t leave each other without instructions about our own care should our health take a sudden turn.

End of life decisions can be difficult for anyone, but I’d rather make my own decisions regarding my life than pass that responsibility to someone else who might have no idea what I had been thinking. I’m 63 but I think even my 28 year old daughter and 32 year old son should be thinking about these things and discussing them with their spouses. It’s never too early do something about Powers of Attorney, Medical Decisions, wills and trusts; life is too unpredictable and they can always be changed later if circumstances change.

I remember the Terri Shiavo case a few years ago where the courts ended up deciding whether or not to pull her feeding tube because there were no clear instructions from her, just some ambiguous conversations between her and various family members, and different opinions between her parents and her estranged husband. I remember thinking if that was me my brain would be screaming “Hey, don’t starve me, I’m still in here!” If my heart failed or I stroked out, that might be a different story.

When I was thinking about my own situation I could see why people just don’t want to deal with it. These are tough questions for me to answer for myself; I imagine for lots of people it’s not any easier. Maybe for some it is but I can be indecisive in certain situations. I’m young enough that I could have a good quality of life if someone performed CPR on me and I pulled through. On the other hand, if I suffered a stroke or serious head trauma, I don’t think I’d want to stick around in a persistent vegetative state for years with only a miniscule chance of recovering, maybe give me a few weeks and if I don’t come around, pull the plug. Fortunately our attorney helped us think through these issues and come up with answers we could live with, sorry about the pun.

Having this conversation with aging parents can be difficult; we were fortunate our parents all made and documented their decisions well ahead of time while still of sound mind. We’re following their example and reminding those of you in the sandwich (and everyone else for that matter) to do the same. The sandwich will be a little more palatable for all concerned; even the old PB&J can be pretty tasty with just the right amount of jelly and the perfect little swirl of peanut butter! Make those “end of life” decisions for yourself now and don’t force them upon your loved ones.

Make life easier on those who care most about you and care for you, and you’ll be giving yourself some peace of mind as well …