News & Updates

What do you do when your world suddenly stops?

I had no idea on the morning of November 4th that my world was about to be rocked.  It was just an ordinary Wednesday until the phone rang around 10:30 a.m.

My mother reported she had gotten sick and was feeling achy.  I went to her place and called her doctor.  At first the symptoms seemed like those of the swine flu, and she was treated accordingly.  When the stomach pain persisted, though, a gall bladder attack was suspected; and we rushed her to the emergency room.

A battery of tests concluded it was a heart attack.  What??  I know women present different symptoms than men, but it never occurred to me that stomach and back pain could signal a heart attack.

The next 13 days have been a blur.  The heart attack compromised my mom’s chronic kidney and vascular disease, and her system was too weak to undergo any procedures.

When we ran out of options, Mom, her doctors and the family agreed that the best course of action was to manage her pain and to keep her comfortable without any invasive procedures that would surely throw her into kidney failure.

Thank God for our local hospice house.  As soon as Mom was brought there, her mental and emotional outlook improved considerably.  A sense of calm seemed to sweep over her.  Not only are her physical needs being taken care of by an excellent staff of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, but her emotional and spiritual needs are being nurtured as well.

Our family has been camping out here, and I can’t say enough about the volunteers who give their time and energy to provide a homey atmosphere for both the patients and their families.

Every day there’s a different pot of soup on the stove.  Someone is always baking fresh cookies to share.  There are dens, kitchens and a chapel on campus.  Not to mention the wonderful gardens outside as well as live music, if desired.  And there are even visits from therapy dogs.  Good boy, Barney!  Good girl, Chloe!  Everything has been carefully planned and tastefully executed.

I’ve never seen such an outpouring of love.  It’s as if we’re all in the same boat with other families who have loved ones here.  There is total trust and a common bond.

While we may not know what day it is – or what’s going on in the outside world – we’re all going through that perspective thing of focusing on what’s most important and being in the present moment.

Which brings me to one of my favorite themes:  “Why does it take a life-threatening illness or accident for us to appreciate life as we go along?

You know the drill.  You have the flu and all you can focus on is how bad you feel.  You’re certain  you’ll be so appreciative when you get better, and you even bargain for that in your mind.  I’ve gone through this, too.  But then we get back to our regular worlds, and pretty soon we find ourselves nitpicking about little things again.

What’s up with that?  Why can’t we stay in that state of appreciation?  Is the line at the grocery checkout really that bad?

I’m reminded of the stories that hostages express when they’re first released.  They’re so happy to see the blue sky and the green grass, and they’re overflowing with gratitude.  It’s as if they see colors more vividly, smell things more intensely and tune into things more clearly.  Maybe they’ve “come to their senses” through being deprived of these everyday wonders, whereas our senses have been dulled by the overabundance of such exposure.

I don’t have any magic bullets to propose.  It seems that it’s just human nature to settle back into a state of normalcy.  I do think, however, that we can interject a higher state of awareness into our everyday lives.  And that’s something I’m very conscious of – now more than ever.

My sister, Paula, told me years ago that there are two basic rules in life:

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  2. It’s almost all small stuff.

Even though we all know this on some level, why do we need wakeup calls in life to follow such simple advice?

I’ve had an ongoing quest to seek this answer for the past decade.  Several years ago I conducted a series of television interviews in which I asked various authors, speakers and health care professionals, “Why does it take a life-threatening illness or accident for us to appreciate life fully as we go along?”  In fact, this question was the impetus for the title of my column, “Live Life Fully.”  (You teach what you need to learn, right?)

I believe the lesson for me is that it does not need to take a life-changing event for me to fully take in that rich tapestry of life’s textures.  It’s like Dorothy’s ruby slippers in “The Wizard of Oz.”  She had the power all along.  For me, I know I just need to stay in that state of awareness and consciousness of gratitude longer – and yank myself back when I stray – so Mother Nature doesn’t need to create a reminder for me.

Events like those of the past two weeks definitely result in that heightened awareness.  And I’m committed to having it stick around a lot longer this time.

How appropriate that we’re coming upon the holiday of … ThanksLiving.

What a difference a letter makes!  This play on the traditional word immediately struck a chord with me.  Unlike other traditions, the season of ThanksLiving has no beginning or end.  No retail displays in October and no clearance sales in January.

And that makes it both a blessing and a challenge.