Why Do We Wait to Think About These Things?

I had the most amazing conversation during a recent visit to a dear friend who is in the hospital. She is very ill and her prognosis is worse. Fortunately, her pain medications are not affecting her coherency and ability to speak. The words she shared were profound. She knows what the future holds. Her wisdom and advice made think about things I never imagined. I now ask myself, “Why do we wait to think about these things?”

I’ll give you one example from our conversation. I told her I was preparing a speech and was concerned about saying the right things to connect with the audience. She asked, “What do you have so far?” I began to answer and she soon started shaking her head. She said, “No, no, no. Say little and connect eye-to-eye with just one person in the front row. The rest of the audience will then know your amazing heart. They will feel your love.” I was stunned in silence.

During the rest of our time together she shared wisdom about different aspects of life. I was in awe. It’s not that those things she shared were not always in her. It’s just that they came out now…and delivered in a way that really got my attention. Why do we wait to think about these things?

She has for years been a frequent participant on Facebook. To give you a glimpse of my dear friend, the following is a recent post of hers. Enjoy!

“Pushing a “like” button on Facebook means nothing.

Get off Facebook. Go into the world. Hug your mother. Buy food for a homeless person. Water a plant.

Open your heart. Go do a minimum of one good deed per day.

Your liking my pictures is bullshit.

Use your body mind and spirit to make your one little corner of the world better.

Speak truth to power.

Fight for the oppressed.

Teach people to read.

Give a hand up not a handout.
Stop being cowardly.

Either use your life for good or get the hell out of the way.
Your selfishness nauseates me.

Unfriend me if that’s who you are. I won’t miss you. 

If you don’t use this amazing life to do the amazing good for which you were put on this planet, why are you here?

I know my answer.

Go figure yourself out what the truth is for you.

Restore your corner of the world.

I am going on strike until you figure it the fuck out.

And I’m not waiting around to make sure you do.

Thanks for the love.

See you next time.”

Thank you for the life lesson, Debbie. I love you!

P.S. If you want to know more about Debbie and her award-winning books (you should buy all of them!), check her out at  www.sociosights.com and www.winegarten.com.

We Don’t Listen Alone

Listening is something I have been both fascinated with and a student of. It is a skill that most people take for granted, think they are good at, and almost never take the steps to improve. This morning I was introduced to a story about Albert Einstein that is a great example of how, if we open our minds to practicing a different way of listening, a whole new world will reveal itself.

I encourage you to read through the entire story http://tinyurl.com/einsteinlistening. When you are finished, think about what in your life you could learn to appreciate further if you merely changed the way you listened to it. Ask yourself, “Who am I listening with, or am I listening alone?”

What to Say (and Not to Say) to the Bereaved

One of the most uncomfortable situations we will all come across at some time in our lives is interacting with a friend or relative who has had a friend or loved one die. The challenge that most of us face during this time of bereavement is what to say to the bereaved. I just came across a well-written article in the Huffington Post by Carole Brody Fleet: 15 Things You Should Never Say to the Bereaved http://tinyurl.com/9fwm86d. Having experienced bereavement on a personal basis, I think Carole’s advise is solid and worth reading.

She approaches the subject from a point of empathy, giving the reader not only things you should never say, but also including what the bereaved is probably thinking if you say it. Don’t worry, however. At the end of the article, she gives the reader suggestions of what to say. My favorite suggestion in this part is, “You might not be ready to talk about it today, but when you’re ready, I’m here to listen.” I have written much on the topic of listening. Being a good listener and offering a comforting heart is most welcomed in the case of comforting the bereaved.

A time when we most want to be heard is when we are hurting. So offer your heart, your ear and your love…and just listen.

End of Life Lesson Learned Today

Just two days ago at around noon I received an email from my friend, Kristi Curry, who has a wonderful business called Survivorship Now http://survivorshipnow.com/. A friend of hers in Katy, Texas named Ben wrote to her saying that his church buddy, Dan (age 49), was just given bad news about his cancer and was advised to call in hospice care immediately. Ben called Kristi to ask for her professional advice to help Dan’s wife organize her life for what was to come. He also said he wanted to videotape Dan’s stories so his two kids would know him better when they grew older. Ben asked Kristi for advise on what questions to ask and how to ask them. That’s when Kristi referred me.

I connected with Ben yesterday via email, then by phone. Ben explained that Dan didn’t have any funds to afford a professional LifeStory and that he was going to do it pro-bono. I don’t know why it happened, but something inside me said I have to do it. I told Ben that I could be there (two and a half hours away) the following morning by 10:30 to conduct the interview, as long as Ben filmed it.

When we arrived at Dan’s home this morning, we were greeted by Dan’s beautiful and gracious wife, Marcina. We set up the camera in Dan’s bedroom and tried to get as much as we could of an interview, but unfortunately, due to the medications he was on, could not record much. What we did record, however, showed what a loving, caring father and husband he was. Rather than coming home without much of anything for Dan’s family, I asked Marcina if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed…to capture Dan’s LifeStories through the stories of his loving wife. She agreed and we filmed about two hours of her smiles, tears and love for her husband. She showed unbelievable bravery and unselfish caring for her husband who was too ill to express his story himself.

By 1:00 PM, we left her home with hugs and well wishes to her for strength during the tough journey ahead that she faced. I arrive back home at around 4:00 PM, exhausted, but glad I had accomplished what I had that day. An hour later Ben called. He said he called to thank me, to be sure I got home okay, and…after a long pause…to tell me someone from his church called an hour ago to say that Dan had just died.

At first I was in a bit of shock. Yesterday, Dan was a total stranger to me. And now, after only knowing he and his wife for a few hours, I feel like an integral part of their lives. The lesson I’ve believe I learned from today’s experience is to share your stories with the ones you love often, to celebrate life at every opportunity you get, and to give unselfishly whenever you can. Had I thought, “It’s been a long week, I’m too tired to drive all the way to Katy early on a Saturday morning, conduct this unpaid interview, then drive all the way back,” I would not have met Dan and his wife. And I am a better man now…because of them.

Thank you Kristi, Ben, Marcina, and especially Dan. May you rest in eternal peace.

Letter From a Mother to Her Daughter

I wish I could give original credit where credit is due on this, but I found it on my Facebook page. I was touched by its heartfelt meaning. Enjoy!

“My dear girl, the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don’t interrupt to say: “You said the same thing a minute ago”… Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep. When I don’t want to take a bath, don’t be mad and don’t embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just a girl? When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don’t look at me that way… remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair and dealing with life’s issues every day… the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If I occasionally lose track of what we’re talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can’t, don’t be nervous, impatient or arrogant. Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you. And when my old, tired legs don’t let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine to you when you first walked. When those days come, don’t feel sad… just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love. I’ll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared. With a big smile and the huge love I’ve always had for you, I just want to say, I love you… my darling daughter. ”

Happy Mother’s Day!

“Rescuing a Single Life” – Tom, Judy, and The Homeless Coach

“Whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” This is a quote from the Talmud, also mentioned in the movie Schindler’s List http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108052/. I have had the honor to have met two people who have done such an act of selfless compassion. The first is Tom Baum, founder of The Homeless Coach, a live, interactive social networking approach to reverse homelessness http://www.homelesscoach.org/. Tom has combined his experience and success in the high-tech industry with his huge heart for the plight of the homeless population in Austin and the world. The Homeless Coach’s mission is to reverse homelessness “a single life” at a time.

The second person is Judy Knotts. Judy has developed a mentoring relationship with Kim, the first graduate of the Homeless Coach program. While Judy’s background and experience in private education gives her enough knowledge to help Kim, her involvement goes way beyond logical giving and enters into heartfelt compassion for another people.

Tom mentioned to me that he was scheduled to interview Kim when the StoryCorps http://storycorps.org/ mobile recording booth came to Austin last month. I asked if I could volunteer to interview her instead. I knew a bit about Kim’s story before, but this interview opened my eyes regarding how a life can be transformed from familial abuse, to 22 years on the streets, to coming clean and sober, to earning her associates degree in Medical Billing and Coding from an accredited university, to now studying for a full Bachelor’s degree in Health Care.

In a recent email, Judy writes (to both Tom and I), “Mike you are great on the tape, terrific voice, amazing articulation, and inspired questions. I have heard the CD 3 times since getting it on Saturday. Kim was with me in my car when we began to listen. When I got to the part where she described being beaten, I had to turn it off for a time. It was just too painful. Kim said, “Do you now know why I call  you Mama?”  I get it now. She has never called me anything else. Funny to hear her call me Judy on the CD. There were other things I didn’t know about her. There is value in having someone a bit removed and also experienced conduct the interviews. Kim astounded me with her insights and I told her. She said, ”My speaking is still not good.” We are working on this, hard to change a life time of grammar errors! Amazing men, you two! Proud to know you!”

I am flattered by Judy’s kind words, but more honored to be associated with two people as incredible as Tom and Judy. I hope all of you can some day know a Tom and Judy of your own, so you can personally witness, as I have, how someone can “…rescue a single life.”

“You Don’t Understand”

One would think that if you just heard someone tell you, “You don’t understand”, it would be a negative thing. But when a client of mine told me just that and explained why he said that, I knew it was a much-needed compliment. Let me explain.

I interviewed this client’s parents in Dallas back in May, 2007. His father died about a year later. I called him recently to thank him for referring yet another of his friends to me to have a LifeStory done for their parent(s). I said, “I don’t quite know how to thank you for the numerous referrals you’ve given me.” He said, “You don’t understand. I keep your LifeStory DVDs on my desk at my office. Whenever I am missing Dad, all I have to do is pop in the DVD into my computer and there he is.” He went on to explain that giving me referrals is his gift to his friends so they can experience those memories for themselves.

I was speechless. Little did I know how much those LifeStory DVDs meant to him. I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to remind each of you the importance of recording the memories of your loved ones…whether you do it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you.  If you want to do it yourself but don’t know where to begin, please call me. I’d be glad to help you get started. It’s too important to ignore.

I hope you can now say, as I did that day, “Now I understand.”