A Great Ride

Thanks for joining me the last month as I’ve share a month of memories and grief. Something I loved doing with Dad is ATVing. Five years ago, on his birthday, I posted Behind My Dad. A little more than two years ago, as I was riding behind Dad in Wisconsin, I pulled out my phone and recorded a video, so I’d be able to enjoy a ride with him anytime.

Enjoy the ride.

The Final Days

I got to be with Dad during his final days on earth. I wouldn’t change those moments. Nor would I change the weeks leading up to them. Nor would I change the months leading up to those weeks. Or the years leading up to the months.

Not everyone can be with a parent or loved one during the final moments. Some people live too far away. Others know they can’t do it emotionally. Sometimes there are other circumstances that prevent being together. It’s often complicated.

The time I had with my dad was special, but I don’t say that to cause anybody to feel bad if they don’t get that time with a loved one or don’t choose to have it. The final days aren’t a specified time period just before someone dies. The final days are how you choose to spend the moments you have, appreciating what you can, dealing with what you face, reconciling the best you can, pouring into each other, loving each other well.

The time I had with my dad was special, not just in the last days but because of all the time leading up to them.

Today are last days for someone in your life, perhaps yourself. You may be well aware, or you might have no idea. You might have a week, a month, or a couple  years. But as always, time is limited. Spend it well.

Smile. Laugh. Cry. Remember. Resolve. Apologize. Forgive. Share. Love.

We All Have Something

My dad was ATVing once and saw a bear cub and its mama in the distance. He decided to fearlessly (or foolishly) follow it. As the story has been told, my brother-in-law immediately asked him, “Is this a good idea?”

“Probably not,” my dad replied.

He called me once from Texas to tell me how exciting it had been to drive his truck along the shoreline. He was thrilled to have felt the sand and water moving the truck beneath him. I laughed but told him, “If you want to have fun and take yourself out, that’s your choice, but please don’t take my mom out to sea with you.”

My dad seemed a bit fearless at times. He liked adventures.

But he had no desire to ride in a plane over the ocean. So much for trips to Hawaii or Europe. In fact, he wasn’t very excited about riding in a plane over land either. He had his pilot’s license at one point and said he imagined what could be wrong with every sound of a passenger jet.

Then there was the time he and I rode a very large Ferris wheel. Let’s just say it wasn’t his bravest moment. I was a bit shocked and reported what happened to Mom when we got to the bottom. She wasn’t surprised, and he denied the whole thing.

Even the fearless have fear. Even the brave have concerns. Even the bold have caution.

We all have something. It doesn’t make us weak in a bad way. It makes us weak in a human way. A bit of fear, concern, and caution are good for us when applied well.

My dad wasn’t always right in his judgment of what to fear and what not to fear. None of us are.

Personally, I think Ferris wheels can be fun. So are baby bears. But I’m more likely to get close to the former.

Perspective

When I wrote Farm Days several years ago, my sisters complained that I got a few details wrong. But it was my perspective. My memories (with some added stories my mom and dad shared).

As I’ve been writing this month, I’m well aware that my perspective might not exactly line up with someone else’s who knew my dad. We all have different memories and perspectives. I hope I’ve reflected reality fairly well.

Perspective changes over time. Mine certainly has. As I’ve grown, added life experiences, traveled to knew places, listened to a variety of people, and solved problems, I’ve learned. I’ve changed, and that alters my perspective of the present, future, as well as the past. Growing up on a farm, I had the perspective of a youngest-of-three-girls perspective. I can (at least try to) see my sisters’ and parents’ perspectives of some of the same situations now. I’ve seen each of them change through the years, too.

My dad changed, too. In my opinion, he was a fairly open guy, but there were definitely some “never” lines in the sand, especially when it came to dating and marriage. But sometimes it’s easier to say “never” when the situation is hypothetical. Once faced with the reality, things change. The same happened with farming. Dad was usually open to trying new things, but he also had a strong old-school streak. There were some advances that when they first came up as possibilities, Dad wasn’t so sure it was a good idea. Sometimes he was right: something wasn’t a good idea. Other times, he tried and accepted the new approach with little complaint.

It might take him a while, but he was willing to change, or at least listen to people’s ideas about change.

We need to not only be willing to change but to let others change, too. I could place a stake at any point along my life’s timeline and claim everything and everyone in that moment is the way it was, is, and will be. I could say, “But you said…” without considering the person might have changed his or her mind. I could point to a mistake or a success and let that define a person despite the years that have passed. I could claim, “That’s just who he or she is,” stunting the possibility of seeing and encouraging someone’s growth.

Changing our perspective (and seeing others change) takes humility, patience, forgiveness, and a lot of grace.

Playing Dress Up

My dad borrowed a beekeeper’s outside when he needed to get rid of a bunch of unwanted pests in the barn.

He dressed up like a Little Miss contestant for a County Fair Board dinner (complete with a contraption that made it look like he (she?) peed on stage).

He and Mom dressed as dice one Halloween when I was in high school. (Because it was too difficult to get in and out of their boxes, I went with them to visit their friends’ houses, so once they were in town, they could ride in the back, and I could drive them from one house to the next.)

Sometimes Dad dressed as something he wasn’t, but then there were the many hats he put on in everyday life: husband, dad, friend, neighbor, farmer, commodities broker, ag co-op manager, bulldozer operator, stone quarry supervisor, Toastmaster, transportation dispatcher, and the list goes on. He did what he needed to do to provide for our family and help others.

Then there are frequent roles as instigator, trip planner, adventurer, problem-solver, and goofy joke teller. He did what he could to enjoy life and help others enjoy it, too.

He didn’t hesitate to try a new hat and a new role in order to get by or just to try something new. But his most comfortable go-to hat was the well-worn, often camouflage, ball cap.

It’s important to know what’s comfortable. It’s equally as important to try new things. Those new things change us, because they challenge and grow us, but there is a core to who we are. It’s the non-negotiable, lasting things about us. It’s our stripped down identify. It’s founded in our purpose, and we get energized by revisiting the core of who we are so we can intentionally move forward. It’s our humble selves, where we can’t hide anything. And that’s okay.

It’s a good person to get to know, in both yourself and others.

 

A Birthday Gift

A year ago, Dad’s birthday fell two weeks after he died, one week after his Celebration of Life.

My mom celebrated his birthday by arranging for everyone in the local coffee shop to get free coffee that morning. And she took gifts of appreciation to the nurses at the local hospital.

Birthdays weren’t a huge deal when I was growing up. I definitely felt like it was a special day, and everyone celebrated, but…the world didn’t stop. No matter how extravagant a celebration or gift, the world stops for no one.

My dad (and mom) rarely asked for anything for their birthdays. They always said they didn’t need anything. It’s not that they had everything possible. It’s that they had what they needed and much of what they wanted.

They were thankful to celebrate another year of life.

Birthdays are celebrations of life. We don’t have to wait until someone dies to celebrate his or her life. We can celebration others’ lives and our own today and every day.

Give a gift today. Celebrate life. Extend a hand, encouragement, and smile. Have a conversation. Listen well. Look someone in the eyes and tell him or her what you’d say if you knew he or she wouldn’t be around tomorrow. Write a note of appreciation. Be kind to a stranger.

Every day is someone’s birthday. Every day, we can learn, grow, and start something new. Every day, we can celebrate life.

Pain Tolerance

“I’m a 3.”

That was Dad’s standard response to his pain level. I can’t count the times a nurse or doctor asked him, “On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being no pain and 10 being excruciating, what’s your pain right now?”

“I’m a 3.”

Before surgery, after surgery, before treatment, after treatment, in the ER. Always a 3.

Maybe he wasn’t good at assessing his pain. Or maybe he thought it was mind over matter, that being optimistic would help, because as he often said, “It is what it is.”

A little more than 24 hours after emergency brain surgery, he casually said, “I sort of have a headache.”

Probably an understatement.

“I’m happy.”

It was his other commonly used phrase when we asked if he needed anything.

And I believed him.

His life was far from perfect at the time. He had a lot to complain about. Yet he was happy. There was enough in his life that made him content. He chose contentment instead of letting situations dictate his feelings. He wasn’t pretending everything would be fine. He knew better.

There’s a difference between putting on an outward mask while in turmoil on the inside and finding peace on the inside and letting it show in the midst of tough circumstances.

It’s a choice we all make. We don’t have to be facing death to choose peace, hope, faith, and joy. We all have things in life that have the potential to steal all of that away from us, to disguise it, or to distort it. We can’t mimic how someone else responds to difficult circumstances, because we can’t see how he or she internally struggles to arrive at the place we so admire. The best we can do is struggle through whatever we’re facing, refusing to minimize or exaggerate it, not with the goal of fixing a particular problem but in order to find a more lasting peace, hope, faith, and joy – something firm and unwavering we can hold onto regardless of our circumstances, feelings, and perspective.