It’s Valentine’s Day – Prove Your Love

Wondering what to buy your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day? What can you do that proves your love? Something that proves you care, something valentine heartthat says, ‘You are the most important person in my life. I couldn’t live without you. But just in case…’

No it’s not funny. Seriously, if you have anyone in your life that fits the bill – spouse, kids, friend, sister, father, (insert any other title here) – you need to read this.

Having recently, suddenly, and unexpectedly lost my happy, healthy, active husband, I am begging you, and anyone who will listen, to make sure your family will be okay without you.

Here’s a list of five things I know now that I’m beyond grateful we did then:

We had wills. After our first son was born, we went to a lawyer. We had matching wills drawn up, standard, generic documents, leaving ‘everything we owned’ to each other. Naming an executor and beneficiaries if we died together. And – truthfully, this should be law – naming a guardian for our son. The wills were worded so that they would include any future children, property, assets, and debts. That son was 18 when his dad died. The will stands. And it has been the single most important document of my life. Two half-hour visits, twenty years ago, $300. Without a shred of doubt, the best purchase we have ever made. Start bequeathing!

We bought lfamily handsife insurance. We took the mortgage insurance, the loan insurance, and enough term insurance to make sure that we would each be able to continue our lives with our kids as we always have. We never missed a payment – no matter what. With everything that happened that dreadful day, the slow-motion memories that constantly play through my mind, the only brightness I recall, was the looks of sheer relief on the faces of my mom, my sister, and my kids, when I was able to tell them, ‘Yes, dad is gone, but we’re going to be okay. We get to keep the house. We don’t have to move. You stay at the same schools, with the same jobs, and the same friends. We get to miss him without having to worry about what will happen to us.’ It’s something you couldn’t possibly understand until it’s too late. Make that call.

We talked to each other. About a lot of things – final wishes, organ donation, re-marrying. Most of the conversations were quite tongue-in-cheek; we made some entertaining threats, depending on the mood. intimate talkingThe only thing we both agreed on, every time we joked, talked, considered, was that we would do whatever we thought best for the ourselves and the kids. This was crucial when I was faced with some of the hardest, fastest decisions I’ve ever had to make – many with the unexpected and adamant disapproval of other family members – without the one person I had always counted on most to help me get through the tough times. Start talking.

We were organized. At least our finances were, anyway. That’s not to say they were in great shape – we have five kids! That’s to say that all of our bank statements, bills, taxes, mortgage updates, insurance policies, wills, marriage certificate (!!!), passports, ID, health cards, and employee numbers were handy and available at all times. Same with passwords for voicemail, bank accounts, debit and credit cards, employee portals, email. Even the passcodes for his phone and computer. Write it down, lock it up, keep it handy.

We left nothing unsaid. The last morning of his life, Paul left the house grumbling at everyone – the younger kids were all off school that day, and he, the teacher, wasn’t – we teased him, laughed because he’d cut himself shaving, the son who attended the same school wasn’t ready yet, still in bed, ignored the repeated calls of ‘time to go.’ My final ‘have a good day’ was mocking with sarcasm. Two hours later, he was dead. There were so many people who expressed such regrets at not having called him back, or made time for coffee, or answered that email, or, or, or… I told them all the same thing I told my kids. When dad left for school that morning, no one was dying. We can’t live every day as if it’s our last – only people who are dying do that. Living is enjoying life without the cloud of death hanging over you. We knew he loved us. He knew we loved him. Period. That’s how we lived – every day. Everything else is just a part of a regular day in the life of a typical happy family. Stop worrying.feet

Nobody wants to talk about this stuff. No one wants to admit they’re mortal. No one wants to envision their own demise. But ignoring the fact that you will die one day will not prevent that destiny. And the only people who will pay for your sticking your head in the sand and hoping for the best are your kids. Your loved ones. They will pay and pay and pay – at a time when the last thing they need are more worries and problems. Prepare now. Put your affairs in order. Six hours. Two weeks. Tweek the budget just a bit. It’s the best investment you will ever make.

Then you can enjoy your Valentine’s Day with chocolates and champagne knowing that if the worst does happen, you’ve given your loved ones everything they need to carry on without you.

I Gave Away Paul’s Eyes

I’m trying to wrap my head around the reason I’m sitting here typing through tears as I cry like a baby. Over the past four months since Paul died, I’ve spent a fair bit of time wracked in misery and despair.

But this is different. This is a sense of joy that I never expected. This is an overwhelming elation that I’m finding difficult to describe. But I’ll try.

In the midst of the chaos in the emergency room that sad Monday the week before Christmas, I asked the doctor if they could use any of Paul’s organs. I was told, no, they had been trying to revive him too long for them to be viable. It’s not just organs, though, I was told. There are many soft tissues that can be used as well. Would I agree to that?

Of course. No doubt. Absolutely.

A day or two later, after an extensive phone interview with the Eye Bank of Canada, I was told that they were able to take Paul’s eyes. They weren’t sure if they would be able to use them for transplant or research, and asked if I would agree to both options.

Paul was a teacher. Would it not be fitting for him to keep teaching, even now?

Yes.

I felt happy with the decision and hung up with the understanding that at some point they would let me know what had happened.

I just received a letter from the Eye Bank of Canada. They expressed their condolences on Paul’s passing and their appreciation over his gift. Very sincere. And then:

“Although it is difficult to express our immense appreciation for your humanitarian action, we would now like to let you know the positive result of your husband’s eye donation which you permitted. A few days after your husband passed away, his eyes were used in two sight-restoring transplants.”

Whatever has been holding me upright for four months just let go. I’ve been crying for hours. These last few days have been so hard. And then this shows up.

Paul was pure energy. He was enthusiasm, and hope. Love and laughter. A never-ending smile that lit up his face. Friend to all. Role-model, mentor, teacher. Father, son, husband, friend, brother. For so many, the world is a darker place without him.

But to think, that right now, this very minute, somewhere, someone  – no, two someones! – is seeing the world through his eyes is something so overwhelming, so fitting, so magical. How many times did I watch Paul overflow with excitement over any one of life’s many joys and think, “the world would be a better place if we all saw it like Paul does?”

“‘Tis better to give than to receive’ has just been taken up to a whole new level!

I have the option of possibly connecting with the two people who received some pretty fantastic Christmas presents. Truthfully, if they really did want to meet me, I’d certainly be okay with that.

But I think, for now, I’m happy not knowing who they are, or anything about them. There are so many scenarios running through my head. I’m imagining someone seeing his baby for the first time. Seeing the stars in the sky. Reading! Watching a baseball game. Winking at a loved one. And every new idea that pops into my head starts the tears anew.

Tears of joy. Pride. Love. Acceptance. Joy.

For now, I will walk down the street and wonder forever, if the person looking back at me through dark brown twinkling eyes could be a glimpse of Paul, still alive, still happy, still with us. And somehow, there’s a spark of hope that comes with that. Hope for I don’t know what. But it sure feels wonderful!

We often hear about the gratitude of the recipients and their families for the loved ones of the lost donor. But I’ve never heard of the impact the donation has on the decision maker. How astonishing to find that the result of that one conversation could reflect back on me, I’m sure, as much as it has on the people who received Paul’s eyes. If I can somehow manage to convey at all, the utter peace I feel right now, and thereby convince one other person to give the gift of donation, I will consider today a resounding success!!

The Last Six Seconds of My Life

There are few experiences I can think of that are more surreal than sitting three thousand feet in the air looking down at a patchwork quilt made of farmland, with three men sitting between my legs, and an oversized bed sheet tied to my back – unless I count the last six seconds of my life.

What could I have possibly been thinking when I agreed to this? Of course, I thought we would never go through with it. I thought someone would call a halt to the whole damn thing. I thought one of us had more brains than to let all of us risk our very lives to go through with a bet made in a bar over a few jugs of beer. Sure we were drunk when we made the deal. But we were sober as priests when we sat together in that plane. Hell, if the eight waivers they made us sign before they’d even let us up there didn’t wake us up, climbing into an aircraft that had no door should have been a good sign that this was not the most intelligent decision we had ever made.

I was last. I didn’t have to go. No one was left to laugh at me. Even after I saw Steve lose his balance and get sucked right out of the plane, I found myself sitting on the brink of disaster, the edge of the earth, my feet blowing in the hundred-and-twenty mile an hour wind, my cheeks flapping like flags in a hurricane. I felt the slap on my back and I jumped.

They said it would take six seconds for the parachute to open. I was supposed to count to six and look up. If there was no canopy, then I was to pull the reserve chute on my front. “Be sure to pull the handle and not the cable to the altimeter,” the trainer had said. “Or you’ll be pulling on the cable for the rest of your life – all thirteen seconds of it.”

But I didn’t count to six. I didn’t count at all. I prayed.

I prayed like I have never prayed before. I asked God, “What have I done?”

I swear I heard laughter. The wind was roaring in my head. No one had warned me of the sound that would drown out every other sense I had. My eyes were probably locked shut, but I couldn’t see. I’m sure I was falling, but I felt no sense of movement. I heard nothing but the sound of the little voice inside my head over the thunder of the wind past my ears. I even lost my sense of common: forgot all about counting and began watching as thoughts played on the screens inside my eyelids.

I remembered a dream I had had as a child. My mom had sent me to find my sister for dinner, and I discovered her down the street at a neighbour’s where someone was trying to cut her forehead with a razor blade. I put her in a doll buggy and took her home. I hadn’t seen her for a few days; I hoped she was all right.

I wondered what my parents were going to say about all of this. They would never have expected me to do this: my sister, maybe, but not me. I was twenty-six years old, and I figured if the fall didn’t kill me, my father would.

I wondered if I was ever going to get married and have kids. I remembered going through school, being teased for being too smart. Ironic.

At some point I promised God that, if I survived this, I would try to think of a way to repay Him. I confessed that I wasn’t going to start promising things now because I knew that if I did survive, I was more likely to renege than pay up and secretly hoped He’d give me credit for being honest.

I remembered the training we’d had to be able to do this. How many times had I jumped from the loft in the barn, spread eagle, face first into the six-foot deep pile of foam below, counting to six? How long had we hung from the rafters by the crotch and some seatbelt straps, learning how to steer a canopy chute. I had jumped from a platform eight feet up, backwards, hands in the air, legs clenched together, over and over trying to keep from losing the pieces of paper between my knees and ankles in proper landing formation, until the guys had had to lift me back up to try again because my legs had given out completely. They had cheered me on. Encouraged me. And they were proud of me when I finally did it, whooping like a bunch of big brothers looking out for their little sister.

Suddenly I wasn’t so grateful for their help.

I was the last one out of the plane. I could have easily chickened out and landed safely with the pilot. What was I thinking?

Was I trying to make up for not taking chances before? No. I had moved to Quebec at eighteen, by myself, learned to speak French, taught English, grew up. I had conquered school after being the star student as a kid, and flunking out of University three times. I had survived two house fires, Mom and Dad’s pizzeria, and one despicable trip to Mexico. I had good and bad relationships with friends, with men. All character-building experiences.

Was I trying to prove something? What? That I was an idiot? That I had some kind of uncommon courage? I don’t think so.

Was I trying to kill myself? If I was, I sure changed my mind pretty darn quick. Too late, maybe, but still, within the first tenth of a second at the most.

No. I was defending my Ego. My pride. I said I would do it. So I did. It was that simple. And now I had six seconds to live and another thirteen to die.

Yes, I would say my life flashed before my eyes. All of it. Even parts of it I hadn’t lived yet. It was like watching it on television, yet somehow becoming a part of the show. I remembered the smell of melting snow, the feel of the sun on my face, and the sound of wind chimes on a cool summer night.

I remembered lying to the Jump Master about my weight when he was getting me a parachute. I wondered if that was going to be a problem.

I wondered if Steve was still alive. My last glimpse of his face was as comical as it was grisly. He had no idea he was on his way out. It was like a hand had reached into the plane and plucked him out by his shorts. His mouth was open, overfilled with rushing air, stretching his lips into a distorted hole in his head. His eyes were open, too open, the wind pushing his eyelids beyond their sockets. Then he was gone. I might have screamed out loud as I tried to reach for him, but I was still pinned under the dashboard of the plane with three more men between my feet.

Norm jumped. He looked eager. Confident. Aggressive. Stupid.

The fifth jumper on our plane, a stranger, some guy doing this by himself without the peer pressure of three moronic friends, jumped. We would never know his name.

Then Matt turned to look at me. His face was white. He didn’t look so good. “We don’t have to do this, you know,” I saw him yell.

“I know,” I hollered back.

He mouthed, “Do you want to bail out?”

“Yes,” I yelled, thrilled with the thought of being half of a team of cowards.

He exhaled, looked defeated, and jumped out. I glanced around the empty plane thinking, “Bad choice of words, Matt.”

The Jump Master pointed at me and curled his finger. Come on, Honey, his eyes said, daring me to let the boys out-do me. My Ego dragged my numb behind across the floor of the plane, and I watched helplessly as it overpowered my will to live and let my legs dangle out of the edge of the doorway. I focused on the camera on the wing. And I smiled. I didn’t want the last picture everyone would ever see of my to express the sheer stupidity I was experiencing. Let them think me an idiot, but don’t give them the proof.

I scooted onto one cheek as I had been instructed, with hands on the doorway in front and behind, the other cheek and both legs being supported by nothing but wind. When the Jump Master slapped my backpack, I simply leaned forward and let go.

I never experienced a sense of weightlessness. In fact I felt the weight of the world on me. I had laughed at the gift of life. I had taken the only life I would ever have and thrown it away. In one reckless and casual moment, I had risked the most valuable thing I owned. I never left my car unlocked, was always careful with my purse and belongings, and always went back twice to check the front door. I had so many things that were too valuable to lose because they were too hard to replace. In fact, I am absolutely certain that I would never throw my wallet out of a plane.

Except, I guess, if it was in my pocket at the time.

Of course God was laughing at me. Shaking His head at me like a parent whose child has just fallen out of a tree, with a serves-you-right kind of look on His face. That’s when you know that you’re expected to find the lesson in all of this. You’re supposed to think about what you’ve done, figure out what went wrong, and learn from the experience so that, next time, you act more appropriately.

Okay, I learned that I will never go drinking with Steve, Norm, and Matt again. That’s it. That’s what started all of this. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be falling from the sky right now, like a giant rain drop on its way to becoming a puddle on the ground. I wouldn’t be having this conversation with the Lord. I wouldn’t be debating the tampons versus pads issue. I wouldn’t be worried about the second helping of pancakes I’d had for breakfast this morning. This was all their fault.

The laughter changed. It became more of an accusation. It was saying, “That’s what they said, too. They’re blaming you…”

Well, of course they were. They were men. They had male Egos. Every one of them had had no choice to jump so long as I was there. How could any of them possibly have backed out if the woman was going through with it. A man can’t be beaten by the gentler sex.

Oh, God. You’re saying I could have stayed in the plane and laughed at them all? They really only jumped because of me. Not jumping was never an option for them, but in the end I didn’t have to go. They had an excuse to try to kill themselves. Their hands were tied. They’d had no choice because of me.
But I had all the choice in the world.

And this is what I picked?

Again I was back to why. Why did I go through with this?

No answer came.

No answer could come. There was no answer.

Yet.

There was no way I could have known how this one experience would change my life. Assuming of course that I would still have one. There was no way to know that conquering this monumental challenge would have an affect on me forever. How could I possibly know that I would spend the rest of my life looking at challenges, fearing them, remembering that I had cheated fear and failure and death one day, and know that I could do it again. That taking charge and pushing forward, playing offense and thinking proactive would become a part of my life forever.

That when the real challenges of my life started to come along, I would know in my heart that I have what it takes to make it, to win, to survive, to try.

Six seconds can be the longest time of your life. It can be time enough to assess yourself and find yourself lacking. It can be time enough to tally up the undone, the failures, the regrets. It can be enough time to see yourself as clearly as is possible, through the eyes of the One who created you, not as you see yourself through a mirror. Not even as others see you. But to see yourself as you were intended to be. Six seconds is long enough to imprint the plan in your mind and in your heart.

But it is not long enough to understand the full meaning of it. It is not long enough to understand that you will spend the rest of your life making decisions based on something that happened once upon a time, that took six seconds.

It is only time that will measure the full impact that one-tenth of a minute can have on your life. A blink of a day. A star in the sky. The ripples of a drop in the ocean.

A lot can happen in six seconds. It’s a measure of time. It’s a measure of me.