Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Life's Platitudes

“Life’s” Platitudes

Don't you hate those wise, thought provoking quotes? I usually do too, but in recent events, a few of these rang true for me.  This blog entry is dedicated to my friend Mike.

Platitude #1 - Life is Short….

My friend Mike passed away a few weeks ago.  He died of complications of the flu.  This aggressive strain quickly moved into pneumonia, which led to acute respiratory distress. This forced the doctors to insert a breathing tube to help him get oxygen into his blood stream and he was placed into a medical coma.  After ten days, his heart went into full cardiac arrest and he was unable to be revived. He was 49 years old. 

“Crazy,” I thought. “Healthy people don’t die of the flu!  How could this happen?  Why!?!?!”

The night before he died I gave a presentation on leadership.  This talk was to alumni of a drug and alcohol treatment center.  I spoke about concepts that I am passionate about help me to live my life with some level of significance.  The concepts include: Love my family and friends unconditionally; help others; live courageously, humbly and with integrity. I do a lot of prayer and meditation - especially when I exercise.  And my mindset is usually pretty good. Sometimes I'm better at it than others.  But for the most part, these daily affirmations really help me stay focus so I can be effective.

I knew my friend was in a coma but I didn’t think he was going to die.  I shared my worries with the audience, “You never know when your time will be up.  Better live every day to the fullest extent without regret.”  I know - platitudes....But they aren't relevant, until something like this happens.  

I proceeded to tell the group that my friend was in the hospital and his circumstances were grim.

He died too soon for my liking.   It is human nature to ask why did this happen.  With any of life’s challenges, there is a lesson. (another platitude...)

After a lot of praying, meditating and consulting with friends, I have learned that life is short - get my affairs in order, love my family, friends and work, live each day to the fullest.  

Platitude #2 - Life’s a Bitch….

Initially I was sad.  He isn’t here anymore.  He was a friend that, although I didn’t see him that often, when we got together we could talk heart to heart. 

He had a great dental practice. He was universally loved.  He really knew me, I really knew him – so I thought. 

A few days after he passed, I went to his office to help finish some work on a few of his patients that needed follow up care.  After spending time with his office staff about the tragedy, I was given a glimpse into his life over the past few months.  He had been struggling.  My interpretation was that he was lonely, he was stuck in a rut – possibly even depressed.  His practice was struggling financially.  He might have been struggling financially as well. 

Even under this stress, he still marched forward -helping friends, patients, etc.  Maybe he helped so he wouldn’t have to face his challenges.  Perhaps he was stuck and the only way he knew how to get out of his rut was to help others. 

On his desk was a photograph of Mike, myself and another mutual friend.  The picture was at his open house for his business.  The office space was unique, bold and comfortable.  At the time the picture was taken, life for him was so full of possibilities. 

What changed?   What happened?  Why didn’t he ask for help?  Any of his friends would have dropped whatever they were doing to help.  All he had to do was ask.

Lesson – Outside appearances are not always reflective of what is going on in the inside.  Ask for help when struggling.

Platitude #3 - Life is Beautiful…..

I received many phone calls from disbelieving friends and colleagues. I recited the facts of the situation that I knew.  I gave out the info on his funeral. 

At his funeral, hundreds of people showed up. It was a beautiful celebration.  Friends and family from different parts of his life all shared stories.  We laughed, we cried, we consoled each other.

I shared a story on how I met him.

He was an alcoholic.  Almost 11 years ago, I organized an intervention to help him get his life turned around.  At the time, he didn’t want my help.  He was obstinate, stubborn and arrogant. He was in denial and he thought he could beat the problem on his own. 

I too am a recovering alcoholic.  My trajectory turned around in 1998 when life got really bad.  For whatever reason,  I was graced with the willingness to do whatever it took to treat my problem.  A responsibility that helps me maintain my recovery is to share my story. Another key component of my recovery is helping other lost souls like my friend.

A few days after the intervention, he surrendered his will and reluctantly went to treatment for his problem.  He returned a few months later a changed man.  I had been involved in many of these interventions.  When they return from treatment, some want to thank me and some want to hit me.

Fortunately, he thanked me.  In fact, he credits me for saving his life.  I never felt comfortable with that fact.  I was just giving to him what was freely given to me - The gift of hope.  Someone was there for me when I was ready. I owed it to that person (and myself) to pay it forward.
This is why we had such a unique friendship.  We both had suffered greatly and we had overcome our struggles.

As I got over the anger of his death, I entered into the mindset of gratitude.  I am grateful that we had marched together in recovery for almost 11 years of our lives.

I recall a personal story from the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”.  The story tells of a lady’s personal struggles and how she overcame her struggles while building a new life.  The end of the story says, “In exchange for a bottle and a hangover, I have been given the Keys to the Kingdom.”

My friend and I both have been given the “Keys to the Kingdom." 

When I first met my friend, he was close to death from alcohol poisoning.  Jaundice overtook his body as his liver was failing.  After treatment, Grace offered him a second chance at life.  He took advantage of this opportunity and made a life for himself filled with significant relationships and events.  He helped hundreds of other people in the same manner that he claims I helped him. 

He struggled too – but that is life.  I still feel cheated that he was taken away from this world way too soon.  It was his time to turn in his set of “Keys”.

I don’t think he would have traded his life for anything.  Neither would I....

Lesson learned – You never know who is listening, what they hear that touched them with significance, or when they hear it  - so share my experience with the world. 

Be grateful for what I have. 

Find a lesson in every challenge that life throws at me.

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Thanks for reading!  BK