Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Problem with Death

The other day I was training a client and he said something very interesting to me. He said “I realized the other day that I get to experience two things in life that men my age hardly ever get to experience. One is having a 90 year old father and the other is having a seven year old son.” My client is in his 60s and if you think about it, he’s absolutely right. How many men in their 60s still get to talk with their father, let alone have a son who’s still in elementary school?

In a similar manner, I've realized that at 34 years old, I’m inexperienced in something most people my age are not; I have very little experience with death. 

There are only three deaths I’ve experienced in life that have caused me a memorable amount of pain. One was my grandpa, one was my childhood dog, and one was a friend. But even these experiences seem distant. I was young when my grandpa died, I’d been away at college for a while before we had to put Sassy to sleep, and I hadn’t been in contact with my friend for almost a year when he passed away. 

While there have been funerals I’ve attended and acquaintances I’ve seen laid to rest, I've never lost anyone I was extremely close with. That is until two days ago, when my wife and I had to say goodbye to Henry, our beloved Basset Hound. 

If you know either me or my wife, you’ll know that “beloved” is an understatement. Our lives revolved around Henry. Our phones and Facebook pages are filled with pictures and videos of him. We tell stories about him to anyone who will listen. We talked to him, sang to him, and snuggled with him every single night. He made us happier than almost anything else in life, and we loved him more than almost anything on Earth.

My wife and I have been married almost nine years, and Henry has been with us for the entire ride. Until this weekend. This weekend will be the first weekend we’ve been married without Henry. 

The problem with death is that it slows down time exactly when we wish it wouldn’t. 

Most of us spend our lives in a state of perpetual motion. Everything seems to be moving faster and faster and we all just wish it would slow down. 

But then we lose a loved one, and time stands still.

As we snuggled with Henry on the bed in his final hours on Earth, the clock seemed to mock us as it ticked by. 

One second less. 

One second less. 

One second less. 

As we drove home from the vet, and walked into our quiet home without him, the clock creeped by.

One second more. 

One second more. 

One second more.

When we lose a loved one, all we want is for time to speed up so that we can put as much of it between ourselves and when the tragedy occurred. It’s not that we want to forget, we just want to remember without the pain, without the punch in the gut and the urge to dry heave. We want our regrets to fade. We want to remember the good times without needing to cry. 

To make the time pass, we distract ourselves. We check Facebook every other minute, we drink too much, we play video games or watch TV or buy things online. 

I admit, I’ve done all of these things over the last few days and I probably will for several more days to come. 

On the other hand, I want to make sure I don’t surrender completely to the distractions, because I want to appreciate the pain. 

The pain we feel after a loved one dies is proof that they mattered. It proves they played a meaningful roll in our life and that we’re better for having known and loved them. 

I hope somebody misses me someday as much as I miss Henry. 

Until then, it’s my job to ensure I become that kind of person who will be missed.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

In Remembrance of Henry.

I barely slept last night. I can’t remember a time I fell asleep in my house, in my bed, without you at my feet or snuggled up under the covers with me. 

That was my favorite thing about the winter. I’d pick you up and put you on the foot of the bed before I crawled in myself. Then you’d sit there looking at me and whining until I lifted up the covers and invited you in. Once you got the ok, and you never settled for less, you would trot up to the head of the bed, crawl in head first under the covers, and suction yourself to my side. That’s how we slept every night until spring.

When it eventually got warm enough to where you preferred sleeping on top of the covers, I still had to be touching you. Even if I was snuggling with Mindy, you’d whine until I stretched my foot out so that you could lay your head on top of it. 

And I really don’t know how I’m going to nap without you. You may not have been great at learning tricks or playing fetch, but you were the world’s best napper. You could hear those couch cushions creak from any room in the house, and the moment I laid down, it was as if blood hit the water and you were a shark zeroed in on the kill. You’d be there in a second, begging to snuggle up beside me and snooze the afternoon away.

I remember the first time I saw you. I’d bought a house a couple months before, and Mindy and I were going to be getting married later that year, so it only seemed natural to look for a dog. I remember I was sitting at my desk at work when an email came through. Mindy knew of a family looking to re-home some dogs and sent me an email with the dogs that were available. She thought I’d be interested in the Labrador, but when I saw your picture and your name, I knew you were the one. I replied “I want to meet Henry,” which worked out perfectly because Mindy wanted to meet you too. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking up information about Basset Hounds online while trying to simultaneously answer phone calls at work. Later that week I got called into my boss’s office for a call review. As she replayed the video capture of my call, the only thing on my computer screen was the wikipedia page for basset hounds. Needless to say, I was graded poorly, but it didn’t matter. By that time we’d picked you up and brought you home.

You were a challenge to begin with. Our first outing was to one of my softball games where you barked incessantly and then took a big dump in the middle of the picnic area. Being new dog owners, we’d brought nothing to clean it up with. Then, even though you were advertised as being house trained, you refused to pee anywhere but on the deep shag rug in the living room. Eventually we came to an understanding as to where the bathroom was, but it took some work.

Despite your stubbornness, you stole our hearts immediately. A few months later, as Mindy and I were making the final plans for our wedding in Jamaica, we realized we were going to have to leave you behind for ten days. It was seriously one of the most difficult decisions we’d had to make as a couple. When we got back, we could hardly wait to see you and bring you home. Coincidently, the friends that were watching you could hardly wait for us to take you back. 

No one has ever accused you of being less than a handful, and that was never more evident than our first night home as a married couple. Up until then it had always been Josh and Henry in bed. Now it was Josh, Mindy, and Henry in bed, and you were convinced there wasn’t enough room. It took a good week before you stopped being a grump about it.

Through the years you gave us so many good memories. 

The time a kitten hissed at you while we were walking, and you ran away howling. 

All the times you bulldozed yourself down a freshly mowed hill, staining your white fur green. 

The time you were literally broad-sided by a rabbit and you couldn’t figure out what happened. 

The times you gave Grandpa Jim and Grandma Melonie’s neighbor dogs the “what for and where how.”

All those times you showed undying patience with the nieces.

That time you ate a bunch of Molly’s poop and then puked it up at 3:00 in the morning, staining the carpet so badly that I had to cut it out and throw it away before I could go back to sleep.
I guess that wasn’t a great memory, but people sure do laugh when I tell them about it.

And the noise. You were almost always making some sort of noise. I remember walking in on you with your head in the bathtub, making noises and listening to the echoes. You would raise the biggest ruckus whenever we walked through the door. You would bark when you thought it was time to eat, bark when it was actually time to eat, bark as I was pouring your food, bark when you wanted to go out after you got done eating, bark when you wanted to come back inside. There were whines and groans and whimpers and grunts and moans and teeth chatters and licking. 

The house is too quiet now without you.

When you got sick the first time, I got depressed in a way I hadn’t been for years. Seeing you in pain was one of the worst things I’ve had to deal with in life. All you wanted to do was to snuggle, so I made it a point to snuggle as much as possible, even skipping work for several days to lie with you on the couch. I remember going to bed snuggled up with you one night but not sleeping. I was convinced you were going to die and I didn’t want to be asleep when it happened. The next day, as I drove you to the vet, I was convinced it would be our last trip together. 

When the Prednisone helped you start feeling better, I was relieved and heart broken at the same time. I was so happy that those few painful days weren’t your last, but I knew it likely meant you had lymphoma, and that we were living on borrowed time. I’m so thankful we got those last two months, but I still wish it could have been more.

I wish a lot of things. I wish I’d been more patient with you. I wish we would have gone on more walks. I wish we hadn’t gotten rid of your favorite couch. I wish I would have spent more time in the yard with you and less time scrolling through my iPhone. I wish I would have been less preoccupied with work, and success, and money, when what really mattered was right in front of me.

But there you go again, making me a better person, because now I see that there are still plenty of souls left here on Earth that I can love better. I can be a better husband, a better friend, a better son and grandson, a better brother, and a better master for Molly or any other dogs we have in the future.

I think that’s why God gave us dogs. They teach us to love unconditionally. You loved us regardless of our imperfections. You always forgave, you never held grudges, you loved us when we messed up at work, or were in a bad mood, or couldn’t afford the best dog food.

Some theologians believe that there will be no pets in heaven. Since there isn’t any concrete evidence in the Bible stating that animals have souls, they believe that animals simply cease to exist once they die here on Earth. These theologians obviously aren’t dog people, otherwise they would know the truth. 

Personally, I like to picture you snuggled up next to Jesus on the couch in heaven, and even though you’re perfectly content, every time a new soul walks through the pearly gates, you perk up your ears, hoping one of us has come home, knowing that once we do, you won’t ever have to watch us leave again. 

I look forward to the ruckus you’ll make when that day comes. 

I love you buddy boy.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

8 Things I think will change my life in 2016

Looking back, I realize I didn’t do one of these for 2015, but that’s probably because I was in the midst of a giant life change; transitioning from employment to self-employment. In doing so, I was more focused on the macro than the micro.

Now that it’s 2016 and I’ve been self-employed for a year, I’m starting to think about the little things again, which makes me want to write another one of these posts. If anything, it’s humorous and insightful to look back at them after a year and see what stuck and what didn’t. For example, my list of “7 things I think will change my life in 2014” and their outcomes is as follows…

Purple Belt in Jiu Jitsu - I’m still a purple belt. Self-employment takes a lot of time and I’ve neglected my training because of it. I still train, just not as much as I should. I hope to change that in the near future.
Personal Training Certificate - I’m still a personal trainer and I love it. This certificate has opened so many doors, it’s almost unbelievable.
Sugar/Alcohol - The idea behind this one was to only consume sugar and alcohol one weekend per month. That lasted about one month. I still confine most of my sugar and alcohol consumption to the weekends, but I enjoy my happiness too much to reduce it much beyond that. 
Precision Nutrition - This one has been extremely gratifying. I’m still a certified Precision Nutrition coach and have helped several people lose massive amounts of weight over the last year.
Intermittent Fasting - I still use intermittent fasting from time to time. It depends on what my current goals are. For losing body fat, it’s extremely beneficial.
Objective C - I studied this for a month or two and then quit. Apple came out with “Swift” to replace Objective C, so I was going to switch to that, but never did. I may just have to face the fact that I'm not going to be a computer programmer.
Hustle - This one was all about entrepreneurship, and whaddya know, by the end of 2014, I was self-employed. Hustle is my new middle name. 

So without further ado, here’s my List of 8 Things I think will change my life in 2016.

1. Honesty - I consider myself an honest person because I’m generally truthful. On the other hand, I often keep quiet about certain things so as not to ruffle feathers. To be honest though, (see what I did there) I’m getting tired of keeping quiet. I’m just not as concerned with what other people think of me these days, so I’m going to be a little less reserved in what I say and do.

2. Goals List - Every year around my birthday, I take some time to write down what I want to accomplish over the year, and for the most part, I accomplish a lot of what I set out to do. On the other hand, several of my goals fall through the cracks simply because I forget about them. This year, I’ve written down ten physical goals and five life tenants that I consider paramount, and every morning, I physically put pen to paper and rewrite the entire list. Then, later in the evening, I go through and grade myself on each (A,B,C,D,F). If I’ve taken positive steps towards achieving a goal, I give myself an A and write what I did well. If I did bad, I give myself a D or an F and write what I could have done better. So far it seems to be working. My goals are always at the forefront of my mind and I find myself constantly searching for steps to take during the day to help me accomplish them.

3. Writing - One of the goals on my list is to write a book in 2016. It doesn’t matter if it’s a book I publish or that sits on my computer for the rest of my life. I just want the accomplishment of writing an entire book. To make that happen, I’m trying to write at least 500 words a day. So far it’s going well.

4. Meditation - Referring back to Honesty in the number one spot, meditation is something I’ve been doing for a while now, but I’ve been hesitant to share. I find that about half the people think it’s hippie, new-age crap, while the other half thinks it’s dangerous and that I’m opening my mind to the devil. The word “meditation” comes with a lot of negative connotations, but it shouldn’t. For me, meditation has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with health and performance. We have so many stimuli in our modern world that our brains are overwhelmed. Meditation is simply a means to give the mind a break; a chance to sit quietly without needing to accomplish anything. It’s very refreshing and it turns out science is finding it has a lot of benefits. Increased happiness, better problem solving capabilities, and decreased stress and feelings of anxiousness are just a few. I find it helps me sort through problems with less emotion, I get less frustrated when things go wrong, and I’m able to work harder, longer, with less stress and anxiety. If you’re interested in trying it out, is the system I use.

5. Style - Many who know me well know that I could care less about dressing well. If I had my way, I’d wear jeans and a hoodie for everything. On the other hand, one of the goals I write down every morning is “Improve my social skills,” and dressing better is key if I really want to accomplish this. Surprisingly, I’ve found it’s not that difficult to be stylish. First, let me clarify that “stylish” is not the same thing as “fashionable.” Lady Gaga is fashionable, Audrey Hepburn is stylish. Glitter beards and man buns are fashionable, leather shoes, a bomber jacket, and good fitting jeans are stylish. Fashion changes every season. Style does not go out of style.

6. Primal Man Stuff - I like modern technology, but near the middle of last year, I started feeling like something was missing. Then, on a whim, I tossed a line into my parent’s pond, caught a bass, and realized how badly I missed fishing. I made it a point to fish every weekend after that and it was unbelievably refreshing. Then I bought a splitting axe and starting splitting wood and building campfires in my backyard. It was amazing. I think iPhones and MacBooks are great, but taking part in activities that were life sustaining for early man is something entirely different. I think lots of men in our culture are missing this element, and I’m looking forward to finding new ways to scratch this itch.

7. People - I’m an introvert by nature, and I don’t think anything is going to change that completely, but I’ve taken a new interest in people as of late. One of the tenants I write in my goals list every morning is “1 new person,” which means I try to learn one new person’s name every day. Ideally, I go beyond getting their name, and actually have a conversation, but I don't require it. Learning one new name a day is a baby step, and it makes the challenge of networking more digestible. I tend to interact with lots of people every day, but often it’s nameless. Simply asking someone’s name is a means of bringing humanity back to our transactions. I’m finding that in doing so, I have a lot more friendly conversations with strangers, and I meet lots of new and interesting people. As an introvert, I used to view people as obstacles I needed to navigate, but now I’m starting to see them as fascinating creatures in which to investigate.

8. Lidè - I consider myself extremely blessed. While I’m not rich by American standards, I’m extremely wealthy in the grand scheme, and I want to help others who aren’t. While I’ve given money to causes here and there, I’ve been searching for a cause to really throw my weight behind, and I think I’ve finally found one that makes sense to me. Everyone knows the old saying “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime,” but I believe there should be third line. “Teach a woman to fish and she feeds a village for a lifetime.” I believe that education is one of the most valuable resources available and studies show that educating a man tends to be beneficial for the man while educating a woman tends to be beneficial for everyone in that woman’s sphere of influence. Lidè is a charity organized by Rainn Wilson, better known as Dwight from “The Office.” It’s focus is using the arts to educate girls in Haiti. While I don’t feel this charity is the end all in my new found quest to educate girls, I do think it’s a good place to start. You can watch the imbedded video if you'd like to learn for yourself what it’s about, and go to the website if you’d like to donate yourself.