Choosing life – observations and takeaways from funeral services

Recently there were two deaths in client families: one lost his mom, the other lost his sister. I attended both services this week. How very different the contrasts in families and how life is celebrated and death is mourned.

First the sister, it was a life needlessly cut short. Her services were religious and somber, and while no one openly spoke about it, I have to believe her obesity had a hand in her death. For such a young woman (late 30s), a heart attack and then a stroke are not particularly normal circumstances or a natural cause of death. The very vague “she has health problems” explanation was essentially politically correct speak for preventable death. In my experience, when a person dies of cancer or waiting for replacement organ or genetic conditions, people are open that it was cancer or liver/heart/kidney disease/failure or something else for which there is only treatment, no cure. It saddens me, because it did not need to happen. And it’s difficult for me to equalize my sadness with my discomfort of my anger that what has happened happened. It hits far too close to home for me and my attitudes to be okay with passing my own sense of harsh judgment on this poor woman, even if it is 99% in my own mind. I have a pretty expressive face; I’m sure my thoughts were written plainly if anyone bothered to look closely.

The reception afterward was full of wonderful comfort foods and an entire table of homemade sugary goodness. I had a glass of water and escaped as quickly as I possibly could. That was Monday. I was back at work with them Wednesday and Thursday for a few hours each day, and their break room sweets are back in action. Ugh. The mom’s need to continue comfort herself by non-stop baking continues. I understand the poor woman’s grief – I am a mother who had to bury a child who died unexpectedly and way too young – but I foresee more preventable tragedy and health conditions in their future.

I find the whole experience disturbing, and I have reaffirmed my commitment that such a demise is not going to happen to me. Which chronologically impossible, as I  am already 20 years older than this young woman at her death, I still feel like I am too young to die of preventable causes right now at 56. If I have to do massive overdoses of sets of sit-ups, planks, push-ups, walking lunges, Bulgarian split squats, dead tread pushes – essentially everything in my nemesis stable that I  have dislike-but-good-for-me relationship with – to remind myself what fitness costs and how sugar derails my efforts, that is what I am prepared to do. The dissonance in my own world from this event and the ongoing sugary fat foods being presented and softly pushed my way is at this moment far too much for me. My mind is so overwhelmed by the disconnect that I will fulfill my contracted commitments for this year (hopefully only another week) and then notify them by mail at the end of the year that they should plan on hiring another consultant next year.

If I am going to have my negative judgment gene engaged continuously, I am going to do my best to voluntarily separate myself from circumstances where I have no hope of influencing changes in behaviors.

Contrast that with Tuesday’s almost 3-ring circus memorial for another client’s hard-partying mother – it was stark. First, no religious ceremony or overtones. The celebration of her life included good food, better booze, music, laughter, funny and sad stories, and people being themselves and acting naturally. There was a buffet meal-like food line with a many healthier options. There was a pretty amazing caesar salad and skinless, boneless teriyaki that was quite good. While In life the departed was a foodie as well as other vices like alcohol, recreational drugs, lots of sexual partners and treatments for the associated afflictions that can come from unprotected sex before the onset of AIDS, her son is a pretty upstanding citizen with many positive lifestyle habits.

Despite her being a terrible, terrible mother (a standard by which I unabashedly judge other parents as indicators of them as people), I liked her almost in spite of myself. She happily signed over custody and care of her only child after cheating on and being divorced by his father, and only stayed in touch with him as an adult because of what he was willing to do for her. She was uniquely self-possessed and owned her many shortcomings while somehow charmingly explaining them away as character defects. In the years we were acquainted I do not believe I ever saw her completely sober, and she angered, frustrated, aggravated me on numerous occasions in my own right in addition to my anger, frustration, and aggravation from her behaviors and attitudes toward her son.

Still, at the end of it all, I can almost admire the way she lived her life on her own reckless, destructive, hurtful ways. Her son – my client as well as my friend – is well-respected and powerful in his own rights. He chose to accept care and responsibility for her as part of his lot in life, and he did so in ways that were compassionate, yet at arms length and very expensive. He told me once caring for her was less about his mother as much as about his own self-respect and the type of man he is and aspires to be, which is someone who does what he can to protect his family, even if it is mostly from themselves. I still do not agree with him on that completely, but as people we are all different about what is minimum standard requirements for being a good and decent human being. At the end of her life, he had no reason for regret or guilt. He did not exactly love her, but she was his mom, and his respect for that biological role in his life caused him to protect himself in the ways he chose while she lived.

The services were very nice, with so many of her friends present who were quite charming characters in their own right. The remembrances were touching, many quite funny, too many heartbreakingly sad due to her own choices and personality disorder. I choose to think of the flawed woman in the best light possible. I know there is evil in this world; I have been exposed to and experienced it firsthand. She was not evil as I define it, but she was self-centered, selfish, and horrible in ways that absolutely disgust me. I won’t really miss her. I won’t miss our interactions. But I won’t say I’m glad she’s gone either. I mostly wish for peace of mind for those closest to her throughout her life.

We met again today, one of our regular face-to-face meetings at his home. His obvious relief at not having to think about or worry about what his mom is doing, what havoc she is wreaking or tantrums she may be throwing looks good on him. And I don’t judge him at all for feeling that way. In life he went above and beyond for her, far more than I would have ever been capable of emotionally or financially with my own parents. He has earned the right to be happy that burden has been lifted.

I identify with the people in both events, because it seems the circumstances of the deaths have touched my own life in real ways. My life and lifestyle choices through the years have not always worked out in the ways I intended, and in painful times I have lashed out and been destructive. Whether I was lucky, smart, just due a better break, or some combination of all the forces of positivity in the world, I survived and came out okay.

But life is changing. Mostly good and great changes.

For most of my life I have bent over backwards not to be judgmental about the choices other people make. It is an impossible standard I have pursued, though, and I know the closer I get to balance and ongoing overall better health, the harder it is to watch in silence while others around me continue to make less desirable choices. I am not one to offer unsolicited advice or opinions, but I am always honest about topics under discussion. I believe exercising my own value systems and evolving positive lifestyle mindset may extend the limits of interactions with others in my social circle. Those who are not so restrained in expressing their (usually negative) opinions are being squeezed out by others who share my enthusiasm for different and more positive and uplifting aging experiences.

I am choosing life. Our individual choices are going to be different, and I completely understand that. But I vastly prefer being around people who are making positive choices and staying active in the journey to graceful aging. It did not take a week of back-to-back funeral services to get me to that realization, but it is helpful to reaffirm that I am making much better lifestyle choices these days.  

In my book of life, another chapter concludes

Last night we had our final dinner as a firm. While I had my doubts about it when first announced, the partners wanted something special for the staff offsite to commemorate the firm that once was. There has been a wide range of emotions about the sale, but joy and elation were not within that range. Mostly it has been anger, sadness, uncertainty, ad some bitterness that the partners would sell out and abandon what is a great firm, great jobs for all of us.

I do not disagree. While intellectually knowing and understanding their position and desires to pursue some other type of life, it has been a struggle to accept and let go for me. But accepting what I cannot change has been for my own good, and I’m in the best possible shape for this parting. I am staying positive 90% of the time about it.

Thursday afternoon we had a boozey-schmoozey final lunch. It was fun – good food, lots of laughter, booze – and at 4 p.m. I was putting the last tipsy lawyer into an Uber and saying goodbye to my receptionist. He gave me a parting gift and I opened it in the car. It’s a copy of Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and he wrote the sweetest note inside for me. I didn’t cry until reading it, but it was powerful. I love that kid and expect he will do well and have a great life.

We were closed for the day on Friday at the partners’ insistence. They were moving their personal belongings from the offices and did not want the staff around to witness this final phase. I stopped by in the late afternoon to put a personal note and goodbye gift on each desk. The empty offices, the framed degrees, the photographs of the firm and staff through the years off the walls nearly broke me in half. The finality that this would be my final stop in this volume of my life and career hit hard.

But last night, last night went from semi-serious and nearly morose to something more typical of us as a group over the course of the evening. Good food, open bar, and a lot of funny and touching anecdotes from the partners about each of the staff members made for a good evening. I’d been asked to share something as well – about the state of the firm on its last days as well as anything else I cared to talk about. I was still trying to write it all down 3 minutes before we were due to leave the house.

In the end, I quoted numbers from my notes, because I’m a numbers kind of person and that is part of my role. For me personally, I spoke from the heart about what they have all meant to me, how it has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with such a scary smart group of people with such unlimited potential for greatness in careers and in lives they live. Ours is not a Hallmark movie inspirational tale – our clients are primarily big insurance companies and not some little guy seeking justice in the form of monetary damages – but being our best selves, using our intelligence and experience to do the best job we can has its own rewards.

My career has spanned longer than a few of these kids time on earth. While I have not always been a manager or a leader – I was 47 before finishing my degree – it has been many years since I have discounted or pooh-poohed my professional accomplishments in comparison to others. As a very young woman I came to understand that I could have everything I wanted in life (assuming I was willing to put forth the sweat equity to make it happen) but I could not necessarily have it all at once. I married, divorced, raised children while working progressively responsible administrative support jobs, a role that I still feel is mostly undervalued. Every job I have had, no matter how low on the food chain or how lacking in respect, has taught me something, even if it is how to not conduct myself or the ways I manage work-related relationships. I remain hopeful that this new big firm experience will benefit my (now former) associates in positive ways. To the very end I continued to encourage them to have an open mind about the possibilities and experiences awaiting them.

And I meant every single word of it.

I debate with myself the value of authenticity and sincerity in the professional realm. There is an edge of cynicism that continually tries s to expand within me yet gets tamped down at every turn. I am realistic that people are people and there is a segment in every workplace that are ruthlessly ambitious or insecure and will do whatever it takes to realize their vision of getting ahead. The work I do is not deeply personal or life-altering to my clients, but it must be done and putting forth quality effort and using my education and experience is satisfying to me. I have grown accustomed to a higher level of autonomy and control in my work, and I see going back to self-employment as the best option for maintaining that. I know how fortunate I am to have this option, to have retained enough part-time clients to ensure our basic living expenses are covered, but already a few clients I referred out 18 months ago when I went with a full-time job have gleefully returned and other firms have been contacting me about projects of various lengths. I should have no problems keeping myself busy, off the streets and out of Baskin Robbins (purely medicinal purposes, of course).

Returning to employee status – I don’t see it happening for me unless something extraordinary happens to my stable of clients. The law firm offered me an unique and challenging opportunity where I felt certain I could and would make a difference. At the end of it, when the old firm is now just a shell that we will be winding down and closing out as a corporation in the next year, I know that my presence and efforts made an impact and a difference for the partners and the staff.

It’s hard to be sad when I know this to be true.

My book of life continues to be written, only one chapter is now concluded. Fresh page, fresh start. Let the new adventure begin anew.

 

Fear, anxiety, friendship

One of my very best friends is in the process of long-term recuperation and rehabilitation from a very serious illness. His return to health has been an arduous journey and is not over yet, but he has been improving and all our hopes are for a full and complete recovery. Along with that, though, we are really hoping he will be capable of flying home within the next month.

Not going to lie – it’s been extraordinarily difficult for him to go from strong, active, and vibrant to this point of weakness, much less active because of his health, and having to fight to recover in all sorts of ways that are unfathomable and unimaginable to me. As far as mood, it’s been an almost textbook cycle of anger, depression, resolve, and wanting so badly and trying so hard to get back to baseline normal. Physical recovery and moodiness aside, there is a cognitive relearning curve in many areas that has been occurring concurrently.

He is family. M and I would no more turn our backs on him than fly to the moon by flapping our arms. Does not make it all rainbows and unicorns to cope with and to watch despite our care and commitment.

I preface it this way for a couple of reasons. It seems the closer we come to his return, the more unraveled he seems to be becoming. Thing is, I don’t care what he looks like – how skinny, how hairless, how much muscle he has lost. I don’t care about his memory loss and what he has had to struggle and battle to recover. I don’t care if he wallows in self-pity and must try to climb out every single day. I don’t care about any of that at all. I want him to be healthy, be all he can be, and his recovery is just short of miraculous in how far he has come in 9 months. Being him home and nearby where we can help and hang-out and communicate in more efficient and effective ways that the geographical distance presently allows is our ultimate goal. The rest we can cope with and fix. In a lot of ways he sees it, but depression, anxiety, and fear make him unpredictable in how he may react.

My Pollyanna-ness gets on his nerves; I know it and try to temper it. However, we tend to communicate primarily via email and online chat, occasional Facetime, text, phone call. I have ongoing concern but am not hovering and wringing my hands over him. Don’t want to see or read my sunnier outlook? It’s fine to delay or even delete my communications. It’s also fine to tell me to shut the f**k up. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and as I said, he’s family; he can say that to me without penalty or long-term hurt feelings on my part.

But our affection and respect is mutual. I know this, and I know his situation and circumstances are unusual. I make huge allowances and give him a whole lot of leeway.

The last few weeks, though, have been trying. With my work-related situation, he has been a most supportive rock and sounding board for me. It is part of what makes him special to me, that he is so stable and sensible much of the time. Outside of me and my issues, though, he’s been a pain in the ass. He’s been alternatively empty shell bright and fluffy to surly and snarling in general conversation. Frankly, I generally prefer the surly and snarling; I can work with that by snarling back. The bright and fluffy? I may as well be chatting with the cardboard cutout of him about the f**king weather.

Over the weekend he sounded in good spirits, but almost too good. Flying is painful for him, makes his brain literally hurt from the pressure. Knowing he was boarding a plane causes anxiety and fear, which he of course does not want to flat out admit, even though it’s the big giant dancing pink elephant in the room. I get it; I didn’t push. I also restrained myself from asking yesterday how the flight went, instead asking him about a Jordan Peterson video series on biblical stories, wondering if he knew it was available and/or started listening. He barked back that he wanted to “put a bullet in his brain to make the pain stop and I wanted to know what he’s listening to?” That’s actually fine – pain talking; I am also grown-up enough of a big girl and can take it. I didn’t reply right away, knowing his head is hurting and not wanting to make the situation worse. Told M that flight had not gone that well, and figured I would write an email instead. Before I got an opportunity, though, got another text that stated “Don’t fucking email or communicate with me any further. Done for now.”

Ouch. Rational Pollyanna in me understands this is pain talking, but it smarted. I resolved to honor his wishes, and when his head stops aching and he wants to talk, I am not going anywhere and we can and will hash it out. Family is family; we say shit we mean in the moment and regret later. Unfortunately. And if this is the worst way we treat one another (and it pretty much is), we are surely not that bad.

So there’s that.

Then this morning while I am at the gym, M gets a phone message from a hospital in Berlin regarding friend J. M had been outside feeding/playing with the cats and getting Cheepers situated in his cage when the call came in, so he came back to a voice mail asking us to call. M texted me and I immediately ceased what I was doing and practically ran out of the club. By the time I got home, M had returned the call and was told it was a next-of-kin notification that friend J was safe, being treated, and his doctor had been contacted. Unfortunately, there was no consent to share information about his condition, but it was policy to notify us.

Under the best of circumstances, this would freak anyone out. Family member in a hospital in another country – fear, anxiety, worry are all normal emotions. Unfortunately for me, this brings flashbacks to the dreaded school phone call regarding my daughter, perfectly healthy 12-year-old, falling ill at school on a Thursday and being told less than 24 hours later that she is brain dead and not going to wake up ever again. My emotional reactions are overreactive and warranted. The fear – oh my, deer in the headlights has nothing on me in this situation.

While we are frantically calling his regular physician to try and find out what’s happening, friend J calls himself when he learned we had been contacted to explain that had happened and reassure us that he is fine. Simple accident – woman fell into him, he fell over and banged his head on a doorjamb. Because of his ongoing recuperation and head injury, his coworkers insisted he be seen by emergency doctors. He was to be released soon and is fine.

I listened. He sounded normal, angry with the staff, assured me that it’s nothing serious. I listened, said okay, handed M the phone and went to throw up. Fear and anxiety released.

In the moments between the hospital conversation and him calling, our last interaction played and replayed in my head. Would his harsh, angry, frustrated-with-his-life words be the last thing he said to me? Is this what 25+ years dissolves into?

It was several moments of awful, hollow feelings. So many years, so many good times, great memories replaced with his last couple of messages on his part and retreated silence on mine.

No clear answers. I don’t want to be angry with him, yet I am. I don’t want him shitting all over me because he’s having a hard time, but I’m allowing it right now. It seems we still have time to sort out the sibling crap in our relationship. But for a few minutes this morning, I had the dreadful certainty that I was going to be living with my regret for all I coulda/shoulda/woulda said.

I do not want to ever live with regret. But my emotions are as highly reactive and hair-trigger ready to fire as they ever get, with this week’s final days on the job and dealing with this today.

I am going to let this sit awhile. I am not going to reach out directly, because my feelings are pretty raw. What I would likely say right now – you’re a selfish, self-centered jerk engaged in an ongoing pity party and I hate you right now – is mostly unproductive.

And now I’m really, Really angry, the kind of angry that comes from a big giant scare and the relief that it was a false alarm. Since he also reads this blog from time to time: I’m really angry and it’s all your fault, you ass. Doesn’t mean I won’t get over it, forgive and forget. Eventually. But interactions with me could be HELL between now and then.

But right now, friend J, I hope you stub your toe or get an irritating hangnail.

First world problem perspective

So I’m whining about work and recognizing the disconnect between intellectual understanding of what is happening and some emotional desire that it not be this way. I get it. It’s not the end of the world, I’m managing it fairly well, and in most ways my job has been winnowed down from a decision-making manager to a bookkeeper and clerk typist who can actually write. Where a couple of weeks ago I was someone who took care of office-related matters, chose products and vendors, had the authority to sign contracts and enter agreements, had routine contact with clients about their account with the firm, I am reduced to someone who must get multiple levels of approval from various parties before proceeding with just about everything. What once took maybe 15 minutes to be crossed off as completed and then promptly purged from my thinking now takes 2 or 3 days and seems to require adjustments after the fact. It is frustrating, but I could easily envision it happening the minute I learned the merger was proceeding.

The most challenging part of my job dumbing down, though, is the fact that soon where I could help or guide or impact issues that arise within the firm and with the staff, I am mostly no longer going to be involved in the resolution come July 1. It is a tough step backward and why I will not stay a minute longer than absolutely necessary.

There are other things I’m wrapping up. Sad things for me that come with the end of a firm I have loved worked at and with people I loved working with. I will miss them. I already miss the change ambiance of the office. Perhaps the merger will be good for each of us as individuals. While I am certain of my own future plans, I don’t deny part of my present day difficulties relates to letting go of the job where I felt like such an integral part of the vibrancy of the firm. Going from a boutique like experience to the bland impersonality of a Macy’s-like shopping experience is harsh.

For all my whining and venting here, it takes only one event to slap me back to reality and my own privilege and self-involvement.

M’s best friend was hit by a cyclist and is presently hospitalized and suffering from some pretty serious injuries. Head trauma, internal bleeding, broken hand that will require several surgeries to repair. This man is a landscape designer and sole proprietor small businessman; he does not have employees who can fill in the gaps until he is back on his feet. Fortunately he does have a brother who can step in and see what is in progress and needs to be done. M is heading off later this afternoon to assist his bestie’s brother retrieve equipment, assess work in progress, and finish up some work at a couple of sites that must be completed this week.

I am horrified at the events that have unfolded in the last 24 hours. M feels fortunate to be in a position to help out with jobs, so his friend does not have to forfeit income for work mostly done and juggling commitments to other runner friends with a big race looming in less than 2 weeks. A lot going on in our world, although M is doing the heavy lifting and bearing the brunt of those far more real and close to home responsibilities.

My job is just that – a job – and what has happened to our friends puts it into a clearer perspective for me. I’m still unhappy with the turn of events, still disappointed in a couple of my associates, still not looking forward to the battles and boredom and tension that will come with this merger and the changes it will bring with it. Small cakes compared to someone lying in a hospital bed with broken parts and a recovery days ahead.

Budget sacrifices

We have a couple gifting occasions coming up this summer. Normally I don’t give it a whole lot of thought – if it’s a wedding I go to their registry, pick something out, order it, ship it, done. If it’s a baby shower, I do the same thing. If it’s a baby announcement, though, I like to go to some baby explosion store and buy some cute wearable. Because it’s a baby and they have amazingly cute, tiny things. And it’s remains a novelty for me to shop for tiny things.

Essentially, I make giving gifts all about me in the convenience and fun factor. Plus buying from a registry ensures the couple or parents get what they want or need, and the post delivery baby gift selection is typically functional as well as ridiculously cute. At my core I am pretty practical.

I never think about whether I’m being cheap or anything else. I typically have a budget range in mind that depends on who the person is in my life, their own circumstances, etc. In my mind gifts should be given and accepted graciously with little or no thought to cost. Of course, I am a complete Pollyanna who truly believes it is the thought that counts.

Lately here, discussion in my own life about weddings and baby showers are coming up more and more, and there seems to be a great debate over how much to spend on a gift. With 2 kids having weddings last year, apparently I should be more in the know about this stuff? Nope, not this mom of both a bride and a groom. The kids are adults, capable of handling their own gifting and financial affairs, and frankly the biggest concern I had was being the mother of “those kids” who did not write their thank you notes in a timely manner. Thankfully, both of mine got theirs done within a month of their weddings.

Sorry friends, I’m the last person you know to ask if a gift makes you look cheap. If you put some thought – even if the extent of the thought was to check their registry and select something – it counts. A few years back a client’s son was getting married and when I checked the registry, a single piece of their china was over $100, crystal was expensive as well. I felt weird giving a coffee cup or salad plate, so I wandered over to towels and such and purchased a set of towels that happened to be on sale. It was a registry item; obviously that’s what they wanted. I didn’t blow my budget and got them something they indicated they desired. My work is done.

This comes up periodically because I work with younger folk, many with a lot of student loan debt hanging over their heads and influencing their choices in jobs and career pathways. Something like gifts for a wedding and a shower can be major budget busters. One of my associates was recently asked to be a bridesmaid. She immediately said yes but is now having serious reservations about the idea once she began adding up the costs. There is an engagement party, so that means a gift. A shower gift, a wedding gift, the dress and shoes and jewelry, the bachelorette party, and it’s also a destination wedding. Ugh. I would have been tempted to say no to the invitation out of budget constraint, but I’m also middle aged and if my friends are getting married now, they are more far less concerned with the modern day wedding experience.

When is enough I wonder? I don’t know. I had the minimalist experience with my daughter last year and then the more modern tradition with my son. Both turned out beautifully and all parties are happy. My daughter had the small courthouse wedding she wanted, my son and daughter-in-law had the wedding of the decade (it was so much fun). The work leading up to the bigger wedding event was enormous, but that was what they wanted, so that’s what they had. I think they did a good job of managing costs and expectations, but it was still an expensive event. I also think it helps enormously that G and K are reasonable people – no -zillas that I saw or heard about – and were able to work with their friends to make the important parts of the wedding happen.

But I still know a lot of folks who worry about appearances. I suggest to my peeps that living within your means always looks good, but when you are a young attorney saddled with debt, most people only look at the profession and make the assumption that passing the bar automatically equates to healthy salaries. Perhaps, but when you factor in long hours, living expenses, and the burden of 5 to 6 figure students loan debt, they healthy salary sudden feels a lot like minimum wage.

This does not mean feel sorry for the well educated young professional, they have such a rough life. But it does mean that their lives are not so rapturously golden because they have a law degree and a professional job.

Once upon a time I was a budget coach, in that I helped people figure out their income and expenses and all the live they were presently living and really could not afford. It was some of the worst and most painful work of my life. Going through it myself was bad enough; trying to help people understand that their “needs” did not equate to cable television, 2 cars (with car payments), new electronics every year, etc. was a huge challenge. Once they realized they would have to give up most of if not all of their wants to pay down their debt, they wanted to get out debt as quickly as possible, which meant unsustainable budgets and more month than money and having to hit the credit card again for basic living expenses.

It was an ugly cycle.

I rarely do that kind of thing anymore. Dave Ramsey has getting out of debt pretty well covered if someone is serious about taking those steps. But chatting with my associate and her stress about the minimal expenses and bridesmaid obligations saddens me. Her heart is in the right place, her friend is her best friend since childhood. But the expenses are going to pile up and she is not going to be able to afford a cup of coffee for the next 7 months unless she diverts any bonuses (90% of which have been used to pay down her student loans) for the wedding expenses.

At least she has options; few people get work bonuses. Small comfort when she is trying so desperately to relieve herself of the debt burden.

Hard choices, difficult conversations ahead. But no, I don’t think she looks cheap for not wanting to spend thousands to be in her dear friend’s wedding. And yes, I do think her friend should understand if she says she cannot afford to be a bridesmaid and attend a wedding in Hawaii. If anything, I wish everyone were as disciplined and as driven to break out of debt enslavement. Law school was worth it, and student loans felt like her only choice at the time. I don’t care about that; what’s done is done. But I very much respect her smart choices now and the sacrifices that may have to be made to slay that dragon.

I am very proud of her, no matter what happens next. I advised she be true to herself, her values and priorities. True friends will understand or work with her to make it happen.

This, that, the other thing(s)

Kind of mish-mash post of things I have been meaning to write about and just have not had time to write and publish.

Decluttering Efforts Continue

Time just slips right by me these days. I have had a glorious 3 days working on my house, the various storage spaces, and yard, yet it seems like this never-ending battle with crap. Or as I console myself, 25+ years of crap. But still – it’s a lot of stuff, much of which has not seen light of day in years. So many years that I doubt we would miss it or think about it further if it ended up in the landfill or dropped off at Goodwill. M disagrees. M also disagrees with me on a lot of crap I have tossed, but he’s more sentimental than I am. He also did not grow up with my parents, have my childhood, and is not triggered by seemingly innocent or charming objects. It’s hard impossible to have a rational discussion with an emotionally irrational me. M expresses himself and his opinions, but knows that when it comes to that pile of stuff, I am the final and only decider on its fate.

I did keep a few things from the piles I thought sure were destined for the dump pile. My mother’s high school yearbooks. A couple of old scrapbooks that belonged to my mother’s sister who died young and before I was born. A senior portrait that has hardly faded in almost 70 years. When I was little I always thought my mother was so beautiful, far prettier than the other mothers I knew, and so tiny and petite. For as abusive of her body as she was (long-time smoker) as she was, mom aged really well. I can only hope the good genes I got work in my favor as well.

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5/30/2017 – Mom’s senior photo

For the most part, the last of the stuff remaining from my parents house has been dealt with and whittled down to an envelope of photographs and a few photo albums. It can stay in storage awhile longer until the next need to purge overwhelms and I can see how I feel about it then.

Otherwise, things are going really well in this effort. M and I are working together toward the common goal, versus bickering and growing impatient with each other about the decision-making process. He has his stuff – his racing career memorabilia and childhood mementos – and I have my stuff to deal, make decisions, organic into defined spaces. Part of our issues, and likely the source of our bickering and impatience with each other, has been the way this stuff has been stored. M has endless numbers of little boxes of things, whereas all my crap is boxed and bundled in bulk, because I knew it would be dealt with and (likely) discarded at some point, after which it would be boxed, labeled, tucked away. We now have the time and sorting space on our pool deck and RV driveway to spread out and figure it out. Our progress is far smoother and more efficient this time.

We were in the garage yesterday moving some of the building supplies out of there and into storage when M caught me staring at the wall of shelving overflowing with crap and suggested I stop staring or I would have an anxiety attack over it. The stuff will be dealt with, but we need to stick with our plan and focus on the pieces and parts in the order and stages. He is absolutely correct; I wander into trouble when I get overwhelmed.

So today he’s dealing with the last of the what we have on site and making a run to the dump with what we’ve agreed it trash. I have the back of his Highlander filled up with donation stuff for Goodwill. After the dump M will be bringing another load of boxes to be viewed and sorted from storage, including everything that is not the box of Christmas lights or Christmas tree. I have at least 6 boxes of Christmas to go through and decide what to keep, what to offer up to the kids, what to donate. My goal is to whittle it all down to just 2 storage boxes, because if we put up our tree, I enjoy it just as much when it’s just the tree with the lights and very minimal to no baubles. I can also easily see a time when we revert to no Christmas tree once more.

Dinner with G

Sunday night we hand an impromptu dinner with my son. K was out of town camping with the pup-pups and a friend, so when I decided to invite them to join us for dinner at a new-to-us local restaurant, it was just G.

I love my kids, all 4 of them, and I love spending time with them as a group and individually. K and I had hung out last week – so much fun – and having dinner with just G was interesting as well. The dynamic is a little different when it’s just one half an established couple, neither good nor bad, just different. Hearing his perspective on their life events and his particular slant on work and their activities is always refreshing and good.

Mostly, I am really glad that they are a thriving, happy couple as well as thriving, happy individuals. Unfortunately the story when hanging out with one half of a couple is not always the happy face united front they present when together. It’s good to hear from them as individuals, to hear the genuine affection and care they have for their absent partner, to listen as they describe their own struggles and triumphs. I’m very fortunate, I know; I probably spend more time chatting with K than I do with my son, particularly lately. But it’s all good. I have always wanted and worked hard to have close relationships with my kids. I’m lucky they chose people that fit well within out tiny family dynamic.

K’s Job Search Success

For about 2 months, K has been seeking a new job. Her former supervisor had left the firm last October and K was promised a promotion and salary adjustment after the first of the year. That came and went without any communication about the promised promotion and salary increase, so finally mid-March she requested a meeting with her supervisor to discuss it. She prepared well, making list of all the additional responsibilities she has assumed, the projects she has shepherded to successful completion, the many accomplishments in the 6 months between her former supervisor’s departure and her increased workload. There was plenty of praise and agreement that she’s done a stellar job, but there was also regret that there was no money in the budget to increase her salary.

We had discussed this extensively before the actual meeting, and privately I hoped she would be successful in getting the recognition, managerial status, and salary bump, but I was not especially hopeful. When they failed to fulfill their promise, I applauded while K refreshed her resume and went to work applying for jobs.

Multiple interviews and 3 offers later, K landed a terrific opportunity in a travel-related non-profit at a 40% increase in salary, shorter commute, and higher quality healthcare and benefits. Trade-off is that the job is likely different type of stress and potentially longer hours, but also offers exposure and networking opportunities unmatched by any of the other firms that sought to hire her.

I am so proud of K for her pursuit and patience through this trying ordeal of dealing with multiple firms, interviews, and offers. Her efforts paid off.

To and fro in Tampa

My other son, A, will be coming home for a brief visit in August. Because of vacation time accrued and their multiple pets, C will not be accompanying him this trip. He has a large family and they are very close-knit, so being clear across the country has been hard on him and he has been terribly homesick since they moved 6 months ago. We will for sure see him for a meal (or 2) while he’s here, but we also understand that realistically he only has a few days with the travel time from Tampa and we will have to share.

M and I are tentatively planning a trip to see C and A in early December, and hopefully G and K will be able to go at the same time as well. With K’s new job, and G’s job in general, it’s a challenge to get all of us together and away for more than a few days. But going clear across the country – I’m hoping for at least a week. C and A will have to work during some of the time we’re there, but that will be okay. We are all grown-up and self-sufficient and can amuse ourselves.

Planning will start in earnest later this summer. But for now, I’m excited about the idea of going east to see my Florida kids. And Disneyworld, too. But really, I’m excited to see my Florida kids. Probably at Disneyworld.

And Finally, Work

Since parting company with a few private clients a couple of week ago, my life has been irrevocably changed. I am getting more sleep – good, solid, high-quality sleep – and my self-employment workload seems lightened by at least 50%. Funny how I barely realized the impact it was having on the whole of the rest of my life.

At the office, we are actively recruiting a new administrative person and another couple of attorneys. There are days when it seems I spend much of my workday reading resumes, scheduling interview, following-up with candidates, writing “thanks but not quite the right fit” letters and emails, or doing some sort of new employee orientation. Comes with my job description, and I do love my job, so I cannot and will not complain about it. The people are probably 89% of my satisfaction with the job; bosses and associates and even clients make even the drudge days more pleasant than other places I have been.

Unfortunately, the work is not always pleasant for me to be around, even if I am only inhabiting the same office space. There are presently a few truly contentious matters going on, the type of thing where voices are raised in conferences and in phone calls to opposing counsels. It is par for the course, even normal, but it jangles my nerves and adds a thin layer of negative stress to my day. To the partners and staff involved, though, it’s like a jolt of fresh energy that lights up their days. They LOVE the fight. Which probably explains whey they do what they do and I do what I do. I don’t know that I will ever get completely used to this side of the lawyering business.

Life continues in a largely positive manner. No (new) complaints here.

 

Death and financial train wrecks – different types of devastation

While the post title sounds like related issues, in fact they are two separate soundtracks running through my thoughts the past few days. Nothing pretty to see here, so if you are looking for my usual glitter-bombing unicorn outlook, this may be the post to skip.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with my client who lost his 13-year-old son last week; the young man took his own life. While he is a client, most of my self-employment clients are people I consider friends as well, the business just another anecdotal box of experiences we happen to share. Understandably, he is completely broken, destroyed by what has happened. That little boy was the sun and moon and stars in his world, and now he’s gone. Interlaced with grief, though, is this intense, white-hot anger from the circumstances that may time will cool and bring peace. I am not an especially religious person; I offer no platitudes about better places and safe from harm. As a mother who has been through the grief that comes with the death of a beloved child, such statements tend to piss me off even as I know that my children are only on loan, they are meant to grow up and become independent beings well outside my scope of control and direction. But 12, 13 – it is way too soon. Please do not ever suggest to me it’s God’s will, or it’s part of a bigger plan, or they are happier in their place in Heaven. Fuck that shit. Our children – we are good parents; our children should be her on earth with us, getting awkward and hormonal, getting angry and screaming at us, assured in how little we know and growing up into people who again like and respect us for the mere mortals we are as they mature into adulthood and realized that their parents are imperfect, do not have all the answers, but try their best.

In a lot of real and direct experience ways, I am someone who understands. I listened and pretended not to notice when he cried. There are no words of comfort in these situations, and sometimes it is only human warmth that makes us feel less alone and lonely with our tragic losses. As I still think to this day, when there are no words, hugs speak volumes.

Into this profoundly emotional and poignant time with one slice of my life, comes all the bullshit and pettiness of small-ball problems. Comparatively speaking, anyway. There are no universal bandaids that remove physic pain and perceived injustice, and sometimes my patience with those who want to escalate petty grievances into something bigger, badder, much more complicated and time-consuming – let’s just say I’m short and dismissive. Every person I know who works or has any type of relationship with expectation of performance and results has similar stories of such disagreements and less motivated, less first-choice options for bosses, coworkers, worked hired out. So I know I am not the only manager at any level in the world having to deal with people and their problems. And I also know what is a Very Big Deal to them is smaller than small-ball to me. Most of the time, I try to deal with them professionally and compassionately, even while telling them to grow up and get real.

In other words, more drama in the office. And it is not that I don’t care – I care very much, particularly as it impacts perceptions about me and my performance of my job functions – but when you are dealing with a slice of pirated information (salaries) and without complete context, the leg you’re standing on is kind of weak and shaking. When it comes up, I will deal with it. Right now, my head is filled with thoughts of death.

And I hate it.

I hate that my client and friend is suffering so miserably. I hate that another dear friend is thousands of miles away and alone and facing a procedure on his brain. I don’t think it’s just me that gets nervous when people speak of brain surgery, and to not be able to be present and there at this time – it’s really, really hard. While telling myself thousands of times daily that it will be fine, he will be fine, I cannot get my mind to buy the reassurances. Sometimes being a “hope for the best, imagine the worst” version of Pollyanna does not work out all that well for me.

Truthfully, I cannot imagine my life without him somewhere in it. M is far more stoic than I am, thankfully, but even he has his reservations and concerns. It’s BRAIN surgery, and no matter how normal and routine it might be for the surgeon and the specialized team of doctors and nurses, this is someone we love and it is a world-class BIG DEAL to the rest of us sitting on the sidelines and metaphorically wringing our hands and trying not to be consumed with worry.

So yeah, head is kind of stuffed to overflowing out my ears with thoughts of death and what life is like imagining and trying to shut off the imaginings of life after the worst.

Ugh.

Another of my clients asked begged (his term, not mine) me to work with his niece on her finances. I thought it would be relatively straight-forward; after all, my client is very intelligent and sensible, his sister (the referral’s mother) seems the same in the times we have met. I figured at worse she would have student loan debt and need some help with her budgeting.

Oh my, I was so very wrong.

We met yesterday, and after 30 minutes of discussing the state of her life, I put away the green tea I was drinking and order the fully caffeinated, full-sugar version of a coffee-flavored milk drink to fortify myself. It is quite ugly.

She is a college graduate with degrees in chemistry and literature. Her parents paid for college so no student loan debt. Her home was gifted to her from her grandmother along with just over 6 figures in cash. She is employed in the local hospital system, which brings to mind decent wage and benefits. The car she drove up in a later model Camray – nothing fancy or flashy. While she is telling me all this, I am listening and nodding and thinking she needs a financial planner more than she needs a budget coach.

Then she pulls out the sheaf of check stubs, bank statements, credit card bills. I am still thinking, okay, everyone gets into trouble with credit cards; it’s almost a right of passage. I can help her, I’m sure.

It is with the documents that the real story comes out and why her mother and uncle asked me to talk with her and see if I can help her out.

This girl is 29, working at a job that pays about $42K per year, because she only works part-time (20 hours per week) by choice. There is a maxed out line of credit on her paid-off home, she has less than $500 in the bank, and an astonishing amount of credit card debt racked up in just a few years. On top of which – before inheriting her home and money, she had declared bankruptcy because of other credit card debt accrued in college.

I asked her how all this debt came about and got some pretty vague answers about shopping and paying for a couple of fender benders to keep them off her insurance and travel and charitable giving. I asked what happened to her inheritance, and got similar responses, with the addition of … plastic surgery. Did I mention she is turning 30 in a couple of months?

Ugh. Financial train wreck? More like mushroom cloud of financial devastation.

While I suspected this was going to be a huge challenge, I valiantly tried to help her.

Does she have a budget? Yes, but she routinely runs out of money and has to use her credit cards. Okay, can she show me her budget. Well no, because she keeps it in her head. She does pay all her bills when she gets paid and lives on what’s leftover. Except with this much credit card debt, there is a whole lot more living going on than a single person should be doing.

Or so goes the judgmental budget coach in me.

I did not have time to crunch the numbers to even get a sense of where she was, so we set up another appointment for this weekend after I had a better chance to look through her stuff and figure out how truly bad things are for her. And after looking through all her stuff last night, it’s really bad.

Since I know quite a few people in her age bracket, I know it is not just an issue of financial literacy. Yet I cannot fathom how someone could go blow through a just over $100K in inheritance, take out (and then max out) a line of credit on a paid-off home, and run up enough credit card debt to owe just over $150K on a $42K per year salary. And yet, I have seen so much worse through the years.

I know and have heard all the arguments and sob stories about the evil banks and credit card companies taking advantage of the consumer. Bullshit. No one makes us take on debt, although I do know sometimes it’s an uncomfortable only option we have. My sympathy in this is primarily with her family, who – rightly – refuse to bail her out of this mess and merely try to find her resources to help resolve it.

The discord in this is that she is in such a deep, dark place of denial. The typical millennial mindset is stronger than average in this one (and I do apologize to all my very level-headed millennial friends who may be reading this vent).

Either way, she’s in a huge financial bind and it will get worse long before it gets better. I want nothing but success for her, but from conversations with her uncle and her mother, she is not listening to them and is unlikely to listen to me. However, I will do my best.

I think she sees herself as living a life of freedom, whereas I see a young woman anchored by debt and being smother by the increasing interest and monthly payments. She could sell her home – the only assets I see that she has – which would likely clear her debt. But I know already the idea will float like a lead balloon.

At a very minimum, she needs to request a full-time schedule and accept every single hour of overtime that is offered to make more cash. With some negotiation with her creditors we might be able to get her squeaking through each month and with a very strict beans-and-rice type budget.

Buuuuttttt – one of the first comments out of her mouth is that she is unwilling to work more hours. Her debt is a combination of shopping, world travel, philanthropy, and just plain deranged, out-of-control spending. Seriously, I cannot think of another way to describe it.

I cannot save anyone, except perhaps myself. For the sake of my client, I will do my best to create a realistic plan … that she’s unlikely to agree to much less follow through with. When I met her, before we began discussing her finances in detail, I thought she was smart, funny, interesting, and quite physically beautiful. We chatted briefly about fitness – she works with a trainer 3 times per week and does yoga religiously 4 or 5 times per week – and I briefly, VERY briefly, thought she should meet trainer J. Or one of the associates I work with.

No, oh no. I love and adore my trainer, I really NEED my trainer, and I simply cannot do such a horrible thing. And my associates, it’s important to me to maintain my professional relationships. My goodness – what if someone I happened to introduce her to actually likes her? No, just no.

I was actually relieved to find out she likes girls.

The bottom line, at the end of a difficult day on a multitude of levels, what I find almost sadder than the real life agony is this silly, silly girl with the great big entitlement boulder resting on her shoulder.

Some things, some choices, some events are so far beyond my understanding. Where I can help, I try my best to do the right thing and provide what assistance I can. Sometimes it’s out of my realm of expertise, and the eventual outcome is in the hands of others far more skilled and more knowledgeable than me.

I have my hopes for the people in my life – I want what I want for them, whether it peace of mind or recovering their health. When someone new wanders into my midst, if I can help I will try. If they refuse help, I can and will step aside and let nature take its course.

Doesn’t mean I have to like it much, any of it. Sometimes I just wish people did not have to endure so much hardship, and sometimes I just wish people would be realistic and make better choices about their lives.