People die twice

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I attended a dinner last night to honor my best friend’s brother who was killed in a car accident five years ago. Family and friends gathered to share their stories and keep Cam’s memory alive with their fond and funny recollections of a man whose life was cut too short.

I have written before that I fall back on words for comfort during times of turbulent emotion. Words give me the ability to process things in a way that nothing else can. I was shocked to find out that many of Cam’s family habitually read my blog and even more overwhelmed when his mother quoted back to me words I had written after his funeral in this blog post.

The patriarch of the family got up to make a speech and was joined by his wife close the end of his rhetoric. Stepping out of her comfort zone, she regarded the faces staring back at her and gave a speech of her own. Her words punched me right in the heart and, not surprisingly, I cried.

She spoke about a woman who told her ‘people die twice’, once when they stop breathing and again after people stop talking about them and cease to say their name. Instinctively, my hand went to the tattoo on my right forearm I painstaking endured in honor of my parents who have both passed. This ink on my skin continually starts an exchange with people and I happily talk about my parents on a regular basis.

This yearly event, held at the cottage Cam held so close to his heart, is a way to keep the discussion going, a way to keep Cam’s name in the conversation and a way to ensure he will never die a second time.

 

 

 

Hold everyone close

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When you work in hospitality, relationships are naturally created with the people you meet. For the brief time they are in your presence, they become an extended part of your circle. You share stories, you share laughs and you create a bond that continues to grow with every visit.

I have had the good fortune of nurturing a relationship that was created with six women who visit the lodge every May. Their connections run deep and they have spent the majority of their lives weaving themselves into the fabric of each other’s reality. I have had the honor of being a part of their lives for two days every May for the last seven years. They are the personification of friendship. They share a sisterhood that is evident and they spent their time at the lodge basking in old memories and creating new ones.

But all of that has changed. One of the ladies called yesterday to tell me their group would not be returning to the lodge. In the few short months since they bid us farewell, one has been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and one has progressed rapidly into Alzheimer’s Disease. As I sat in stunned silence listening to their friend on the phone, it was all I could do not to burst into tears in my office.

These women were some of the first guests I met when I started my new job at the lodge. They embraced me as if I had been a part of their lives for decades and each one has had an impact on me. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply I feel their pain. I can see all of their faces and can hear the laughter they shared during every visit. I can flash back to taking their group photo on many occasions and cannot begin to express how heavy my heart is as I write this post.

I know the future for these ladies will be forever changed. My sadness drastically pales in comparison to what they will be forced to face and I can only hope they find comfort in their memories. I will always hold on to the times they created some of those memories at the lodge and included me in those moments.

 

A simple hug

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I saw the pain in your eyes,

that is why I couldn’t look away.

And the only thing I could think to do,

is give you a hug.

It won’t fix anything,

It doesn’t make things better.

But it does let you know,

beyond a doubt,

that you matter to me

and I will always be there with open arms,

open ears

and broad shoulders.

Your friendship is a part of me now.

And you know I will always be there

whenever you need me.

(image credit)

 

 

Did they grow on me, or did I grow on them?

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Twice a year, we have a bus tour company bring a group of seniors to the lodge. Some of the faces are familiar but many are new to us. One particular couple has been to the lodge several times and, each time they come, they have kept to themselves and not engaged with us in a way many others do….until this trip.

When they arrived on Monday, I greeted them by name and welcomed them back to the lodge. I pointed them in the direction of their room and they ambled off to settle into the place they would reside for the next three nights. They came in for the 4:00 pm welcome coffee and cookies, got comfortable in their seats and made little conversation with the others on their tour.

By breakfast the next morning, something had changed. As she made her way into the lodge, her arm found its place around my waist and she let me walk her to the table with our arms around each other. He steered his walker through the door and followed us. I asked if they would like a pot of tea and, for the first time in their past four visits, he actually smiled at me. The tea was delivered, breakfast was ordered and we found ourselves absorbed in a conversation beyond their breakfast preference.

To say I was astounded would be an understatement. The word curmudgeon always sprung to mind when I thought of him but his smile has since changed my mind. I honestly cannot tell you if they grew on me or I grew on them, but my relationship with this couple has grown. They no longer regard me with contempt but embrace me with their smiles and their gratitude.

Perhaps moments like these can change our first impressions. Two people who struck me as being eternally grumpy now present themselves as two people who have had their share of struggles and still face each day with determination. My wish for them is that they continue to rally and I truly hope to be able to greet them by name if they are able to make it to the lodge for another visit.

 

Holding my breath

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Without even realizing it,

I had been holding my breath for you,

wishing nothing but good things

and feeling like my heart would break if yours was burdened.

looking up

Bearing a weight that was not mine to bear,

I kept my chin up,

looking to the stars for a wish,

relying on the divine breaths of the many who watch over us

to watch over you as you slept.

 It was no surprise when my tears fell,

allowing a small fraction of the weight you must have felt

to lift from my shoulders.

 A burden not my own,

but a burden worth bearing, just the same.

 Your struggle is not mine,

but I keep the pace and walk with you,

there to listen when you need an ear,

and there to be an embrace

in the moments you need a hug.

I will continue to hold my breath

until you feel it is okay for you to exhale.

(image credit)

As if no time has passed

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We met in college. When you register for a program specifically geared towards hospitality, you are bound to meet friends who are outgoing and love people and that is exactly what happened. And, although twenty-nine years have gone by since we shared those hallowed hallways and classrooms, their voices still make me feel like it was only a few years ago.

We connected immediately and, for the two years we spent together within those walls, we shared innumerable laughs, a few tears and a great many games of Euchre. If I were hooked up to a polygraph machine, I would have to admit we spent more time playing cards in the cafeteria than we spent in several of our classes and, yet, we somehow managed to graduate with top marks.

As fate would have it, reality began to seep into the happy bubble we had created in college. Marriages, careers and families pulled us in many different directions but we managed to get together on a few rare occasions to catch up and talk about all the wonderful memories we could recall from our college years. These friends became a part of my family and, after almost three decades, I can still pick up the phone and talk to them like I just saw them last week. That is true friendship.

Very rarely do I miss a birthday and, though now it may only be a message through social media, their faces pop into my head when I realize what day it is. I have never forgotten April thirteenth, June third, October twenty-sixth and November seventeenth. Those dates and those people will always have a special place in my heart.

A twenty-minute phone call today reminded me of how much of an impact these people had on my life, and how much they still do. I may not know their children or how they spend their days, but I do know they were and always will be a big part of my life.

Jeff, Tara, Rob, Marc….2020 may be the perfect time for a long-overdue reunion!

 

 

 

On the other side of struggle is always something better

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It took me four long hours to write this post, but this is what I want to say. Life is not easy. Just when everything feels like it is finally going in the right direction, life is that hologram in your window, shaking its head, saying, “I don’t think so”. Life is ironic and unpredictable, but on the other side of every struggle there is always something better. And that something better is the thing we need to hold on to with every bit of strength we have.

I am no stranger to struggle. I have had my fair share of the boots of life kicking me in the face. But, for as many times as I thought the struggle had gotten the better of my resolve, things would always begin to look up. That something better always hung precariously in the distance but gradually inched its way closer to me every day. I let myself believe in the promise of it and I began to know in my heart it was there. And it always was.

Dealing with struggle is not always about pushing through, it’s about letting people in. It’s not about putting on a brave face, it’s about being strong enough to cry in front of people when you need to cry. And dealing with struggle is about knowing, and really believing in your heart, there is something better on the other side of that battle.

Don’t give up. Don’t let anyone or anything other than you win that battle. The world tries to break everyone but the ones who beat the struggle are the ones who take all of their pieces and rebuild a new world and a new happiness. Struggle is strong. You are stronger.