Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Living Gracefully

My husband heard this on NPR this morning and sent it to me. I have to share it here, because this man uses 7 paragraphs to convey the message I have been trying to get across in the 7 years I have been writing this blog.   

Meet people where they are, not where you think they should be. That is living gracefully

Download audio (MP3) 

Fathers are supposed to be role models to their children. But Dick Heinzelman's son has shown him how to live gracefully.
By Dick Heinzelman
My son Jake was born with significant learning disabilities. A sports enthusiast Jake gamely tried T-ball, pitching machine baseball and grade school basketball with decreasing success. But everyone loved having him on the team because no one showed the joy that Jake showed when he managed to make a play.
Jake spent most of his high school years at a small private school for children with serious learning issues. Approaching his senior year he rebelled and insisted on attending the local high school so he could play sports. He wanted to play football but his cerebral shunt and small size said no way. The coach made Jake an equipment manager and, as something of a team mascot, Jake, running at full speed, led the team onto the field at the start of each game.
Jake also joined the lacrosse team. He loved to run into opposing players, a move that became known as "jakelizing" the opponent. Catching the ball in the stick remained a challenge, however. But again Jake's enthusiasm and desire proved contagious.
I tell you this not to suggest that I, as Jake's father, deserve any credit for Jake's success. I've made too many mistakes when my own frustrations led me to say or do things that I am sure were hurtful to him.
It's not about what I could teach Jake, but about what Jake has taught me. You see, I was one of those achievers growing up, a reasonably talented jock, good grades, class president, good colleges. Without Jake, that is what I would have thought life was about, and that is what I would have expected of my son. Jake saved me from all that.
Jake taught me about grace, the grace that allows me to meet another human being where they are, not where I want them to be. The grace that offers encouragement rather than judgment. The grace that nurtures rather than drives.
We can't have too much grace in this world. I still struggle to live up to the word.  It can be discouraging. But when I do get it right, it's worth all the struggle or, as Jake would say, "it's a home run!"
With a Perspective, I'm Dick Heinzelman.
Dick Heinzelman is a retired hi-tech sales and marketing executive. He lives in Napa.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back in the hunt

As many of you know, I left my position as a parent Liaison at UCSF Benioff Childrens' Hospital. As much as I loved that job, it just isn't enough for me anymore. It is limited in scope and hours and I need more of both.  It was perfect when I had the time constraints of Maggie's care and wonderful to ease my way back into the world after Maggie passed away, but now I am ready for more than that job can offer. Hence I find myself in the job market.

It is a strange place to be at my age and given my breadth of experience. I have always worked but have not looked for a job in nearly 25 years. Things just sort of fell into my lap both as a lawyer and in Maggie's World wearing any number of hats.

To be honest, it is exhilarating to be out in the hunt once again, though I do find myself wishing I was 20 years younger and didn't have to explain why I'm in the job market now. I really do not want to share the story of Maggie's life and death with folks in a job interview, but it is pretty much required in order to explain the various experiences I list on my resume. Don't get me wrong, those experience prepare me for any number of positions, and I am extremely proud of all of them, just as I am proud of my time with Maggie. It's just that it is not easy to sit in an interview and talk about it. And I doubt it ever will be.

I am being a bit circumspect about the jobs I seek. I am looking for something that will really allow me to use what Maggie taught me.  My focus has been in the non-profit world, but I wouldn't rule out something legal if it was a fit. I expected this hunt to take several months, especially since I am being so picky about where I apply; but I've already had a few interviews and feel like something will break soon.

Of course I haven't cut ties with UCSF either. It feels like a home to me and I would work there in a second if a job were the right fit. In fact today I am heading there in my role as facilitator of a group for parents who have kids admitted to the hospital.  This is the only group that I am aware of that is facilitated by a parent for parents of hospitalized children. It is a great idea because parents can connect with other parents and speak freely.  I hope this program can grow because the need is huge. The group is offered through Support for Families, a family resource agency in San Francisco with whom I have been affiliated since Maggie was born in 1994. It is great that the hospital and the family resource agency are working together and I am happy to be the link between the two.

Maybe I need to add common denominator to my resume.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

So much lost.....

Imagine being 21 and far from home for a summer of adventure. It is your opportunity to cut loose, away from you parents and work and have fun before going home and "settling down" to a job or a graduate program or whatever.  Who wouldn't want to do that?

Imagine, then when it all turns tragic in a horrific accident. That's what happened in Berkeley this week when 13 Irish students fell four stories when the balcony they were on gave way. Six were killed and seven more badly hurt.  Oh how my heart breaks not only for the students but for their friends and families who are left to deal with the aftermath of this calamity.

I know what it's like to lose a vibrant young adult suddenly, though I doubt anyone would equate Maggie's medical circumstance with the horror of that balcony collapsing. They are different circumstances, certainly, but the result for each of the families is not. They have each lost a vibrant young life that was just coming into its own; or, in the case of the injured, now have a very different life than they thought they would. Each has my complete sympathy and prayers.

For reasons clear only to the reporter, the New York Times decided to take a rather low road and blame the victims. and more specifically, the J-1 visa program that allowed them to come here to work for the summer, calling it an "embarrassment to Ireland" - a comment to which the  Irish government takes great exception  (Here's the article.)

Wow. Really? All those kids did was go to a 21st birthday party.

They were partying.
They were Irish.
So It must be their fault.

It's a tired and unfair stereotype.

Presumably if it wasn't Irish students on that balcony it would have been an entire family, or a group of kids from another country. Then who do you blame? The balcony didn't hold as it was supposed to. I don't know why, but it certainly wasn't the fault of those kids and blaming them or their program is patently unfair.

That is a cheap shot for sure and just beneath the dignity of the New York Times. It's akin to the trolls who leave mean spirited comments on the Internet hiding behind their anonymity.  The paper is under attack for this and has already issued a half hearted apology, but the whole thing is really foul.

The J-1 visa program is a wonderful thing. It allows students to experience a few months or a year or whatever amount of time in the US and allows them to work and see what it's really like to be here. It is legal and not really costing us anything. These students arrive, pay rent, get jobs, spend money, have fun and go home. It's a win win win. Why would that come under attack?

In 1984 I was clerking in a law firm for the Summer and two lads arrived from Ireland through that same J-1 visa program. They worked with me at the same firm. It was easily the most enjoyable three months that I spent as a lawyer or law clerk. Did we work hard? Certainly. Did we have fun? Why yes we did! We were young and had a good summer job and fortunately no one judged us by any of our wild activities that summer.

That was 31 years ago and I am still connected to both of them today. They went back to Ireland and "settled down" just as they were supposed to. They took the great experience of that summer and went back, grew up and lived their lives.   They are now a judge and a captain of industry. So they done good. One of them eventually moved to the US and raised his family here.We stayed with the other while in Ireland last year and he designed our fantastic trip through the West of Ireland. They are my life long friends and I never would have met either of them without that program.

I know of at least thirteen young travelers who won't get that chance because that balcony broke. That's sad for them, their families, and their friends who weren't physically hurt but are affected by this tragedy. And it's sad for the connections they would have made here in the Bay Area. It's been a great 31 years for me and I'm sorry for those who will miss out on that.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Life goes on and on and on

We just returned from a quick trip to Oregon to attend the wedding of my nephew Nick and his bride, Michelle. Everything went just as it was supposed to and the wedding was lovely. The happy couple are now honeymooning in Hawaii.

 Nick is 25 and the first of that side of the family to get married. It is a momentous occasion when anyone gets married, and the first of a generation is particularly so. All the cousins were there to celebrate. They were having fun together, dancing and talking and smiling. It was something to see them all grown up and together..

This picture was probably taken in 1996 when they all fit on my couch.
Nick, Matt, Nina, Mike, Eddie, Maggie, Tim

Now they are giant galoots. All grown up and getting married

Michelle, Nick and Mike
Matt, Uncle Larry, and Nina

Grace, Eddie and Tim

As wonderful as it was, it was killing me.

Of course I was very happy for the happy couple and for the entire family, but I felt a giant hole where Maggie should have been. I was teetering on the edge and had to excuse myself for the father daughter dance, but I managed to stay on the brink and not go completely over. The last thing I want is to cry through every happy occasion because I miss Maggie. It's not fair to anyone, including Maggie. That girl was all about the happy. She would have loved that wedding.

That hole is always there but generally I can work around it. Time like this one, when its all about family, it seems like a gaping chasm that threatens to swallow me whole. I know Steve and the boys feel it too, but we just go on about our business lest one of us fall in.

Everyone is dealing with something, but life goes on.We cannot wallow or expect the world to change because of the issues in our life.  We cannot expect others to take on their problems or issues. We all have to deal with our own as life goes on around us. The secret, I think, is to take part in life as much as possible.  Even though it is hard to do sometimes and it can take me to the brink, I find that taking part in life generally keeps me from falling into that gaping hole. And each time you don't fall in is another step forward.

I believe that's commonly called "fake it til you make it."

 I will always miss Maggie and even more so at momentous family moments when she is missing. I will always be sad. But I will also be happy for whatever is being celebrated. You have to let the happy in or the sad wins.

And yes, you can absolutely experience both at the same time.

Because that's life.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Saying the right thing.

It's difficult for people to know what to say when someone loses somebody they love, and even more so when that somebody is their child. I can tell you from experience, that saying almost anything is better than saying nothing. There were only a couple of statements that were awkward - comparing my child to a dog pops into mind - but even then there was tenderness and real sympathy, so it was fine. I would encourage you to remember that and say something as simple as "I wish I knew what to say" because it all helps

Despite the difficulty of the subject, so many people did and said so many lovely things to us when we lost Maggie.  We appreciated - and needed - all of it. Folks worried about us and the boys and took care of us. My favorites, though, were the comments about Maggie, about who she was and what she meant to the speaker. They spoke of her smile, her wicked sense of humor, her love of music, her abilities, her charm and so much more. Knowing she had an impact on people let us know she was going to live on in some form.

The most unusual and perhaps the most amazing comment of all came from a doctor at UCSF, who may actually never have even met Maggie. Clarissa Kripke MD never treated Maggie, but Maggie and I participated in an elective class she teaches at the medical school. this comes to mind now because we recently received certificates of appreciation for our participation, and my friends Jo and Pat who are/have been involved in that program took the time to frame them.

  The class is called Caring for Adolescents and Adults with Developmental Disabilities.  Several times we had med students spend a few hours in our house to meet Maggie, hear her story and see how we made it all work. Every one of those students was great, but of course those who choose to take this elective are likely the ones who need it least. They already "get it." and want to understand it better.

As the news of Maggie's sudden passing became known many people posted things on either my or Maggie's facebook page. Dr. Kripke said how sorry she was to learn the news because Maggie was "important faculty at UCSF."

Important faculty.

Yeah, I can handle that.

It's probably a good thing Maggie never knew that She would have spent all her time hanging out in the faculty lounge in her graduation gown.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A thousand moments

I walked the dog through the park today and thought of Maggie. That's nothing new. I think of her all the time. But this time it was as though she was right there with me, laughing at the dog's antics and charming all the passers by. That's what she did. Laughed and charmed.

I was thinking about all the seemingly unremarkable moments we shared. They certainly don't seem unremarkable now. Those are the things I remember. Laughingly trying to get work done while she nagged me with her talker or listening to Maggie's music in the car with the volume pumped up and her laughing so hard she could hardly breathe. These were just Maggie and mom moments.

Don't get me wrong, she had Dad and Maggie moments and brothers only moments, but I wasn't part of those. I just miss my remarkably unremarkable time with her.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Breakfast and Baseball filled Mothers Day

Hope everyone had a nice Mother's Day.  It is a bittersweet day for me. More sweet this year because I was busy from dawn til dusk.  We started the day hosting a breakfast for 14 at our house. My mom, two sisters, a brother, their spouses and available kids came over. It was Plan B. We were going to head up to the wine country for a picnic, but I backed out when I learned that Eddie was coming home for Mother's Day and my gift from him was tickets to the Giants games.

 I told my siblings I would host the breakfast, but they had to be gone by noon so we could go to the game and they were not allowed to put me in the position of throwing my mother out on the streets on Mothers Day.  That's just bad karma all the way around. They took care of me.

We really had fun on our adventure to the game. We took the train and ran into a few delays, so we didn't sit down until the bottom of the first. No problem. Plenty of baseball left.

When Steve and I go to the game, we watch intently, we clap, we cheer, we groan all at the right times. But we really blend in. We are average fans who don't stand out.

It's different with my boys. They are superfans who never blend in. Tim kept the entire section entertained (or annoyed, but mostly entertained) with his constant banter. He took aim at the opposing pitchers warming up in the bullpen and it was really quite hilarious. It's definitely rated PG; he does not swear or say anything mean, but he razzes them unmercifully at the top of his lungs.  Eddie joined in and we spent a couple of hours laughing pretty hard. When the relief pitchers gave the game away to the Giants, we had to give the boys credit for rattling them. Fans were giving them high fives them on the way out, so I guess/hope it was funny to others as well.


We stopped for a beer after the game to let the crowds on the train die down. As we sat on the deck at the Hi Dive, we could hear the music inside. I swear every single song was on the Maggie Mix from 2012, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Call me Maybe and more.  I finally commented on it, and each of the boys had already noticed.  Another of Maggie's songs would start and we would just look at each other with a wan smile. It was good, though. It was like a message that Maggie was right there with us. Oh man she would have really laughed at Tim and Eddie's antics.

Keeping so busy was great. I was a bit melancholy here and there during the day, but generally busy and laughing. By the time we got home I was too tired to care about anything and ate some Pizza and went to bed.

And if you are wondering, Tim's shirt declares I'm proud to be an Air Force Mom. That's his mother's day shirt. The people behind were deferentially asking me if I was an Air Force mom and I had to say no.  The deference disappeared rather quickly.