Read of a crashed Toyota Corolla.

Saying goodbye all over again

At the end of November 2018, I wrecked my Toyota Corolla. Of course, I did what any person in my situation would do: I went out and bought another Corolla.

Hey, the first one was a great car. Maybe the second one will be even better.

Some things just aren’t meant to last. Last weekend, my wife was rear-ended by a driver while she was stopped. I’m still navigating the ever-so-fun waters of insurance after an accident, but from the preliminary estimates, my car is totaled. I didn’t even make it two years with that car. In fact, I’ve barely driven it the last seven months thanks to the pandemic.

So much for the memories.

Thankfully, my wife and daughter who were in the accident, are mostly fine (the wife is still recovering, but isn’t 100 percent yet).

As for the car, it’s kind of a symbolic end for me. When I bought the car, I was a big mess. I was unknowingly severely depressed, still in shock from the death of my mom. I needed transportation, found it, and kept moving on.

Mom had a red van. Dad didn’t get rid of it until about a year after she passed away. At the time, I found it fitting that it was a red car. I realize I’m reaching in the symbolism department here, but it meant something to me. The red car came to me in a time of pain. And the red van stayed at my parents’ house for another year, and every time I saw it, I ached a little inside. I was so happy when I found out he had sold it, because I knew then it would be easier to move on.

And yet …

I almost wish I could sit in that van again. Maybe I could smell the residue from her perfume. Maybe I could hear the laughter of the grandkids who got in that van for a weekend getaway with the grandparents. Maybe I could see her again.

It’s October. My first child was born in this month. My mom died in this month. A car, and all its symbolism has been added to the list.

I have missed mom so much lately; icing on the layered cake of a truly insane year.

So yeah, I think my days of small cars are out. I don’t have any real reason, other than it’s time to make a change. I’m in no rush. I can take my time with a clear head and a more-healed heart, and replace the vehicle when the time is appropriate.

As silly as it sounds, saying goodbye this car makes it feel like I’m reliving the loss of mom all over again. Thankfully, I think I’m in a much better spot to weather the storm.

Me wearing a mask.

I wore a mask all day while I worked. Here’s what I learned.

As mask-wearing begins to take center stage around the country, there’s a lot of questions about how masks might affect the wearer as they go about their daily lives.

Is wearing a mask all day safe? Will I get sick from wearing a mask too much? Will it restrict my breathing? Will I learn that I need to eat more Altoids?

There’s nothing wrong with asking these questions. We’re in a new world, and you only learn by asking questions. But I decided to take it a step further by doing a little experimenting.

Now, I’m a healthy individual, and most of my work involves sitting at a desk looking at a glowing rectangle all day. So, I figured I would wear a mask, and see how it affected me. But to make things more quantifiable, I decided to log my oxygen saturation levels of my blood with a pulse oximeter that I purchased in the beginning of May. You can find the exact one I purchased here.

To try and replicate a typical workday, here was my methodology:

  • At 8 a.m., I put my mask on and took a reading
  • Around every 15 minutes, I took another reading
  • I put the results in a Google Sheet, along with any notes about that moment
  • I took the mask off at lunch time
  • I took the mask off at two other times when I gave myself a break
  • Every time I took the mask off, I went outside

A little bit about my mask: It’s a standard cloth mask that can be found for sale almost everywhere by people who can sew better than me. It has elastic loops, and a slot where I can put a filter inside of it. My filter is a blue shop rag from Scott I purchased from Home Depot.

So what did I find about my experiment?

  • I didn’t experience any negative health complications from wearing a mask all day
  • Around noon, the loops around my ears started to get a little uncomfortable
  • On video conferences, people appeared to be able to hear me fine
  • I felt a little silly wearing a mask while on video
  • I didn’t drink enough liquids because taking my mask off would require me to go outside (I really tried to keep this as realistic as possible)
  • I drank 1/2 cup of coffee, which is way lower than usual
  • I was happy to take it off at the end of the day

But what about the data? Tell us about the data!

I put my data in this Google Sheet. Feel free to check it out for yourself. I’m happy to report that my pulse oxidation levels appeared to stay above the norm for the whole day, according to Mayo Clinic. I don’t think I would want to repeat this daily, as that would certainly require a new mask every day, and it isn’t the most pleasant experience to work with a mask on.

However, it is doable — at least for me — and it certainly beats shutting down a business.

TLDR; I wore a mask all day and didn’t experience anything negative, aside from not getting nearly enough coffee.

Negative value

You got to know when to hold ’em,
Know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run.

— Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

Recently my financial advisor called me and let me know about how my investments were doing.

A few of them aren’t doing well at all. In fact, they’re losing money regularly. There’s no sign that they’re going to get better anytime soon, and I was asked, “Would you like to keep holding onto them, or do you want to invest in something with a better return on your money?”

Man, that’s a tough call. I mean, I’ve poured a lot of money into all my investments, even those that are losing money. I don’t want to face the reality that I may have picked a few bad apples, but I’ve put so much into them. Should I go ahead and keep them, or take a chance on something that could produce a better return?

OK, I have to admit something: that story didn’t happen.

But I have been thinking a lot about negative value lately. However, I haven’t been thinking about it with money, but rather with regard to people.

If someone actually had come to me and said, “This thing you’re investing money in, it’s losing value all the time” then I’d have to consider what my next course of action would be. The way I see it, I would really only have two options:

  1. Stay the course. It’s possible that the investment will make an about face, and the returns will start moving in the right direction. All I need to do it wait it out. After all, you might have heard the phrase “Past performance is no guarantee of future results,” and just because something is in the toilet today doesn’t mean that it won’t rebound in the future. Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1997 before Microsoft stepped in with a last-minute investment that saved the company. Today Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world.
  2. Know when to fold ’em. Kenny Rogers said it best. You have to know when it’s time to throw in the towel and move on. Sometimes, you get to the point that you realize you’re not going to get your investment back. It’s gone, and the longer you hold onto it, the longer you push off admitting that you invested in a stinker, and there’s no coming back. This is also called the sunk-cost fallacy, and honestly, it’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes. But sometimes you realize that past performance is no guarantee of future results, and there’s no guarantee that you’re ever going to get your investment back.

But again, I’m not really talking about money here. I’m talking about people.

Sometimes, you invest so much in a relationship with someone, it’s hard to admit that you’re not going to get out of it what you put in. This is difficult, and painful. How can you just walk away after all the time and effort you put into someone?

I’ve seen this play out with people I care about, and I always give the same advice: ditch the people that drain you, and find others to invest in instead. There are people who add tremendous value to our lives, and those people are worth holding onto. But when it comes to people with negative value, people who that add no benefit and are actually costing you in energy, stress, worry, and depression, you need to think about how long you’re willing to hold on.

Is it time to cut your losses on a chance for better return on investments elsewhere?

Making the present

Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. It is the only way to become what you were meant to be. — Kylo Ren in ‘The Last Jedi’

In July of 2019, there was an app that exploded in popularity across the internet. Appropriately named FaceApp, users could snap a picture, then alter the image using effects that could change their gender, add a smile where there wasn’t one, or modify their style.

But on social networks around the globe, one of the things people were most poised to do was use the aging feature and post the result of how the app predicted they would look like in the future.

I had to try it. I snapped a picture of myself (included here for reference), and then used the app to age me into a senior citizen. The result took me by surprise.

Picture of old man after using FaceApp.

I looked at this picture, and a thought initialized with a question only I could answer: “What does this guy wish he would have done different at my age?”

It’s possible this was the most important image I looked at this year.

Over the past few months I’ve been scribbling on notepads thoughts about my future. Since my mother died, I have been taking stock of my life. Am I were I want to be? What should I have done different? What does the future look like? What steps do I take today to try and reach that future?

Granted, there are things that are always out of our control. I will not worry about such things. Instead, I’m taking issue with the things that have been in my control. If I am honest with myself, and I mean really honest, I have had some fairly regular failures.

Yes, we all have failures. I definitely believe that failure is necessary for growth. But what I’m talking about here is consistent failures: mistakes I keep making over and over again.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. — Romans 7:15

Whether its health, career, spiritual growth, finances, or family relations, I feel I have a pretty good handle on what I should be doing. I have read many books. I have tried many self experiments. I know what has the greatest impact for me in a variety of areas of my life, and I also know what doesn’t work that well.

However, I am never consistent. I typically go through long periods of being fully on or fully off. I call it my “switch,” and I’m always toggling back between a fully open or closed state.

I am exhausted by the switch. It is something I am always waiting to turn on or off, instead of something I am actively pursing. I am done with this.

It is easy to look back at the past year and see the good and bad. I am finding it much more difficult to look back a decade do the same review. Not to say I can’t remember the past decade, but rather it’s difficult to look back at the past and see it all too well.

All his life has he looked away … to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was … what he was doing. — Yoda in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

Since I have moved away from where I grew up and lived half my life, I have felt like I have had my feet planted between two worlds. Instead of using one as the foundation for the other, I have been kind of stuck between the two. It wasn’t too many years ago that I was considering moving back. I would find a job, move the family, and then continue on with life. But the door for a move like that closed, and I stayed put. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it is almost like the door closed for a reason. I needed to go ‘all in’ where I am in life now, but I didn’t fully see that then.

I do now.

This is time of year when people typically make out their resolutions or goals for the upcoming year. I am no different, and often post them online, then do a review at the end of the year. There’s great power in attempting the start of something new at a set moment in time that is meaningful to you like the beginning of a new year, month, or a special date. (Related: check out the awesome book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.)

I have goals for everything I have mentioned here. I have deep desires to reshape almost every area of my life. But this time, I’m not going to publish these goals. I have them written down, and I will review at a later date. Until then, I will do the work.

If there is one thing I will publish publicly about how I hope my future will become, I will put it simply as this: My goal is to be unrecognizable at this time next year versus who I am at this moment. I am ready to put my past behind me, and move toward a more consistent and stable future.

The only way I will get there is to have my mind on today, and start making my present. Otherwise, the future will end up like it always has, and I’m no longer happy with that.

Here’s to a new year, and to making the present. Have a great 2020!

In review: 2019

“No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse.”
― Randy Pausch

If I had to describe my year in one word, it would have to be brutal.

Defined as “punishingly hard or uncomfortable,” I would say that is an apt description.

When I began the new year, I had no idea how empty I felt. Reeling from the death of my mother, I wasn’t aware of what was going on inside of me. I was in a lot of pain. Depression had taken hold, and I was absolutely lost. I didn’t write much this year, but my posts in February, March,  and October give a little bit of my mindset from the past year. Of course, those posts were tinted with my own writing style, while masking a deeper truth that I was not well for a good part of the year.

Looking back, I was probably more hell bent on self destruction than healing. I’m thankful to say that things are a lot better now, and I mean that with all sincerity.

At the end of 2018, I wrote that I had three goals: take the family to Disney World, buy a house, be healthy, and be selfish.

Accomplishments

Home Ownership: 😃

The Gruber house.

After months of searching and three years of being renters, we found a house to buy in September. Located in Gladstone, MO, it had most of what we were looking for. The yard is big enough for kids to play in. The garage can fit our vehicles. Each child has a room.

I wanted something that needed a little work, and our house doesn’t disappoint. It’s not exactly a run-down fixer upper, but it certainly has plenty of areas for improvement. It’s more of a “stuck in the 90s fixer upper.” Since moving it, I’ve tackled projects as I can, and have found the process to be very therapeutic. When I’m working on a house project, my mind wanders and I process quite a bit. I have found this to be very helpful in the grieving process, and I’m thankful for the outlet.

Disney World: 😃

The Gruber family at Disney World in from of Cinderella's Castle.

We took our family vacation to Disney World in September. We drove from Gladstone, MO to Orlando, FL over three days, stayed for five nights, then took the first family plane trip back home.

The trip was a lot of fun. I love a good road trip, and we made many good memories along the way.

Health: 😬

I’m mentally more healthy, and I’m down in weight about 20 lbs. since my peak in February. I’m overall happy with this progress, although I’m far from what I would consider “mission accomplished.”

Be selfish: 😬

I have started taking more ownership in my life. I’ve went to some concerts, stepped away from some things I needed to walk away from (for awhile anyway), and have added some things into my life that have been lacking. I’ve been a little more “selfish,” although not as much as I had expected. I’m forming my own rules for life now. The jury is still out on how well that’s going, but I’m feeling confident that I’m in a much better place than I was a year ago. There’s a lot of work to be done in this area.

But now I’m thinking about next year, and even the next decade. Normally in my end-of-the-year posts, this is where I would lay out what I plan on doing in the coming year.

As the great Bob Dylan once sang, “Things have changed.” I’ve been thinking hard about my future plans, and that is going to require a separate post altogether.

Image of a deck with light snowfall.

Brave

Today we had our first snowfall of the fall.

It’s a little early for snow, but it’s not like I had any control over it. The day was a bit gray, the skies were overcast, and it was raining as I drove home from work. After dinner, the snow began to come down.

It wasn’t a whole lot. It was but a dusting. But the color of the day and the snow that came after got me to thinking about how I’ve felt this year in this time since mom died.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written this year, or know me in real life, you would know that I’ve taken the death of my mother very hard. She was loved, and was loving, and her death has left a hole in those that knew her. I was dreading the the one-year anniversary of her passing. I wasn’t sure how I would feel, or if I would be stable.

The year has been difficult, no doubt.

But oddly enough, the anniversary was just what I needed. In some very odd way, it brought a small bit of closure. At least, as much as there can be in these types of situations. This is how things are now. Things have changed. This is the new normal, and I have accepted it.

Since then, I’ve felt at peace. I really can’t explain it, and don’t really think I can analyze it. It just is, and I’m content with that for now.

I was talking with my wife this weekend about some things that transpired in the last year, and there are things I simply don’t remember. I think my depression was so bad, that I ended up blocking certain things from my memory. It’s so easy to look back now and see how broken I was. However, in the middle of my pain, I couldn’t see it. It took a few months before I realized, “Hey, if you don’t get a handle on this, everything is going to crumble down.”

So, I did.

If you’re going through hell, keep going. — Attributed to Winston Churchill (Although no one is certain if Churchill actually said that.)

So today, I was looking out our big windows at work, and looking at those gray skies. I was reminded of how bad last winter was. I remember how numb I felt.

This might sound silly, but today I felt … brave. I see life differently than I ever have before. I’ve known a few people that have died in the last three years or so, and it’s given me a chance to reflect on a lot of things within my own life.

I now feel like I’m standing in the doorway of a new chapter in my life. I’ve turned the handle, and have just started to crack open the door. I can see the light peering in from the other side. I don’t know what is there, but I’m eager to find out.

I’m feeling brave.

Grave of Linda Gruber.

A year of firsts

One year ago today my mother died.

When I wrote about Linda Gruber in the post For my mother, I had no idea how impactful this event would be on my life. In the months that followed in 2018 and into early 2019, I experienced confusion, depression, and darkness. Looking back, I’m not quite sure how I held it all together. I am thankful to friends, family, co-workers, and anyone else who were helpful during that period.

Navigating a Year of Firsts

The winter was more difficult than usual, and the lows that came caught me by surprise. Grief is a powerful entanglement, and when you’re caught in it, it can be difficult to see the way out. I suppose the reason why my grief was so overwhelming was because of one incredible thing: I loved my mother very much, and I know she loved me, my wife, and my children, very much as well.

By the time spring rolled around, I was taking steps to get better. I went to counseling, started exercising and eating less junk, and started to feel a lot better. It seemed like I had turned a corner. But by the beginning of May, things started to reverse. I wasn’t as much of an emotional wreck, but other healthy aspects that I had been pursuing began to slide.

In June, I decided to stop counseling. I think therapy has great benefits, and I liked a lot of what my counselor had provided me up to that point. But there were things that I didn’t find helpful. The counselor received text messages during our sessions, and I found that off-putting. But mostly, I got to a point where I felt I wanted to try something on my own. Summer is my favorite season, and I figured that a little bit of sun and some outdoor activity would be good medication.

I was right about the sun, but the activities were elusive. Mostly, I spent my time working. In addition, we decided it was time to start looking for a house to buy. We were out of space at our rental, and frankly, mom’s death made me realize I wanted to get moving toward some of my goals sooner rather than later. Most of our summer was spent looking at houses, going to open houses, and trying to find the right fit.

By the end of August, we had purchased a house. In September, I and my family went to Disney World, which was largely in part thanks to a gift — a final gift, in fact — that my mom and dad helped us with. Mom had told dad that she wanted us to be able to go to Disney World, which was something I had talked about while she was alive. So, thanks mom and dad, we had a lot of fun.

Today marks the end of “a year of firsts”which is something everyone who experiences loss has to deal with. It’s a year when that person isn’t around to share in the things you normally experienced with them before. Birthdays, holidays, get togethers and regular everyday memories that can’t be shared with a loved one all get lumped in a year of firsts.

It made for a difficult year, and now we know what the future holds.

A pivotal moment

There are moments in each of our lives that we can point to as a pivotal moment, one which the before and after are clearly divided by one moment in time. That’s not to say that every pivotal moment has a good outcome. History is filled with plenty of examples where a person became changed in an instant, but not for the better.

This certainly could have been my outcome. I was not in a good place at the beginning of the year. There were plenty of days that I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t feel anything, and I certainly didn’t have any passion for life. I felt very empty.

Depression is a wild beast.

My friend, Brandon, who lost his mother a few years ago, suggested that I do something to break my cycle. So, I decided on something pretty small by helping out with my son’s karate classes. Every week his karate class is happy to have parent helpers, and each time I take him I can make a choice: Do I sit on my phone and wait for him to be done, or do I volunteer to help a class full of newbies learn martial arts?

I decided to help, and it’s been a good decision. Last Monday I was at his class and was helping out, and I found myself … smiling. I was having fun with these little learners, and it all happened by accident.

I still have my rough moments. It sounds so tempting to just give up and let things fall to the wayside. But I’m not going to do that. My family depends on me and wants me to be healthy so we can make our own memories; so we can live our own life.

Mom would have wanted that. She was a wonderful woman, who loved this life and would have wanted her family to experience life in its fullness just as she did. So, I will press on. I’ll keep at it. One day I know the sting will be less than it is today, just as today it is less painful than it was one year ago today.

I miss my mother. I love her greatly. I will honor her memory by persisting, and doing what I knew she would want me to do: pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.

During the last year, I made a couple of playlists: one for when I was really down, and another for when I started to get better. Their meanings may be elusive, but they really were helpful for me, in ways you can never imagine.

But the song that really gets to me even still, I leave here: “Please Tell My Brother,” by Golden Smog.

“I feel your love and I feel your ghost/Listen dear mother I miss you the most.”

Dear men: It’s time to grow up now.

Disclaimer: Lest this comes across as me being better than anyone else, I assure you that I have done plenty of stupid, idiotic things. Many I wish I could go back and undo, but I take solace that I have learned from these things, and in turn, tried to better myself from my past experiences.

When I was in high school I became good friends with a girl that was a year younger than I was. She ended up becoming one of my closest friends. Over the years, we shared deeply intimate things with each other, and have dealt with some heavy problems together in our lives. When my mom died, even though my friend lives across the country, she was and is still there for me to give me strength.

She was a lot of fun to spend time with. She was artistic, loved listening to The Eagles, and was into super heroes (specifically, Wonder Woman). We talked for hours and hours on end. I think we were just normal enough, and still weird enough, for each other that it made a great friendship.

We were never romantic. It was, in a very pure form, friendship.

Because of my relationship with her, it helped me to understand friendships with the opposite sex better. As an adult, I have gravitated to find more male relationships in my life so to better understand how I relate to the world with men who have shared similar experiences. But I do still have friendly relationships with women, and I’ve learned some very interesting things over the past few years. And now, I’m so pissed off about it, I simply want to vent. I’m fairly sure this will never reach the audience it should be read by, but on the off chance it will, here it is.

Dear men: please stop. It’s time to grow up now.

Of course, there are plenty of men out there who this doesn’t apply to, so please feel free to ignore.

But for those of you who just can’t help yourself, I say it again: It’s time to grow up now.

In the past few years I’ve seen some pretty awful things done by men. Here’s a few lovely ones.

  • During a divorce, a man drained his wife’s retirement account to which he had access.
  • Another man routinely threatens violence against an ex-wife as a form of control.
  • I’ve heard man, many accounts of alcohol causing problems in a relationship, until the woman is finally driven away because she couldn’t take it anymore.
  • I’ve seen men who can’t keep a job, refuse to do anything to better themselves, or drag the women in their life along a hellish financial nightmare.
  • I know a man smokes around his children even though he knows they have asthma.
  • And a story I’ve heard more times than I can count from so many women that I’ll paraphrase it this way: “We’re through, but he won’t stop texting or calling. I fear it will never stop. He’s always so mean when he texts me, and because we have (children/property/etc.) together, I still have to keep communication open with him. I wish I could never hear from him again.”

What these “men” don’t realize is that they are leaving behind a legacy. Their friends have all heard these stories. Their children see everything they do and soak it all in. Their employers shake their heads in disbelief.

So in case I wasn’t clear: Dear men, please stop. It’s time to grow up now.

I recently went to a funeral for a former mentor of mine. It was honestly one of the best funerals I have ever attended. There were magnificent stories about his passion, his devotion, his dedication to his craft, about his spiritual discovery, and about his relentlessness to enjoy life with character and dignity. I came home from his funeral with a newfound fire. His funeral was absolutely inspiring to me, and re-lit something I felt I had lost in the last few months.

Although we’re in a time of morning for the loss of my mother, I am highly inspired by my father. He had an unwavering love for my mother. Mom once spent several months in Colorado away for schooling to become a nurse practitioner, and upon her return he had hung a giant sign on the side of the house that said, “WELCOME HOME LINDA.” I watched him defend my mother’s honor once in an ice cream store when some jackass said something inappropriate under his breath. He was always stable, took care of the household, and the kids, and even though he really doesn’t give two hoots about football, showed up at every game I ever played in.

Men, I implore you: It’s time to grow up now.

There are men who have gotten completely screwed by the system. Because courts tend to favor the mother when a relationship ends, I’ve seen men get the real short end of the stick. I know men whose former loves have taken away everything from them in a very unfair way. This is a reality that exists. But I’ve also watched these same men go through these trials and keep their cool as I watched with amazement. Frustrated, yes. Broken, absolutely. But the ones I’m thinking of have done so with a level of dignity. They know they are being watched, and want to come out on the other side of their problems stronger, and with their character in tact.

Those are not to whom I am writing to. To you men who can’t seem to get your life together, who have made substances your main form of entertainment, who have absolutely no direction in life and aren’t even making steps to find it, this is for you. Surround yourself with men of good character, and discard the waste.

Men, there’s still time to make a new legacy, one where you’ll be remembered not for what you tore down, but what you chose to let go of and rebuild.

It’s time to grow up now.

Picture of wooded landscape, trees without leaves, and a sunny but cloudy blue sky.

The hope of spring

Today is the first day of spring.

Personally, my favorite season is summer, but I have an appreciation for spring. With it comes hints of sunshine and heat, alongside occasional reminders of the winter you’re trying to leave behind.

It seems almost poetic to me that the trajectory of grief following the death of my mother has followed the changing of seasons. They appear so closely related that I can’t tell which is more true: has my grief mirrored the changing of the seasons, or has the harshness of this year’s winter made my grief that much more severe?

It’s impossible for me to discern that right now. But in case there is someone out there going through something similar and happens to stumble upon my writing, I hope my transparency can help shed some light on what is to come.

I’ve never dealt with depression before, but after the start of the new year I figured out that things were not good. Sadness is normal and expected after the death of someone close, but this was a powerful force that I hadn’t experienced before. In an earlier post, I wrote:

The worst was around the three-month mark. January 12 was a very low day for me. It was emotionally debilitating, and when it hit me it really came out of nowhere. There was a point that day when I took a shower and laid down in the tub. I didn’t have the energy to stand. I felt so broken. I cried so much. And the strangest thing is I can’t fully explain why. I suppose that was simply the day my mind chose to grieve, and my body was forced to submit.

Shortly after that, I start seeing a counselor. When I called to set up the appointment, the counselor asked me why I felt like I needed help. I explained that my mother had died, and that had reached a point where I simply did not care about anything. However, I had done some research online and I didn’t think I had enough of the symptoms of having depression.

At my first appointment, I answered some questions. The counselor said without hesitation, “You’re depressed. We have a lot of work to do.”

I have been working on me, and I have some good help. My wife, Amy, has been fantastic. There have been many times in the past few months where she’s said to me, “How can I support you?” This has been an immense help. If you’re going through anything like this, find some support and let others help you. I’m not real good at asking for help when I need it, but I’m learning.

This experience has really highlighted to me the state of mental health in the United States. Of course, the counselor I picked doesn’t take insurance, so I’m paying for all of this out of pocket. That’s fine, because I get along well with the counselor I chose, and the whole experience has set me on a better path. But really, what year is this? It should be easier and more affordable to get help with mental health issues than it is.

It’s also shown me that those closest to you — friends, co-workers, people who rely on you for stability — might not fully understand how to interact with you during a time of grieving. I’ll probably write more on this in the future as a guidebook of sorts of how to help someone who has been burdened by the pain of loss. I will say that death in the modern age is a strange thing. Social media can be haunting, and the digital artifacts of someone you’ve lost can be especially triggering. These are tricky waters to navigate.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how many people who have been a part of my life in some way who have died, many within recent memory. In the last year I can think of a girl I grew up with in my hometown, the dad of my childhood friend, the guy that owned the hardware store back home, the woman I worked with when I worked at Toys R Us in my college days, a mentor, and of course, mom.

Sometimes it feels like death is all around me. I suppose it is for all of us, but now I’m more susceptible to its presence.

That’s not to say I’m in despair. In fact, I have hope, and it’s nice to have it back.

This is a fairly recent change. It took about four-and-a-half months before things started to turn better, around the beginning of March. I wasn’t as sad anymore. There has been a level of acceptance that has come over me about mom’s death that has enabled a bit of peace that’s been missing since October. I started noticing it when I had some really good laughs at work. My co-worker made me laugh to the point where I was in tears, and then things started moving up from there.

That’s not to say that I’m all sunshine and roses. In the last few weeks I had a couple of really strong moments where I really wanted to talk to mom. One night, I sat at the dinner table and the tears just started coming. I don’t know what triggered it; the tears just came out. I had my moment, it passed, and then I got back to eating my food.

And that’s how all this has worked to this point.

I am so heartbroken now when I hear about someone who is experiencing loss. A friend of mine posted about the unexpected death of his young friend, and my heart sank. A co-worker was telling me about the death of his beloved dog, and I instantly felt so much compassion for him. Another co-worker also lost her mom unexpectedly; my empathy for her runs deep.

I miss my mom.

And yet, there are new lessons being learned here which I admit, I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. The food that I enjoy tastes better than it did before. The sun on my face feels even more spectacular than it did before October. The laughter and silliness of my children are a greater blessing than I have experienced to date.

Here is the lesson I’m starting to absorb: death can be a powerful teacher, if you allow it. I’m so glad that spring is here. The earth is muddy, the rains are cool, and the winds are ever shifting. I am eager to see what grows from this season I am in.

Eric J Gruber standing to the right of Mr. Richard Massa.

Death of a mentor

When I was nearing the end of my college education, I was searching for the next steps in my journey. I was working for a newspaper in Joplin, Mo. My position was almost like a contractor. I had full-time hours but didn’t have benefits (namely, health insurance). My parents, who were both nurses, had drilled into me one important lesson: always have health insurance.

I was seeking guidance. My search led me to the house of a retired professor — Mr. Richard Massa, who was also the founder of the communications department where I was finishing college — who gave me a suggestion.

“You should look into the Lawrence Journal-World,” he told me.

Massa talked up the Journal-World with great praise. He said it was a fine paper, and it was doing interesting things. I should check them out.

I didn’t even know where Lawrence, Kan., was. I found LJWorld’s website, found an email address, and sent off an inquiry, which said something along the lines of, “Are you looking for any newbie journalists?” I got a phone call. They didn’t have anything at LJWorld, but the paper had just purchased two small newspapers outside Lawrence, Kan. — in Eudora and De Soto — and they were building a team. They asked if I could come up for an interview.

Those were different times in the publishing world. I made the three-hour trip from Joplin for an interview, and they put me up in a hotel for the night, took me out to dinner with the editor and the publisher, and told me to stop back by the office before I headed back to Joplin. I worked from around 4 to 11 p.m. at The Globe, and by the time I got back to the office I would need to get to work.

Little did I know, that by the time I had returned to Joplin, the fine people at LJWorld had called The Globe to check my references. I found this out because as I started my shift, my editor, Gary, wanted to talk to me. It turned out they were now ready to offer me some benefits.

“Does this have anything to do with my trip to Lawrence,” I asked? “Yes,” Gary said.

I knew right at that moment: I was going to move to Lawrence.

I grew up in a very small Kanas town the same size as Eudora and De Soto. The area where I grew up is filled with wonderful, loving people who seem to have known each other forever, at least with some passing association. There’s a beauty in a small town that you don’t often find in a bigger city, something that I struggle to articulate well for those who haven’t experienced that life. As a small example, let’s just say that when your mother dies, the community mourns with you. They stop by and bring comfort food. They offer their embrace for grieving. They are sad not only for you, but with you.

And because of this one man’s suggestion, I left all I knew in search a new adventure for myself.

Massa.

I was never a pupil of Massa while he taught at Missouri Southern State University. However, he played a role in an international media seminar where communications students went to Paris, France for a week. He also helped coordinate a trip where I and two other students went to Central America for two weeks before my senior year began. While there, we covered stories about Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Massa, along with and Dr. Chad Stebbins, Director of the Institute of International Studies at my alma mater, were instrumental in me seeing parts and people of the world that I may have never had the chance to see otherwise.

I got to know Mr. Massa (as he was most well known by those he was befriended, and simply “Massa” if you really cared about him), through one of my fellow students, Aaron Deslatte. Aaron was a brilliant writer, and loved to visit Massa. I loved hanging out with Aaron, and by default got to know Massa through frequent visits. Massa always welcomed us, and he and his wife, Teresa, gladly let students past and present drop in and chat away. The discussions about world events, politics and policy were always fascinating. Those discussions made me want to learn more.

Massa died Sunday, March 17, 2019.

Even after my move away from home, I didn’t stop learning from him. I would stop by on occasion, as many other students did, and catch up with him and his wife. Eventually, I got married, and then introduced my wife, Amy, to him. Massa made mention that my move from Joplin led me to my wife. He fully believed that me meeting Amy — not any career move — was my great achievement from that life change. He wasn’t wrong.

Not long ago I messaged him with a question I had been posting online. I was looking for his answer to the question, “Regardless of your age now, what advice would you give your 40-year-old self?”

“Go for it!” he replied, “The wisest decision I ever made was at the age of 40. I decided to marry Teresa and to find a job at MSSU. I had other options — some sounding much better, some making more money, but I had grown weary of change and uncertainty and I needed security and purpose.”

I must admit, right now, as I write this, I’m a little dumbstruck at something I have missed for years. When I sought out his advice about what to do those many years ago, Massa didn’t suggest I try and beg and plead with my employer to give me some health insurance. He didn’t tell me to wait it out and hope things would change.

No, Massa suggested I go out and choose a new adventure, and see what happens. Even all those years ago, he was suggesting I “go for it.”

My mind is blown. Hot damn.

Amy once asked me, “What was Mr. Massa? Was he your teacher?” I told her that I often referred to him as my mentor. While I stick with that assessment, I now realize it’s not the full truth. I was not his classroom pupil, but I was most certainly his student.

The teacher has given me the lesson, and the lesson is this: life is yours to embrace, so go for it!

Farewell, sir.

Mr. Richard Massa and Eric J Gruber.

Farewell, Massa. Farewell, good sir.

And …