Getting back into writing

For awhile now I’ve been thinking of getting back into writing, and I’m starting to get my juices flowing again. But having been away from it for some time with any great consistency is showing me I am a little rusty.

I have started writing some posts, but end up saving them as drafts. This is harder than it looks. When I am in a good flow, I can usually just let things fall on the keys. But like all things, when you are away from it for awhile, it can take some time before you get the “flow” again. Writing is no different — it can take some doing to get your brain to catch up with the keyboard.

However, there is no substitute for experience, and what it will take to get back into writing will take me to simply write, and write regularly. It is not about finding the right keyboard, the right mouse, the perfect pen or the ideal notebook. No, you only need to write, and write consistently.

Time to get started pounding those keys.

Empty toiler paper aisle of Target.

2020: The Warning

I dislike the unknowns of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, no treatment has yet proven effective, and—like putting on a seatbelt—it’s easy for me to mitigate a lot of downside risk until more data paint a clearer picture … I am constantly looking for such “seatbelts” in many areas of my life. Dead-simple ways to cap some or all of the downside risk.
— Tim FerrissSome Thoughts on Coronaviruses and Seatbelts

I’ve been a longtime reader of Tim Ferriss. His book, “The Four-Hour Workweek” reshaped how I do things in my career, although not to the degree as advocated in the book. His podcast has been excellent listening for me over the years, and his blog is often another wealth of information to pick from.

In February 2020, he wrote a blog post called “Some Thoughts on Coronaviruses and Seatbelts“. In that article, Ferriss linked to a post by Ben Hunt called “Body Count,” which gave me quite a jolt. Both posts warned of a newly-discovered virus called SARS-CoV-2, which we have now come to call COVID-19. Both posts highlighted some interesting aspects about this new disease:

  • There was no known effective treatment.
  • There is no known effective vaccine.
  • The virus can spread rapidly without showing symptoms in some people, making them “super spreaders.”

Ferriss’ posts goes on to ponder what might be needed to combat the spread of the virus. This got my wheels turning. Unlike it’s cousin SARS, the ability for this virus to be transmitted asymptomatically was concerning. With SARS, if you were infected, you showed symptoms. It was easier to fight. But with COVID-19, anyone could be a carrier; anyone could be infected.

After reading those articles in February, my wife and I talked about it. She is the coordinator of all grocery purchases in our household, so I told her, “Let’s start putting away a few things, just in case.” I didn’t want her to go crazy with purchases — just get some extra protein bars, canned goods we use, and peanut butter — but I did want her to go ahead and get a little extra in her runs to the grocery store. We began our meager stockpile, and then went about life as usual.

At the end of our conversation, I told my wife what concerned me the most.

“I don’t know that I’m afraid of this virus,” I said. “What I fear is panic. People get crazy when they’re afraid.”

It was time to make some plans. I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the virus to come to our corner of the midwest here in Missouri, but I certainly thought it was a possibility.

Hope is not a strategy.
— James Cameron

Several years ago, we were coming back from visiting family in western Kansas. It was snowing, and one of my children needed to use the restroom. We stopped at a trucker-oriented store on I-70 as we headed east back to home.

While my daughter was using the restroom, I struck up a conversation with a trucker. We were talking about the inclement weather and the cargo he was carrying, and then he told me this:

“There’s only three days worth of supplies in grocery stores,” he said. “After that, you’re waiting until the next load gets in. Most people have no idea how fragile the supply chain really is.”

I tucked that away in the back of my brain. It piqued my interest in prepping, but every resource I found at that time went deep into the rabbit hole of end-of-the-world scenarios, and that was a path I couldn’t follow. Although I entertained such scenario as a possibility, I weighed the likelihood against reality and decided the case for it wasn’t that strong. Rather, I was more in line with the Boy Scout motto from my youth: “Be prepared.”

In the years that followed, I went down that path, although in hindsight, not with enough vigor. But certain events kept the embers burning enough so that I was never fully unprepared. There was the Joplin tornado, ice storms two years in a row that dumped more than a foot of snow each year, and another tornado in my hometown of Baxter Springs, Kan., that kept me always thinking about never being caught with my pants down.

Or, so I thought.

By early March, the chatter about the spread of COVID-19 became something no one could ignore. There was debate on whether or not this was overblown, or if this was something we should all be really concerned about. I didn’t know for sure. The one thing I did know were the three items from the beginning:

  • There was no known effective treatment.
  • There is no known effective vaccine.
  • The virus can spread rapidly without showing symptoms in some people, making them “super spreaders.”

After work on Thursday, March 12, 2020, I went by some grocery stores on my way home. My two youngest children had been fighting off a difficult cold, and my wife wanted me to get some medicine for them, in addition to a few extra medicines that might be needed should there be a run on the grocery stores.

I had some difficulty finding the right meds. By the time I got to the store after work, most of the shelves had been picked clean of over-the-counter medicines. On social media, I heard there was a run on toilet paper, which seemed incredibly bizarre, but I my curiosity drove me to the paper products aisle. I was shocked. It was completely bare.

Empty toiler paper aisle of Target.

The empty toilet paper aisle of Target, Thursday, March 12, 2020.

What started at Target as shopping for cold medicine became a journey to see what this was really turning into. I went to Costco. There was no toilet paper. I stopped by a CVS, getting a few more meds and found a handful of rolls of toilet paper. I purchased a couple of packages for us, and left the rest for someone else to purchase.

I live very close to a very large Walmart, so I made that my last stop. And there, in the epicenter of middle-class capitalism, in the paper good aisle, I stood amazed.

It was empty.

Empty paper goods aisle of Walmart.

The empty toilet paper aisle of Walmart, Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Walking to the back of the aisle to take a picture, I stood by a man wearing a Vietnam veteran’s hat, much like my dad wears, doing the same. I thanked him for his service, and then said, “This is really something, huh?”

“Yup. Food’s next,” he mumbled.

In an instant, I thought about that trucker on the snowy road in Kansas. Three days of supplies.

I left Walmart empty handed, and almost crossed the road to head home. Then, I decided to head into Hy-Vee, a grocery store across the street. Walking back to the meat section, I purchased the largest tube of ground beef I could carry.

Walking in the door with a tube of beef, my wife looked at me with a bewildered look. I went past her, down to the basement, and threw the tube in our small deep freezer.

By the end of day on Friday, March 13, 2020, it seemed we had turned a corner in Kansas City. There were rumors flying at work that we would be told to work from home for the next two weeks, as the city moved toward a lockdown to try and slow the spread and not overwhelm the local healthcare system.

I waited around until 6 p.m. that day, waiting for the rumored email. I chatted with Bill, a co-worker with some past military experience, and we talked about how crazy all this was. Feeling like the official notification telling us to work from home wasn’t going to come soon, I asked my boss, Michael, if it was OK that I took my gigantic monitor home just in case. I was given his blessing, and I loaded things up in my car.

Before I left, I said goodbye to Bill.

“I’ll see you in a couple of weeks; three weeks tops,” I told him.

Home Depot was on the way home, so I stopped in. Social media chatter mentioned that toilet paper could be found there, and my drive to evaluate this unfolding situation kept pushing me to investigate. Perhaps it’s the ex-journalist that lives in me, or just my curious nature, but I had to see for myself.

There was no toilet paper in Home Depot.

“Oh, I’m not doing this shit,” I said out loud.

And after years of thinking about it, but never acting on it, I finally had my impetus: I walked over to the bathroom aisle of Home Depot and purchased the only bidet sprayer they had. I have often wondered why bidets were popular in other parts of the world but not in the United States, so I had researched them before but never bought one. But now, faced with the thought of spending day after day looking for toilet paper after our supplies ran out, I decided that wasn’t an acceptable option.

From there, I went to another home improvement store, Menards, and bought two more. And then I went home and collapsed on the couch.

Those two days were mentally exhausting. I was drained. There was roads of uncertainly ahead, and I wasn’t sure what to make of all of it.

Later that evening, I got the email I was waiting around for. We were to work from home for at least the next weeks.

As I sat down to dinner, I looked at the family and said, “Well, I guess we’ll be staying in for awhile.”

“Two weeks; three weeks tops.”

In review: 2020

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.
— Leon C. Megginson

Every year at this time, I take stock of my life over the past year.

I review: what did I say I wanted to do? Did I did it? Were there wins or losses? How could I have improved?

When I did this exercise last year, I didn’t lay out many publicly stated goals. Instead, I wrote 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.”

I was serious about taking this year by the horns, but I had a much different scenario in mind. Instead, this year has been mostly about survival. Since March, we in the United States have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. My plan is to write more about my personal experience with the pandemic later. For now, I’ll just say the year was all about survival.

That’s not to say it wasn’t without some accomplishments. For starters, in April I put in new flooring in our bathroom, replacing carpet that had been in there likely since the house was built (gross). I also changed the paint in the bathroom from a dull brown to a less-dull “agreeable gray” color. I like it.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber)

In June, I replaced our deck floor with the help of my wife. Although difficult, it was a most satisfying project.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber)

I tore my right meniscus in late 2019, and decided to get it surgically repaired in July.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber)

After my surgery, I ended up taking quite a few walks during the summer. I spent time with the family more than ever. My wife and I went on many dates throughout the year. In August, I had a goal of filling all my rings on the Apple Watch for the month, and I accomplished that (if you’re an Apple Watch user, you know how addictive that can be).

I paid off my car loan in September. In October, my wife was rear-ended, which ended up totaling the car. She had a few minor injuries, but I believe she is all healed up now.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber)

A totaled car led to my most fun purchase yet: a truck. I have enjoyed driving a truck so much that I can’t believe I waited this long to get one. I’m usually against gas guzzling vehicles, and look forward to a future when electric or more fuel-efficient trucks make greater strides. But man, this thing is fun and ever so useful.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber)

In December, I made a workbench, setting me up for some projects to work on in the coming year. It sure was nice having a truck to get all the lumber in the back to build it.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber)

At the start of the year, I started a savings experiment. I took my empty Ally bank account, and then saved $2 incrementally.I receive two paychecks a month. For the first paycheck, I put $2 in savings, then $4. I did this to make it feel like I was getting paid weekly. It kind of nonsensical, but I did it for the sake of this experiment.

So, by the end of month one, I had $20 saved. I kept going. I was diligent. Even with the pandemic, and the fear of uncertainty, I kept at it. In February, I added $10, $12, $14, and $16. By the end of February, I was up to $72. Now, fast-forward to November: I kept at it all this time. The interest rates are crap, but anything added was fine for this experiment.

Of course, it got tougher the deeper into the year I got because the weekly numbers were higher. I pressed on. By the time it was time to do Christmas shopping, I stopped saving. I started with $2, and ended with $1,859.28.

Christmas gifts are all paid for. I won’t be carrying holiday debt into 2021. I feel awesome about that.

And now, we’re ticking down to the end of the year. We’ll spend New Year’s Eve at home as a family, watch the ball drop, and prepare for 2021 and whatever it brings.

Goals for 2021

There’s clearly going to be a lot more of the same until the COVID-19 vaccine gets distributed. I worked a lot this year, and mostly from home. I see that continuing until at least summer of 2021, perhaps even later.

I will re-start my saving plan just as I did this year. That was an awesome experiment, and once that paid off big time around Christmas. I might tweak it a little bit, but it’ll be largely the same concept.

I’ve managed to set up a kind of makeshift gym in the basement, and the plan is to build on what I was doing during the summer throughout the winter. I’ve been complacent in the colder months, but now I really have little excuse to become more active.

Most important, my goal is to keep doing whatever it is we are doing to keep my family safe and healthy. I will continue to work hard at my job, be safe, stay at home when we can, wear masks, and wash our hands with vigor. After that, we wait to see how this pandemic pans out.

If 2020 was about surviving, then 2021 will be about finding ways to thrive.

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.”