Saturday, April 17, 2010

Live Like You Were Dying

It always takes a tragedy or an early end to life to start to truly appreciate the joy that comes with living. How often during these situations do we hear people say, "live every day", "don't miss a moment", "stop and smell the roses", "live life to the fullest",(?) and the list could go on and on.

However, how many of us actually heed that advice? I know in the past I rarely have. However, I've decided to start living life better and fuller. In my case, that means making some changes to my lifestyle. I've basically cut out the fast food, started working out at the gym, and more importantly-- letting those I care about, know it.

Amazingly, giving up fast food and soda was the easiest part. Since I had a six pack a day soda habit, I thought that would be difficult. Even my once (at least!)a day habit of hitting Wendy's, McDonald's, or Taco Bell wasn't that difficult to stop. I simply made up my mind and stopped them. I quickly started eating more fruits and vegetables just like they recommend. Add in some fish oil pills and vitamins and I was on my way. I then started working out (close to daily) and consider that a good habit I have developed. I have been rewarded by losing over 30 pounds since February 9, 2010 (although I will probably gain a couple of pounds while I am here at Wilcoxson's in Arkansas).

The hardest part for me is letting people know how much I care about them. As a guy, I've traditionally lived by the "don't wear your emotions on your sleeve" credo. Even with my wife and son I've often said (and probably show) that I believe showing love is by waking up every day, going to work, and paying bills. My wife knows how romantic that is! But because of recent events in our lives I've started to realize that isn't enough. Assuming that people know you love and care about them isn't enough.

Tim McGraw sings a song called Live Live You Were Dying. But, how many of us actually live by that simple philosophy? Not many of us do because we get busy with work and the daily hustle and bustle of our lives. However, just telling people you appreciate them and that they are important to you is an important first step. In the song, Tim tells us, "I was finally the husband most the time I wasn't and I became the friend a friend would like to have". I've decided that I want to be that husband, father, and friend that the people I care about deserve. Although I am not going sky diving or 2.7 seconds on a bull named FuManChu, I figure I can "love deeper, speak sweeter, and give forgiveness I've been holding back".

With that comes the easy things, like taking a much talked about trip to Zion, going to the baseball games, having backyard BBQs, taking a much needed flight to Arkansas, watch Matthew play in the park, and go on date nights with my wife. Doing these things will take sacrifices like spending less time in my Lazy-Boy, less on line poker, less time browsing the Internet, and other things. However, we all know those aren't actually sacrifices--they are just things that get in the way of our living life.

It's the difference between being alive and living.

Many people that these words reach I have known between 20 and 30 years. Some folks I've known much less. Either way, if you are reading these words, you can bet that you have made a difference in my life and I am thankful that you are here for and with me. I'm not to big of a man to say, I love you.

At least that's the love filled view as I see it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Treffie Robert Cole: April 14, 1970 - January19, 2010

What I wouldn't do to hear you say one last time in that gruff voice, "Hi Greg". It's always the little things. What I wouldn't do to have those days we rode in the car for that funeral drag on like they did when we were young. What I wouldn't do to play one more game of ping pong with you. What I wouldn't do to watch you ball fake people five inches taller then you using all three seconds before putting the ball in the hoop. The list would go on and on. I miss you. I love you.

Growing up it seems like the days drag on forever. You can spend all day playing and barely go inside to eat, let alone wonder about life. Growing up in a small town the days of summer especially seemed to last forever. Rushing outside at first light and being sure to be on your own property when the street lights came on was a way of life. It was no different for me.

I was fortunate enough to be a younger brother. That meant always having someone to follow around and never having to worry about finding someone to hang out with. I simply followed Treffie around. A typical summer day for us meant football in the vacant lot by Wilcoxson's house, baseball at Steve Baird's house in the afternoon, and basketball in our driveway during the evening. It was the best. Because he "let" (or did mom and dad insist?) me follow him around I was fortunate to play in all the games. It usually meant my friends and I getting to play last, but I didn't care. As long as we were playing some kind of sport, we were all happy.

Not surprisingly, Treffie and I became rather good at all three. No doubt it was watching him work at each is what allowed me to become good too. Good enough at least that we both became all conference basketball players. No doubt without Treffie's role modeling I would not have had the drive to be "better" than him and who knows where I would be today. For many of us, sports provided us the discipline and work ethic necessary to become productive adults.

Treffie agreed with my dad when it came time to go to college. It seemed that since I had no ability whatsoever to work with my hands I needed to have some kind of skill. Later Treffie would remind me (as he got a new boss or something else) that educated people were usually stupid. They would come in and make recommendations and directives while not knowing what really needed to be done. In his case it usually included adding and hour on to a task that he had performed masterfully in far less time.

However, in my case he was proud that I had gotten an education beyond high school. Other than Mom and Dad, I doubt anyone else was as proud when I got my master's degree. I especially wish he would have had a chance to see me walk when/if I ever finish my doctorate. I know he would have bored all his friends with that.

I'm glad that this summer my family took a six week trip and got to spend several of days with him. One of the things I will always remember is the pride and happiness he had while watching my son bowl. In fact, I rarely had another conversation with him where he didn't mention little Matthew carrying that big bowling ball and then jumping up and down. When I was with him I could see the huge smile or if we were talking on the phone I could hear it in his voice. Little did I know what a lasting memory those few days would also be on me.

After that trip, we talked on the phone once a week or two. Since he knew that I don't like to talk on the phone, we had an unwritten rule: if he left a voice mail, I called back, if not once of us would call again in the next few days. Every call I received or made to him was always started with the same gruff, "Hi, Greg".

Andrea and I had told him on that trip that we were pregnant and he was extremely excited to be an Uncle again. He was as equally devastated to find out when we got home that we lost our baby. Treffie always felt the weight of the world on his shoulders and this was no exception. I could hear the pain in his voice as we talked. For if someone Treffie loved hurt, Treffie often hurt more. That's who he was.

Treffie was a huge help and support for mom when Grandma passed away in September. Although Grandma's death was hard on her, it seemed equally as hard on him. Oh how he loved her. I know Treffie believed that grandmothers had to love their grandchildren but didn't have to like them. There was no doubt that his grandmother liked him and accepted him exactly as he was. This was a source of great pride for him and as a result he made sure he did whatever he could do to help her out.

He continued to help take care of her after she passed by being a rock for Mom. He did everything he could to help get her estate in order so that it would be easier for Mom and Dad. However, it was obvious that it was taking a toll on him mentally. Treffie had several accidents over the next month. As a result, a police officer in Warrensburg wrote a letter stating that he needed to be looked at by a doctor in order to get his license back. Treffie and the whole family agreed that this was probably a good thing and would probably save his life.

Sadly, a close family friend would pass away a few months later. Growing up her family was an extension of ours. Her brother, sister and her were like siblings to me and Treffie. We would go to their house after school so their Dad and Mom could watch us while we waited for Mom to pick us up. Christmas Eve was always spent with them and the memories were cherished. Being close to the same age as Treffie, this hit him very hard. It reminded him of his own mortality I'm sure so the fact he was going to have to complete a complete physical to drive suddenly didn't seem like such a bad idea.

As a close family friend, I decided to head back to Iowa to attend the funeral. Since Treffie couldn't drive I decided to fly in to Kansas City so that I could drive to Warrensburg to pick him up. After being "advised" by Mom to stay in Warrensburg during the blizzard, I got to spend a few days with him in his town before making the 4 hour or so trip home. Again, I had no way of knowing the importance of this trip would be. We had lots of laughs and scares as we traveled the roads and saw what seemed like a hundred vehicles in the ditch. We eventually made it and were glad to be able to attend the funeral together.

Treffie scheduled his doctor appointment and after Mom visited us in Vegas for Matthew's fourth birthday, she headed to Warrensburg to be with him. While she was there he became dehdrated and made a visit to the ER to become hydrated with some saline. She took him to his appointment and he was cleared to drive. On Tuesday, January 19, 2010, she went to his place to pick him up for his court date due to the accidents. Unfortunately, when she arrived he wasn't answering his door. She used her key and found the worst case scenario for any parent. Treffie had passed away in his bed of a heart attack.

Your friends Kip and Snappy came right away to help. Kip immediately came to Mom to make sure she wasn't alone. He called several times a day while we were cleaning your place. We went with him and his wife to eat and talked about Treffie. He then brought some athletes over to help with all your guitar stuff. Snappy didn't ask what he could to to help, he called and said he would be there the next day. Then, just like you would have, he showed up.

Mothers and Fathers are not meant to outlive there children. It's not natural. I know it sometimes happens but rarely is there a more unnatural end for life. Although we are all glad to have had the 39 years that we had with Treffie, it wasn't enough. Mom and Dad shouldn't be having to live with this at this stage of their life. Right now they should be kicked back watching us live our lives.

Treffie, I think you would have been impressed with the number of people that showed how much they cared about you during this time of our sorrow. Everyone agreed that you were loyal to a fault and would be the first person to stop doing everything to help them. That is exactly what they did. They stopped, and came to say goodbye. I'm proud that Mom and Dad decided to have your ashes buried with Grandma. You, and her, would have been pleased with that decsion.

At least that's the tear filled view as I see it.