Tag Archives: family

It is not about me: what is important one year after my stroke

One year ago today, at this very hour, my life changed.  I had a stroke, which led to two subsequent surgeries, a Code Blue in medical parlance, and the rebuilding of a life.

A tragedy was on its way to becoming a blessing.  I was less than 40 years old, active physically, and  engaged civically and professionally.  I thought I had the world by the tail.  And I quickly found myself having to re-evaluate what was really important. It has taken me a year to get the courage to even think about what happened to me.

The real lesson is about the power of good people doing good.  It is about the heroes who saved my life, This story is about my experience, and learning that living life successfully is about the impact you have on other people’s lives.

The first — and most important — hero in my life is my wife, Teri.  In hundreds of ways since I fell ill, she has stepped up as a family leader, world-class organizer and communicator, and amazing partner.  Before I got sick, and as much as I hate to admit it, I did not show this hero enough appreciation.  Since my stroke, she has been my constant companion.  One of the greatest gifts the stroke gave me was a better appreciation for her.  I don’t think I can thank her enough.

My family, collectively, gets hero status.  From my own personal security guard — as one of my favorite nurses called my brother, Kevin — to my Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers from William and Mary, who came and waited quietly alongside my wife in those early, trying hours; to my in-laws, whose love and support defy categorization; to my sister and brother from Richmond, who visited me at every opportunity, to my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who both made so much possible for me; to my colleagues, who went above and beyond for me daily; and including my many uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and aunts who prayed constantly and visited as often as they could.  I saw my health improve as each LIVED more meaningful sermons about  faith than any pastor ever could speak.  I have seen God’s hand at work in my life.

I would also bestow hero status on the enormous network of friends and extended family. Each of them prayed, visited, gifted and carded me back to health.  They showed me love in ways that were inspirational, instructional, and completely humbling. Every one of them did what they could, some even more than that.  Heroes, every one of them.

And finally — but certainly importantly — I thank the entire Centra Health medical team who saved, then rebuilt my life.  Each first responder, doctor, nurse, and therapist is a hero of mine.  I am alive because of their skill and care, and I  owe them the appreciation due heroes.

So, yes, less than a year after I almost died, and nearly left a wife and two young kids – nearly mirroring my own mother’s death before I was a teenager  — I stood before a group of fellow stroke survivors in Danville, VA.  And as I said to my fellow stroke thrivers, I am a miracle, and a child of God.

Thank God for my heroes.  I owe each of them my life, and I will continue trying to live it as worthy of having been saved.  And I pray with the faithfulness of my aunts and friends. Thank God for heroes.  Amen.

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Death as inspiration: what happens at a funeral

This week has brought me face-to-face with the reality of life’s cruel promise: I will die (you probably will, too).  A number of past deaths have allowed me to deal honestly with the matter of death and dying.  Death, in fact, has shaped the entirety of my personal value system.  Life is extraordinarily simple to me.  I believe we as humans are obligated, and should be happy to, live by The Golden Rule, and ensure that our “hyphen” has made a deep and lasting impact on other people.

The death of my mother in January 1983 slammed my life into a wall that brutally stopped me in my tracks.   And for a person like me, who looks for meaning in tragedy and loss, I have spent the better part of my 20s and 30s processing, shaping, attempting, failing, and moving.  Moving toward a life that FEELS right to me.  The only reason I have been introspectively investigating and challenging, then rebuilding, the beliefs of one Matthew L. Brandon is because  I have needed to find a way to honor and carry forward my mother’s legacy.  I am a far superior version of myself because of that wall I had to pick myself up from hitting.  I don’t wish the premature death of a parent on any child, but I believe God prepared me for it fully.

ONE FUNERAL, TWO FUNERALS, THREE FUNERALS.  NO MORE!

Fast forward to this week.  This week, I mourned the loss of two beloved relatives, and one deeply-respected leader and friend.  In each case, I listened as highly-intelligent people struggled to find important-enough words to express their personal grief.  They told illuminating stories, shared funny anecdotes, and made profound observations on the way to praising the people who had given up their mortal coil.  In each case, an emotionally-overwhelming picture of the deceased emerged and our healing was facilitated by those gentle, loving words, so carefully chosen, so admiringly delivered, so earnest . . .  These people — a handicapped man, an educator, a pastor — were amazing humans.

If only we could spend more of the time in our daily lives focused on sharing and celebrating those same traits!  Why must we wait until we can no longer hold a loved one in our grasp to tell them how much we admire them?  Why must the shock of death jar us into thanking one another and saying “I love you” to people who really do mean the world to us?  Why did it take a week of gruesomely accurate poems of love and appreciation to remind me that death forces, allows, gives us permission to be completely human?  Why do we need reminders to follow a simple rule about humans looking out for other humans’ needs?

HONOR THOSE WHO DIED BY HOW YOU LIVE

I honor each of those beloved departed souls by helping me reconnect with core values I hold dear.  In the face of death, in the shocking, numbing, acidic, bracing kiss of death and grief, I wipe away pain and lift my eyes to the heavens in thanks.  I give thanks that the path I have traveled has hammered me — for it has not been easy and the material God has worked with not the most malleable — into a sensitive human, concerned for the welfare of others, quietly doing for others only that which I would wish them to do for me or my family, and importantly, wonderfully appreciative of those moments when you know what you did mattered to someone else.  That is what being a better human means to me.

EULOGIZING MY MOTHER AND MYSELF. MEASURING HYPHENS

My mother’s is the eulogy I speak silently to myself at every funeral I attend.  It is why funerals are so emotionally raw for me.  Consider for a moment how it feels to revisit the moments and weeks when the very source of inspiration in your life was torn away.

And then I write my own eulogy.  Yes, at every single funeral I attend, I rewrite my own eulogy.  Then I wonder whether the ones on the podium, when replaced by those left to mourn my death, will speak nearly as well of my contributions to their lives.

In the words of Jesse Jackson, as I listened to him eulogize my beloved fraternal brother, Arthur Ashe, so many years ago, I use those moments to consider the “hyphen” that is my life.  Jackson reminded the thousands assembled there, you see, that the hyphen on Ashe’s tombstone — as on ours –represents the work he did and the life he led between that birth year and death year.  Then he wondered aloud, “what will your hyphen represent?”

So finally, I saw a way to make sense of a mother’s loss; figured out a purpose for my own life; found an ethos that could sustain me for a lifetime.  I needed to ensure that my hyphen made me a better human, and made someone else’s path a little easier to nagivate.  It is simple, and yet elusive for so many.  And for others, not even a desirable ambition.  But for me it was everything.  I knew it was a revelation because it reminded me how amazing my mom’s hyphen was.  It motivates me to live in a way that would honor her and carry on that tradition.  I get back to work on my hyphen!

I hope my hyphen will be good enough to merit the appreciation of those whose lives I tried to uplift.  Even if you didn’t attend a funeral this week; even if you didn’t hear the eloquent recitals; even if you haven’t been affected by the death of a loved one, consider the life you are leading, and the story that will be told by your hyphen.

WORKING ON MY HUMAN-NESS

For a moment, I explore whether I am completely human: not just strident and bold; but humble and caring.  Not just effective and efficient, but supportive and insightful.  Not just pleased with my own progress, but careful to ensure I do no harm.  Not just strong, but weak enough to consider where I can do better.  I need no’t wait until my final breath to wonder what legacy I will leave.  I get to go out there and work on it now.  Create my own reality.  Use the brick walls as stepping stones instead of blockades.

My eulogy yesterday and today reminded me how much I have left to add to my hyphen.

I am inspired by Johnny, Evelyn, Topper.  And now that you three are gone, my mother will thank you for the time you spent with me (tell her she is my inspiration).  My father will ask whether I am using the common sense he and the good Lord tried to instill (tell him yes, regardless of the truth).

Tell them I AM them.  I am their legacy.  And tell them I know I still have much work to do, loads to lift.  But I shun not the struggle, for it is God’s Will.  I will be strong.

I am strengthened by your three eulogized lives, each of which I celebrated in some way this week. And rest in peace.  I got your message loud and clear.

Trust: A new thought for relationships

Familiarity breeds contempt.  [This quote manifested itself as I completed writing the blog post below.  It belongs here at the start, but I found humor in how I only had this “revelatory” moment after expressing fully the thought below.]

Trust is not about the truster believing in the other party.  Trust is evidently about being comfortable confronting the other party, perhaps even to the point of being downright aggravating.  If you are in a committed relationship, consider for a second: have you ever been in a heated discussion with your significant other and wished — or even suggested — she or he would talk to you the way they communicated disagreement with less-trusted folks, like their co-workers?  Have you wished your boss would talk to you the way she or he talks to your customers when they disagree?  I know civility is losing ground to stress-induced verbal confrontation as a means of dialoging in the United States, but too many of us treat the people closest to us — those we need and trust the most — the worst.  We go well beyond “clear and effective communication” an approach contemptuous familiarity.

UNFORTUNATELY, TRUST HAPPENS

Recently, I have been involved in a number of discussions in which I expected a less-familiar conversant to challenge me more; and in a few others in which I expected a closely-acquainted conversant to find no reason for pause.  As the more distant person went to great lengths to be polite or respectful of my opinion, the dearer friend not only removed their gloves, but they swung away with no regard for how I might receive their harsh words.  And in both cases, my only deduction to explain causation is that TRUST HAPPENS.  As it does, the varnish of considerate communication seems to peel away to reveal a rawness that can be disconcerting.  You might find yourself wondering, “who is this person, and where is the guy/woman I thought I knew?”

As trust grows, conflict between two people, or within a group, seems to grow, not decrease.  I listen to many young people talk about relationships and how important it is that they “trust” the other person.  They mention it almost before they mention love.  I sit in meetings in which managers and leaders spend inordinate amounts of time figuring out how to increase trust between the customer and the organization.

And now, I have a different perspective on trust.  Gaining trust strengthens the relationship to the point where the engaged parties don’t use that trust to extend more latitude to the other.  Quite the opposite.  In our society, we use it like a weapon.  Now that you trust me, let me tell you how I really feel.  My wife, who knows me best, says I can be downright unrelenting sometimes.  And when she points it out, I find that I am not only communicating candidly, I am taking advantage of our trusting relationship to vent, blow off steam, unload about things that happen at work, during a really bad racquetball game, because I didn’t sleep well.  I haven’t cared or been more kind and generous BECAUSE of trust, I have instead forced her to accept the fury I might rather direct at others.  But . . . . then they won’t like me.  I trust that she still will, eventually.

IT IS TIME TO GET IT RIGHT

Therefore, I am going to spend some time trying to offer a new level of candor from the outset of a relationship.  And I further expect that, as a result, fewer people will want trusting relationships with me.  But the relationships that prevail will be far more enjoyable because the most contentious opinions and ideas we might discuss will have been dealt with while the person is figuring me out.  I hope my wife and some of my closer associates notice!

Reversing my relationship management approach will mean I won’t be subject to, or use, the type of brutal directness that can come with “trust.”  Instead, the more seasoned my relationships become by time and shared experiences, the more harmonious they will become.

Does this ring true for you, or am I alone in recognizing that trust can create some funk in my strongest relationships?

Another comedic interlude

My nine-year-old daughter, who is a wiry, tall vine of a girl, notified me last night that she has named her two arms because they are so muscular.

Mind you, her conviction that they are, in fact, far stronger and better defined than they were a week ago, comes strictly from a few days of running/walking/scootering on a local paved trail here.  We have made it a family outing to exercise together as often as possible.

Though I am not sure whether the sun, higher level of activity or simply my more-frequent presence enabled me to witness her gift of humor, I have to love her confidence and sense of accomplishment.  And at the end of the day, I guess I should feel much safer with my whippet of a young lady protecting us all with her over-hyped arm muscles.  You know, if that’s how she feels, then the exercise is working, whether in reality or only in her own mind.

The left arm is Bam-Bam.  The right arm is Pow-Wow.  Need I say more.  I stand protected!