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Greatest Achievement

Life Story Club Contributor

July 29, 2020

When the question came up, what is the greatest achievement that you have ever done, it was easy to decide that one because it still resonates even today with me. I had met a young boy in kindergarten and he and I were dance partners. And this was in 1960. And about 18 years later, after dating for a couple of years, we married and started having a family. Now, when you marry that young, sometimes your roles are not really mature enough to really deal with each other, but we stayed married for 32 years and it was a very difficult 32 years. And then we divorced. And it was a nasty divorce because my husband was high profile in the town we were in. So, it was all over the newspapers and things like that. You know, people have nothing to do, but read about other people’s problems. Since we had been friends for so long, I still contacted him occasionally, specifically on his birthday.

So, on his 60th birthday, I gave him a call and wished him a happy birthday. And he commented that he had just been to the physician and received a clean bill of health and that he had the carotids of a 40-year-old and, you know, he was doing great. And he was in all kinds of exercise programs and all. So, I was quite taken back three months later, when I got a call from one of my daughters who confided in me that her dad had just called, frantic, that he had leukemia. He was stricken so quickly that in three months’ time, he could not take a shower without getting winded, put on his socks, dress himself, or do anything else. And she confided in me. She says, “Mom, I’m going to come home.” She’s a physician and living in California. So, she flew home to Illinois to help deal with his medical care. And she says, “Has dad called you at all?” And I said, “No, he hasn’t.” So, then a few minutes later, I got a call from another daughter, the youngest daughter. And she said, “Well, I heard dad hasn’t told you yet. And I called him on it and said, ‘Doggone it, Dad, don’t be such a coward call mom and tell her.’ And he commented, ‘Oh, she’ll find out by way of the grapevine.’ “

So, anyway, he did call me and I don’t know what response he was expecting, but I said, “May I come and see you at the hospital?” Because I knew he was going to be admitted very quickly because the doctor had wanted to admit him directly from the exam room. But, of course, he wouldn’t go. He’s very type A personality. So, of course, I talked to our other children, we had four together, and the oldest one said, “Mom, I don’t think I’m going to be coming home. I have no one to watch the girls and I don’t think I can handle it. And just last week, Dad and I had a really bad argument over the phone. It seems like every time he comes here, he’s always on his phone. He doesn’t pay attention to my kids. And he was never there when I had the babies, he never came to the hospital or anything. And I just don’t think I’m going to come home. I don’t have time for it.”

And so, I spoke to all the children then, and I said, “Listen, whatever problems we’ve had with him…” And we had a lot. I said, you know, “This is the time to really try to rebuild those bridges.” And I said, “I want you to think about three positive things that he helped you with in life.” And I said, “I’ll give you the first one. Dad and I paid for your college. You did not have any expenses. All you had to do is make the grades.” They all graduated in four years, God love them, and they did try and they all had jobs, but they didn’t have to worry about their tuition or their books or where their next meal was coming from. So I said, “There’s one.” And I said, “I think you can come up with another two and I want you to at least write to him or call him and tell him thank you for doing that for you, because that is major. You did not have a loan to pay off when you were getting your first job.” So, it also took me also a lot of thinking and soul-searching to put away my ego and to be humble and to try to help at this time. Because, boy, you know, when you receive a diagnosis of cancer and you’re only 60 years old and you live every day to the height and you think you’re absolutely invincible, it is quite a deal.

So, what happened was he went into a trial that our daughter had gotten him into with MD Anderson and he barely made it because he was 60 and the cutoff was 60, but since he had just turned 60, they let him in. And it was quite a regime of chemotherapy, which included 5 days, 24 hours a day, of IV-injected drugs. And he went from looking like a pretty robust 60-year-old to a 90-year-old in about a month. And he asked me, he said, “Will you take me to St. Louis and stay with me in St. Louis when I have my bone marrow transplant?” I said, “Of course, I will.” Even though I was running my own businesses and all that, and little did I know, and he didn’t tell me, that he had remarried. But I still agreed to it. And I told him, I said, “Now, listen, Danny, I do not want you back as a husband, boyfriend, lover, business partner, and nothing like that.” I said, “I’m doing it because you’re the father of our four children and we have been friends since we were four.” That’s it. And I said, “Yes, I will companion you on this journey.”

Well, the month came and went and he was retested to see what his blood levels were. There was still cancer there. So, he said, “Okay, hit me again.” So, he repeated the 5 days of chemo, 24 hours a day. And unfortunately, his immune system was so compromised that he got a fungal disease through his sinuses that traveled up into his eye and was working its way back through the optic nerve to the brain. So, right around Thanksgiving of that year, he had such a tremendous headache and they called in all the specialists and found out that that’s what it was. And so, he elected to have his eye removed and wear a patch. Well, when he woke up from the surgery, he did not remember giving his consent to that. So, he was, you know, very alarmed, very frightened. And we were all in Colorado, you know, a thousand miles away from Illinois, having Thanksgiving. So, we all got in cars and planes and rushed to his bedside.

I called in a special request because as I mentioned to you, I had been in funeral service for about 40 years or so by that time. And I called in hospice friends because it was Thanksgiving weekend and no hospice wanted to take him over the weekend. And I called in a favor and we were able to get him home because he decided he wanted to go home. His comment was that if there’s a miracle to happen, it can happen just as easily at home as it can in the hospital.

So, anyway, we were there at his bedside every evening. And when the night came for my youngest daughter, who was not married, to stay with him, she said, “Mom, would you stay with me at Dad’s or would you feel too funny?” I said, “No, it’s his house. I’d be glad to stay with you.” And so, I stayed. And one of the most touching moments was… He had breathing difficulties like a sleep apnea where he would quit breathing. And it scared my daughter and she says, “Mom, he quit breathing. He quit breathing.” And I said, “He’ll start again.” I said, “But if he doesn’t start again,” I said, “We are not calling 911. We’re not taking him to the emergency room. It’s his choice to be in hospice. So, we are going to be here to support him at this time.” And she said, “Well, would you sit on the bed with me and hold his hand on one side and I’ll hold his hand on the other?” And I said, “Sure.”

So, I got up out of the easy chair and sat by his bedside. And all of a sudden he put his arms around the two of us and pulled us very close and gave us a hug. And then let us go. And then Megan said to me, “Mom, did you tell Dad your joke?” And I said, “No.” I said, “Danny, are you awake?” And he says, “Yeah, I’m awake.” And I said, “You dog you.” I said, “I bet you thought you’d never have me back in bed.” And he started laughing and I tell you, it brought such joy to my heart to hear him laugh. And he says, “I’m a gentleman.” I said, “Well, you sure the heck better be because our daughter’s on the other side of the bed and your wife’s upstairs.” And so, anyway, he ended up living for another seven months, graduated out of hospice and went back into palliative care, and was able to see two more grandchildren born. And the families brought the new children for him to see.

So, what did I learn through all that? That it’s important when you are faced with that type of decision to put your ego aside and put on humility. There is great power in forgiveness, and it’s important to reconcile with those who have hurt you as an example to others. But also it opens up new doors for healthy healing of self and personal growth. That’s it.

July 29, 2020 When the question came up, what is the greatest achievement that you have ever done, it was easy to decide that one because it still resonates even today with me. I had m...

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Strangest Thing Ever Witnessed

Life Story Club Contributor

July 22, 2020

I’m choosing to talk about the strangest thing I ever witnessed. And the story starts when I was just a child. And occasionally my dad would call me on the phone at 5 or 5:30 in the morning, or when I lived at home as a child, he’d run up to my bedroom and say, “Paula, hurry, get out of bed and look out the window. It’s snowing. I can’t believe it’s snowing.”

So every time I’d obediently, jump out of bed, go to the window, throw open the sash, and look outside and there was no snow to which my dad would respond, “April fools.” This continued. I mean, he would always trick me. This would continue well into adulthood when I went through nursing college, as well as after nursing college when I had children.

And I usually didn’t get up at 5 or 5:30 in the morning, but by gosh, he would wake me up. And I want to kind of fast forward to February 9th of 1991 when he passed away. And after nine months of living with a brain tumor that pretty much left him incapacitated. And so he was my mentor, and I worked alongside of him for many, many years since the time I was probably in my early 20s at the family funeral home.

So he mentored me. I was the first family member that was a female that went into funeral service as a funeral director and took care of families. And that was my main job. And that was his main job, too. One of the things that he taught me was if the cemetery is out of town, always go the day before and check it out to make sure that, you know, you can get the funeral procession across train tracks and, you know, just take a look, make sure there’s no construction, make sure you know where the grave is so that you’re well prepared.

And so one day I was driving, and it was a bright and sunny day. And I was thinking of my dad as I was going to a place called Cortland, Illinois. Now, it’s a little, bitty town that is in the middle of farm country. And basically they have grain elevators there. And if you blink when you go through the town you miss it. I mean, it’s really small.

There might’ve been some grain elevators, a tavern, and a church. And that was about it, very little residences. It was surrounded by farm country, but there was a little cemetery there that one of my client families had chosen to bury their loved one in. And so I was doing the duty and, you know, going out to check it out. So I was driving down the road, and I kind of chuckled to myself because my dad could always find a cemetery, and I was worried about going out in the rural area and trying to find a cemetery.

And I chuckled to myself because if it wasn’t a cemetery, my dad could not find his way out of a paper bag. I mean, he would get lost. He had no sense of direction. And I was chuckling to myself because it seemed to take a great deal of time. And this was only, oh, maybe 15 or 20 miles outside of Springfield. But it seemed to be taking a very, very long time.

And I noticed the bright sky, and it had a few clouds in it, but it was bright blue and the sun was shining. It was a beautiful day. And so I just had that nice remembrance of my dad. All of a sudden, it started snowing, and I was going down this little highway, and I was looking around and the snow seemed to just come to my car. No other cars had snow on it, except mine.

And it was the most unusual and strangest occurrence, but it made me chuckle and think, “God, Dad, you’re right with me the whole time, even though you’re gone.” And it was such a warm remembrance of him, a humorous remembrance of him but still guiding me on my path of life. That’s it.

July 22, 2020 I'm choosing to talk about the strangest thing I ever witnessed. And the story starts when I was just a child. And occasionally my dad would call me on the phone at 5 or 5...

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Life Story Club Contributor

July 1, 2020

Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams of your heart. Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create. I was raised in a very patriarchal family who had definite gender roles that they imposed on the family members. I can remember, as a senior in high school, meeting with my guidance counselor at my all-girls school, prep school, and telling her that I wanted to be a funeral director. And she says, “Oh honey, girls aren’t funeral directors.”

And so, I chose a different path and went to nursing school because that’s what my mother did. But it was always in the back of my mind that, you know, “I think I really want to do this.” And my family, the rest of the family, all the men, were in funeral business. So after my third child, I decided to go back to school. And I went to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale where I went to mortuary science school and became a funeral director. And what was so unique about the opportunity was I noticed how similar it was to my nursing, almost the exact same thing.

So fast forward about 18 years after that, and it became my next big challenge. I wasn’t happy working in the family business. There were some things going on that I wasn’t comfortable with. And so I spoke to my husband, and I said, “You know, I think there’s something more for me out there.” But yet, I still had the echoes of people telling me that I wasn’t able to do it, that girls weren’t supposed to be doing this, and starting my own business seemed like a fantasy.

So, finally, I put away the fears. Because I just kept having this pressing need inside of me to what I think was fulfill my destiny, and that was to buy an old bowling alley in a town that was about 20 miles from my home town. The little town was Chatham, Illinois and they hadn’t had a funeral home for 25 years. And so my husband was in adaptive reuse of old buildings, and he converted this particular building into a funeral home. And I believe I sent you a picture and it was a picture that was taken by a photographer from the local newspaper, pretty close to my opening day. And it was a wonderful experience. I served that community for almost 20 years, and finally sold in 2018 and moved to Burbank, California last year. And I think what really propelled me to do it was finding out that adding value to others’ lives through service, through your business brings meaning to your own.

July 1, 2020 Don't be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams of your heart. Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can c...

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Thoughts on Kindness

Life Story Club Contributor

June 24, 2020

Well, I recently moved to California, and what brings me great happiness is unpacking the boxes and finding things from years ago. So the initial M, done in green, and the ask not what your mother can do for you, ask what you do for your mother, a piece of art that my youngest daughter had made me probably for Mother’s Day back before she was a teenager, probably in elementary school, she was always an artist and I thought this was so cute, taking JFK’s quote and kind of turning it around just a little bit. And the other one, in the bottom, is a drawing by my granddaughter who was eight. And it says, “I love you, Bubby.” The grandchildren call me Bubby. And that has brought me great pleasure.

So they’re both in a curio in my office here and when I walked in today and was contemplating what I was going to talk about, I thought, “I’m going to talk about art being a kindness that the artist gives the viewer or gives whoever is possessing it.” And another quote came to mind and it is: “Rivers do not drink their own water, trees do not eat their own fruit, the sun does not shine on itself, and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves.” Living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each other. No matter how difficult it is, life is good when you are happy but much better when others are happy because of you.

And so I just thought all of that went together in kindness, and even though those pieces of art were done years ago, it just means so much to me to see that, to show how much love and connectedness there is within the generations. So it was first-generation, my daughter, and then second generation, my granddaughter, that gave me those things and their kindness just lives on.

June 24, 2020 Well, I recently moved to California, and what brings me great happiness is unpacking the boxes and finding things from years ago. So the initial M, done in green, and the...

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A Most Joyful Day

Life Story Club Contributor

June 17, 2020

These are my seven grandchildren. I had the unique honor of being with their grandfather, and we were not married, we had divorced, but being with their grandfather through his journey through cancer, about seven months. And one of the things that Denny and I spoke talk often about were regrets we had in our life. We had been married for 32 years and we both worked like dogs. I mean, that was the main focus, was work. When he passed away, which has been about four years ago, my four children wrote me a letter and said, “Mom, we want you to be part of our family and we want you to know your grandchildren. Have you thought about retirement?”

Now, I was a business woman in central Illinois and had been for almost 40 years, founding and organizing several businesses in a small town called Chatham, Illinois, near Springfield. I looked at that letter and I thought about our discussions on regret and how a decision right now could make a real difference in joy in my life. So I chose to sell everything and move 2000 miles away to near Los Angeles, California, to be near two of my children, three of my grandchildren, but have access to an airport that I could be in Denver within an hour or two. It seemed like the perfect thing.

So one of the things that I started doing was treating the entire family to a week’s vacation altogether. This particular picture was taken at Lake Tahoe last summer, just about this time, and I start thinking about joyfulness. Joyfulness comes from within. It starts with gratitude for life and your blessings, and embracing what makes you special, and identifying your strengths and your weaknesses, and then use those strengths in helping others, whether it’s developing little ones to become very productive adults, or to help your children to become more productive parents, or to help them learn how to be grandparents themselves. And also to thank the Creator for all these blessings that I have. So to me, this picture embodies joy. You see all the smiles, to me that represents the legacy that I leave, but also the relationships that I’ve taken time to grow. I just feel so blessed. This picture, I think, anybody looking at it would also feel happiness and joy. So that’s my story.

June 17, 2020 These are my seven grandchildren. I had the unique honor of being with their grandfather, and we were not married, we had divorced, but being with their grandfather throug...

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