Six Months...

We’re winding down to the last couple of months of 2016. To tell you the truth…I couldn’t be more relieved to see a year end. It’s not the usual feeling that I have around this time of year because as I’ve moved through my 30s I have taken note of the passage of time a lot more than I did when I was a kid.

When you’re young you look at late October as something that is exciting because Halloween is coming up and the beginning of the holiday season is starting. You’re going to be getting some time out of school soon and there is going to be a lot of candy and presents and food and it’s just a great time of year.

As I’ve gotten older I still revel in the celebration of these last few weeks because I have had a family and that kind of hits the reset button on the holidays. You go trick or treating again because you have kids to take. Christmas becomes fun again because you get to be the maker of the Santa magic that you used to experience. But here in the last year of my 30s it has changed again. Mostly because my kids are too old for any of that and they don’t really care to spend a lot of time with dear old dad anyway.

But this year I’m not even looking at anything but New Year’s Eve. That is the day that 2016 will become just a bad memory.

2016 has been the hardest year that I have ever had to go through in my life. Of course the main thing that happened to me was the fact that my mom passed away back in April. Tomorrow, actually, marks exactly six months since she died. I guess that’s the main thing that happened that’s made me want to give 2016 the finger for the past half year. That whole experience mentally, emotionally, and physically drained me. And it drained me to a point that I have not yet recovered. I still have to make an effort to be the “happy go lucky” guy that most people think that I am. That’s always been an effort since I’m extremely introverted.

And I think that the draining of my system has really affected the way that I’ve dealt with some of the other things that I’ve dealt with since. I won’t go into a lot of details but there were a couple of people that showed me who they really were during the time that my mom was dying and I haven’t spoken with them in months. I may never speak to them again just because I know that I can never look at them the same way that I once did. My emotions are a lot closer to the surface than they used to be. Arguments with my children that I once didn’t have a problem with now make me have to leave the room before I break down into tears. A financial setback a few weeks ago caused me to have to get in my car and go for a drive so that my family didn’t see me scream like a crazy person. It’s just been really hard to see the hope in anything.

Of course, that’s not the only thing that’s happened. My wife lost an uncle to brain cancer and an aunt to lung cancer over the spring and summer as well. My dad had to have a quadruple bypass and Sherri’s cousin had open heart surgery a couple of weeks ago. Add on top of that some difficulties that we’ve had with a teenage son that thinks he owns everything that you’ve got a big old pot of crap soup.

I’m trying not to dwell on my problems, but this year has been relentless in the amount of hard pitches that it has thrown at us. It has been one thing after another after another for months after months. And I’ve done what I can to try and get my mind off of things. I’ve been focusing a lot of energy on podcasting, which is my hobby. I’ve even created another show that has seen a little bit of popularity. I’ve had plenty of work to do in my college courses, though I find it difficult to stay focused on that when I need to be.

I’m carrying a ton of guilt. And it’s all guilt that I know don’t need to be carrying but I don’t know how to shake it. I feel guilt for not forcing more of a relationship between my mom and my kids. My mom lived 300 miles away and there were times that we’d go months without seeing them. I know that the argument could be made that it’s the same 300 miles both ways and that she could have visited more. But now that she’s gone it just leaves me with the feeling that I could have gone down there more…especially after making the trip about six or seven times in the last few months of her life. I also feel guilt over the relationships that I’ve ended since the whole things started that I mentioned earlier. It’s not what she would have wanted which is why I tried to make it work in the beginning. But it was just filling me with anger so I had to cut the tie. I’m so afraid of how disappointed she would be…

I went to the cemetery a week or so ago. My wife had bought an arrangement of fall flowers for Mom’s grave and I drove over there to swap out the summer flowers that were faded from the sun. I stood there and talked for couple of minutes. I apologized to her for writing off the people that I did because I know it’s not what she would have wanted. I told her that I missed her a lot. And I started to think about what she would say if she were here. What she would tell me to help me through this year that has been so trying for me and my family.

She would say “It is what it is.”

Yeah, Mom…you’re right.

I’m not the first person who’s ever lost a parent. We all lose our parents unless we go before them. I’m not the first guy to have financial problems. I’m not the first person who’s ever had to let go of a relationship in order to not descend into pure hatred. I’m 39 years old. Hopefully I have a lot of life left and this year is not going to define me.

That doesn’t make this weekend a whole lot easier. But it does help me to see the hope in my future.

And I know that this post will raise a few questions from some people. Some will ask “Who’s he talking about?”. I won’t go into that. But, rest assured, if you saw the link to this on Facebook or Twitter then it isn’t you.

Think Before You Pink!

It happens every October.

This time of year we start to see the leaves change their color, pumpkin spice takes over every snack that we love, and deserted store fronts suddenly reopen to sell us fake blood and rubber masks. But another thing that starts to happen is that the pink ribbons start to pop up everywhere.

At first they start to crawl across your computer or phone screen as you scroll through social media. Then you see the key chains and the magnets when you’re in the checkout at Wal-Mart. Then stores start to ask you if you’d like to donate to this or that.

It’s breast cancer awareness month.

I noticed it this morning when I was checking my email at work. Our HR director sent out a memo to tell us that there would be a banner in front of our break room through the end of the month. She said we were welcome to write the names of any women in our lives that had breast cancer and had either survived it or died from it.

Breast cancer is something that has probably touched all of our lives at some time or another. Its awful presence has been felt in every family in some form. My mother-in-law dealt with it last year. She just had a scan and is still cancer free.

But there are a couple of things that really irritate me about “breast cancer awareness month”. The first is the fact that such a huge spotlight is put on this one version of cancer that, in my mind, kind of trivializes all the people that suffered from other forms of the disease. My mother passed away back in April from ovarian cancer. September is “ovarian cancer awareness month”. Did you know that? Most people didn’t because there isn’t as much promotion. Does the fact that she didn’t die of breast cancer mean that I can’t honor her memory by writing her name on that banner?

My wife’s uncle died of brain cancer over the summer. Do you know when “brain cancer awareness month” is? It’s May. Her aunt passed away from lung cancer a few months ago. Do you know when “lung cancer awareness month” is? It’s November.

But we all know that October is the month that we wear pink. Everyone from NASCAR to the NFL will be sporting that color. And do you know why? Because all of us have had a mother…a wife…an aunt…a grandmother who has suffered with the disease and many of them have died. So when someone says that you should wear pink to support the memory of that woman that meant so much to you then you feel like you should do it.

But what you don’t realize is the other thing that irritates me. Breast cancer has been commercialized to make money. And it isn’t the people that you think are making money that I’m talking about. Let me walk you through this. You go to the store and buy a few groceries. You’re standing in line and you look over and see a key chain shaped like a pink ribbon. You know that a pink ribbon means breast cancer so you automatically think that they’re selling pink ribbon merchandise to raise money for breast cancer research so you fork over a couple of bucks and buy one to honor your aunt Betsy that died 10 years ago.

What you don’t know is that the ribbon you just bought has nothing to do with cancer research. It’s just a key chain that some manufacturer made to sell this month to make some extra money off of the fact that everyone has pink on the brain right now. So, to honor your Aunt Betsy…you just gave a few dollars to some company that made a key chain. That’s it. Not one cent of your money went to cancer research.

And some of the stuff that you buy will have something written on it that says that a percentage of the proceeds go to raising breast cancer awareness. What does that even mean? Who isn’t aware of breast cancer? Why do we need to raise money to make people aware of it? What the money should be going to is research to find treatments or even a cure for the disease.

I’m not trying to tell you not to donate any money to breast cancer charities. I think you should. And if breast cancer has touched your life then it may be more important to you than some of the others. So, by all means, wear your pink ribbon earrings, run in a 5K, and do anything you can to help the cause. But, before you spend money on merchandise just because it has a pink ribbon on it, ask yourself these questions.

1. Does any money from this purchase go to breast cancer programs?

Make sure that at least a portion of what they are making is going to research and not just awareness. And Etsy is the worst. Please don’t buy any pink ribbon merchandise from Etsy. Most of those people are only making things to earn a profit and even if they tell you that they’re donating a portion to a charity you have no way of knowing if it actually happens.

2. What organization actually gets the money?

Is it Susan G. Komen? They are a wonderful charity when it comes to awareness and getting women screened and all of that…but absolutely none of their money goes to research for a cure. So all of those t-shirts that say “Race For A Cure” and has Susan G. Komen on them are misleading.

3. Is there a cap on the donations that the company donates in a year and have they already reached it?

If they’ve already reached some self-imposed cap then your money is just going into someone’s pocket.

Please don’t think that I’m some curmudgeon that’s hating on breast cancer because I’m not. I just don’t like that there are so many thousands of people that die of cancer every year that don’t seem to get the same focus. And I think that focus has ulterior motives behind it that exploits women that are fighting for their lives. How many times have we given money to someone thinking that we’re donating to a charity in honor of someone that we loved and actually just helped to line someone’s pocket?

If you don’t do anything else, please just Google which cancer is supposed to be focused on in a given month and make a small donation toward that research. It could go a long way.

Why You Should Get A Flu Shot

This article originally appeared in last week's issue of The Leeds Tribune. I'm posting it here so it can be shared with people ou...