Love Hard: Living Through My Mom’s Dying Days

In the 1970s

In the 1970s

My mom died last week. On Thursday. She was my single focus for her last three weeks. The longest three weeks, and the shortest three weeks of my life.

It all started 36 days ago when she called me from the hospital to say her doctor detected a “mass” on her liver. She wanted me to wait to come out–she in Southern California, me in Chicago–until she started chemo.

She wanted to draw on my “faith and positive attitude.” My mom had had cancer a couple times before, but this time, her words, her tone…I felt like a traitor. “Faith-filled” and “positive” were not two adjectives describing me in that moment.

The days passed, as I waited 2,000 miles away for updates. My sister saw her the next day, on Saturday, I talked to my mom for maybe 30 seconds on Tuesday, and then her husband called Thursday morning. There would be no chemo, because she would not get strong enough for that. “God told me to call you, literally,” he said. “We’re losing her.”

In the 1980s

In the 1980s

Much like the dramas I’ve seen depicted in movies, I booked a flight for the afternoon, crying sporadically as I packed a carry-on, forced myself to eat something, and gave random, disconnected instructions to my husband and kids. Then I headed out to be with my mom, having no idea how to do this thing called “Mom is dying.”

We sprung her from the hospital on the Monday after I landed, and for the next 17 days, longer than any of us had anticipated, but very grateful for the time, we took care of my mom (and her husband) in the comfort of their home.

A lot and very little happened in that time. My brilliant, witty mom declined day by day, with her physical decline ahead of her mental decline. A curse or a blessing, depending on how you look at it.

In the 1990s

In the 1990s

After a couple of days home, after a mini-party of close friends, my mom wasn’t up for visitors, in person or on the phone. So one of my roles was thoughtful gatekeeper. I listened to people process this new reality, and for some, re-process the grief of their own mother’s death.

I knew that I would have much time, afterwards, to grieve my mom. So my desire, my mission, was to be 100% in the moment and be there for my still-alive mom. I succeeded, for the most part.

There was just one time, when we were watching The Oscars–one of my mom’s funnier moments came when she cheered JLo’s stumble off the stage– when I future-tripped. As I lay next to her, we listened to Glen Campbell’s nominated song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” I quietly let a few tears slip down my cheeks. But when my eyes met with my sister’s, I had to get out of the bed, leave the room, and walk completely out of the house.

The song that will most remind me of my experience of being with my mom in those final weeks is Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now.” Three days before she died, unable to talk much, she was lip-synching the song as she danced with the only part of her body that could move—her right arm. We surrounded her bed, a captive audience, enjoying her beauty and desire to entertain, even under these circumstances.

In the 2000s

In the 2000s

On Thursday morning, March 5th, I witnessed my mom take her last breath. She was there for my first breath, and I was blessed to be there for her last. A few moments later, when I placed my hand on her chest, and that heart that had been beating so hard the last few days was silent, the gravity of the moment hung in the air.

On the plane ride home, I sat next to a retired nurse. She had done hospice care and as we talked, I mentioned that I was actually holding up pretty well and had been throughout these final weeks. She said—and we hadn’t talked about faith or spirituality—that was God’s grace. “Exactly!” I replied.

The verse that comes to mind is 2 Corinthians 12:9:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Many people were praying for me during this time, as I kept them updated, via texts and emails. And I will be forever grateful to all of them.

In the 2010s

In the 2010s

A few of my prayer warriors reminded me that God is still with me. His grace is still sufficient. Right. Yes. True. Thank you for the reminder, because as I get back into the routine of my life, and my mind and heart start to work through and adjust to this new reality, there have been moments of profound sadness enveloping me.

About a week before my mom died, breaking from her mode of keeping things light and funny, she shared wisdom on grieving her. Wisdom I am sure she gleaned from her own mother dying 21 years earlier.

“There will be moments, thoughts will come to you,” she said. “And from those thoughts will come feelings. Honor those feelings. All of them. Every single one of them.”

Thanks, Mom. With God’s help, will do.

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
~Psalm 28:7

Love & Respect: Book Delivers Hard Truths, Provides Big Marriage Boost

Love and Respect book cover“We believe love best motivates a woman and respect most powerfully motivates a man.“


A book that I find myself recommending to couples all the time is one that has had a profound effect on my life: Love & Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs.

Nearly 10 years ago, I first heard him being interviewed on WMBI, Moody Radio Chicago. What he had to say piqued my interest, so I bought two copies of the book—one for me and one for my husband.

At the heart of the book, as well as Eggerichs’ international marriage ministry, is the truth that women crave love in the way that men hunger for respect. Sure, we all need and want both of them, but when push comes to shove—when we are in the heat of conflict, particularly—those are the corners we typically retreat to.

Sadly, what often occurs is that a wife treats her husband with disrespect, so he responds in an unloving manner, which triggers more disrespect from her, and so forth. Or maybe it all started with the man not expressing love. Either way, it all adds up to what Eggerichs calls the “crazy cycle.”

To get off the crazy cycle, either the husband must resolve to be loving, despite feeling disrespected, or the wife must choose a respectful response even though she doesn’t feel loved. This creates the “energizing cycle.”

One of the biggest challenges, I have found in my own relationship as well as coming into contact with other couples’ relationships, is that women don’t realize when they are being disrespectful and the same goes for men—oblivious that their actions come across as unloving.

Men and women are so different. As one example, until reading Love & Respect, I thought reminding my husband a few times to take care of a task was being helpful, whereas he felt it was nagging. Perception is reality, so despite my intentions, I was actually being disrespectful.

It was one of the hard, but necessary, epiphanies that came from reading the book.

Conversely, when my husband walked away during a heated discussion, I viewed it as an unloving gesture—that he didn’t care enough to work through the problem. From his standpoint, getting some distance was the best way to keep the feud from escalating and leading to more serious relational damage.

Interestingly, about a month after getting the book, I heard two people from World Wide DreamBuilders (WWG), including Amway Diamond Sandy Yuen, enthusiastically recommend Love & Respect. The book was eventually added to the organization’s recommended reading list, which made it only the latest in a long line of marriage-growth books that reflect WWG’s commitment to nurturing strong relationships.

That focus isn’t universal, I have found.

Recently, as we met a couple undergoing some challenges in their marriage, my husband asked what marriage books they had read in the past. To our surprise, neither had read any.

Experiences like this have reminded me that what I have learned from World Wide Group, whether it’s strengthening my marriage relationship or any aspect of personal growth, is not typical.

Some people are fascinated by how to assemble a car engine and are willing to put forth the effort to learn that skill. Going back to when I was barely a teen, understanding people and how to improve relationships has been the area that has most captivated me.

What I like about books is their ability to shine a light on areas where I need to improve. I am much more open to instruction when it comes in this form than if someone were to counsel me directly.

Having recently celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary, I find marriage is far easier now than it was five, 10 and, certainly, 15 years ago—thanks in large part to the influence of books like Love & Respect and other titles that came to my attention through World Wide Group.

But of course, the value of any resource from World Wide Group or any other Amway-approved provider depends on an individual’s application of the teaching.

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WWDB Free Enterprise Days Honors, Gives Thanks to Military Veterans

Veterans and FlagI was born during the Vietnam War. By the time it ended, I was too young to have any awareness of how Americans back home treated returning veterans who survived that terrible conflict.

From what I have learned since then, I know that it was horrible, though. Scorn and condemnation were much too common. People opposed to the war took out their political and philosophical views on those who had just put their lives on the line and endured unspeakable horrors.

There were no ticker-tape parades like those that greeted military personnel after World War II, 30 years earlier.

Throughout my childhood and into my early-adult years, I didn’t really have any sensitivity to the sacrifices that these men and women, and their families, have made in our nation’s history. From the Revolutionary War to the most minor of military battles, it was all lost on me. I knew some of the names, the dates, but it was mostly dry, textbook stuff.

Then, Free Enterprise Days came into my life. An annual event held every fall by World Wide Group (WWDB), the three-day conference celebrates the free enterprise system that is at the heart of the our economic success.

It always starts with a heartfelt ceremony honoring individual veterans from the various branches of the military. With music, video and a narrative about their contributions, these veterans’ stories are shared to an arena packed with Amway Independent Business Owners.

For more than 20 years before it became popular in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, World Wide Group leaders–some with long and impressive careers in the military—have made it a point to recognize and honor our nation’s servicemen and women. It’s an outgrowth of the Amway Corporation’s high regard for freedom, and its recognition that “freedom isn’t free.”

These men and women receive raucous standing ovations, louder and more emotional than any rock concert or other event I have attended.

Those cheers are not intended only for them, of course. They represent so many others, past and present, who have made extraordinary sacrifices for all of us. This includes more than 1.3 million Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice by dying in battle since our nation’s birth.

Whether someone appreciates it or not, we owe a tremendous debt to the millions who have been on the front lines around the world fighting to preserve our country’s freedom and to help spread that freedom elsewhere.

The 2014 WWDB Free Enterprise Days are coming up over a four-week span, each starting on Friday evening and wrapping up on Sunday afternoon. Here are the locations and dates:

Irvine, California (Sept. 26-28); Portland, Oregon (Oct. 3-5); Denver, Colorado (Oct. 10-12); and Edmonton, Alberta (Oct. 17-19).

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15 Years Ago: The Birth of Quixtar

Quixtar LogoFifteen years ago today was a milestone event in the history of the Amway business.

For months leading up to it, “9-1-99” was a hugely anticipated moment when the then-40-year-old business formed a North American sister company that moved onto the Internet under a new name,

It would prove to be a short-lived phase. Eight years later, the company dropped the name, shifting back to Amway for all of its operations.

Along the way, the corporation and its many Independent Business Owners (IBOs), myself included, found the move online to be a double-edged sword.

On the positive side, it opened up the potential for growth, through ease of communication with people all over the country and the world who could be sponsored as IBOs, as well as through ordering products over the Internet.

Q-A Logo

At the same time, though, moving so much of the communication about the business, and the business opportunity, onto the web had an adverse effect: the corporation dove into a virtual ocean that exposed IBOs and prospective distributors to no-holds-barred communication.

That communication included a relatively small number of Amway critics who spewed negative about the company, often based on narrow experiences they allegedly had with one or a small number of people associated with the business.

And on the Internet, as we all know, negative quickly rises to the forefront, even if it’s in the scant minority.

At this end of the spectrum, a tiny fraction of people have used the World Wide Web’s potential to serve as a limitless forum to vent their spleens and grind their axes over various complaints—some of which may have validity, but most of which are overstated, imagined or just plain loopy.

Unfortunately for Amway, it has sometimes resulted in a skewed portrait of people’s experiences with the company and its distributors.

Yes, millions of IBOs have had positive experiences of the Amway business over the decades, including some who have achieved great success, such as World Wide Group (WWDB) founders and Amway Founders Crowns Ron and Georgia Lee Puryear and Amway Founders Diamonds Dean and Marcie Whalen.

Amway LogoAmong the most recent examples of WWDB’s successful teaching and training system, the Whalens attended their first Free Enterprise Days conference in 2006, as the business was in its last year using the Quixtar name.

Today, Sept. 1, 2014, Amway is 15 years older, 15 years wiser—and still one of the best business opportunities in the world, no matter what it’s named.

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Success of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Flows from Donors’ Strong Influence

Kattie Kristie dumps water on headBy now, you have probably not only heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but have seen some of the videos people have shot. And maybe you have even gotten drenched yourself and/or donated to the cause.

With each bucket poured on a person’s head, he or she “calls out” others by name to follow their lead.

The idea is to raise awareness and money to fight Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease that attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. Relatively rare, the disease is diagnosed in between 5,000 and 6,000 people annually (with about 30,000 people living with ALS currently). By comparison, cancer results in nearly 600,000 deaths annually in the U.S.

Because ALS affects a much smaller portion of the population, there has been less research conducted as it is less profitable for pharmaceutical companies seeking profits that come with larger customer blocs. But $80 million has been raised over the last four weeks (compared to $2.5 million over the same period last year), the momentum keeps building, and there’s no telling how high the total will get in the coming days and weeks.

It has been interesting to see who gets “called out” by whom: whether it’s Celebrity ‘A’ challenging Celebrities ‘B’,’ C’ and ‘D’ or people I know tagging mutual friends on Facebook. The viral nature of the movement, which has really taken the country by storm, shows that people are choosing wisely when they make these “call-outs.”

As leadership expert and prolific author John C. Maxwell has said:

“Leadership is influence.”

So if someone has no influence in my life—if I don’t respect them, or even know them—then I am much less likely to follow any lead they make. On the other hand, if they are someone I respect—such as my pastor, whose mother died of ALS a few years ago—then I am much more likely to give to the cause, as I did recently.

For many years, Maxwell has been a featured speaker at the Spring Leadership conferences held by World Wide Group, the Amway training-and-development organization with which I have been associated for years. For even longer, his books, like Developing the Leader Within You and Developing the Leaders Around You, have been on World Wide Group’s recommended reading list.

John C. Maxwell getting dunked with water by his grandchildren.

John C. Maxwell getting dunked with water by his grandchildren.

A few days ago, Maxwell called out Amway Founders Crown and World Wide Group founder Ron Puryear to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Although I don’t know if Ron has taken the challenge himself, knowing the kind of mutual respect and friendship between those two men, I would not be surprised if he did—or at least made a donation.

(By the way, one of the criticisms of the entire movement is that people are not being given information on where they can make a donation. Here’s one ALS Association link for you to consider.)

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Being Slow to Speak: The Benefit of Doing What Comes Unnaturally

THINKA few years ago, I wrote about a recurring theme in my life—my struggle to think before speaking. It was accompanied by a helpful acrostic (see on the left) from the word “think.”

World Wide Group and leaders like Amway Executive Diamond Theresa Danzik and Diamond Sandee Tsuruda have been instrumental in providing mentorship in this area, where I had a lot of work to do (and, after making improvements over the years, remain a work in progress).

There are numerous examples of the benefit of thinking before speaking—or not saying anything at all. But just because we know, intellectually, that we should be “quick to hear, slow to speak,” as the Biblical book of James notes, that doesn’t mean that it’s a simple thing to do.

If it came naturally to us, then James might not have bothered to write those words. So we need to be reminded, again and again.

Last week, those reminders popped up twice in a matter of a few minutes.

First, it was my son grumbling about dinner plans on his birthday—after a day full of activity and treats centered on him and his twin sister. Rather than let us elaborate on why we were going to a potluck dinner (largely so that I didn’t have to cook for a large group of people after a very trying week and a pack-filled day), he began to whine.

After exhorting him to heed the “slow to speak” counsel, we continued on our way to the yard where my husband and I had gotten our wedding photographs taken 20 years earlier.

Specifically, we wanted to get a photo in the same spot by a tree that has served as our “official” wedding day photo.

Our kids snapped the photos and as we chatted with the homeowner (let’s call her Ms. Johnson), she told us a story related to the tree:

About three years ago, after a tree-trimming company overlooked a branch that was hanging over her neighbor’s yard, she called the company back to let them know they needed to return the next business day.

As Ms. Johnson was about to clarify the situation in an over-the-fence conversation, the neighbor (Mr. Smith, let’s call him) cut her off with a snide remark: “I see that you made sure all the branches over your roof got trimmed.”

From there, the conversation went downhill and soon, Mr. Johnson was involved. It descended further into a shouting match.

In those few moments, the generally positive relationship that the families had built up for about six years fell apart.

As much as this is an unfortunate story, I am grateful that our children were present to take it all in so they can see the destruction that can occur when we don’t hold our tongues and fail to apply the “THINK” principle.

The relations between the Johnsons and the Smiths have been icy for these past three years. And it can all be traced to one person’s decision to do what came naturally: Mr. Smith was quick to speak and slow to listen.

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