Building Meaningful Relationships Takes Effort – And Is Worth The Effort

As 2019 comes to a close I find myself reflecting on the experiences that have shaped my thoughts and the impact of the lessons learned from the 2019 journey. To say the least, it has been a year of significant changes in my personal life and greater appreciation for my professional life. Let me tell you why.

In February, I shared that my dad had been ill for the last year. While it had not been easy at this point, the road ahead was about to get much harder. Just a few months later, in early April I received a call that began a wild roller coaster ride for next six months. Dr. Hampton reported that my dad swallowed some medication and it went down the wrong pipe, causing some internal damage. My dad needed an emergency procedure.

And then it all started. One procedure turned into another. And another. My siblings and I knew that one of us needed to get to Florida immediately. My sister jumped on a plane and over the next 12 days my dad’s health teetered. The three of us found ourselves on the phone many times a day for long periods, reading his healthcare directives line by line, deciding what to do next. What to say “yes” to and when to say “no”.

Although you may have thought about scenarios like this, nothing ever really prepares you for these discussions quite like having the actual discussion. On numerous occasions when one of us was silent another would speak up and say, “What do you think?” We had agreed early on that all of our voices needed to be heard knowing we would all live with the outcome. We knew we could loose our dad and if — or rather when — the three of us needed to be “whole together”. We understood when our dad does pass away all we would have is each other since our mom had passed away 12 years ago.

For the remainder of April and into early May, one of us was in Florida at all times. While we had left the darkest days of early April, my dad was not out of the woods. Supporting my dad together was not always easy. As I mentioned my siblings and I agreed that we needed to be on the same page for my dad. While we care for and love each other, we do not always naturally think the same. Families constantly evolve and change as we grow, get married, raise our own kids, and face life as our parents did. We found we were in many ways the same but in other ways had indeed evolved. Keeping the three of us siblings together and on the same page took work and many intentional and thoughtful long conversations that included lots of “listening to hear”.

As well, we were geographically challenged. Living in three different cities, in three different time zones. We conference called multiple times a week. Finding a time we could all talk for what could be 60-90 minutes had its challenges, but we did it, we figured it out. As time passed many asked, “How are things going?” One of the more specific questions asked was “You have siblings right?” I answered in the affirmative. The next question, in somewhat of a critical tone, was “And how is that going?” I would report “great” and thought that would end the conversation. Boy was I wrong.

What happened next caught me off guard. Unasked people would share a story, it might have been their own or someone they knew. The stories shared were always about people they knew who needed to work together to support someone that was ill but there was a lack of harmony, lack of open listening, or lack of empathy. The ends of these stories were a gut punch, often with something like “Yeah, so and so has been gone for more than 10 years and we still don’t talk to (fill in the blank)”. Hearing this type of comment invariably left me empty. Thinking not only did they loose the person who passed away but also the person with whom they could not agree.

As my monthly trips to Florida and elongated conference calls with my siblings continued, many of you continued to express your support and share your stories. Sometimes there was a comment that hit me as another gut punch: “You know if this was my (fill in the blank), I am not sure I would be giving up as much…my (fill in the blank) just wasn’t that great of a (fill in the blank) to me so I am not sure I would put myself out as you have. I don’t even know that I will miss (fill in the blank) when they are no longer here”.

This type of comment left me empty. Then, on September 16, my dad passed and brought a conclusion to the previous six months. The last 90 days or so brought a range of emotion, relief that my dad is finally at peace, grateful for the work accomplished with my siblings and that we are “whole”, the pain of loss knowing I will not hear his voice or see that twinkle in his eye or see that smirky smile. Miss you Dad.

As we embark on a New Year, it is a time we challenge ourselves to do something differently. This often includes commitments like loosing weight, exercising more, eating healthier or the like. For 2020 I ask you to consider the impact of the people in your life. This could include family, friends, work colleagues, volunteer colleagues, your neighbors, etc. Recognizing the people in your life as a gift and the impact we have on each other creates the conditions for exponential joy.

I encourage you to reach farther, work with more concerted effort to accept differences, reach common ground and find the genuine worth in one another. My dad taught us there will be times that common ground is difficult to find – in those moments put the needs of your family first and your individual differences in the back seat. I believe this can be extrapolated to any group you belong to. Setting your mind in the right direction, your life experiences can and will be richer.

With my gratitude for the outpouring of thoughtful wishes I felt this year at my difficult moment. Wishing you more meaningful relationships in 2020.