Friday, August 22, 2014
OK - nobody knows better than me that I can't talk. None the less, the Bishop asked me to prepare a talk and he was going to ask my daughter to read it.
Sacrament Meeting - August 17, 2014
The Bishop asked me to prepare a talk that would be delivered by my daughter, Kristin. I have had a fair amount of time to think about this. I have written a piece here and there, intending to bring it all together in the last couple of days. When I was done Friday night, it just didn’t feel right, so I went to bed feeling nervous. Yesterday I remembered that the Bishop told me that he wanted me to use the “I” word, meaning he wants this talk to be about me. So now I felt the pressure to write a talk by an inspirational person who has ALS. That is a heavy responsibility so I cast that off right away and decided I would write a talk by a dork who has ALS.
My experience with this disease has been very interesting to me. I am a very curious person and I want to know as much as I can about what is going on. Three years ago this fall, I started to slur my speech and my muscles started twitching all over my body. Everyone has muscle twitches but this was over the top. My google search brought up a list of conditions which show those symptoms. ALS was on the top of the list. I put the list together so I could be better informed for my first visit to the neurologist. One disease that is on the list is a form of Schizophrenia. I knew I didn’t have that one because the voices in my head told me so. So visiting the doctor was a confirmation of my list and they prescribed some tests to narrow the list by ruling stuff out. I flunked all of the tests so they sent me to the ALS doctors at the University of Utah. After doing some more tests they confirmed that I had ALS.
As diseases go, this one is very interesting. It is a motor neuron disease. The motor nerves die so the muscles they control don't know what to do. The muscles slowly shrink, weaken and become paralyzed. No one knows for sure what causes it. There is no cure. Everyone who gets it has a different experience so no one can tell you what is going to happen next. The only thing that medical professionals can predict is that it is a terminal disease unless your name is Stephen Hawking. If you ask the doctors how much time you have left, they have no clue except to say that the average prognosis is between two and five years from when it is diagnosed. I started having symptoms almost three years ago and it has been over two and a half years since I was officially diagnosed. So, I suppose, to add a little drama to this meeting, I could kick the bucket right here and now. All in favor please manifest it by raising your hand. All opposed by the same sign.
As I face my own mortality, I have had a fair amount of time to think deep thoughts. I would like to share some of the important things that have been on my mind.
LIVE YOUR LIFE
Don't just exist. This mortal state that we are now experiencing is finite and precious. Don't spend your life thinking about what might have been.
At the phone company, I had a guy working for me. Dave was a nice guy but a mediocre employee. He got the job done but he seldom exceeded his objectives. He did whatever it took to meet them while showing little interest in going the extra mile. In his personal life, he married when he was older, and while single, lived with his parents so he could save and invest his money. When he worked for me he had a young family. As his supervisor I had the opportunity to speak with him about his goals. I learned that he had a very specific goal outside of the phone company. He put every dime that didn't have to be used for absolute necessities, into real estate for student housing in Utah valley. He had committed himself to reach a specific net worth by a certain age. He would lecture me about the money I spent on family vacations or trips to Hawaii with my wife. He spoke of opportunity costs and how the dollars I spent on vacations were gone forever.
One day he came into my office and told me that he had met his goal. I said "congratulations! Are you going to retire early?" He said that he wouldn't retire but now he would focus on his work at the phone company. He said that I would see a difference. He was right. He became a star on our team. In his personal life, he bought a new van for his family and took them to Disneyland. He bought a folding camping trailer and went camping and fishing with his family as often as he could. He was finally living.
Several months later we had another of our routine, one on one meetings. He sat down and told me about his latest camping trip. He told me that he was on track to make 150% of his objective. He then explained that the reason he was missing days in the office was that he had been ill. He went to his Doctor who after some tests referred him to an oncologist. He told me that he had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and that he had less than 6 months to live.
Over the next few months we visited in the office and then in his home. He had many regrets about how he didn't spend enough time with his young family making memories. The last time I saw him before he died, he spoke about opportunity cost, not in terms of missed financial opportunity, but in terms of missed opportunities with his young family. He knew that he was leaving his family financially secure, but he worried about whether or not his kids, especially the youngest ones would have any memories of him.
I'm not saying that everyone should forget about financial responsibility. Our leaders have taught us that we should avoid debt and be prepared for hard times. But, if you sacrifice family and personal experiences, and focus on building assets, whatever they may be, you should prepare now for experiencing regret when your days are spent.
Make the choices today that will result in the least amount of regret years later.
KNOW WHO YOU ARE
Stop searching for yourself. What could be more boring than that. Jesus taught that the only way to find your life is to lose it. It is much more fun and interesting to serve others. As we do, we will realize that we like the person that we become.
The words, "remember who you are and what you stand for," have become so common and cliche, we can forget how important those words are. We are children of our mortal parents. They gave us a name. It is important to us, and to our parents, what we do to honor or dishonor the name they gave us. The older I get, the more I look like my Dad. Nothing makes me feel more proud as when someone tells me that I look like my Dad. He and my mom taught all of us about the important things in life, both temporally and spiritually. We all knew that my parents loved each other and still do. Their example has stuck with all of my brothers and sisters.
Be grateful for everything that the Lord blesses you with. I have come to realize that becoming sick has given me a way to learn things that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. So I have reason to be grateful even for ALS.
The Doctrine and Covenants says that nothing will kindle His wrath more than failing to acknowledge His hand in all things. I would like to switch this around like this. Nothing will please the Lord like acknowledging His hand in all things and being grateful for all that surrounds us. All we have to do is open our eyes to see how he has blessed us.
Our Heavenly Father loves us beyond our ability to comprehend. He loves us so much that he sent his son to suffer and die for us. That means that every dumb mistake I’ve made and sins that I have committed have been suffered by Jesus Christ. At this point in my life, where I can see an end, I feel extremely grateful to Jesus who knows what it is like to have ALS. All that he asks of me is that I lay all my stuff at his feet and trust him enough to be grateful and to bear it well.
CHERISH YOUR FAMILY
One of the blessings I have received through this illness is that Gerri' doesn't trust me to be home alone by myself. I have a tendency to fall and bonk my head. One time, not that long ago, I fell and hit my head hard enough that I have no memory of the fall or of anything that happened over the next three days. So, if she has to be somewhere, or if she needs to get away and take a much needed and deserved break, she gets a baby sitter.
Our four kids have been great to come over and spend a few hours when they are needed. This has given me some cherished opportunities to speak with each of the kids separately about spiritual things and their beliefs. Not all of my kids have taken the path that we hoped they would. We all think free agency is great, except when it comes to our own kids. We have four adult children. We wanted them to make the choices we had planned for them, and when they made different choices, it was not easy. Any discussion about spirituality and religion made things uncomfortable for them and us. I love our kids very much and I respect their choices even if I don't always agree. This illness has removed the barriers. The time I have had with them lately has allowed us to open up and talk about spiritual matters.
They have presented some interesting challenges to Gerri' and me. In that regard, we are no different than any other parents. They are really good people. They are kind and generous and ever concerned about the welfare of others, especially the people who need it most including those around us that are picked on or ignored, or different in a way that brings about unjust treatment.
I ask you, my four children to always remember what you have been taught at home and at church. If you remember and align your lives accordingly you will be blessed beyond measure. You will prosper and grow personally. You will become the person you have hoped to be.
As I said earlier I have been blessed to have the privilege of having time to sort through my own feelings and to get my affairs in order. I have a pretty good understanding of the most likely course my life will take. While my retirement plans didn't include dying young, I feel ready to take whatever Heavenly Father has planned for me. Am I afraid of dying? No, at least no more than the American philosopher, Woody Allen who said, and I quote, "I am not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens." (close quote)
As I have thought about how I have spent my life, it is not difficult to think of missed opportunities or things that I should not have done or things I should have done better. But for the most part, I feel satisfied and blessed with the way my life has gone. The smartest thing I have done in my life is marry Gerri'. The last 41 years have been amazing. She is my wife and my best friend. People talk about having ups and downs in their marriage. We have experienced ups and downs in our lives, but not in our marriage. I love that girl.
I would like to express my gratitude to every member of this ward. We have received so much love and support. From the cards that show up regularly expressing love and encouragement to ward members taking on my yard. Our Relief Society President, Collette and now Mary Lou have been wonderfully thoughtful and generous. The ward has been amazing. The Bishop and the Stake Presidency has blessed our home many many times.
I would like to bear my testimony that God lives, he answers our prayers. The restored Church and the Gospel it teaches have brought me joy my entire life. I am excited to see what comes next.
When my Mom was dying, I asked her what the first thing was that she wanted to do when she got to the other side. Her answer was, “I want to hug my mommy.” I too want to hug my mommy, and I look forward that day.