10 important things you can learn about life and business by walking a dog

10 important things you can learn about life and business by walking a dog

Lucy and Me
Our dog Lucy nudging me to go out for a walk.

The lessons we can learn from the simplest acts in life are often the most valuable of all. I’ve been walking our family dogs since 2007 and along the way have learned quite a few lessons applicable to life and business that can be learned from walking a dog.

  1. Shit almost always happens. Like all great lessons in life, we often set our minds on the processes that we most enjoy (like the beauty of a nice day outside.. or that pending great business deal) while conveniently forgetting that expected and unexpected shit always happens along the way. Being present and ready for these eventualities is far better than getting out there with no poop bag and being forced to flick a stick or hide that shit under a leaf or snow. There’s a lesson there for business and life, for sure. Be ready for that shit. 
  2. Motivation comes from affirmation. Dogs pay a ton of attention to their surroundings, but typically like to lead by their nose. That means it is important to maintain their attention and confirm who is in charge all during a dog walk. It’s great to affirm the character of the dog and understand them, but a good owner learns to lead by communication and connection. The dogs like it better because they’re actually wired that way. There’s an element of truth to that with people too, because everyone works better when they are affirmed in their efforts.  
  3. Set expectations and give directions. Typically this involves instruction given to a dog (or dogs) before one ever goes outside. A simple “sit” or “stay” inside the door is the same thing as stating “Alright let’s bring this meeting to order.” Walking a dog is a meeting of minds. Teaching a dog how to walk with you takes practice and consistency. That doesn’t mean you need to control their every action, at first focuse on those that contribute to the greater goal of having “a good walk.” A dog tugging and pulling and wandering off-trail every twenty feet is not necessarily a happy animal. Nor is a dog left to fend for themselves in the presence of strange or unfamiliar dogs. Some will work it out, but they can also wind up being dominated or intimidate, setting the stage for future fears. Set expectations in all these situations and life will be better for everyone. “Is your dog good with other dogs?” is a polite and simple question to ask. And be smart about time: keep human meetings and dog walks under an hour. Honor expectations and be rewarded with loyalty. 
  4. Vary the routine. Dogs do love a bit of routine. But they also get bored if there is nothing new along the way to see or sniff. So whether you’re walking your dog, making dinner for a spouse or managing a department of eager employees, it always helps to vary the routine. Change it up. Make it fun. That includes the bedroom. Woof woof. 
  5. It costs money to feed a dog right. The shelves at your local pet store are filled with row upon row of dog food bags and cans. All claim to be best for your dog’s health. But one must remember that much of what is available in both human food and dog chow is often manufactured from the lowest possible quality of available ingredients (such as sugar or carbs) while runing light on real food including genuine protein or vegetables. Ironically, it can be cheaper and better for you to shop the “perimeter” of a grocery store where food is loose and real rather than purchased prefabricated and sold in boxes, cans or other marketing tools that only raise the cost. A dog’s life can be better on a raw diet just like us. And when it comes to the rest of life, these principles hold true when buying products or creating services to sell to your customers. Authenticity is the name of the game, these days. And healthier for everyone. That’s as true for the information we consume as the food that we eat. Best to check it’s real before gobbling it up.Lucy on the couch.jpg
  6. Have a plan and communicate it. When you buy a puppy (especially a stray or rescue dog, which you should) you can never quite tell what their prior experiences in life have been. Some arrive with fears and baggage from mistreatment, But just like people, these tendencies can often be healed through communication, kindness and loving direction to build trust. Knowing how to do this can require the help of a dog trainer. That dynamic is just ike a human resources department brining in objective, outside help in the form of specialists to talk about sexual harassment or other critical management policies. In every case it matters that we use consistent, clear language and develop a plan that everyone understands so that both the dogs in our life and our fellow associates know the importance of respecting the plan.
  7. Know your limits. Sometimes it is tough to handle all the things that raising dogs or managing associates can throw at us in a day. Thus it is important to know when to “back off” and calibrate our own emotional stability before proceeding to the next steps. With a dog, it can be enormously helpful to crate train them because animals need time to regain a sense of control in their own space. On the human front, many companies now realize that granting associates the right to govern their time or engage in recreation actually brings them back with fresh attitudes. The byproduct of this approach is that it gives managers and executives a reasonable respite from constant demands, and they need time to recreate as well. That’s a wise way to go about the whole program. Productivity can actually increase by giving people license to expand their minds and relieve stress. it’s all about knowing your limits and respecting those of the people (and the dogs) with whom you work. 
  8. Embrace the cause. Walking your dog is an important tool for their health and wellness. It balances their body and minds because many breeds retain instincts to move and hunt and play. Embracing this as the “cause” for the walk really can put you in tune with the dog you love. It can open your eyes to their world. And while sniffing out dead frogs in the grass seems gross from a human perspective, to a dog that activity is like finding a cold, unclaimed Snickers bar in the back of the company fridge after moving the ice that’s been sitting there four months. We all love surprises. Embrace the cause of joy no matter how simple it can be. And nothing beats a truly cold Snickers. 
  9. Get out more. Taking your dog new places is an exercise in collaboration. Helping your dog meet new people or other dogs is a great way to socialize them and improve their ability to handle diverse circumstances. Bringing your dog to a local coffee shop will often produce many interesting encounters as people ask if they can pet your animal. If that’s in your dog’s nature, it can open up all-new human connections as well. Recently I encountered two obviously homeless men sitting on a bench outside a coffee shop. Both lit up with joy at the sight of our dog’s wagging tail and happy expression. She did not judge the men by their appearance, nor did they object to her over-exuberant and somewhat nippy greeting. So get out more. It’s a compassionate thing to do for you, your dog and for other people in this world. It’s also good for your soul at work or in life to go out for lunch with friends or even all alone and keep an open mind to talking with others.
  10. Forgive your dog and forgive yourself. No animals acts perfectly all the time. While we try to raise “perfect pets” that mind our every command. But occasionally they’ll still pee on the neighbor’s lawn when you’re not looking or threaten to run after a rabbit of squirrel. Our pets can be a bit ADHD at times, drawn to distractions or possessed by their instincts. First and foremost, you need to learn to forgive them. And in the process, you’ll learn to forgive yourself for not raising a perfect pet. There’s especially no reason to be cruel to animals as a means to assuage any inner guilt or disturbance in your emotional matrix. It is clear from all the abandoned or abused pets in this world that too many people take out their aggressions on innocent animals because they have not found healthy ways to deal with their own inner torments. If you have these instincts and can’t find ways to be patient with you dog, then human relationships are not going to be any easier to manage. The same goes for projecting prejudice or fears on certain breeds of dog, or for that matter. That brand of prejudice parallels resistance to human cultures or races of people different from our own. Until people learn how to overcome these fears or prejudices, the world becomes a battle for control that never ends. Thus it is important to learn to forgive yourself, how to manage internal conflicts and how to change your ways and attitudes. Your pet and the people around you in this world will no doubt return the favor with kind appreciation.

Six years on and beyond

Linda and Chris.jpgDuring eight years of cancer caregiving for my late wife Linda, who passed away six years ago this day on March 26, 2013, I grew to understand many things about other people. How some have such a heart for others. How giving they could be. How friends willingly took on chores too difficult to imagine. All of it done without judgment. These things came true in our lives.

There were also mysteries that were beyond explanation and should remain that way. During one period of time when I was out of work to take care of her needs, we sat together at our dining room table and added up the money needed to cover our bills. We’d already paid the $2000 COBRA monthly premium for health insurance. That was absolutely vital or we’d be broke in a minute from a running list of medical bills that came our way. These included chemotherapy treatments and surgeries that cost tens of thousands of dollars. In the days before the Affordable Care Act and protection from  pre-existing conditions, clinging to your health care was a life or death matter.

Somehow we made it week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year. But sometimes we just turned to prayer for help. So it was that we determined the need for $3500 to cover the rest of our bills. During periods when I had to be out of work to take care of her, I’d hustle up freelance work to cover our bills and more.

LInda and Chris.pngBut it was stressful. Sometimes we’d be pressed financially, and it was on one of those nights that we added up the bills, said our prayer and got her into bed to rest.

The next morning I came out to the kitchen to make her oatmeal and heard the front door mail slot creak open and shut. Whatever fell through the door made a solid thump on the floor. I walked out to check on the delivery because people were often bringing us food and other requests made through our caregiving website.

This package was different. The envelope was thick and bulging. I picked it up and opened the tab. Inside was a wad of money. $3700 worth.

I broke into quiet tears and stood there looking out the door. Whoever dropped off that envelope and collected that money was already gone. To this day I have inklings about who might have gathered that cash but in many respects prefer to leave it as a mystery. That’s what the folks who gave us the money apparently wanted. We used it wisely and gave a prayer of gratitude in response.

Yes, it’s been six years since my late wife passed away. But the kindness and grace of others that sustained us has never left my mind. I know it never left her mind either. In so many ways the support of others kept her alive during all those years in and out of remission after her initial diagnosis. We drew on that support for strength and hope during periods of both sickness and health. Our children felt that support, and in the ensuing years that remains an important part of our collective grieving process. Last year we held a memorial gathering in her honor. Rightfully so.

She and I met in 1981 and were married for twenty-eight years. Yet in many ways, we were also married to the world around us. It was that bond of vulnerability and hope that drew on the strength of others and became our main source of pride. The Right Kind of Pride. 

 

 

 

Hooking up with Leonid and Friends

 

Leonid and friends.jpegA year or so ago, I stumbled on the YouTube website for Leonid and Friends, the Russia-based assemblage that recreates the music of the band Chicago. The first time I watched and listened to the video for the song 25 or 6 to Four I sat mesmerized. The vocals were clean and authentic. The guitar-playing, astounding. So were the drumming, the horns and the background vocals. “Who are these people?” I wanted to know.

I wasn’t alone. Fans of the group lined up on Youtube begging the group to come to America. In January 2019, that finally happened.

I saw them the second night they appeared in America. The first gig was in New York City. Then they came to the exurbs of Chicago in Rosemont for a performance at Joe’s Live. The site was perfect.

Sitting four rows back from the stage, I was pleased to see that we would not be required to stand the whole performance. The last few concerts I’ve attended almost required the audience to stand up the whole time, which I find unnecessary and distracting. All that shifting of feet to stay comfortable over a 1-2 hour performance is insane.

Plus the age of the audience in attendance was definitely skewed toward the over-50 crowd. In fact I learned that Joe’s normally doesn’t have seating, preferring to just flood the floor with concertgoers and let them sort it all out.

The audience was roundly excited for the show at any rate. I stood in line with the folks who did the advance public relations, including the band’s appearance on WGN TV 

It’s an interesting phenomenon to travel internally from being a Youtube follower to sitting thirty feet from people you feel you’ve gotten to know, in that digital way, by watching them enthusiastically and masterfully play music in a way that helps you appreciate and rediscover the talent of a group that frankly for a while had become wallpaper for the soundtrack of life.

Instead, the music comes alive all over again. The ever-so-slight hint of Russian accent that comes through in some of the singers only makes you appreciate the effort that has gone into replicating Chicago’s music for an entirely new audience that is probably in part it’s increasingly old audience.

I say that age doesn’t matter when it comes to revelations such as these. It’s pretty hard to watch and listen to Leonid and Friends perform Questions 67 & 68 and not find yourself muttering, “Damn, that’s good.” From the opening guitar solo to the ascendant vocals, the intensity of the drumming to the clear and cogent intonations of the horns, this is some marvelous stuff.

Just how a band of Russians got together and created a catalog of high-fidelity recordings of an American group is a story that probably comes back to its founder, the apparent genius mind of Leonid Vorobyev himself. To everyone who follows the group, doing recordings of Chicago masterpieces is the right kind of pride, case closed.

Follow them at Leonid and Friends on Youtube or maybe you can catch one of their American tour dates. They’re even branching out into other classic songmaking with tunes by Earth, Wind and Fire, and others.

And here’s a prediction, the lovely Ksonena,a backup singer thus far for the band, may be headed toward her own brand of stardom in the near future. That’s my prediction anyway.

From all that I could see in their live performance, these are people having fun doing what they love. The horn section is talented, tight and hilarious, and the fact that none of them speak a word of English is irrelevant. They don’t need to talk. They speak with their trombone, sax and trumpet. Same with the drummer, the heart and soul of this band, who wound up a ten-minute drum solo during the concert by literally kneeling down to hammer our rhythms on the floor. And the guitar playing? Even diehard Chicago fans (I don’t qualify…but do enjoy their music) have to admit the solos are masterful and spot-on.

These people are into it.

The feedback from the crowd must have been gratifying for all them to hear. Mid-way through the concert the band’s originator Leonid spoke about their journey in halting English. He ardently thanked the crowd while admitting it was strange and wonderful to be playing in the namesake town of the group Chicago that has now made Leonid and Friends famous.

 

Letters from the past

letters-stack2My brother recently found a treasure of letters sent to him over decades by our mother. He’s called me with insights about what she was thinking during different stages of her marriage to my father, which lasted more than fifty years.

Those years were not always easy. Our father lost work a couple times in life, and ventured into some get-rich-quick schemes that required questionable investments that exhausted their savings and forced our family to move. My mother’s letters show initial hopeful support for my father. But they also exhibit hints of worry that dad had been swept up in things that weren’t so promising as they were full of promises.

Life lessons

Those lessons have stuck with me the rest of my life. And while I’ve made a few stupid decisions on my own, I was able to provide a stable family situation through thick and thin. We moved by choice one time when the kids were in 5th and 1st grade. That’s about the perfect age to do so. Plus they both needed their own bedrooms.

I moved again out of that house a year ago. Recently while talking with my son, we covered the subject of that move and he said something really important to me. “Dad, I know that wasn’t sustainable living there…” What he meant was… the fixed dynamic of keeping that house intact after the passing of my wife was neither practical or logical.

His comment was so appreciated. While it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in life to clear out that house, it also taught me that there are few things that we truly need to keep in order to be happy and healthy within our own spheres.

Catharsis

Because earlier that year, I’d had the responsibility of cleaning out my late father’s house after he passed away the previous October. There were reams of old things to go through, and we surveyed what should be kept or thrown out. Several large dumpsters filled and we broke down multiple useless cheap computer desks using sledge hammers and a few whacks. Each was a catharsis of sorts, for the difficulties we’d overcome and how life whacks you if you sometimes don’t whack it first.

It’s funny how a single paragraph from a single letter can set off so much contemplation. But when it’s a letter from the past, that can have special portent. About things long ago, and things happening now. Letters from the past have a way of bringing about revelations in the present.

Christopher Cudworth’s book The Right Kind of Pride is available on Amazon.com. 

 

Acceptance

2013-12-25 12.17.28Prologue

Before the fourth anniversary of my wife’s passing March 26, 2013, I reached out to my children and family on her side to see how everyone was doing. The fact that four years had passed struck me somehow differently than in previous years. I thought about what four years of time had meant in other stages of life. High school. College. All so significant. 

Ad it felt like I was “graduating” in some way from the grief experience as well. So I began writing the following essay but did not get to publish it before the date of her passing. So I held onto it for a week. And during that time my son Evan, who has been through quite a bit of challenging grief scenarios, expressed some confidence that he was built back up in some ways. I discussed things with my daughter and sister-in-law, who both process grief in their own way as well. And my mother-in-law and brother-in-law. And through these discussions the conclusion of this essay was drawn. And here it is. 

Some periods of life seem so much more important than others. It’s tempting to think about life in chunks.. Those elementary years making friends for the first time. The middle school years overcoming awkward physical and social changes. High school with its epic call to become someone liked and respected..Then college comes along, quickly followed by the climactic launch into real life.

 What is it about a four year periods that that seem to change us so much? Freshman. Sophomore. Junior. Senior. We even assign names to each stage. 

Four years is a long time. That’s 1,460 days. 35,040 hours. 2,102,400 minutes. Depending on how one’s brain tends to process time against other factors such as stress and other emotions from pain or joy, every second can feel like an eternity in some stages of life.

This is especially true when a period of four years marks a rite of passage for someone you love. That’s why people hold graduation ceremonies. One is a graduate because the process has been gradual

We tend to remember the passage of years whem someone familiar to us dies or “graduates from life,” we might say. My own mother died in 2005. Twelve years ago. My father passed away ten years later, in 2015. I was his caregiver all those years he lived on as a stroke victim. During a significant portion of that time I was also caregiver to a wife who passed away from ovarian cancer in 2013. That was four years ago. March 26.

I’ve written at length about our lives together. Published a book chronicling our journey. Those who knew her still share fond memories. She is not forgotten. Her memory is cherished by many. 

Our family reeled, of course, from her loss. During the last four years the healing process for me has involved a number of changes. I worked for myself a good portion of that time because it was one of her wishes for me. It also turned out to be a time for healing. When I needed relief from work, I took it. Unconventional at that stage in life perhaps. But necessary.

And in the process of self-employment I learned a lot about what like I do and where my strengths and weaknesses really are. 

For my children, the past four years has been an entirely different experience in grief. My son lived in New York for most of that time. Losing his mother gutted the young man in many ways. We’ve talked about the things he did to compensate. Some of them healthy. Some of them not so much. It has been a wrenching process in any case.

My daughter was in the early part of her 20s when her mother died. Now she’s turning 27 years old. Some of the big events in life for a young woman are coming up. Thus she misses her mother in distinctive ways from the two “guys” in the family.

We’re all likely familiar with the stages of grief in life. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. And acceptance. I would argue that the first four are stages from which we seek to successively graduate, and not always in neat categories or specific order. And people graduate from some things in life at different times. 

It’s the acceptance that constitutes our graduate degree when it comes to getting through and over a big loss in life. It’s a difficult subject to master. Acceptance is just one of the many degrees we earn in life. 

A legacy that is still alive

MuesPicnicRecently my son Evan drove west to California for a new venture in his career. On the way, he stopped by the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Approaching the park, the snow was two feet deep, he informed us. He arrived in time to see the sun setting.

Back home, my daughter made note on her social media account that she misses nature. That can happen for all of us. But Emily has made a point of immersing herself in concern for nature. She’s learned the plight of bees and butterflies, and captures her instinctual love for these creatures in amazing photographs.

Their mother Linda Cudworth would have been 59 years old today. She would have loved to hear the enthusiasm of her son Evan as he sat on the canyon rim going Live on Facebook as his many connections shared the moment.

She would also have been appreciative of the fact that her daughter embraces those bees and butterflies with such verve and purpose. We all learned monarch ranching from Linda Cudworth during the summer months. In the years since she passed away from ovarian cancer in 2013, we’ve ranched a few monarchs of our own. One summer we released 50 of the insects back into the wild after raising them from eggs detected on the bottom of a milkweed leaf. They would eat their way through the caterpillar stage and emerge from a chrysalis into free-flying male or female butterflies. Symbolic, you might say, of so many transitions in life.

Tattoos 

My daughter has a tattoo of monarchs and bees on her shoulder. My son has a symbolic symbol of flowers on his chest. But the real legacy is the tattoo she impressed upon their hearts through her exceptional care as a mother.

In all those years of marriage, I observed her dedication to such things. She invited the neighbor kids over to catch bugs and to show them the secret faces of nodding spring wildflowers and summer lilies. Some of these beauties have been transplanted from the garden we started in Batavia two decades ago. I gathered up the lily bulbs and inserted their yellow and white forms into the soil behind the house now shared with my fiancee.

These symbolize the fact that life indeed goes on. My children and in-laws have shared many memories of Linda over the last four years. We keep that legacy alive. But I am also fortunate to have met a woman that is not threatened or jealous of that legacy. As a result, it never needs be denied.

Additional roles

I believe my children can feel that in their lives. I certainly hope they do. It has been difficult at times to know how much to insert myself into their lives. On one hand, it is important not to helicopter their thoughts or experiences. On the other hand, a father to children that have lost their mother has an additional role to play.

What we have all tried to do, and I include my wife-t0-be’s family in this, is honor the legacy of the life we’ve lived and find the honor of the legacy we’re creating together. This is the true cycle of life, where love is at the heart, and people gather around it to share in the hope and determination required to embrace this world.

The fact that my children are now drawing upon nature for inspiration is likewise an inspiration to me. It shows that those many walks in the forest preserves (or ‘forced preserves,’ as my son once thought we were saying) were for good reasons.

Ashes and prairies

Following my wife’s passing, my children and I took some of her ashes and distributed them in the heart of a massive prairie. The sun was setting and we all recalled how she loved the place for its open spaces and its prairie soul. I thought about those ashes as I biked through the prairie yesterday, and how strange it really is that we all come and go in our time.

That is reason enough to hold on to the legacies that matter in our lives. And to make new rejoicing in the fact that we are here, and alive, where the flicker of butterfly wings demand our attention yet so many people seem to deny their importance in favor of this virtual mess going on this world.

No fan of fools

I can say without hesitation that my late wife would have been disgusted by all that has transpired in the last four years. She was a keen fan of the former President, whom she simply called “Barack” with a touch of respect and love in her voice.

While she was a loving person, she did not suffer fools gladly. We all loved her biting sense of humor that emerged at often unexpected times. There was always a touch of leadership in such remarks. “Don’t be fooled by fools,” she’d often intimate. So you can imagine how disgusted she would have been at the election of Donald Trump as President. A part of me is honestly glad she does not have to abide the mortal offense.

Because her dedication to the needs of small children and the practicalities of public and private education were evident in her preschool teaching. I specifically recall her admiration for a mother from the Hindu faith that brought their child to the Christian preschool where she taught. “There are many paths to God,” the woman responded when asked if there were any concerns with the educational format.

Achieving

Likewise, my late wife’s training in special education revealed her deep concern for the humble and less fortunate in this world. Arrogance by principle she did not abide, nor false pride. She worked with high school students with learning disabilities that included profound degrees of autism. Yet she also guided one of her students through the challenges of high school to make it through college and earn a playing spot in the NBA.

Many a social evening were spent with our close friends who were also teachers. Few people outside the teaching profession can comprehend the many ways teachers go beyond their job descriptions to positively affect the lives of young people in public education. And while my late wife genuinely thought the athletic world a bit vain, she also volunteered to direct the Cheer Club at the high school.

False vanity

Her amused disregard for athletic vanity could have its humorous consequences. When I took up cycling, she made fun of my tight-fitting cycling “kits” and called me Lady Legs for the tradition of shaving my gams, as serious cyclists do. Heck, back when we were dating, and I held back from going out the night before a running race, she teased that I had Golden Leg Syndrome.

Yet I persisted in my pursuits despite this brand of teasing, because every couple uses the other for balance. It does not pay to be too co-dependent either. So we found our respective spaces in this life, and worked together to encourage that same self-confidence and hunger for growth in our children. I see that belief at work in them still, and pray that they can continue to find love in this world among people who support it. That is the legacy that is still alive.

 

A recycled life is worth considering

IMG_1287The choice to move from my home of twenty years was not an easy decision to make. It was the childhood home of my children, and a healthy degree of sentiment was attached to the place as a result. It was also the home where my late wife and I spent so many years, and she passed away within its walls.

For three years following her death, I tended the gardens and built new water features in the backyard she loved. My daughter and I ranched monarchs from the milkweed plants, just as my late wife had done. These were important remembrances and real-life transitions, symbolic and otherwise.

Home

So the significance of that home was not lost on me. Yet there grew in me a need to change and start anew, to recycle some things in my mind.

In fact, I had many dreams in which I was moving, or had just moved and was trying to make sense of what my values were about in those dreams. In some of those sleepy time imaginings, my late wife was actually present as an observer to my behavior. I took that presence to mean there was a responsibility to my children in my decision. Her memory was obviously precious, and her dreamtime presence still presided over the place.

Away

And yet, she had told me in many ways that she understood my priorities in life as well. There was one early morning, perhaps a month before she died, when she woke me with a sheet of paper bearing detailed descriptions of how she wanted me to work for myself, and try new things. That was not some hidden message. That was direct consultation. It was also a sign that a month out from her passing, she knew more than she was telling anyone else.

That courage in the face of death was also not lost on me. It emboldened me to be brave and forthright about her passing. I had to take care of myself in order to care for our children. Sometimes that strength was a disservice, and I missed important cues of need and hope. Yet it was also best for me not to sit home and brood. So I went out on dates not because I wanted to forget her, but in acknowledgment that I love companionship. It is how I am wired. It is why we were married for 28 years and why we dated four years before that. It is also why I eventually met a woman and fell in love again.

History

It should be known that all that history added into my decision on whether to keep the house or not. In the end, I felt like that chapter in life had completed itself. There was a period of grieving and processing that lasted three years after her death. Yet I did not think that staying in the home would add anything more to that line of thinking.

The tougher question was whether it was a disservice to my children to sell the home. I will admit that I made that decision based on my own mental health. The thought of “losing” the home caused some suffering to my kids. We gathered in our basement and went through their prodigious collections of things stored there, and determined that not all of it needed to be kept. So we chose some important keepsakes and those have moved with me into a new home.

Stuff 

When I dug deeper into the multitude of boxes and collectibles stuffed into closets and basements and under staircases, I realized that my wife had kept just about everything about their youth. Entire books of homework and certificates of achievement. Old music scores and massive books of drawings, notes and cards. These I sorted through over a period of weeks. In fact, the process had begun years ago, and there have been many waves of examination and trips to Goodwill, calls from Amvets and Vietnam Vets for clothes pickups. When my wife told me a few weeks out from her passing, “Chris, I’m sorry about all the stuff,” I had no idea what she was saying. I learned the hard way.

And I had to deal with the real deadline of selling the house when it came into being.

That had taken place in stages. First, my now-fiancee and I examined the option of building onto my old place. But that was expensive, and impossible in some ways without a difficult two years in construction plan. Instead, we decided to work together and build the financial credit and equity to look into another home, one we could buy together. Start fresh.

And that happened fast.  Then after her lease was up October 1, we moved her stuff into my home for 10 days and stored her furniture. Then we moved her stuff again down to the new house and most of my furniture with it too. All that was left were two outside lawn chairs and a whole lot of closets full of disjointed memories.

Digging out

I worked like a bugger to clear out all the remaining stuff. But in the end, I missed the closing deadline. That caused the buyer’s realtor to panic and get a little angry with me. I called my realtor and apologized to all parties involved. I’d done my best but needed more time because I’d had no idea how much stuff there really was to move out. So the lawyers talked and it was agreed to hold back $5K and charge me $125 per day until the house was completely cleared out and cleaned.

That cleanout turned into 12 yards of eclectic dumpster material hauled away at an early hour by the Waste Management Bagster truck. I begged them to come that Friday morning to take it away. They told me they could not provide any guarantees. So when they pulled past my headlights at 6:00 a.m. the day I’d targeted for actual closing I heaved a giant sigh and cried with my head on the steering wheel. But there was still a lot of work to do.

Decision-making

Because the decision-making that had gone into those big bags of stuff was not easy. It’s a difficult thing to throw away the drawings your kids did in childhood. Yet we can’t keep all this stuff. None of us can. Last spring I cleared out the home where my late father had lived for 38 years. We filled up two 15-yard dumpsters. It was a massive job. It also slammed the door on any sentiment we might have felt toward all but a tiny segment of belongings from his home.

I realized that if I had not performed the act of clearing out that home and cleaning it, someday my own kids would have had to do it. I can tell you, that’s not easy, and it’s not fun. It also can have a demeaning effect on the memory of your loved one.

Owning too much junk is not a virtue. Dispensing of someone else’s junk is not a joy.

Even my own collection of CDs went spilling into the maw of those green bags. When I called the Junk Genie to come help with the final stages of the cleanout, even more formerly precious possessions were tossed into the garage. Then my fiancee and her son swept through the backyard collecting garden stuff and all kinds of other detritus.

Pickers

Along the away, a phalanx of metal pickers made my house a regular stop on their daily routes to find marketable metal objects. I was a fertile source of those objects. Even the metal poles that rested in the rafters of my basement as well as an ancient Kenmore stove that had lurked beside the ironing board all twenty years of owning the home were collected by the pickers. So while I created a load of junk, some of it went to good use as well. I was grateful for these newfound and somewhat transient friendships. But I have kept their numbers as well.

In the end, it felt like I was recycled as well. New beginnings are not a bad thing to consider in life. While somehow I wish loss never had to occur in life, the fact of the matter is that it does.

Controlling your instincts to keep everything

Which means sometimes it pays to take control of the losses you need to create, and empower your own existence by moving things along. That example can help others clean up the debris in their own lives. Because while junk in an old home is a physical thing, those of us that have moved a few times also recognize that there is emotional junk we need to move along as well. A recycled life is worth considering. Sometimes real love of self and others waits on the other side.