2014 — A horrible success

Although 2014 was a horrible year for my family, especially my father, I am still grateful for the year. Because at the end, my Dad is still alive and with me.

I started off 2014 with a lot of hopes and dreams in my brain. I planned to work on advancing my career, getting myself back in shape, finally finishing and publishing the book I’d been writing for two years. I mapped out my goals, set out basic plans, joined a gym.

Then in February, my Dad had a heart attack. Although it turned out to be a minor one, it still was a heart attack in an older man with congenital heart problems.

Over the next month, Dad went through a variety of tests to find the reason for the attack. He then had to undergo not one, but two, heart procedures to correct this new problem. It was a physical strain on a man who prides himself on being strong and doing everything for himself. But he worked hard at recuperating, and by mid-year, he was almost back to where he was before the ‘incident.’

He even came to stay with me over the July 4th weekend. July 4th in Philadelphia is a lot of fun. There are parades everywhere – from the major ones in Center City to our township parade with fire engines and antique cars and marching bands from local schools. We ate ice cream under the stars, watched fireworks from my balcony, and did the usual tour of all the golf shops in three counties. The following weekend, I went home and spent more time with him. I am so glad I did.

Because the next weekend, in late July, he had a stroke. A massive, bilateral stroke that left him comatose. He was transferred to a critical care unit at a major hospital, where we learned the type of stroke he’d suffered was rare, and that the prognosis – was not good. Essentially, we were told he probably would never wake up, would not make it out of the hospital alive.

They had obviously never met my Dad. He surprised everyone by waking up from the coma after a few days, and again began the long, difficult road to recovery. He learned how to breathe without a ventilator, and like an infant, started figuring out how to move his arms and hands and legs. The hardest part was relearning how to speak – the stroke left his larynx paralyzed, and you could see the frustration in his eyes when he tried to answer simple questions. But after two months, he had made enough progress to be transferred to a rehabilitation unit.

And ran into another problem, his third of the year – the nurses discovered a pre-cancerous condition. Back to the hospital he went for another round of surgery, and a reset of his recovery from the stroke.

But regardless of all these illnesses, my Dad is still here, still fighting, still determined to recover. Although he requires care and is in a nursing home, in just the three months from the last round of surgery, he’s now able to feed himself, stand and walk a bit, talk to everyone about everything and is incredibly happy Notre Dame won its bowl game.

He’s even able to come home for short periods of time – he spent part of Christmas with us, as well as the bowl game and New Year’s Eve.

Knowing my Dad, he’s probably planning on being discharged and back to normal by next Christmas. But I don’t care if he doesn’t make that goal, because my Dad is still here, and more importantly, still my Dad The happiest day of 2014 for me was about three weeks after he woke up from the coma – when I walked into the room, said “Hi Dad” and heard him say “Hi Shel” back to me. He appears to have had suffered little to no mental impairment as a result of the stroke, for which we are all so grateful.

So, despite achieving none of my stated goals for 2014, I count this year as a success. Because we pulled together as a family, and because Dad showed us once again how to be strong and successful and how to never give up.

I just hope 2015 is a quieter, safer year for him.

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Happy Independence Day – and Thank You to our Military!

A Happy Independence Day to everyone — and a huge ‘thank you’ to our military for their service.

The United States is celebrating its birthday today. Despite our differences in opinions and beliefs, and there are many, we should all join together to do one thing — thank the members of our armed forces for their service.

Without the sacrifices of our soldiers and sailors, pilots and marines, our country could have fallen any time in the last 237 years. The United States might never have made it past the Declaration of Independence, or could have reverted back to the dominion of the British Empire during the War of 1812. We might have split into two nations as a result of the Civil War, or fallen to a horrible enemy during World War 2. Men, and now women, of our country have stood between us, and harm, in so many, many other conflicts.

We ask so much of these men and women who voluntarily serve in the military — not just that they defend us, but sometimes that they also defend other nations, other people, even the whole world. We have made mistakes over the years and centuries. Sometimes we backed the wrong side in a conflict, or made errors in strategy or planning our involvement in an action. We will undoubtedly make more, because we are only human.

But despite these mistakes, the disagreements in our society, the nasty infighting of our political leaders, even the sheer ingratitude and indifference we often display toward our military, in spite of the ever-increasing dangers of the world and the sometimes nebulous nature of the enemy threatening us, our men and women continue to enlist, selflessly offering up their health and sadly, sometimes their lives and sanity, to defend our country and to try and offer that freedom to others.

And in return, they don’t always get the thanks, or even the reward, they deserve for their time in the military. I keep seeing reports on the struggles of military families simply to survive when a father or mother is stationed in a combat zone, over and over and over again. Then that family member may come home permanently injured or mentally scarred to a country that isn’t prepared, or for that matter doesn’t even seem to want to try, to support the soldier in his or her recovery.

It’s easy, when we’re caught up in our daily routines, in the hurry to get to work and then come home to attend to our family, to forget about those people standing between us and harm. After all, few of us live near military bases, or have family serving in the military. We don’t see these soldiers or their families every day, and so it’s easy to forget them. Out of sight, out of mind.

But we should never forget them. And if there’s one thing on which we all should agree, it’s that we need to not only say thank you, but to ensure that these brave people have adequate support when they come home, that their families have a decent life, and that we never, ever, take their service for granted.

They are there, so that we don’t have to be.

Thank you.