The Day I Understood the True Price of Success

1*ZH35h1N-e8BVHau5lB2nHg.jpeg

My father’s beloved Molly, who refused to leave his side in his last days.

I well remember the sound of the crunching of gravel as two young men steadied the heavy gurney between them. I stood in the doorway with my mother and siblings, all of us holding hands, witnessing this last journey my father would make — down the walkway he’d poured, away from the home he had built. It was his final farewell, the end of the long goodbye that had been his journey since his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s several years before.

But more than those memories, I recall with vivid clarity the sound of gravel crunching under my own feet, of my keys jangling together as I pulled them from my purse to start my own vehicle, of my own half-sobs as I struggled to hold back my own tears as I followed the van carrying my father’s body down the driveway and away from our parents’ home.

I almost wish I couldn’t recall the feeling of my heart breaking over and over as the little girl inside begged for time to grieve with family, to cry and remember the small moments that had made up our fifty-some years together as a family. The little girl inside had to stay quiet that morning so that the grownup could do what needed done.

I had a meeting within the hour with an investor, and as much as I needed to grieve, I also needed to fulfill the commitments I’d made to my cofounders and employees to secure the capital we needed for our startup.

While I am quite grateful for the grace I found to get through that meeting, I am well aware that the personal cost was incredibly high.

As business owners, we calculate and plan for a lot of costs — operations, production, marketing, new hires. We make and refine projections to understand when we will break even or start making profit. But very few of us begin this entrepreneurial journey with the same level of preparation for managing our stress, fear, exhaustion or the dynamics of our personal relationships.

I had already launched APPCityLife when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the demands I faced with growing a startup resulted in very limited bandwidth to help my mom with the many hurdles she faced as his disease progressed.

1*blXoBLU6GYl-oNrEuV5Kqg

My dad with my eldest son several years before Alzheimers was diagnosed

When I took time out of my work schedule to be with my parents, it was time not spent our business. When on travel or overloaded with meetings or work, I missed out on time with family that I couldn’t get back. I endured many sleepless nights worrying about how to give more, do more, and be more to my team and my family.

Life is messy, and it doesn’t come in neat little packages that focus on one thing at a time. In the middle of our ambitions and professional goals, we often come face to face with tragedy or heartache — and finding the mental and emotional balance to cope with it all can be quite difficult.

For me, finding that balance has meant embracing a healthy dose of pragmatism about what I actually owe others in the way of sacrifice and what is my own misplaced guilt.

I’ve learned to be more efficient and disciplined with my time, getting up earlier to take advantage of the quiet time in the morning before the day gets crazy. I mute text messaging and email notifications from everyone except my family and colleagues so that I can be more focused on what I am doing in the moment.

I give myself permission to be “off the grid” to recharge whenever I can.

I am grateful to be part of a supportive team that picks up the slack for each other when the demands of life and work clash. In the time that we’ve been together, all of our startup’s cofounders have faced similar difficulties as my own — and all of us have had to balance the needs of the team with the needs of our own and our families’. We’ve done our best to carry each other through the difficult moments in our lives. For me, this mutual support is one of the markers of a truly successful startup team.

Oh, and the investor I met with that day?

They didn’t invest.

Others did, and we’ve since enjoyed an incredible time of growth in our startup.

But I’m not sorry I made the effort. I learned I was stronger than I thought — and that knowledge alone has allowed me to make decisions from a place of confidence instead of fear. I am also learning that it is ok to define better boundaries for myself on what is reasonable sacrifice to seize an opportunity or meet an important milestone or deadline — and what is unnecessary or off limits.

There is a lot of conventional wisdom telling entrepreneurs to sacrifice more, give more, and push harder in order to succeed — and it really does take being “all in” to succeed. But we don’t talk nearly enough about what to do or how to cope when life happens to us on our way to success. Nor do we talk enough about redefining our own view of success to include emotionally fulfilling, healthy lives.

Maybe it’s time we do.

Originally published on Broad Insights via Inc.

In Gratitude of a Father’s Service to His Country

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I likely won’t get through this without crying, but Veteran’s Day was never about celebration anyway, so I’m okay with that.

Every Veteran’s Day, I’ve known exactly whom I wanted to honor. Stationed behind enemy lines as an Air Force aircraft mechanic during the Korean Conflict, my father was the bravest, most stoic man I knew – and while he spoke very little of his time in combat, his commitment to his country was of paramount importance to him. He firmly believed that his time in the military turned him into a man with discipline and strength of character and often voiced his opinion that there was little wrong with the young men in our country that couldn’t be sorted out with some time serving their country. He spent his entire career working for the Air Force, first as an enlisted airman and then as a civilian. He was part of the 4950th Division, serving as the lead mechanic on experimental air craft, meaning that he could rarely talk at home about the top secret projects he worked on. There were times he left in the middle of night to catch a military hop halfway across the world to repair an aircraft just enough to for its crew to hobble back home. When a blizzard shut down most of Ohio in the late ’80’s, my father spent several days with his men at the base. And when an aircraft needed to land without the benefit of any landing gear, he was one of the first to be called as a consultant to help the aircraft and crewmen land safely (they did).

But it wasn’t until his last years as he fought valiantly against the encroaching loss of memory and speech to Alzheimer’s that I learned things about my father’s service that I’d never known. One day when my mother dropped him off to visit me, he brought along a box of mementos. I expected him to share a nice collection of rocks or old silver dollars he’d collected over the years, but, instead, he opened the veil for a few short moments on a career that was mostly shrouded in secrecy.

I discovered my father was a consultant to NASA. Who knew? I didn’t. He never bragged about it, despite the prestige and respect it would have garnered. He didn’t care at all about those things. He cared about people, about helping others and doing the right thing by those he encountered. Fame and accolades were never an attraction for him.

I also found a small card tucked away in the box that stated that my father was an essential emergency responder and should be allowed passage and support when the card was presented. Again, I had no idea.

My father died this past summer, and even now, I sometimes feel completely adrift when it hits me that this man – the rock of my childhood – is no longer here to tell me everything will be okay. I miss him terribly, and I am so grateful for every memory he was able to share before it was too late.

And so today as I remember my father and the life he gave in service to his country, as well as the pride he took in quietly contributing where and how he could, I honor not only his sacrifice but the kind of man he became because of his service to our country. I am deeply grateful for so many who, just like my father, contributed and continue to protect the freedom I enjoy today.

I can’t call my father this Veteran’s Day. Oh, how I wish I could. If it isn’t yet too late for someone you know, take a moment this Veteran’s Day to thank them for their sacrifice. One day it will be the memory you hold dear when, like me, the gratitude simply resides in the heart because the words have nowhere else to go.

Also published on Huffington Post.

Saying Goodbye One Day at a Time

It’s an odd, thing, this process of grief. I was prepared to miss my father – and I have. Sometimes it’s a painful hole; others, it’s the quiet understanding that I am a little more alone in the world than I was when he was was here. But there are these odd moments when it still hits completely out of the blue, and the grief hits like a sledgehammer. The tears come without notice – and without the ability to stop them. I wasn’t really prepared for that.

I was recently on a crowded flight watching what is a light-hearted, fun story of a family in the eighties. It’s more about the laughs – and the bad fashion and hairstyles – than about anything of real depth. So it took me quite by surprise when a scene at the end of a recent episode caused me to burst into tears – while passengers nearby looked at me with a mixture of discomfort, annoyance and pity.

Maybe it was knowing that there isn’t a father there anymore to come rescue me. I don’t really know. There are days that the ache for what will never be again is a constant companion, and then there are times that I do ok – only to be surprised by how close to the surface the sorrow still is. All I know is that through it all, I am so grateful to have had a father worth grieving over his loss. That is the real gift in all of this – the understanding that his was a precious presence in my life, and his influence will carry on with me long after my last goodbye.

Not Quite Ready to Finish the Long Goodbye

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

I have a stack of unopened sympathy cards sitting on my kitchen counter. They’ve been there for almost a month now. Some have arrived in my mailbox and found their way onto the pile, and my mother has delivered a few more.

I can’t bring myself to open a single one of them.

Grieving isn’t new for me, and it’s been a long, long road – this journey of saying goodbye to my father. Ronald Reagan called his Alzheimers the “long goodbye”, and he was right. Since the day my mom called to tell me the news six years ago, it’s been an incredibly difficult, painful but often beautiful experience.

20130517-192504.jpgI remember the first time I met my parents for breakfast – something that had become a weekly tradition – and my dad couldn’t say my name. He knew me and enjoyed our conversation, but he just couldn’t form words the way he used to. He was restless, so we left the table and found a seat on the bench in the front of the restaurant while waiting for my mom to finish up. We sat there holding hands, much like we had when I was a little girl. No words needed, just love flowing between us. It was a sad but lovely day, because I understood that even if my father couldn’t say my name, he could still love me.

I recall the family dinner where the noise and chaos got the best of my father. He sat on the couch, rocking back and forth, a few stray tears wending their way down his cheeks. My mom squatted in front of him, put her forehead against him, and spoke softly while she stroked his head until his distress was gone. It made me cry, but it was also the manifestation of true love. I gained a deep respect for my mother that day, because I witnessed her vows of “for better or worse” lived out with tenderness and kindness. I understood that while Alzheimers might changed the dynamics of relationships, it couldn’t change the foundation of relationships.

IMG_3479And then there were the field trips that Dad and I took while my mom ran errands or went to appointments. When something we did sparked a memory, he got excited and – using sweeping gestures, pointing, and single telegraphed words – struggled to share that memory with me. I loved those times together, because they gave me back a tiny piece of my father who was leaving just a little bit more every day.

And I remember my last real visit with my dad. I’d flown in late the night before from a business trip to New York City, and I hurried to my parents’ home before a busy day of meetings began. I sat and just held his hand as he lay in the hospital bed that had been moved into the guest room. I told him how much I loved having him as a father, and that as a child I completely took him for granted. I told him that I thought it was the best compliment anyone could pay their father, because it meant that he was my rock, that I never worried if he’d come home. It never occurred to me that it was possible for fathers not to be consistent and reliable. I never doubted that there would be food on the table or clothes or vacations. And when I messed up, he forgave me and helped me solve my problems. Tears flowed freely for both of us as I talked, and he mouthed a simple thank you to me. It broke my heart that I was losing my father, but I felt so very blessed to have the privilege of telling him what he meant to me.

And so a month after his funeral, the sympathy cards sit unopened. Maybe some day I’ll have the fortitude to read them, but not today.

Today I’m just not quite ready for the long goodbye to be completely over.

You can find this essay on Huffington Post, where Lisa blogs about life, being a mother, wife, friend and woman in tech, and the world of open data and civic tech.

Why We Need to Show Up for the Hard Stuff

10459143_10152532625959383_8529679817993675718_n

 

The text came when I’d already crawled in bed after an exhausting day of meetings.

I almost didn’t read it.

I almost left it until morning.

Lisa, I’m here at Mom and Dad’s.
I think you should come.
He likely won’t make it through the night.

I laid there in the dark for a moment, almost upset that I’d read it. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to be there for this – the end. I didn’t want to see my dad like that. I didn’t want to do any of this.

On the long drive down to my folks’ place, a wash of fear swept over me. What if this – how my dad was now – what if this was how I remembered him? I didn’t want that memory to be the one that came to mind when someone mentioned my dad years from now. I wanted to remember him as the self-reliant, confident, kind man that he was before Alzheimer’s. I didn’t want to recall their guest room with the hospital bed, the wheelchair, him in his hospital gown. I didn’t want to watch my father slip away from me, leaving me without a dad to lean on for the rest of my life.

I think we’re often like that with things in life that fill a need for us. We don’t want them to change, and if they do, we don’t want to witness it. I think it’s why we work so hard to “fix” the people in our lives who’ve changed into something other than our ideal of who they could or should be. I think it’s why we avoid the mirror as we get older; it’s easier to believe we are still as we once were. As long as we don’t really look, really acknowledge it, we can continue as we see ourselves in our own mind’s eye in whatever ideal form we want to believe is still true.

We spent the night sitting vigil at my father’s bedside, telling stories of some of our favorite memories of him. We laughed, we talked, we cried. But we did it together as a family. And when Dad’s breathing would stop for what seemed like forever, we’d grow silent and listen, wondering if this was the moment we’d have to say goodbye. We held his hand, kissed his cheek and told him we loved him. It was one of the hardest nights I’ve been through, but it was also one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

There is a purity that comes into our experience when we are willing to see it for all that it is, to face the hard parts as well as the good. And when we avoid the difficult part of our relationships, the harder, uglier side of life, we may get to keep a prettier picture in our head, but we lose out on experiencing the full beauty of the journey. I learned that night that there is beauty and poignancy that will never be exposed through the easy moments in life; we only discover those when we show up and face the hard parts with courage – even when we don’t want to.

As I drove back home the next morning, I felt peace. Not because I was losing my father but because I’d been there for him, I’d shown up for the hard stuff, and I would carry with me the complete memory of him – all of it. I’d remember him as a young man heading out to work while I stayed home with mom. I’d recall him teaching me to drive and giving me advice about boys when I was a teen. I’d have my memories of him talking to my daughter as she followed him around his yard. And I’d hold close the memory of our family gathered around him, making sure he wasn’t alone in this last step of life. The whole of that memory is far better, far more precious, than any single memory would ever be.

You can find this essay on HuffingtonPost as well.

My father holding me, 1966.

My father holding me, 1966.

About The Video Of My Father And Our Dog

Mom and Dad, Thanksgiving 2013

Mom and Dad, Thanksgiving 2013

Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege of spending a little bit of time with my dad who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimers. I’ve written quite a few posts about our family’s journey through this terrible disease, and the support and care from family, friends and even strangers has been a comfort not only to me but to my mom. She has faced the biggest impact of anyone, and the grace and dignity she’s exhibited is nothing short of a miracle. She is the living example of what it means to live out your vows of for better or for worse and in sickness and in health.

My parents have two dogs in their home, one of which, Molly, is my father’s constant companion. More than once, I’ve watched him coo and talk to Molly even as his ability to form sentences and find the words he needs to communicate has deteriorated.

Dad in his favorite chair with his favorite dogs.

Dad in his favorite chair with his favorite dogs.

When my father and I arrived at my home yesterday to give my mom an hour to run some errands, our own family dog, Roscoe, greeted him at the door. For the next hour, my father petted and talked to Roscoe. Not wanting to lose the memory of the moment, I filmed a few moments of his interaction with our dog, amazed at the clarity of my father’s words.

That evening, I watched the clips of videos and wanted to share the moment with my mom and our family. I wanted a memory for all of us to hold onto and spent some time editing the clips into a small video with the help of my teenage son. Once we were happy with the video, I created a personal Youtube account and uploaded the video, sending my mom the link. I also shared the video on Reddit from an account that prior to this post had next to no activity.

I had no idea the video would touch so many people or be shared so many times. The comments and emails – for the most part – have been a wonderfully moving procession of individuals sharing their own journey through Alzheimers or dementia. It is a cruel disease, and the kind words of others who have faced similar experiences has left me feeling not quite so alone in it all.

And for those who continue to send messages offering to monetize the video, I’m not interested. This was a tribute to my father and the celebration of a beautiful moment within a tremendously difficult journey my mother and father are facing. So thanks, but no thanks. It’s not for sale.

The Most Beautiful Gift Of All

Dad at Dinner

Today I saw love.

True love – the kind that is full of patience, kindness, and gentleness.

My father, who has advanced stage Alzheimer’s, has always been a quiet, gentle-natured man. He is the father who calmly read his newspaper while the neighborhood kids engaged in a water fight that often sloshed as much water inside as outside. He is the kind of man who, upon his youngest daughter (that would be me) rushing into the house and informing him that she left the scene of an accident in order to come get his help, calmly bundled up his daughter into his own vehicle and drove back to the scene of the accident to calm down the other irate driver. He lived through the terror of bombing raids and constant shelling during the Korean War; the noise and chaos of ordinary life were music to his ears.

But his Alzheimer’s has started to eat away at his ability to cope with unfamiliar surroundings or noises. My family and my brother’s family joined my mom and dad today for lunch, and their normally quiet, peaceful home was filled with the noise of laughing children and happy conversation. These are the noises that used to make my father happy. But today, they caused distress.

And in the midst of his distress, I witnessed true love.

His long, thick fingers, calloused from a lifetime of hard work, are intertwined, clasped tightly into one solid fist hovered over his lap, his knuckles white from the strength of his grip, his arms quivering as the tension ascends from his hands and spreads through his body. His baseball hat is pulled low over his forehead, his eyes tightly closed against the chaos all around and the swell of emotion inside. A single tear escapes and rolls slowly down his cheek. He unclasps his hands and carefully wipes the tear away. He looks at me, and I put my hand on my father’s knee and tell him that it’s ok – words he has uttered to me at so many points on my life. His eyes tell me things are not yet okay.

My mother squats in front of him and cups his head between her hands, gently and slowly caressing his neck, his face, his head. He rests his hands on her arms, the tension dissipating as she leans forward until his forehead is resting against her own. Over and over, she whispers to him, “It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re okay. I’m here. I’m here. You’re okay.”

He opens his eyes and looks into hers, safe now that she is there. He rises from his chair, clasps her hand, and soaks in the comfort of the voice of his wife.

Next month is Valentine’s Day. A lot of industries will deliver a cacophony of ways to express love: expensive bouquets of flowers, boxes of prettily wrapped chocolates, elegant dinners that all cost far too much simply because it’s Valentine’s Day. And don’t forget the paper cards with messages made up by someone else that only require that we scribble our name before sealing the envelope. There will be a plethora of products exchanged next month – all in the name of love.

Those things are nice, and I’m certainly not saying I don’t like gifts. I do. In fact, I really do.

But love?

I’ve seen love.

It is the most beautiful gift of all.