Angel Birthdays

The many lives we will lead are hidden from us in the present moment.
Pic is Little Andy.

My wife has one angel birthday in her life, October 30th, the date of Andy’s accident. We had a memorial last week and it went well.

It’s difficult to front up to a funeral, VERY difficult to speak at one… thank you to those of you who came, and those who spoke.

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Some thoughts on conversations from the memorial.

The concept of closure: for me, this doesn’t exist. Everything I have experienced, is carried forward and changes over time. Andy, in me, continues to evolve.

A key part of growing up is learning how to deal with loss.

I’ll share my list of Angel Birthdays to illustrate the point: Stuart, Kristy, Kevin, Dan, Andy, Henry and Gary. As we get older, many people are going to pass. The advice to “grieve the small stuff” is well made.

The picture below, is Andy with “Little Ax.” My son lives on, he’s 10, but Little Ax ain’t coming back. I miss him.

Life gives us many opportunities to acknowledge loss, both small and large.

Better to grieve the small things (than seek to close them off).


Best Toddler Ever

Michael shared an idea to re-frame our triggers.

Andy died falling from the Second Flatiron. In Boulder, we can see the Flatirons from EVERYWHERE in town.

It goes further that that, if you know where to look you can see them from Eldora, from the tops of the local canyons, flying into Denver…

One endless trigger.

Becoming aware of our memory triggers, we can take the opportunity to reframe them.

So when I look at the Flatirons, I want to remember to say “yes” more often.

Andy and I were on opposite ends of the yes/no spectrum.

There are many days where I wake up keen to say “no” – to myself, to my family, to anyone… no, no, no!

My “no” is rooted in a fear of “yes” getting out of control.

A little more “yes” will improve my life. It’s a good way to remember AC and, perhaps, I’ll give him credit when I’m less of a hardass.

Reframe the trigger to serve the life I wish to lead, the person I wish to be.

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Andy would have wanted…

If you’d asked him, when he woke up on his final morning, if he was OK with dying in a few hours. then I am certain he would have said “not yet.” We had a look through his planner and he had lots of fun things planned for later in the week.

However, when I met him in 2004 (and many times subsequently), Andy told me he was OK with death. He went further saying he believed in a collective “duty to die”. Not to kill ourselves, by the way. Rather, Andy believed we had a duty to live life fully.

So if you’d told him he’d die in middle age, quickly, pain-free, exercising outdoors… he would have been OK with that.

Andy and I had different values when it came to risk and ruin. Two key reasons: (a) the future is invisible to our present selves; and (b) we are not autonomous beings.

He always gave me a fair hearing.

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By way of Bob, Chris shared a letter from Hawaii. Extending my favorite part to the general…

Vibe with nature, don’t seek to challenge her.

Rock, snow, ocean, mountain, exercise, work, training load, run mileage… vibe it, don’t challenge.

The vibe is what we seek.

Another way of saying, “look deeply into the need you are seeking to fill.”

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A final shout out to Monica’s Buddy Andrea (MBA).

MBA flew out, stayed with us and helped with continuous acts of kindness.

A lot of little things, from all of you, turned into a big assist for our family.

Thank you.

Remember Kindness


A couple weeks ago, I shared that Andy was “everywhere.”

No place is this more true than my home.

My new reality took a little getting used to.

At first, I resented the intrusion. My resentment struck my rational mind as somewhat strange.

Uncharitable feelings, but real.

So I dug a little deeper.

  • Worry. I couldn’t heal my wife.
  • Worry. Andy’s ghost might take my wife away.
  • A general, get-out-of-my-house sentiment.
  • A desire to use avoidance as a coping strategy.

Lots of not terribly useful thoughts.

So I decided to re-frame.

I asked myself:

  • What did Andy do far, far better than me?
  • Why was Andy loved so deeply by our community?

Kindness.

When I think about him, I’m reminded of kindness.

Kindness at a standard that seems far out of my reach.

So I’ve made him a buddha, of sorts.

…and when he’s popping up in my life, I know he’s reminding me to remember kindness.

Sunshine


My kids know my answer to the question, “What were you before you were born?”

Sunshine, pure energy.


I’ve also made sure to teach them how to spot Orion. Link is to my thoughts on how to talk to young kids about dying.

Monday’s and Wednesday’s posts are my “adult” responses shared with our Middle Schooler.

Andy’s death moved a lot of discussions forward. I was ready for them. The LINK is from 2014.


You are going to be having these discussions with your kids (and yourself).

I’ve found it useful to have a framework available before things fall apart. That’s a chief benefit of ancient wisdom and religion. We’ve been considering these ideas for a very long time.

I’ve offered them tools for coping with loss.


Here’s one, it even works in winter.

Head outside on a sunny day.

Place your back to the sun.

Close your eyes and breathe.

As the sun warms your back.

Relax, and know I am there.

Sunshine, pure energy.

Dog Consciousness

Buzz Lightyear – our new neighbor

Monday, I shared a conversion with my daughter. It continued…

If what I said didn’t make sense to you then don’t worry about it. With a lot of this stuff, I don’t really “know” it and I’m not sure where my ideas came from. It does fit a lot of ancient stuff I’ve read.

My head isn’t set up to understand situations where opposites are true at the same time.

  • Andy being here, and not here
  • Andy not-being, and being
  • Andy being nowhere, and everywhere

You know Buzz next door?

Well, we can understand what’s happening in Buzz’s life, better than he can. It could be like that with a lot of things in our own lives.

Our understanding has limits, which are difficult for us to see and experience.

We might be just like Buzz => unaware of a lot that’s happening around us!

So, Sweetie, if you can’t understand where Andy was, or where he’s gone to, then don’t worry yourself.

With a lot of important things, there isn’t a clear cut answer.

And that’s OK.

Dad, Where Did Andy Go?


Sweetie, let’s start by considering another question.

Where was Andy before you knew him?

That question sounds like an impossible riddle but there’s a deep truth inside it. It’s a little different than two others I like…

Where were you before you were born?

Where am I when I am not with you?

All of these are useful questions to consider.


Do you think he might be in heaven? I don’t even know what my friends mean by that.

If you mean, did he go into the sky to live with angels, then no, I don’t think he’s up above us. But I have an idea and it’s this.

Whenever I want to be with Andy, to feel him, he’s available to me. I can feel him right now. He’s smiling inside me, the same smile the last time I saw him at the pool.

So, in that sense, he’s still with me.

He’s with me just as much as I’m with you when we are not together.

…and despite the loss that many feel due to Andy’s death, he’s still with a lot of people. If you listen, they will tell you… “I see him everywhere.”

Your mind might tell you, “he’s gone, it’s over.”

…but if you pay attention to what you feel, then you’ll know, if Andy was ever anywhere then he’s still here with us.

Sweetie, this is the same thing with me and I’d like you to remember.

Someday, I’ll be gone but I’ll still be with you.

Everywhere, always, anytime.

Together

Quick note so I remember this moment – optimism with vaccine news balanced with concern as our hospitals fill up – schools closed again, and tempers strained due to grief and many days of kid bickering, which is normal but exhausting. As we see the light at the end of the tunnel, now is the time to recommit to modeling better behavior.

One other quick note: one of my wife’s friends sent us three picture frames. The idea is each kid gets to put a favorite Andy memory into their frame. Wonderful gift idea that I wanted to pass along. Our oldest added a note at the bottom of her frame, “Thank you Andy for being a great uncle.” Gratitude in the face of grief.


OK, now an idea about relationships for you.

When death, divorce or another life changing event takes place, we might have a feeling that we need to rebuild. Rebuilding, after everything fell apart.

Alternatively, we might get caught in a victim mentality. The shock of the event leaving us feeling angry, hurt or disoriented – feeling like the world, or a specific person, did us wrong.

We’ve been done wrong!

Two things I shared with my oldest daughter.

Yes, your uncle dying is the worst thing that has happened to you. However, it’s unlikely that this moment is going to be the worst thing that happens in your life. [I avoided the temptation for us to brainstorm future tragedies.]

No, we are not being singled out. Death is a natural and universal human experience. Everyone you meet will have their own story about death.


In terms of tough moments, I have a buddy who started 2020 with his spouse dying after a long journey with cancer. I followed them for many years. They packed a lot of living into those final years.

Roll forward into COVID, into grief and he shared an observation about a person he’d met.

We have an opportunity to build a life together.

Opportunity, Build, Together

I wanted to pass those words to you because they are very different from the way I saw relationships as a young man.

My ideas of the past, at best, were to find someone to share MY experience with ME.

Or perhaps, someone to follow MY instructions and serve ME.

Far more useful to be thankful for the opportunity to have loved, to have had the opportunity to raise kids and then focus on what’s next. Life after children, life after his spouse has died.


When I place myself in my friend’s mindset, certain things become clear.

Don’t seek to nudge others towards my view – share experiences and change together.

Know that shared experiences, particularly struggles, are what it’s all about. Embrace the opportunity to face life together, as those will be the moments that bring us together.


If my time allocation reflected my values, then what would it tell me?

Be grateful for an opportunity to build better together.

Grief


There’s been a lot of death and dying around me lately. I thought I’d share some ideas that you might find useful if you find yourself in a similar position.


First up, for me, grief is better than depression or chronic pain.

Depression is like carrying around a void. The void is always there then, one day, it’s gone. There’s a lot I can do to prevent a downward spiral (into the void) and I’ve gotten better and better at self-management.

Pain: I’ve been fortunate that my longest block of chronic pain was 14 days. It was like carrying a small fire. Over a decade later, I feel gratitude remembering the moment I noticed the pain was gone.


With grief, there is space between the (trembling) waves that arrive, at unpredictable times. I pay attention to the space, it feels great.

At hospice training, they encouraged us to mourn the small losses to prepare ourselves for the inevitable larger ones.

The practice of leaning into small losses will serve you well.


Did you notice the mental setup?

  • Things could be worse
  • I can handle my problems
  • These issues are actually good ones to have – this is a opportunity to practice my coping skills



What I Control

I can’t make myself sleep. I can set an alarm and wake up at the same time, every_single_day.

I don’t control my moment-to-moment neurochemistry. I can exercise in nature and avoid excessive fatigue.

I can’t control my thoughts. I can control:

  • who I spend time with
  • where I spend my time
  • what I say, write and read
  • where I surf on the internet

Control the controllable – accept the rest.


Anger

Grief often manifests as anger.

Anger isn’t all bad – my anger might have nudged me to toss Facebook into the trash and that’s been a plus for 2020. Anger also motivated me to cut my intake of politics, another useful shift.

While I might not control my anger’s arrival, I can influence its departure and notice each time I choose not to act on my anger.

Not acting on anger – there have been some useful wins in that department over the last few months.



The Role of Steady

I went for a long hike on Sunday.

Afterwards, I was looking at the pictures and noticed it was the first time I was smiling, rather than wincing, in a long while. I’m laughing as I type because, all summer long, I couldn’t figure out why my face looked so screwed up in pictures.



Other than walking around in nature, the only other time I’ve noticed feeling really good was after an hour riding easy.

I haven’t done much anaerobic exercise. In the past, I’ve noticed sustained high-intensity exercise isn’t useful for mood management. There’s a brief high followed by a lengthy hangover, when I’m emotionally vulnerable and my will is tapped out.

If you are prone to “euphoria-then-crater” then watch out. I have good systems for keeping myself in check. I never train with faster people when I’m on edge, even a virtual leaderboard can get me into trouble!

How might I know I’m on edge? I could assume it based on the deaths around me.

If external reality doesn’t register then try looking inwards and watch for triggers being triggered…

…anger, sadness, hunger, sugar cravings, sleep pattern changes and/or small cuts that are slow to heal.

The list above is my early-warning system (of impending doom!).



Universal Goods

Keep the good stuff in your life.

  • Shared Experiences
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Nature
  • Music
  • Bright Light
  • Forests
  • Sunrises
  • Connection
  • Stillness

Schedule the good stuff with yourself, your friends and your family.

Focus on doing the good stuff and have faith you will overcome.

Hiking with Ghosts

Missouri Mountain. Yesterday, we turned around at a short down climb that, from this angle, is hidden just behind the summit. My son went through the five stages of grief over the following four hours. While demonstrating there’s no shame in backing off, I took advantage of the opportunity to talk about a few things.

In the mid-90s, I spent a unique Christmas morning under a full moon on top of Mt Cook in New Zealand. My guide was a young man called David. On the descent, he rappelled off the end of our rope. A common accident, which had no consequences because the end of our rope was only a couple feet off the ground. The mountains got him several years later when he was killed by a Himalayan avalanche.

Roll forward a bit and I was flying into Denali. As I was landing, the rangers were dragging a body bag across the snowy runway. They flew a young man out on the plane that flew me in.

Later that trip, I was shuttling loads between camps. I was solo and approaching a higher risk area near 14K. There was a commercial group nearby and I asked to clip into their rope to get past a sketchy area. The guide said sorry, but no. He was blown off a high ridge a couple days later when his group was caught out in a storm. He’d unclipped to help a client.

My biggest ghost is the father of my dead friend, Stuart. I met him shortly after placing his young son’s casket in a hearse. The depth of his despair as been with me ever since. He gave me a hug, which felt like his soul was collapsing into my heart.

My ghosts are always with me in the mountains.

What do they say?


My ghosts remind me that it is impossible to see the number of lives that await us.

Since my friend died, I’ve had many lives: financier, elite athlete, father, husband, entrepreneur…

Stu lost his lives, his children’s lives and his grandchildren’s… not a fair trade.

The magnitude of his loss grows as I move through my own life and have the opportunity to share the world with my children.


Yesterday, I didn’t tell my son about “the Dad at the Funeral.” It remains a difficult story to discuss.

Instead, I gave him a soft hug while telling him that I’d like to keep hiking with him for the rest of my life and that means we’re going to have to turn around sometimes when I don’t feel right.

He asked what scares me and I told him, “losing you.”

Non Financial Aspects of Estate Planning

2016-03-09 15.23.39A friend asked me to¬†give this talk to his firm, but I prefer to write short articles. ūüėČ

When families talk about estate planning the discussion can center around cash flow, assets and tax minimization. While those topics need to be sorted, dollar-centric living can lead to regret.

If¬†you apply last week’s tips about family leadership, you might¬†discover certain realities about financial wealth.

2016-03-16 13.56.23Namely…

The highest use of¬†an asset lies in its capacity to enable better choices…

  • flexibility to allocate time towards shared experiences
  • the ability to control one’s schedule
  • the opportunity to tag along when other people are doing what they enjoy
  • health in the context¬†of body, mind and spirit

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2016-03-13 21.51.50Cash flow without education, connection and meaning can be a negative. Examples are the challenges faced by lottery winners, professional athletes and young, highly paid professionals.

With cash flow, I would go further and point out that excess family cash flow will ultimately be consumed by the least responsible adults in a family system.

You might tell yourself that you are “doing it for the kids” but the money ends up being blown¬†by someone’s aunt or uncle.

2016-03-11 20.04.44-1What to do?

  • In your lifetime, use¬†money to acquire time.
  • Share time with people you wish to influence with your values. Be the brand.
  • Remember that it’s better to¬†earn, and spend, our own way in life. It’s what you did.
  • Have a bias towards “assets used for shared experiences,” rather than cash flow.

Ask the question, How do I wish to be remembered?

Be that person, today.

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2016-03-10 08.52.21Shared experiences, both positive and negative, bridge generations across time.

As a child, I had¬†four grandparents and three great-grandparents. Of my childhood elders,¬†only one made the transition into my children’s consciousness. The elder that bridged across did so because¬†my daughter and I were involved in her end of life care.

Love, not money, is what travels across time.

2016-02-24 16.51.20

What I Learned Last Year

biscottiTwo themes have dominated my goals for the last couple of years: my relationship with my eldest daughter and my finances.

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Kids – my daughter worked herself out, no input from me. I didn’t change her nature, I accepted it, and we enjoyed the inevitable¬†progression from preschooler to school-age girl.

For my pals with kids – avoid abandonment and retaliation – everything else is details.

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Optimism is the only worldview borne out by the facts.

At the end of 2008, I wrote-off 65% of my family balance sheet, was unemployed, owned a loss-making business and was facing civil liability relating to large-scale fraud.

You may have forgotten but everything we were reading was doom and gloom. In reality, that was one of the most useful periods of my life because I was forced to face the gross inefficiency of my spending choices.

The changes that result from earlier¬†setbacks lead¬†to an appreciation of a more simple life and I’ve continued to strip away non-core activities.

My wife is stumped when¬†asked, “What does Gordo do?”

I enjoy my life and serve my family

Act in the spirit of service to the people that love you.

Act as if things will work out.

Keep simplifying.

Free yourself to spend time on what matters.

For the pessimist in your head that likes to point out that we’re all dead in the long run… be wary of overstating your importance in the world.

My death will be a setback for a few people¬†but it won’t change the positive trajectory of history. I will¬†play my role then hand off to the younger generation.

There will be tears and¬†that’s OK.

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Human Capital & Family Finances

What can each of us bring to our families, and communities?

Strong relationships built on mutual respect and strengthened via self-improvement.

Six years ago, I was left with a home and cash assets. With interest rates moving towards 200-year lows, I realized that I had to be invested. I made an error by going all-in with real estate. Why an error?

  • I was geographically concentrated – the bulk of the portfolio¬†was within two miles of each other.
  • I invested too much – I failed to understand the short-term cash needs of my young family, which arrived in 2008/2011/2012.
  • Each asset¬†represented many¬†years of living expenses – lumpy assets¬†are inefficient when you’re moving towards retirement.
  • Real estate takes a long time to sell. With a traditional portfolio, a gradual sell down is easier to achieve.

My purchases had a margin of safety and I was able to trade my way out of the situation Р4 out of 8 addresses have been sold. Start to finish, it will take 8-10 years for me to change my asset allocation. Our family financial structure gave me time to make the change, we earned income, and we had exposure to asset appreciation.

Time worked things out Рwe did well but so did all others that were invested from 2009 to 2014.

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The final lesson –¬†I am greedy in irrational ways. I can soothe my ego by noting that my flaws¬†are widely shared.

I am susceptible to the Endowment Effect. I overvalue what I have – my wife had to force me to sell our old house, I wanted to hold out.

I overvalue future¬†desires. I’m constantly fooling myself that MORE¬†will make a difference.

My antidote:

  • Write down my desires¬†(steam shower, truck, boat, kitchen appliances, vacations, clothes, car, office, ski chalet) then wait and let desire¬†pass
  • Make the wealth¬†cost of “more” both painful and visible
  • Note the choices that create¬†my best days (train AM/PM, help someone, learn, write, teach, spend time with my wife, under scheduled)
  • Spend money to create¬†true luxuries (childcare, time to think, time to learn)
  • Schedule my happiness essentials (time in nature, time with my wife, quiet time to think)

Keep it simple:

  1. Notice the good in life
  2. Write good things down
  3. Do more good things