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Transition time? Ugh. Here we go again.

Transition blues. Ugh. Here we go again.

Nineteen years ago, I had a plan. I’d quit my job as a journalist, write my book of mentoring wisdom from great women leaders, then get real rich. Talk about career transition and reinvention!

The day I resigned, my friend Susan said, “I hope you understand that it will be a very long time before you see a penny from that book.”

I thought she had no idea how good my book was going to be.

I dove into my dream, all gung-ho and certain of my inevitable success. But soon I became the humiliating cliché of the starving author in transition

Careers move in and out of transition. It's all about the obstacles.

Careers move in and out of transition. It’s all about the obstacles.

who couldn’t find a publisher. I’d left my career to pursue my dream – and I’d failed.

I remember driving through the toll booth on Florida’s Skyway Bridge and seeing a sign that they were hiring toll collectors.

“I wonder if they’ll hire me,” I thought.

That’s how defeated I was. Never mind that I’d been very successful as a journalist and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize four times. Was this my next transition?

A friend shook some sense into me.

“If you lose faith in yourself,” she said, “Then who is going to have faith in you?”

Susan was so right that it would be years before I ever saw a penny from my book. But I persevered and it became a best-seller and then an Oprah book. All of my obstacles led me to a career as a leadership speaker. I never would have imagined that in a million years.

That whole experience, which was both crushing and exhilarating, taught me so much about our career highs and lows. It’s never a straight shot up. There will always be setbacks. If it were easy, everybody would be wildly successful.

And the real challenge is this: Once you figure it out and make it, you have to figure it out and make it again. These days, this world changes so fast that we have to keep re-inventing. That can be exhausting.

Shouldn’t we get to coast a little?

But we don’t get that luxury. I have to do re-invent, too. What worked five years ago doesn’t work now. Reboot or be irrelevant.

Your ability to succeed rests solely on your ability to recalibrate and rebound. If you are sick of proving yourself, you aren’t alone. But you have no choice. You can’t keep doing what isn’t working and you are too smart to just give up.

So, buck up.

Figure it out.

Recalibrate your vision, come up with your task list, expect obstacles and setbacks and always know that, one way or another, you will be successful.

I just finished writing my ninth book – this time, it isn’t about leadership. It’s about dealing with my parents as they aged, faced stroke, Alzheimer’s and dementia, then died. Per usual, I’ve had some obstacles. I had an agent tell me the book was too personal. Another said that nobody wants to read a book like that when they are dealing with those issues. But I persevere for one reason: I needed such a book when I was facing those issues.

And, anyhow, if I don’t have faith in myself – and my work – who’s going to have faith in me?

Fawn Germer is one of America’s most sought-after leadership keynote speakers. She’s the best-selling author of nine books and is one of two women in the top 25 on the prestigious “Guru List” of best leadership speakers worldwide. For speaking information, write info@fawngermer.com.

 

 

When Your Job Doesn’t Fit Right…

If you have got two left feet, you don’t need to prove a point by becoming a ballerina. Life is never a perfect fit, but it should still fit – especially at work.

Back when I was a reporter, I worked with a man who consistently made fact errors and required three times the editing of anyone else on staff. Since the paper was a union shop, he couldn’t be fired, so he was relegated to night and weekend shifts and given the worst assignments. He told me he’d been “utterly miserable” for all but two years there, yet he wound up staying for more 20, languishing until the paper went out of business. Twenty miserable years!

What was really tragic about it was that he loved technology and math – and was brilliant in those areas. He just wouldn’t pivot toward his strengths. He wouldn’t consider technical writing or IT positions because his miserable reporting job had a good paycheck, benefits and union protection. If only he’d embraced his considerable strengths instead of trying to force success with his considerable weaknesses.

Most of us have what I call a “considerable strength.” Mine is information. I know how to get, process and communicate it on deadline. That is valuable talent. But I also have my considerable weaknesses – math, paperwork, foreign languages, bookkeeping… there’s a long list. So what? I know what I am good at, and I play to my strengths.

Are you playing to your considerable strengths? If you aren’t, your work life is more stressful and less successful than it could be.

Examine what you are doing and decide whether it’s time for a change. If it isn’t going to get better, DO SOMETHING. There is a difference between diving into discomfort so you can learn new things and stubbornly trying to make a bad fit work.

Ask yourself:

  1. How do you feel when you show up for work? Are you more filled with hope and purpose or resignation and dread?
  2. Are you on track to advance? Are you being recognized and rewarded for your contributions? Is there room for you to grow in your job or are you stuck in place?
  3. How are your work relationships? Are your colleagues supporting and advancing you? Do you fit in?
  4. How do you feel on Sunday nights? Are you ready to roll into the next week, or are you anxious?
  5. Is your job fulfilling? Challenging? Purposeful? Or does it just look good on paper and/or provide a reliable paycheck? Does the prospect of doing the same thing for many years excite you or turn you off?

You know in your gut if you are forcing yourself to succeed at your weakness. Explore other options and take your time to find the right fit. Don’t run in and quit your job when you don’t have another one and don’t take the first thing that comes along without careful deliberation. Change is good. Risk is good. Plan your change and fortify your risk.

Few of us get to love every aspect of our work every minute of the day. You will always have to make peace with doing some things you don’t enjoy or might not be great at, but when you fight to make something work that really doesn’t, you are wasting time and wasting life. Are you willing to lose 20 years to a bad fit?

The Best Way

It is pretty common for people to think that their way is the best way. That you should react and respond as they would. That what motivates them should motivate you. So if you are more motivated to work than your colleagues, don’t judge them, because you don’t want them to judge you, either. Your right to work a 60-hour week is only as valid as the next person’s right to work 40.

I don’t want to show you how to reset your life so yours can be just like mine. You don’t need to be living my life — I do. I don’t need to be living your life — you do.

You don’t need to be living according to anyone else’s definition of purpose and fulfillment. The only thing that matters is what you think and how you set your boundaries to honor what matters to you.

There are always times in life when we are way out of balance. Just ask an air conditioner repairman in the middle of August or the parent of a newborn. That’s how it goes. But over time, if you realize you are living in a single dimension and that is not enough, look inside yourself. Are you deliberately making choices about how you are spending your life? Have you set the necessary boundaries that can give you more control? Are you living by design or by default?

Their Own Worlds

We think everybody thinks and operates in the same world that we do, but that’s not the case. They’ve got their own worlds. We all come to the table with different agendas, beliefs, values, and tactics. Instead of wasting effort trying to get them to come around to us, we have to go to them. Study who they are and what they want. What motivates and inspires you may completely turn off the person with whom you are dealing. You may be motivated by altruism, he may be turned on by money. You may respond to a promotion, she might rather have an extra week off.

We all think the world revolves around us, but we rarely consider the fact that everybody thinks that. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that 99 percent of the seemingly self-evolved people in this book went straight to the index to look at the pages about themselves first. It’s only natural. The last time you saw a group photo that you were in, whose face did you check out first? Then, why is it that you expect people you deal with to see things from the same vantage that you do? They don’t, because they aren’t you.

Other people generally aren’t worried about your goals, needs, and wants.They are worried about their goals, needs, and wants. If you are looking for ways to work with them effectively, why not figure out how to make them feel appreciated, and help them get what they want? You’ve got to travel to the other person’s world to see the issue through their eyes. What does he or she want? Why? What is he or she right about? If you were in that position, what would you need in order to feel valued and appreciated? Instead of harping on what divides you, see what unites you, remembering that win-win is always better than win-lose.

When you play win-lose, you win a war, but you also win an enemy. What good is that? Sometimes it takes years to get beyond the post-battle feelings of hurt, anger, rejection, or humiliation. Some people do have that ability to do battle, then go out for beers together, but some people don’t. Actually, a lot of people don’t. Think about the spats you’ve had with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and other associates. You probably can’t remember everything that has happened, but you can remember enough examples of conflict to prove the point that you might forgive, but not forget. When someone wins something at your expense, there’s a possibility you won’t forgive or forget. If you wind up winning now and paying later, then you haven’t won anything. Win-win is so much better
than win-lose.

The “As Soon As” Trap

Work-Life Reset
Have you fallen into the “as soon as” trap?

As soon as you lose 15 pounds …

As soon as you finish your degree …

As soon as you can afford to …

As soon as the kids are old enough to be left alone …

As soon as you retire …

What if “as soon as” never comes? Why sacrifice a day or a week or a month or a year trying to get through one ordeal and the next and the one after that, delaying happiness until things settle down? Life is chaotic. There will always be some new lesson thrown at you that will grow you — but also distract you. There is always a challenge.

I was showing my doctor pictures from a weekend kayaking trip. She looked wistfully off into space and said, “One day, when I have a life again …”

“Seriously?” I asked her. “You have to wait to have a life?”

“I have a life,” she said. “My kids and my patients.”

That is a lot of life.

But if she doesn’t keep a sliver of life just for herself, she’ll lose her identity to her obligations. If she doesn’t live life now, then she may never get the chance.

What do you wish you could do in life? And what are you waiting for?

A lot of people postpone living until things are just right. As if there will be a moment when everything is in order.

Things are never “just right” for long. Everything will be in order for a few hours or maybe a day, and then something will happen that will remind you that the only real order in life is disorder.

When you have a problem, you have a natural desire to know that everything will work out fine. You crave the certainty and comfort of resolution. When you get it, you relax. But guess what? It won’t be long before another problem presents itself. That is how life unfolds. Who gets a stress-free ride with no adversity?

It would be nice. But it would also be pretty boring.

There was a time when everything was perfect in my life. It was a very short time — just one night in 1990 when I was in my 20s. I slept so well that night! But life intruded the next morning, and I learned something important: You have a lot less stress when you stop stressing about this thing or that thing that could be better.

Work-Life Reset This week, enjoy excerpts from best-selling, Oprah-featured author Fawn Germer’s new book,  Work-Life Reset, which shows how to reset to end what’s not working in your life.

 Order inspiring author and keynote speaker Fawn Germer’s new book, Work-Life Reset here.

Stop tripping over what is behind you…

Here’s a powerful quote: “Only a fool trips on what is behind him.” I saw it on Facebook last night and had to write it down.

There certainly are a lot of fools tripping on yesterday, and there’ve been many times when I’ve foolishly joined them.

You certainly can empower your past to paralyze you or let it go. Yesterday holds all the things that didn’t go right, the people who didn’t do right, the disappointments and failures and close calls and hurts that we haven’t quite been able to pack up and leave behind. We revisit and revisit them, or we can let them go.

What if we were able to consciously make the decision to let go of the negatives of yesterday and move on with a clean slate? Wouldn’t we position ourselves for a much better “RIGHT NOW”? Wouldn’t that give us the momentum we need to move forward in happiness and hope? If you are lacking that momentum, you have to realize that you have the power to create it for yourself.

When my father was a little boy, he and his sister were sent from Germany to live with strangers in England as part of the Kindertransport. My grandfather was in a concentration camp. My grandmother had to find a way to get my grandpa out (which she did),  re-unite with my dad and his sister, then move their once-wealthy family to Staten Island, N.Y. where the four of them lived in a one room apartment.

I only know sketchy details of the story because my aunt shared them with me. Dad rarely discussed his past, instead saying, “Look what I have right now! Look what is coming tomorrow!” I used to wonder if he was living in denial, but I now know that he was living his life, not reliving his past. When my mother was paralyzed by a stroke at age 66, Dad always said, “She’s alive!” and when things got difficult, he always said, “Better days are coming.” When the Alzheimer’s came, he kept his same hopeful approach to life. No matter how bleak it seemed to others, those two had a joyous love that was so evident every day. It was a real love story.

It may look like my dad lived a sad life of trauma and hardship, but if you knew him, you would say the opposite. He was a man who experienced so much happiness and hope because he never tripped on what was behind him. He chose to focus on the light around him in the present and the future, rather than lamenting the darkness of his past.

I know people who never get over the marriage that crumbled, the job that they were unfairly fired from, the friends who weren’t really friends, the things that inevitably went wrong. Does reliving the past make you more successful or more anxious?

When you catch yourself tripping over your past, shut it down. Remember that quote. “Only a fool trips on what’s behind him.” Or her. Stop playing the fool.

The Simplest Leadership Lesson — EVER.

Just back from vacation and…

It was the highest of high season and there wasn’t a room to be had in Moab until someone cancelled at the LaQuinta. My friend Cindy and I grabbed it. I hadn’t stayed in one of their hotels since I went on a house-hunting trip to Denver in 1989. This time, I was really impressed by the staff — especially when Cindy realized she’d forgotten something valuable in the dresser drawer shortly before flying out of Grand Junction, Co. The front desk clerk immediately retrieved it and took it to a mailing center.

Our flight was delayed and we wound up getting stuck in Dallas for the night. American Airlines put us up at the — guess what? — the LaQuinta Inn. We arrived late with a dozen ornery and exhausted travelers who’d also gotten stuck. The front desk clerk passed out cookies and water bottles, told us she’d asked the restaurant to stay open until we all were fed, arranged for a shuttle driver to come in early to take us to the airport and notified the breakfast crew to get in early to make sure we didn’t leave hungry.

I was impressed, so I wrote the company CEO, Wayne Goldberg. We exchanged a few e-mails and I finally asked him what it takes to lead so successfully that your vision carries all the way through your organization like that. He wrote back the simplest, most eloquent leadership lesson of all:

“It is actually very easy because it is all about people.  It has always been my goal to make coming to work the best part of our people’s day.  Just like wanting loyal customer, we want and work to drive loyal employees. The key word is engagement and when you have loyal engaged guest and employees, you have a powerful combination. I am fortunate, I get to come to work every day and work with the most incredible people in the hotel business. I am driven everyday by our core values:

People – Make coming to work the best part of your employees day.

Passion – Approach your work with a sense of pride a s personal ownership.

Integrity – Do the right thing, even when no one is watching.

Excellence – Do ordinary things, just do them extraordinarily well.

And

Unique – We have become a big company, but we think and act like a all company and we are not afraid to be different.

I can also say that other than spending time with my family, coming to work is the best part of my day.

Sincerely,

Wayne”

 

What he did was create an environment where people could serve others at a level that goes beyond any Marriott, Weston or Hyatt. They aren’t far off from a Four Seasons or Ritz, either. I told him he should write a book. What a great lesson for all of us.

Career Tips for New Graduates

The one piece of career advice I always tell young people is this: You can be spectacularly brilliant but a miserable failure if you don’t put as much energy into your people skills as you do into your actual expertise.

The world revolves around relationships. You need to know how to network and leverage your network. You need to know how to assess the culture of your office environment and find a way to fit in without being high maintenance.

There is a cliché, “It’s not what you know but who,” and there is a reason it is a cliché. It’s true.

People will drive your success more than the results you can deliver. You need to know the right people, but you need to know them in a way that makes them want to help you. Fortunately, this is pretty easy.

I have seen many people make the mistake of assuming that networking is a matter of shaking hands, swapping business cards and following up with appropriate e-mails. You do all of that, but make sure the exchange sparks something personal and memorable. It is far more important that you know that the person has to be home on Thursday night for Grey’s Anatomy or that they have an overweight Dacshund than it is to recite their title. Relationships are all about friendships. Make friends in high places.

You do that by consciously working on growing your exposure. When there are events that expose you to people who can influence your growth, show up. And, don’t just stand there. Work the room.

I know it is hard to talk to strangers, but it is much easier if you come prepared with a few subjects to talk about and a few questions you can ask.

Know something about the people you need to meet so you have someplace to go with your conversation. You always have a conversation entry point when you know that the person is from your hometown or went to your school or likes to surf or is an avid knitter or any other detail that will get the person to talk.

You do not have to focus your conversation on work, but you should be able – in thirty seconds – to summarize what you are doing and where you are heading. If it is going well and isn’t too much of a violation of chain of command, ask to have coffee or lunch, whatever. Just make sure you leave with contact information and tell the person you would like to stay in touch. Then, STAY IN TOUCH. You don’t have to be the person’s pen-pal, but you can forward interesting articles or just send a quick note once a month to stay on the radar.

The point is, your brain gets you your job and keeps you in the game. Your personality advances you. There will certainly be exceptions to this rule, but think of how much more you can do if you don’t count on an exception. Just be exceptionably personable.

 

Bestselling Oprah author Fawn Germer is defined by her hard won wisdom. To check availability for motivational speaking keynotes or workshops, or for information on life and executive coaching sessions, call (727) 467-0202 or writeinfo@fawngermer.com.

 

Goodbye to My Precious Father, Alfred “Fred” Germer. 1927-2013

It is as it should be. It is perfect. It hurts, but this is the happiest ending to the most beautiful love story.

As my Mom was dying in January, I caught Daddy leaning into her and saying, “I’ll be with you shortly.”

“Daddy, we aren’t having a two-fer here,” I told him. But, I knew we were. This is the most inevitable crisis of my life. They had to die, and they had to die together. Daddy stayed for us for just under three months – long enough to make sure we were ready. Now Fred is dancing with his Betty, who is now healthy and strong. Dancing in a beautiful ballroom. Laughing.

I am so happy for them.

As a family, we faced unusual hardships. He was shot in a holdup at his drugstore. He later got caught in the midst of a huge robbery that involved a shootout. Mom took charge and moved us to Florida when they were just 50 years old. Most people wait to do that until they retire because that is when they plan to really live their lives. Thank God Mom and Dad didn’t wait for anything. They lived, they loved.

When Mom suffered her paralyzing stroke at age 66, Dad stood up and cared for her in a way that all of us want, but few of us get. Mom was always, always, always grateful. She never, ever complained.

Through her stroke recovery and then the Alzheimer’s, Daddy protected his Betty like a soldier guarding the Queen.

I cannot overstate the difficulty Daddy faced taking care of Mom at home. It was backbreaking work. Backbreaking. He was offended if it was suggested that he’d made great sacrifice to care for her. He always said, “It is an honor and a privilege.” To him, it was.

It crushed him when the day came that Mom could not help to lift herself and the doctor insisted that it was time to put her in a nursing home. Dad never wanted that for his Betty, but he’d already destroyed his back in the caregiving process. He had no choice but to let her go to Freedom Village. Once he did, he visited her every single day, at least three times, often four.

On the surface, Dad and Mom had an existence that was bleak and depressing. But, looking at it now, I realize how much more they had than most of us will ever have. They had raw, pure, love. Big love. Forever love. She’d wait for his visits and brighten up at the sight of him –as he did for her.

Daddy loved me, too. In that big way, without condition. With absolute support. He was always, always in my corner.

Dad’s work was not about pharmaceuticals, it was about people. He loved his customers. He mentored so many young people to enter the profession.

I once acknowledged Dad in the audience at a large event where I was speaking in Tampa. Afterwards, Walmart’s senior vice president in charge of all their pharmacies came over. “Fred, I don’t know if you remember me,” he said. “But I worked for you when I was in college and you convinced me to become a pharmacist.”

Dad worked at Vanguard Advanced Pharmacy Systems until December of 2012, when a heart issue quickly robbed him of his independence. He was beloved to those people and I would take him back to visit. There was always a chorus of “Mr. Fred! Mr. Fred!” And people would hug and kiss him and cry. I swear, I could have walked in with Brad Pitt and gotten less attention.

After Mom passed, it was evident Daddy was consciously drinking in every precious moment he had with us.

Eleven days before he died, he held me in his arms and said every wonderful thing he had to say to me. My friend Lisa was there and videotaped a small piece of it for me. His voice was loud and strong. “Look how good you are to me! Look how wonderful you treat me! Dear God, thank you for letting me have these wonderful visits! Dear God, keep an eye on my Fawn. I love her, I need her, I care about her. Day after day, hour after hour. I’m so happy.” He kissed me on my head many times as I cried in his arms. “My daughter, my daughter, my daughter! You are so good to me. So kind to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Dear God, keep an eye on my Fawn. My wonderful Fawn. I need her, I love her, I care about her. She is so loyal, so faithful…”

I knew he was wrapping things up.

“Dad,” I said, “It’s like your bag is packed and you are waiting for the bus.”

“That is exactly right,” he said. “My bag is packed and I am waiting for the bus.”

After that, I started climbing into bed beside him and holding him.

I wondered if it was inappropriate. Daughters don’t climb in bed with their dads, but for goodness sakes, why not? He was 85 years old and was dying. What could be wrong about holding your father as he prepared to die? He melted into my embrace and said, “Oh, this feels so good. Sooo good.” It hit me how long it had been since anyone could have held him tight like that. Decades.

Rebecca took a photo of me holding him. It will forever be the image that best captures the depth of my father’s love for me, and mine for him.

Dad made the decision to cut his meds and decline IV fluids. It was the decision to leave. He refused to consider morphine, which would have made the transition easy. He chose clarity over comfort. He savored every single moment with us.

I reminded him to watch over me.

“I am always in your corner,” he said. “Remember that. I am always in your corner. Always.”

At one point I asked, “What are you going to say to Mom when you see her?”

“Betty, I’m home!” he said.

That’s what he’d always say when he would come in through the garage after a long day at work.

My phone rang at 5:45 a.m. on Tuesday and Jim told me that the nurse at Freedom Village had called and said there was a change in Dad’s condition. I jumped in the shower and rushed down to Bradenton. Over the last sixteen years, I’ve driven that route at least once a week. My car drives itself.

When I got there, I climbed in bed beside him and pulled him to me again. He was barely coherent. I thought I had several days, that it would unfold like it had for Mom.

“Daddy, I am going to be with you until the end,” I told him. “I will only leave you to eat or go to the bathroom. But, I will be here for you until the end.”

He could barely talk. He mumbled, “I love you.”

I just held Daddy and kissed his head and cherished the warmth of his skin. I must have told him I loved him at least a hundred times.

After a couple of hours, he coughed up a little blood. That happened to Mom six days before she died, so I thought I had six more days.

I looked right at him and said very firmly, “Daddy, I want you to know that you are free to go whenever you are ready. You don’t have to be strong for us. We are ready. We are prepared. We will get through this. You can leave right now, right this minute if you want. We are ready.”

Two aides came to take his vitals and were trying to figure out how to get the blood pressure cuff on over the lines still in his arms when I said, “Is he even breathing?” I put my hand on his chest. “I don’t feel him breathing,” I said. They searched for a pulse. Someone brought a stethoscope and placed it on Daddy’s heart.

Mom, Daddy is home, I thought.

I stayed with him for quite awhile, but the time came to leave. I put my head to his chest and, through my tears, said the words he’d said to us so many times.

“I love you, I care about you, I appreciate you. Sooooo much.”

I will tell you that, if you knew my father, you were loved. You were cared for. And, you were appreciated.

My heart is shattered.

But, I had this larger-than-life father for fifty-two years! And I had the strong, resilient mother who raised me to carry on, regardless.

I will miss them with every breath I take, but I am so happy for them. They are together.

Always and forever.

 

 

 

For Mom. Betty Jean Germer, 1926-2013

My name is Fawn Germer, and I am Betty Germer’s Daughter. When I need strength, I always remind myself of that.

Betty Germer was fearless, determined and surefooted in battle. She was stubborn, I was stubborn. We were quite the match, but how we loved each other! If my heart broke, her heart broke. If my heart soared, her heart soared. If I struggled with something, she struggled with it too.

I often wonder what she would have done if she’d had the same opportunities women have today. She was smarter than I. And shrewd! She is the only person I have ever known who actually read insurance policies. Car salesmen ran from her, trembling. The landlord to my father’s drugstore rued the day he signed the lease that she’d negotiated. The contractor on our house wished he’d caught the error in the contract giving her an unlimited budget for flooring. Nothing slipped by my mom.

She always, always, always told me that our most important lesson was to “face life.” I wondered what she knew about such a thing, considering her comfortable life. But, when she was 66, she suffered a stroke. A terrible, blow-it-out, paralyzing stroke that forced her to spend the rest of her time facing life.

She was so funny.  One home care worker asked her, “Betty, have you had a bowel movement today?” Mom looked her in the eye and said, “No. Have you?”

When I moved home to Florida to be closer to Mom and Dad, I bought a house that was really lovely.

“Hey Ma, did you ever think  I’d live in a home so much nicer than yours?” I teased.

“Well, my home is something that yours is not,” she said.

“What?” I asked.

“It’s paid for.”

My favorite caper was the day I borrowed my friend’s remote controlled fart machine. I hooked it to the back of Mom’s wheelchair while she was intently watching the Florida, Florida State game at my house. At just the right moment, I clicked the remote. It made a beautiful fart noise!

“Cut that out,” she told me.

“It’s not me,” I said. “She who smelt it…”

She looked at Daddy and he shook his head no.

Mom pointed at my Golden Retriever. “It’s her.”

“Really?” I put the dog out on the patio. Then I made the machine fart again.

“Stop it, Fawn.”

Another fart. She looked at my Sheepdog, Buster.

Buster was sent to the patio. Then the cat was banished. Then Daddy. Then me. Daddy and I watched from outside the sliding glass doors with all the innocent pets. I pushed the remote again. Two or three more farts. Ma’s eyes got big as she looked around. Fart! Fart!

Papa and I were dying.

Fart, fart, fart! That machine was the best invention ever!

Finally, we went back inside.

She looked me straight in the eye. “I think you put a fart machine in here.”

You never pulled one over on Betty Germer.

In 2001, she started showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease. She suffered so long and so hard, and anyone who tries to sugar coat it is in denial. Mom endured an existence that no one wants. Yet, she faced her life with courage and joy. What a hero she was.

Her illnesses changed her physical appearance and took away her intellect and her voice. But, when those things are stripped away, what is left? It’s you. Your core. What matters is love and family and God and health and warmth and fresh air and the sound of the wind and your senses of smell, taste, sound, sight, and touch and food and shelter. Whatever transpires beyond the basics is irrelevant.

Even in the end stages of her disease, she was still my mom. She smelled like my mom, she was warm like my mom. If I hugged  her or touched her, I felt so much love – even if she didn’t even open her eyes or look at me. I had a mom who surfaced only occasionally, but existed in a big way as she faced life so bravely. I would often wonder where she was, hoping to God that she didn’t have to spend endless days trapped in nothingness for hours on end. I don’t know what was going on in there. Maybe nothing, maybe everything.

All these years, I’d climb in bed with her and cuddle. When she could still communicate, we’d gossip in bed for hours. After she moved to the nursing home, I’d just hold her because I felt it was so important that she be hugged and held. She loved it so much. Me too.

What I wouldn’t give now to talk to her, just once, for even 20 minutes. I would ask her what the last seven years have been like. How much did she know? What did she feel. Was she suffering? Did we make the right decisions? Did she know that, as a family, we were having problems without her at the helm? To be honest, it’s been like we’ve been driving a car with three wheels. You know that when we are all together again, there is going to be a nice, long Betty Lecture.

I was in bed beside her when she died Friday morning. After she passed, Daddy looked at the woman he had loved so deeply and cared for with such devotion. He said, “Fifty-nine years. Fifty-nine years! Three hundred and sixty-five days a year for fifty-nine years. Wow. What an amazing woman. Wife. Mother. Daughter. University of Michigan graduate. Teacher. Wow. Fifty-nine years.”

It was so hard to walk away from her after she died. I looked at her, but she was gone.

I had to fly to Dallas that night to do a speech the next day. My voice cracked for the first two sentences, but then I found my strength. I held my power.

And that was when I realized where my mother had gone. She was inside of me.

I am Betty Germer’s Daughter.

 

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