Gaining Perspective

My dad and my daughter.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective.

In the olden days, as I like to refer to them, I think I had a hard time discerning what was worth making a big deal about and what wasn’t. I was easily upset and stressed by little things and was quick to overreact.

In 1992, I met my husband Lee. It was May, and his younger brother, Greg, was at the Jewish Rehabilitation hospital in Chomedy, recovering from a catastrophic bout with meningitis.

He’d been misdiagnosed with the flu a few months earlier and was critically ill by the time he arrived at the hospital.

A cardiac arrest and an induced coma followed – a coma from which he, true to form, stubbornly refused to wake up. When he finally did – on his dad’s birthday – it was nothing short of a miracle. For four months in rehab, he slowly learned to reuse his muscles, to walk and talk again. His eyesight was permanently damaged however, as were his kidneys, which meant regular dialysis and a transplant down the line.

mtl-torchrelay-cp-1214
Greg carrying the Olympic torch: December 2009

And then just shy of his scheduled transplant date, Greg suffered a stroke while on dialysis. He was left with limited use of his left leg, and a completely paralyzed left arm. Two steps forward, a hundred steps back. Back to rehab to learn to adjust to his new heart-breaking limitations.

Greg went on to endure a kidney transplant (a gift from his mom) and the subsequent recovery.  He’s actually endured a shitload of challenges and limitations over the last 22 years that few of us could even begin to imagine.

And the thing about Greg is I have never, ever heard him complain, ask “why me?” or begrudge others their relative freedom.
jpeg
Greg’s book, My Way Home.

His kindness, optimism and generosity of spirit never cease to amaze me.

Talk about a lesson in perspective.

And another one: in 2006, at 59 years old, my father was diagnosed with bladder cancer. A relatively innocuous cancer if caught early, he suffered through two and a half years of painful treatments and chemotherapy, infections and devastating metastasis. I watched my mother suffer along side him, frantic with worry that she would lose her first and only love – until she did, early in the morning of September 22nd, 2008. I will never forget his last breath, or the surreal moments just after he died when I waited for someone to come into his hospital room and tell us it was a mistake.

For weeks, even months, after he died, I had no patience for anyone.

I promptly ditched a friend who complained about the duress she was under, planning her father’s 75th birthday party. Grumbling about anything shy of illness or death was unacceptable to me. You couldn’t get tickets to your favourite band in concert? Your kids are driving you crazy? Your email’s not working? You can’t stand your daughter’s teacher?  Well, screw you, my father died. You don’t have cancer. You’re healthy. Nothing else is important.

I stood on my soapbox for a while, simultaneously devastated by sorrow and proud of my sense of perspective. Between Greg and my father, I knew that I would never, ever let anything  insignificant bother me and I would never complain again.

My dad and my daughter.
My dad and my daughter.
Then slowly, I started to feel the familiar heat of irritation at the little things I had vowed would never bother me.

I yelled at my husband because his socks were on the floor. I got upset with my kids because they hadn’t thanked me for a dinner I’d slaved over. I became agitated with a friend who hadn’t returned a phone call. Nothing earth-shattering, devastating or life-threatening. Less weighed down by grief, I was more open to feeling annoyed, aggravated and sad about the little disappointments we face every single day.

I like to think that having lost a parent to illness and being the sister-in-law of a pretty remarkable guy have given me a pretty solid sense of perspective.

I regularly count my blessings. I’ve learned what’s important – and who’s important.

But I’m also human, and that means I can get sidetracked by stupidity – like garbage that wasn’t taken out, websites crashing, and bad drivers.

Which I suppose, in a way, is a good thing. If you only have little things to worry about, life must be pretty freaking good.

To learn more about Greg, please click here.

Comments

comments

Written By
More from Liz Wiener

Are You Ready to Turn the Page?

Do you have a story you tell yourself? I’m not talking about...
Read More

21 Comments

  • Wow!I am very proud to be your motherinlaw and Greg’s mother and must admit I too stress over the same mundane silly daily life stuff…but we are human and thank goodness is right…..if it’s only those small things getting to us?How lucky are we!xoxo

    • And I am proud to know you Elly.
      Who said life is supposed to be easy (and it is not), however, those with the strength to endure, stand by, do for, will prevail. You are a family with tremendous resilience and I wish you only the best.
      Zina Suissa

  • Liz, thank you for the reminder that we sometimes need to get some perspective in life. I often think about Greg and what an inspiration he is to all who know him. I, too, have ended friendships over what I now realize were silly issues, but I hope I’m getting wiser with age. Still, too often I catch myself being “just human” with those I love the most. We can all learn something from Greg who lives his life with purpose, optimism, and generosity!

    • Chris: we all need reminders sometimes, even those of us who think we’ve got it all together ;). Thanks for reading – and for taking the time to comment! xo

  • Hi Liz,
    This was such a beautiful article. We have similar experiences … As much as we have been through we are only human . I will keep this articles in my favorites for ” a moment of weakness ” when I need a reality check . Xo

  • Liz,I love you so much!,, I too have experienced the very same emotions many times….
    You are not only beautiful,warm,charming,and wonderful, you have an ability to write ,express,in a way that makes a reader want more….Did you ever think of writng ! A novel published that stirs one,s emotions so deeply would have many readers!.r

  • Wow! Simply wow! After learning from you how to properly punctuate a sentence and spell the word because, I don’t know if any lesson you have taught me has ever been more important or resonated more with me than this.
    Thank you. Much love always.

  • Life ain’t easy… Perspective checks are great in some ways and suck in other ways. Life is not fair.. Period. I guess we really have to appreciate the little things and stay close and surround yourself with those you love most. And then scream at them for being annoying lol
    Love you

  • Your feelings and emotions are both beautifully and correctly expressed. Watching someone you love suffer is devastating and does change you. Eventually we go back to “sweating the small stuff” and thank goodness we do. It’s called living.
    Now with a different perspective and many years later, we realize we got to say goodbye. A sad farewell, but a goodbye that was happening throughout the terrible suffering.
    I watched my dad suffer as you watched yours. Two years to the Hebrew date, my 67 year old mom passed away in her sleep; she was healthy, not ill. A goodbye was never said….. She never suffered.
    Perspectives change over the years (15 and 13 years ago) and whereas I never saw my parents get old, I now cherish family and friends even more. I know and understand loss, so I can help others as they go through the grieving process.
    I still sweat the small stuff ….. It’s called living!!!