by Bill Putnam on April 22nd, 2017

It is refreshing when strong, intelligent men like Bill and Jared 
( ​ ) choose to be transparent.  I am thankful for them, their perspectives and what they have chosen to share.  (Jill)
​It’s been twenty years, this spring, since I explained on the phone, to the very solemn county sheriff that “no, I couldn’t come right over to the apartment because I lived three and a half hours away” and “can you please just tell me what’s going on? I can leave soon but it will be a while before I can get up there.” There was an uncomfortable silence on the other end.

The officer on the line was probably searching the faces of his colleagues to get consensus on how to proceed with the call. Perhaps with nods of ascent, he informed me, “Mr. Putnam I’m sorry, but your father has died”. I had taken the call on the phone in the bedroom so I wouldn’t have this conversation in front of my six year old daughter and her four year old brother. I already knew instinctively what I was going to hear. I hadn’t spoken to my dad in a few days and at that time in our lives we rarely went even 48 hours without a call between us. I had no idea how I’d react though.

I have some recollection of that room becoming very big and quiet. As I hung up the phone, having presumably made arrangements to drive up to Virginia and begin the process of logistically taking care of a parent who had just died three and half months past his fifty-sixth birthday. Those logistics involved running down a lot of paperwork, meeting with the sheriff, coroner, investment officials, house contractors, ministers, extended family members I hadn’t seen in years and talking and talking to everyone in the world, except the one person I wanted to hear from, my dad. How would he handle this situation? What I needed was a mentor.

 “An experienced and trusted advisor”, as Webster defines mentor, implies that person you’ve observed experiencing life as you seek to experience it and doing so in a manner you admire and strive for can also be trusted to guide you to do the same. At least that was my basic understanding of mentorship. So, as an active member of a faith community, it made sense I’d be attracted to an amazing teacher and community builder of a pastor. When I was wearing my U.S. Coast Guard uniform there was never any shortage of someone above me in the chain-of-command who was leading people with confidence and empathy who I might strive to emulate. As a father and a husband I was fortunate to find many models of excellence in both those arenas.

In being me, looking a quarter century into the future though, in all that might entail, I needed another mentor. Things like surviving a divorce, sending children off to college, retiring from an almost 30-year career, co-planting tomatoes with the right vegetable in USDA growing zone 8a, and all the other myriad of things I would embark on years after somebody I always saw myself being, could only be taught by that person I saw myself being and now he was gone.

I mentioned I was active in a faith community at the time. I remember that so clearly because dad died on Palm Sunday when the Christian church is shouting “Hosanna!” for a coming king, I was saying goodbye to a man who had reigned as king of my world. I was able to say that goodbye, I told myself at the time and for many years later, because of that faith. Because somehow there must be this heaven that would magically facilitate a reunion in the future if only we believed, in that appropriate manner, it to be true. What was true, for me, was that only deferred a grief process for me. And in that deferment I had to struggle with the fact that I would never get to see that man again.

That man who took me out for donuts and a coke when I was a toddler, in the front seat of a Chevrolet Corvair convertible without a seatbelt, let alone a car seat. The one who taught me baseball and was my first Little League coach. The father who handed me a quarter, for years growing up every time I left the house, so I could call him to come get me should I ever need help. That man, who I really would like to call now, was gone and none of those things to come in my future would happen with him offering any guidance other than the million and one “lectures” I’d be able to recall him giving me, popping up in my head from time to time.
That faith community, which I left about a decade ago, was certainly not without value for that situation and many others. It was a phenomenal community of loving people who stood with my family during that time and did so with love and sincerity. And many of those people still do, or would today. My irreconcilable differences were with the institution which somehow could not exceed the sum of its parts.

Those differences were brought to focus this past year as I lost another mentor; Jim, the spiritual one I had mentioned earlier. The teacher and community building pastor who had actually officiated over one of my dad’s memorial services. He lost his long battle with cancer. The world lost a wonderful man who had a genuine wish for people to experience love in ways that enriched their own lives; and not because they were prescribed by some other entity (re: the church). Despite his devotion, and years of faithful service to the church and his denomination, he understood and appreciated its shortcomings more than most, I think. So, in him, I will miss a welcoming embrace into a faith that he believed was vast enough to love all manner of adherents in whatever coats they wore. He was, unfortunately for me, an exception in that practice and not the rule.

I had not been great about keeping in touch with Jim after he and I had moved from the same town in North Carolina in the late 90s. Facebook brought a reunion of sorts and we kept track of each other through that means mostly for the last several years. I wrote him a long letter after I learned of his cancer the first time. He invited me down to his farm where I’d spent many retreat weekends. He invited me to hear and talk about family and faith and the struggles and celebrations. He reached out and offered to listen, as a great mentor always will.
Since I retired from the Coast Guard a couple years ago, my professional mentor relationships have also gone away. I find myself in a strange place. I turned 50 last year, I remarried a few years ago, and my wife who didn’t have any children and I decided to try and have a baby. So this year, as I’ve retired from a 28-year military career, as I have two wonderful children in their mid-20s on their own journeys, as I have a fantastic new partner to hike into my next half century with I am also a brand new dad of a three and half month old baby girl.

When you go looking for mentors traditionally, I’ve found, it’s somebody older, more experienced who has perhaps walked where you’d like to go, can offer support and advice at times and an ear to listen. Would it surprise you that there doesn’t seem to be a large demographic of men in their 50s, newly married, having a “second round” of children and working as a stay at home dad? No? Yea, it doesn’t surprise me either. So I don’t want a mentor to tell me how to navigate that, if in fact there was one that could. I want a mentor to help me be in the present, appreciate all that there is in my life in the right now and find the joy in that. I want one who will model how to be and feel younger, not to grow older in a manner that’s supposed to look right. You know who my mentors are right now? My adult children are my mentors. I see them loving unconditionally, serving their communities, understanding that having fun doesn’t have to mean being irresponsible but can sometimes anyway without hurting others. They each celebrated the birth of their new baby sister with abounding joy that I might not have had any good reason to expect but received anyway because they love me and they want the best for their family in whatever description that takes.

While I enjoy my children in their adulthood becoming what I thought I had lost, I continue to grieve the loss of a father. But I see him in them, I see him in myself. I continue to say goodbye. I say goodbye when I see a new granddaughter he’ll never get to hold, when I hold my wife who he never got to meet, when I hike paths he never got to walk on with me.  In each goodbye I also realize how he’s remained in my life. That process has steps but, as others have noted in this space before, those steps can be walked on many times and in many directions. Grief doesn’t have a recipe card to complete. It has a story to be told and in being told, lived through and appreciated.

by Jill Francis on March 25th, 2017

"Miscarriage"...a word we whisper as we look away or gaze at our feet;  as though it implies something shameful or dirty or something not to be discussed in "polite company".  A word that rarely affords the sympathy it should convey to the sufferer, for we deem the loss minimal and expect them to "move on".  A word we need to associate with loss.  Pain.  Grief.  And healing.  

We rarely hear from men on the topic of miscarriage, but thanks to a young father, brave enough to share, today we will.  This is Jared's tribute to the twins he and his wife lost to miscarriage.  Babies.  Lost.  
Thank you, Jared

​Dear Precious Little Ones,

Your mother has the most beautiful eyes. Your sweet brother and sister were blessed with those same eyes. With every grieving teardrop that has fallen from those eyes, my heart has been broken.

I had dreamed of you for years, and just those thoughts alone filled me with such wondrous joy! From the exciting moment you two were conceived, you were a part of our family, and we adored you and loved you dearly. Both of you were alive, and you already had such beautiful and wonderfully unique souls!

You are fraternal twins, so we wondered if you would both be boys, girls, or one of each. We talked to you, we sang to you, we prayed about you, we prayed with you, and we imagined with such excitement what amazing plans were in store for you. You two were fearfully and wonderfully made, and I praise God for the short time that I shared with you as your father while your mother carried you. Both then and now, I think about you every moment of every day.

I admit that my heart feels crippled by the devastating agony of your loss. It feels like I was robbed of not one but two whole lifetimes of joy. I have wailed in misery of the void left behind by your early deaths, and I have screamed in anger of the injustice felt. For the rest of my life, you two will be constantly with me in my mind yet painfully beyond my reach in every other way. Oh, how much I long to hold you and kiss you just one time!

Even more so, nothing crushes my spirit more than witnessing the torment that my wife and best friend continues to endure. Your mother is such a beautiful, strong, amazing, miraculous woman, and it frightens me to see her so broken. I cannot even begin to fathom what she has gone through and has yet to go through as she mourns the loss of her two precious babies.

Still, God is good. He loves us, and He continues to comfort our broken hearts. It is such a blessing that you two were born perfect into an eternal paradise in His awesome and glorious presence. I am thankful that neither of you will ever have to experience pain of any kind.

I cannot wait to one day meet you in heaven. I know you two will be easy to find: you'll be the most beautiful and perfect among all of the angels, and you will have your mother's eyes.

Today would have been your due date. You both will forever be on our minds and in our hearts. We miss you more than you can imagine, and we love you more than words can say. We will always cherish the precious memory of you both. Happy Birthday, my twins, my little perfect angels!

- Your Loving Father

by Jill Francis on March 9th, 2017

I had breakfast plans with a wonderful friend of mine this morning at 9:00.  At 10:30, after going to three IHOPS, sending texts and making calls, I finally called her home number.  Thank goodness she still had a land line.  Her husband told me she had left her cell phone at home, but he thought she was going to the Silver Diner.  The light in my brain turned on and I suddenly remembered where I was supposed to be.  “Silver Diner” was even in print, in the text she sent a week ago, and yet my brain saw “IHOP”.

As I began to drive to the correct location, and as I attempted to contain my hysteria, I called my brother…who thought the entire ordeal was hilarious and who laughed in my face…even though he understands my panic.  As “Alzheimer’s children”, we have heard the statistics and we know what our chances are for acquiring the disease.  We are afraid we will one day lose our minds.  This fear of the illness lies dormant within us until mornings like mine.  Then it raises its ugly head and whispers, “see, it’s already begun…your mind is failing…you are forgetting”. 

Those whispers are heard by many around the world, for anyone caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is afraid they are next.  The whispers are also heard by caregivers of other dementia patients and caregivers of patients with other genetic illnesses.  We are not alone in hearing the whispers of Fear, therefore we do not have to succumb to it.  We also have choices:  we can advocate, in little and big ways; we can talk and share and educate; we can help someone else who is struggling; we can live each day to the fullest and make our corner of the world a little brighter for having been here; the list goes on.

Or…we can simply call someone who we know will laugh with (at) us and allow the laughter to quiet the fear.  That’s what I did.  But I am also going to update my Living Will to have an “in case of insanity” provision.  I may even add my husband to my Google calendar…so at least one of us will know where I’m supposed to be…

by Jill Francis on February 25th, 2017

David Cassidy is just one more of those who appear "bigger than life" to have been diagnosed with dementia.  The Huffington Post article does a very good job educating us about some of the various types of dementia (there are approximately 72 types, some which are reversible).
I'm posting it for your convenience:  ​

​David, we wish you well...and we think we love you....

by Jill Francis on February 19th, 2017

 I have always thought I had a balanced identity; an identity which came from many parts of me, from the many hats I wear.  I am a wife and mother but I have also worked outside the home, so “home-maker” was not my sole identity.  I considered my jobs to be a means of contributing to the family finances, I have never been “career-minded”, and so my job has never been my identity.  I am a sister, who is fortunate to have a good relationship with my brother, and I am a daughter.  The daughter part of me has been a bit complicated the last 15 years for I became the daughter of an Alzheimer’s patient, and that role changed my “daughter identity” a bit, but I was still a daughter.  I am also a friend, Nanny, occasional mentor and founder of a non-profit organization.  Last, but not least, I do my best to be a Christ-follower, but I tend to mess that up a bit every day (no, I did not vote for Donald Trump….or Hillary for that matter).

All in all, I thought I had a fairly balanced identity, with some days being more one thing than another perhaps, but all-in-all, balanced.  I even welcomed the change in identity from “mother” to “friend-of-adult-child” as my boys left the nest.  I am fortunate (and grateful) that I still like my husband, so becoming an “empty-nester” is something I’ve enjoyed and I like that change in identity.

I like balance.  I thought I was living in balance.  That’s why I never saw it coming…the identity crises.  At some point, after turning 51 and after the loss of my sweet mamma, I was suddenly lost.  I can’t blame it on grief, for it was so much bigger than losing my mamma because I lost…me.  My purpose.  My identity.  My dreams.  Me.

I have always believed Life comes in seasons:  child, teen, young adult, professional, spouse, parent, etc.  I always expected Life to change with these seasons and since I anticipated the changing seasons, I thought I would easily grow and change right along with them.  But the wind shifted and a season came for which I have no name other than “The Loss of Identity Season”, and the wind of this season knocked me over.
I recently had coffee with a long-time friend.  She is beautiful, creative, vivacious, compassionate, empathetic, artistic…and struggling with who she is.  She admitted she has spent the last year having an identity crises, wondering what her purpose is and wondering, at her lowest, how she would survive the day; for the sadness was overwhelming at times.  I admired her courage to be transparent, vulnerable and honest with me, and I regretted my deficit.  I wish I had had the courage a year ago to confide my struggle with some of my friends…there is strength and healing in community and yet I hid…and I know better.

So, for all of my  sisters out there, especially if you're over 50, I’m coming clean now and letting you know I’m struggling.  And worse yet, I have no answers as to what my new identity is.  My friend is wise and has been to a counselor, improved her nutrition, taken time for therapeutic massage and looked in the mirror.  I’m starting with the mirror…the one that looks on the inside and leads me to soul-searching and reflection.  I’m also going to work through the book, Start Where You Are by Meera Lee Patel.  It’s a journal for self-exploration, given to me by a dear friend who always knows when I need help.  It’s fun, creative and helps me dream. 

When I told my husband I was having an identity crises, he asked me if I needed a sports car.  After giving it some thought (and telling him “no”) what I’ve decided I need most, while I figure it all out, is:   Jesus, vulnerability (thank you, Brene Brown), laughter with friends and family, a place where I can give of myself, a huge helping of gratitude for all I have…and a new pair of shoes.  After all, identity is about balance, right?

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