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The last couple of months have been particularly trying in my life. My wife and I are at that age where our parents health is failing and the new normal is a series of medical challenges big and small that will only end one way. Professionally, the hits just seemed to keep coming, further straining my mental and emotional capacity to bounce back, requiring tough decisions for the sake of my personal integrity. Factors beyond our control tossed a monkey wrench into future plans Sandy and I have worked toward for so long, and the day that reality hit, we unexpectedly lost our beloved dog, Bailey. I swear I was on the proverbial cliff.DSCN0094

But then something happened. I was on my way to work, ready to do battle again, as had become the norm. Stress rose palpably inside as the minutes ticked off toward my time to go, and my wife gave me the support to make whatever decision I needed for myself. My youngest sister called with an update on my mom’s condition, and realized so much more was wrong on my end. We talked about what I’d been going through and she said something so simple and powerful: Walk away if you need to. I protested. I wasn’t a quitter, no matter what injustice I might be going through. She said: Sandy knows who you are. We know who you are. You know, too. Listen to your heart.

I know, I know, at my age I should have been able to put things into perspective on my own, but I guess sometimes we all get lost in the storm. Those simple words of unconditional support were like a lifeline. No, they didn’t magically erase the problems. They did, however, change my focus. That day, rather than allow the slings and arrows to elicit a negative emotional response, I heard my sister’s voice: You know who you are. No, it didn’t change the outcome. What it did was center me and I came away certain that I had held the ground of my integrity and feeling better than I had in months.

It so happened we were set to leave for our trip north for the occasion of our niece’s graduation and nephew’s wedding. The drive itself was a blessing. Sandy and I use such long trips to reconnect and simply enjoy each others company. Watching our niece graduate, armed with all the potential and talent needed to succeed in life, was a truly uplifting experience. From there, we took a short trip across town to the fairytale grounds of a country club for our nephew’s wedding. Some of you might recall I’ve spoken about my oldest sister, whom we lost far too young. Her son’s wedding day was quite remarkable. The weather was spectacular, with not a cloud in the sky, the bride incredibly beautiful, and the groom—well, we think he’s fabulous. With his brother as the best man, they were incredible. They have their mom’s smile, which makes me alternately laugh and cry, depending on the moment.

The injection of love and family on that day did more good than I can describe. As I sat holding Sandy’s hand, watching Tim stand at the alter awaiting his bride, I felt so many emotions. Sorrow that my sister wasn’t there to witness her son’s marriage, pride in the man he’s become, grateful for our relationship, which now includes his wife. Then, I was overcome by a sense of contentment. This is all that matters. Again, I heard my little sister’s voice: We know who you are. Nothing else matters. The workplace struggles, the business end of writing, setbacks and obstacles of all kinds are just white noise that will disappear when we bring our hearts into focus on what’s real.

tumblr_lnwzr3fO9S1qlaa6wo1_500The bride entered, and as he took her hand, a small cluster of clouds in the shape of a heart drifted above the open venue. Yeah, I know, sounds sappy, but it’s true.