“But he can barely stand up for any extended period of time.”
In the spring of 2017, my father-in-law was on hospice care in our home.
An incredible volunteer, Jim, came to our house once a week to spend time with Dad.
Jim and Dad would usually just sit together (Dad wasn’t an especially chatty person, even in the best of health). Dad was usually watching tennis or golf, so it’s a good bet that golf was on in the background as they shared time together.
(Full disclosure: One reason I don’t remember much about what they did together is because I usually used this opportunity to either leave the house for errands or work from my bedroom. I was grateful for the respite.)
One day, Jim asked: “How about I bring a golf club next time and we go into the backyard and hit a ball?”
This is where my inner monologue was “But he can barely stand up for any extended period of time.” I wondered if he would flounder once he got outside and immediately retreat to his easy chair and the passive relief of televised golf.
I must have managed to keep my inner monologue at bay and said something noncommittal, because the next time Jim showed up, it was with a club and ball in hand.
Then this happened.
Dad golfed! I was able to send this picture to our family members, so they could see him having a good day doing something he loved.
Why leading is about equipping, choosing the best messenger and believing
Jim wasn’t in charge of a corporation or even a team that day, but he was a leader in every sense of the word.
He figured out what Dad needed (a club and a ball) and arrived on the appointed day prepared to set Dad up for success.
He also discerned that he would be the best person to suggest the activity. As Dad’s caregiver, I did not have a sense of adventure about our daily routine. He would likely have been resistant if I had suggested the golf activity. Wayne was at work daily, so he wasn’t in a position to seize on the best part of Dad’s day (early afternoon) to give it a try. Mostly, Jim believed Dad could do it (and he would have taken it in stride if it turned out he couldn’t).
A brother-in-law’s barbeque
My brother-in-law, Pat, died on February 10 from colon cancer. He was first diagnosed in August 2020, so our families have all been navigating this path with him. One of the things Pat *loved* doing was barbecuing. At our first visit shortly after his diagnosis, we cooked out with him at the helm. As recently as December 2021, Pat helped clean the grill and hung out with his brothers as we cooked out, making for a very good day in the midst of many difficult ones as his disease progressed. When Wayne and I, along with our son and daughter-in-law, visited in mid-January, we barbecued, but Pat wasn’t able to be at the grill. When my sister-in-law and brother-in-law visited the following week, my brother-in-law said he was going to grill. Although Pat initially said it wasn’t necessary, he eventually said, “yeah maybe it’s cool to go ahead and grill.” (I wasn’t there, and this account is based on a conversation with my sister-in-law, but that’s the gist of it.)
My husband, his siblings and our spouses are, for the most part, list makers. We spent a good part of the last year and a half saying, “someone should make a list” and beginning google docs in an attempt to bring some order to a situation that was medically, emotionally and logistically determined to defy us.
Not to get too far into anyone’s business, but Pat in general made it clear, especially toward the end, that what he wanted was to leave much of the list-making to his siblings and wife. He wanted to savor what was left of the “happy.”
That’s why I’m glad all of those barbecues happened, even though his ability to deal with the grill and cook the food diminished eventually. It’s where he felt equipped, was with the right people and believed he could be a part of things.
New job, new opportunities to lead
As with all things we grieve, though, we have the opportunity to process as time moves on.
From the vantage point of almost three weeks out, a period where I’ve had multiple meetings about interesting new projects while figuring out my place on the leadership team, I realize that I’ve been hungry for an opportunity to lead (and the right environment for that to happen).
I’ve shared with plenty of people I trust how scary this new step is, and I’m not really a fan of the way “you need to embrace failure!” is framed these days.
I can say this, though. I feel like I’ve been handed the equivalent of the golf club that Jim put in Dad’s hands, by people with good instincts about my potential, and that I have the benefit of being with colleagues who believe I can do this (even when I waver).
Someone in your orbit needs you to challenge them, equip them and believe in them.
Jim was on to something wise when he handed Dad that golf club.
Who can you be a “Jim” for today?
This is a response to the Kat Bouska prompt “Write a blog post inspired by the word: flounder.”
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.