Giving others a Shot@Life on this #GivingTuesday

Last week my son Oliver had ear tubes implanted into his ears.  His first year was full of recurring ear infections, fevers and sleepless nights…after which his pediatrician recommended the procedure. Even though ear tubes are a fairly common and “routine” procedure in modern medicine and one that will result in less pain and an improved hearing capacity for Oliver, my husband and were still nervous. We researched, we consulted an Ear Nose & Throat specialist and several others in the medical field before we decided to proceed…and even then the road was full of worry.  The process intimidated me as a mother – anesthesia was required as was recovery time, pre-surgery and post-surgery check-ins. I could not help but be concerned about the “what ifs…”

The night before his procedure, my mother (“Nana” to Oliver) sent me the following note: “I just want you to know that Nana is thinking of you all right now.  One of the hardest things bringing up children is doing what is best for them when they do not understand it and when you are the one making the decisions. I know you are doing what is best for him and soon it will be all over. “

My mom was right…Oliver is already back to his energetic and slightly mischievous self, and I am now breathing a sigh of relief knowing that his hearing will be improved and he won’t suffer from unnecessary pain or irritation in the future. I can’t help but feel very fortunate: Oliver’s surgery was an elective one that will enable him to stay healthy…one that was observed and tracked by various professionals. My son was treated in a modern, clean, and well-equipped medical clinic.  He will receive check-ups in the coming weeks to ensure he’s healing well and he will resume his ongoing check-ups, immunizations, and preventive care that he has been blessed to receive all of his life.

But what about those mothers and fathers who are not able to give their children what they know is best for them and their development?  What if there is no access to medical facilities and preventive care? There’s nothing more challenging as a parent than watching your child suffer any pain, or witnessing them fight an illness – especially a preventable one. I have visited and worked in many regions of the world in which Oliver would certainly not have access to an ENT specialist, and in fact where diseases that could have been prevented by a vaccine could fatally injure him – as they do one child every 20 seconds. Imagine being in a situation where your child is faced with such dire and dramatic health challenges, and as a parent you are not able to provide relief.

What so many of us consider standard, preventive care is a faraway dream for so many children and families in the world.  On this Giving Tuesday, I am thinking about the millions of sons and daughters around the world that deserve a “shot at life” and how we can support them. Expanding access to vaccines can prevent an additional 1.5 million deaths a year. We can all help make that happen.

Shot@Life is movement to protect children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are most needed. Learn more here: http://shotatlife.org/

Learn more about #Giving Tuesday here: http://givingtuesday.org/

Happy Thanksgiving from Berlin

Several of my German friends have asked in the recent week if it’s hard for me to be away from the United States during Thanksgiving.  The answer is yes…and no.  I am unexpectedly thankful today for the opportunity to experience the holiday from a different vantage point.

While I no doubt miss gathering with my extended family and close friends in the States, spending this American holiday in Germany has enabled me to embrace it’s spirit in new ways.

Given “Thanksgiving” is not observed here – marking the day requires a commitment which makes the holiday extra festive and spirited for those who choose to participate. I have watched with wonder as certain American friends in Berlin approach the day like a scavenger hunt. Where does one get a proper turkey…and will said turkey fit in my European-sized oven? Can I buy canned pumpkin at the grocery store? Do marshmallows exist here for Aunt Marta’s famous sweet potato concoction?  Can I call the 1-800 Butterball line for help from a German phone?

One friend has been up for 3 days carefully and lovingly cooking a feast for dozens of German friends that will replicate her family’s meal back home in Wisconsin.  Tonight – a mishmash of expats are gathering at the home of another friend from Los Angeles, where each of us will bring our favorite Thanksgiving dish from “home” to the table. On Saturday, our host is screening NFL football from the previous day for post-turkey viewing.

Many of the gatherers are families with a mixed German and American heritage, but others are Germans who themselves have embraced the tradition or expats and travelers from other countries who are eager to share in the experience. I asked one German friend how his family came to adopt the American holiday, and he explained “once I learned that there was a holiday devoted simply to giving thanks, I thought – what could be better than that?”  Food for thought.

I often think about this expat chapter of my life and feel slightly overwhelmed by the challenges and the “differences” big and small that I confront during the course of the day.  But every so often it hits me, that maybe the gift of this time is the opportunity to reflect on what “home” truly means..because these traits will travel with me. In re-creating special side dishes and sports viewings, each of us is trying to share a piece of ourselves and show gratitude in our new “home.”

From keeping alive the legacy of those no longer with us on Earth, to celebrating the spirit and traditions of those that are miles away but close in heart, to welcoming new people into our lives that become family by our own choosing, to counting our blessings and finding ways to give back to the community in which we live — these are the lessons of my Berlin Thanksgiving.

-Coco

Good Things come to those who wait…

There were certain things I expected to learn in my German language class: prepositions, the genders of various nouns (DAS bier, DER Wein), how to navigate a city using German, etc.

I did not expect to learn the value of waiting.

As I have learned in my grammar training, the verb most often comes at the end of a German sentence.  (Ich kann nicht deutsch sprechen…) What does that mean? Well, as someone who struggles to learn the language – it means buckle up because this stuff is hard.

But what else does it mean?

It means that one must pay attention, listen and allow the speaker to complete his or her sentence before one can react. It’s been extremely enlightening to observe my class full of diverse students and witness how uncomfortable and unnatural this seems to some of us.  (My American self and my Israeli study partner have certainly been struggling.)

The composition and structure of a sentence has such a simple but powerful impact:

One must hear what a person is saying before barraging them with questions or interrupting. The process has shown me time and time again how strong my instincts are to impatiently rush a discussion or a fellow speaker.

The same idea happens on the streets, as my tendency is to dart across any roads if there is no visible traffic, regardless of the streetlight displaying red or green.  Not so in Germany. People (all people – young, old, bikers, workers, students) wait for the clear sign that it’s now safe to walk.  The notion of breaking the order is not acceptable, and people respect the importance of waiting for all parties involved.

So I have learned.  Whether I am speaking or listening, walking or driving…there’s a value in waiting…and as I tell my 4 year old son, “Everything is not a race!”

The Lessons of the Year

Today marks one year since my father’s death.
One year.
365 days…and 365 nights.

Another milestone that forces me, my mother, sister and others he touched to reflect on how our lives were forever changed on November 13, 2011.

Many people warned me that the first year would be the worst … and that survival should be my goal for the 365 days to follow. I have survived…and in order to move forward I feel the need to look back – on the grief, the bright spots, and the lessons of the past year.

Accept the pain.
There have been many dark moments, days and even weeks. There’s been much pain. There’s been much worry – for my mom, for my sister, for my husband, for my grandfather-less sons…and indeed worry for myself. I have questioned much: my identity, my strength and my purpose.

I still feel the impulse to pick up the phone to check-in with my Dad. Report a sports score. Share a political chat. Seek advice on all things, big and small. Or just dial his number to hear him say “Court-o.”  Even though this instinct brings pain, I fear the day when that impulse might retreat – because it’s those moments that also remind me of the special and deep relationship I share with my father.

While initially I tried avoidance and looked for ways to expedite the pain, I have grown to believe that avoidance is simply no good.  In the dark moments, I try to pause, listen, and accept the intense emotion.

Accept the love.
While often hard to find, the sun did keep shining over the course of the past year.  Every time I approached rock bottom – someone provided comfort – family, friends, even acquaintances that that I would never have anticipated playing such a role. A note that was completely unexpected and yet perfectly timed. A visit, calls, hugs, walks, meals, prayers…so many small but powerful gestures for which I am eternally grateful. Friends and family have given me solace, empathy, sympathy and physical and spiritual support beyond measure.

My parents raised me with unconditional love – but this year taught me that my family members are not the only people who care for me unconditionally.  On a daily basis, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this gift.

Embrace the Legacy
My father is alive and well in all of the lives that he touched. A year ago, I thought this was empty advice that one passes on to a friend in grief — but I witness it every single day.  I see it in my eldest son Felix, who reports any information received to anyone who will listen just like his grandfather. I see it in the intensity in which he cheers for his G-Daddy’s Mizzou Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.  I hear it when my sister calls to make sure all interested parties know when a key sports event is scheduled.  I smile as little Oliver runs with a gait that is eerily similar to that of my father – even his physical form has a striking resemblance.

The “Thomas” in Felix Thomas Morgan grows everyday…and it’s the same for so many of us who have adopted my father’s quirks, his humor and his fierce loyalty to all he loved. Through my own actions and decisions, I feel a deep and wonderful responsibility to build on this legacy.

A special person once shared a piece of advice for those facing loss: “may the memory of your loved one in time bring a smile to your face before it brings a tear to your eye.”  I am not there yet – and while my tears are still flowing with more speed and strength than my smiles – I know that a tie will come soon.

And so today I feel gratitude. I am grateful for the lessons of pain, for the love of my support network, and for the hope that the future inspires.

His legacy lives.