Category Archives: caretaking

FEED MY SHEEP: A Pandemic Tale

Being in quarantine is difficult for everyone, but it’s particularly difficult when you are a family lawyer doing it alone. You have nobody to decompress with or hug after long hours of working on stressful cases on a computer. If you decide to go off of social media because of the tone of the rhetoric there, and you don’t have cable tv, there is even more isolation.  Days are spent triaging highly anxious family law clients and nights are spent asking yourself weighty questions.

You read an article that says you will discover who your friends really are by the ones who reach out to say “are you ok?” and realize that while you think you have many friendships, if that is the criteria, only maybe one or two of those friendships are very deep. You rarely or don’t ever hear from “friends” and maybe only one asks if you are ok.  It seems like you are the one checking in on people but other than your children nobody is checking in on you.

Most of the people that are calling you want something. Your legal expertise, your help in filing for unemployment, your take on how they can survive the pandemic, your interpretation of a custody order in light of social distancing. All the people you’ve helped, guided, loved on and taken care of over the years are preoccupied.  They assume you are strong and must be ok.  Some who you reach out to texting “I hope you are safe and doing well” don’t even take time to respond.  You remember what you’ve done to help those people over the years and wonder what it is that made them so detached they couldn’t even take a quick moment to send back a thumbs-up emoticon.

At night with a dog sleeping at your feet and the “pink moon” glaring through the window you start asking yourself big questions.

What has my life been about up until now?

  If I catch the virus and die, what is my legacy? (After all, at age 62 I am in the “endangered species” category.)

 Who and what did I let drive my life in ways that were not, in retrospect, beneficial and may have even de-railed me?

 What did I miss along the way?

 IF I live through this how will I show up differently post-pandemic?

I started seeing a terrific new therapist before the virus hit, because I was so miserable in the practice of law. He helped me see that I’d been suffering for many, many years and for the first time (because he was a former attorney himself) someone “got” the suffering I’d been feeling for years.  We began to dissect it with the intention of figuring out what I would do with my “last act” of life and how, and if, the law would a part of it.

But then the pandemic hit.

Suddenly I am faced with having this weighty reflection front and center as I navigate 10 hour days of client matters every day while trying to pay attention to what is going on with the virus, whether I have to Clorox my groceries, and whether my 84 year old mother and 60 year old brother with advanced MS are safe in their homes. What was previously a stressful job now has become even more mentally taxing.  But what I know from previous life devastation is I have to somehow navigate staying present and awake for all there is to learn.

As I ponder the “suffering in the law” question amidst all of this, I’ve come to a clear realization. It isn’t the clients, even the most demanding ones, who cause the suffering.  They are actually the bright spot.  It’s the other lawyers. It’s the value system of the practice of law. It’s the idea that more money is made by lawyers the more parties are fighting and litigating.  It’s that it’s all about winning, including thinking it’s a big victory to take a child away from a parent or to get a vocational expert to say a lifetime stay at home parent should all of a sudden be making $50,000 and therefore minimizing the amount the other parent has to pay to support their children.  It’s mentally stressful hearing sad stories in a system of deadlines and rules of engagement that make people’s life traumas the source of ego gratifying wins and competitive gamesmanship. The idea of family justice seems so bizarre and illogical.

I’ve loved my clients and loved on them for over 35 years. I’ve sat with them for hours hearing their hearts, encouraging them to find their highest selves, helping them find new footing in the new normal of their lives during and after legal interventions. I’ve had many profound experiences sitting side by side with people who were bleeding emotionally and watching their lives fall apart. As I was helping them, my clients were my own spiritual guides as I found new pieces of myself in them, and new understanding of suffering and transformation.  I’ve sometimes floated home from the office whispering to myself about what a privilege and honor it is to do such important work for my clients.

But back to the suffering as a lawyer. After confiding  to mentors and confidantes I was encouraged by one mentor about 7 years ago to write about it, and to start sharing the message of change in my profession. This is where my path might have gotten off course (but as is always the case, that diversion brought me back home).  I proceeded to spend years writing and imploring lawyers to reclaim the beauty of our profession as a healing profession. I wrote “The Compassionate Lawyer” in 2014. I’ve been on the speaking circuit explaining to lawyers that they needed to do things differently. I’ve spoken with passion and a sense of urgency.

Most who have heard me figuratively patted me on the head and said, “Good little Kimmy.”  They’ve dismissed my message and just keep doing things the same way. Why would they change? It’s a good gig, even if studies show a large number of lawyers feel their line of work has adversely impacted their mental health. Plus, any sense of changing to be more collaborative, loving, compassionate and kind is largely viewed as a sense of weakness, frailty, not being a “real” lawyer. And it’s no secret you end up billing fewer hours for cooperation than for combat.

I’ve given speeches at the law schools imploring faculty to offer coursework on topics like collaboration and emotional intelligence  and to place emphasis on being a “whole person” above emphasis on things like class rank. That message has gone over with a thud. Those subjects aren’t on the bar exam after all and bar passage rate is one of the components of measurement by US News and World Reports.  Yes, legal education hasn’t changed in decades and now it is held hostage by a magazine that nobody reads.  So lawyers are continually turned out in the same competitive paradigm that is part of the dysfunction of the profession.  Some studies show that incoming law students change their whole world view. When they enter law school most do so to “help people.” During the three years, law students change their goals to wanting to be the exemplar student,  to complete law school with a high class ranking to ensure a shoe-in at a lucrative job in “Big Law” and to make a name for themselves.

At night with shutters open in the light of the beautiful pink moon, laying in my bed during the quarantine, I put my hands over my heart and comfort my wounded self. What in the world were you thinking when you took on this crusade?  What in the world made you think that you could be the champion of change?  And what now?

Trying to mentor young lawyers to practice in a new way, by approaching and recruiting those who I thought could share the vision, only added more suffering.  I realize that while I thought they shared my dream and mission, for most of them, that wasn’t it at all.  It was instead that my dream and passion for the cause was contagious to them. I got them excited because I was so excited. They weren’t really excited on their own.  When the money starts coming the vision gets lost because the old way is a good gig.  Frustration, heartache, kicking myself for the time invested, the giving, giving, giving of myself to those I thought would help multiply the change. Suffering from those fractured relationships in the law that hurt worse than other personal and family heartaches.

Also, in that pink moon a ray of light through the clouds illuminated another pandemic induced realization. In my crusade I’d lost something.  The connection with my clients. Yes, it’s always there to a degree but the “mission” became paramount to the delicacy of the client’s hearts. My own mind and heart have been split in two these past years.  I’m still “feeling with” the clients but doing so while a big part of my heart has been dedicated to my agenda of legal reform. The “movement”  has permeated a big part of my body, mind and spirit that only have finite resources.  The personal satisfaction of the  legal reform mission is much less gratifying than the profound joy the work with the clients  in the trenches has given me.  If anything, “the mission” has fed my ego and made me more driven to be “seen and heard” and stolen a big chunk of my humility, stillness and center.  And then last night, a bold ray of moonlight pierced through the clouds with such brightness it was startling, and a bible verse came to the forefront.  “Feed my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep” is what Jesus said to the disciples when they were trying to convince him how much they loved him, and he was telling them how to prove it.  (John 21:15-17) That verse, at that moment, answered one of my big questions.

How will I show up in the world post pandemic?

Before the onset, I had been focused on a legacy of being an instrument of change in the legal profession.  While I know I have been making a difference in the lives of my clients, I’ve thought that individual impact was “too small” of a mission. I remember a friend who had a business with an important message, and she shared that she’d been convinced she would “reach millions.” Somehow that went into my subconscious and I thought of all the good that could be done in the world by lawyers, sitting with the most vulnerable in our society, if my message of compassion in the law would reach millions.  A few sheep surely weren’t the same caliber of importance.

Laying alone in the middle of a pandemic brings clarity about how inconsequential you are in the scheme of things at the end of the day.  And yet there it was; “Feed my sheep.”

I go to the dog park this morning shortly after sunrise like I do every pandemic day. As usual, nobody is there that early but my dog and me, and this morning I’m thinking about “feed my sheep” and asking for more clarity of what it means.

As I pull into the parking lot, NPR is interviewing Andrea Bocelli who will sing day after tomorrow at a cathedral in Milan, where there will be no audience. He says that having no audience is beautiful because to him it is not a concert, it is a prayer.  The interviewer asks his wife if it will seem odd that he won’t be in front of a packed house and she says no. She tells of how at times, on Sundays, he does church with a few people who are very sick or dying. There may be only five people bedridden and Andrea Bocelli sings just for them. She tells that it is beautiful because they all view his singing as a prayer offering for the healing of the few people that are there.

I start to sob as he proceeds to sing Ave Maria, alone in my car in full pandemic loneliness as his music feeds me, and my dog licks the tears as they come down my cheeks.

I’ve realized that each intervention with each client I meet makes a monumental impact. It’s not just me impacting them, but them impacting me. Meeting someone on the path of suffering and helping them navigate that part of their journey, is the highest calling I have on my life.

There are politicians and special interest groups clamoring for healthcare reform, change in our government, big systemic changes like I was preaching. And those things are worthy, and necessary.   Yet there is also a nurse sitting with  one person dying of the virus who can’t be near family and would be alone without that one nurse.  That moment is a crucial transformative moment for both of them.  Calling someone in quarantine to check on them when they are suffering is a huge transformative moment for both people.  Sending a thumbs up emoticon during a pandemic to someone who is reaching out to ask how you are, can trigger a transformative reconciliation.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has dropped bombs on the law. Big Law is disintegrating before our eyes, with associates and staff being downsized all across the country. Lawyers who are client centric are surviving (and dare I say, thriving) during the transition and other firms of  billing machines are panicking.  Law schools have had to scramble to move to online instruction and now discussion of pass/fail grading, doing away with bar exams and equipping lawyers to be more client centric are part of the zoom discussion.

What will be left standing?

Of course, there is a part of me that wants to roll out my publications and say, “I told you so” and reinvigorate the crusade. This time in my mind’s eye I’m carrying a flag out front of the pack leading through the rubble of singed yellow legal pads on the ground to higher ground.  But what I know now, is if I do that, I will be lost again.  And my current round of suffering will be for naught.  You see, the practice of law has been dysfunctional for years and apparently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed it.  The change is taking care of itself through the path of COVID 19, which lawyers would call force majeure or “act of God.”  It’s not just the law that will change dramatically after this extraordinary phase of life.  It’s most every business, system, government.

But what about us as individuals? Will we change? And how will we show up post-pandemic?

For me, never again will I minimize a small word of encouragement, a hug with a suffering person, sharing the heart stories and sitting beside (or across the screen from) a client while we navigate their life through change. It may be a change caused by a legal intervention or, as happened this week,  a pandemic that makes them realize they want to learn skills to better communicate with their co-parent. Either way, I’ll be paying rapt attention to what is happening with the people I will serve.

I will go forward and embrace my new role, which is the role that I’ve had all along but took for granted.  But first, I’ll be watching the Andrea Bocelli Easter concert live streamed. And I’ll cry tears that contain many profound emotions while he sings as I sit alone in quarantine on Easter Sunday. Through his concert that’s really a prayer, I’ll proclaim once and for all that I am enough, if I simply choose to be the change I want to see in the law.

shallow focus photography of white sheep on green grass

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

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For Such a Time as This

DanielleDoll

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”- Jeremiah 29:11

 My daughter Danielle is a middle school teacher at a school in California where her students are largely refugees, and the student body speaks many languages and dialects. Danielle is so smack dab in the bullseye of her life purpose that I am grateful every day that she has the gift of doing what she is meant to do and that she figured it out at such a young age.
 As a baby, Danielle had a horrible case of colic that caused many sleepless nights for her father and me.
The only thing that helped when Danielle was sobbing with colic was when we took her favorite doll, a plush African American doll with colorful ribbons in her hair, and held the doll in front of her face. Danielle would stare at the doll and quiet down almost immediately. We called the doll “Melanie.”
Today she texted me photos from her classroom. She had taken a life long collection of toys (including an elaborate set of beanie babies with the TY tags on them) to her kids, and distributed them to the students, giving them extras to take home to their siblings. In one of the pictures my heart skipped a beat. There was a young girl holding Melanie and smiling brightly.
My first instinct was- how could she have given away one of her most precious dolls, one that she’s had for thirty years? I wanted to be supportive but with a tinge of sadness texted back “Is that Melanie?”
“Yes” she texted back, “and the young girl holding her and smiling is from Haiti where her home was destroyed and her mother died. She fell in love with Melanie and said she has never in her life owned a doll who looked like her.”
What I’ve come to realize is my daughter is my teacher too. Despite my having raised her in Scottsdale in a world of excess, she let go of attachments to “things” and gave away the toys and dolls she had saved “for such at time as this.”
I, on the other hand, still hold on to things that need to be given away or released, material and otherwise.
I am telling myself a story now about Danielle and Melanie thirty years ago. When she was a baby and unable to talk, Danielle looked mesmerized at Melanie and quieted because God was talking to her in secret places. He was telling her “I know the plans I have for you” and showing her a glimpse of her future, and her purpose.
I love you Danielle. And to Melanie I say goodbye, and Godspeed.  I’m praying for blessings for the new little girl who met you today, and who loves you. I hope that you are an instrument of  God’s special messages to her as well.
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Truckstop Angel

shelvesI grew up as the only girl in the family, the oldest, with two younger brothers rounding out the sibling lineup. Dan was born 18 months after me and Jon two years later. We grew up outside of town on an acre of land, and my brothers had built in playmates while I largely sat in my room and read books.

The boys would wrestle and Dan was the instigator. Jon would cry and run to mom and to this day he remains a mama’s boy. Dan was rough and tumble, always getting into mischief,  handsome, blue eyed and blonde, an aberration in the otherwise olive skinned family.

In Greek families the oldest boy is the prize. My dad embraced Dan’s birthright and the two were symbiotically connected. Dad was a prominent lawyer and his skills came in handy as Dan got into minor legal scuffles, including a few stints with jail time. Once, my dad told Dan he had arranged through his connections to have Dan do time on a weekend, which happened to be Dan’s birthday.

“I called the bailiff and the jail is overbooked that day; you will go in and get out right away due to overcrowding,” he’d told my brother.  Instead, Dan arrived to find “plenty of room at the inn.” “I figured if you served time on your birthday it might have an impact on you, and keep you from getting in trouble again,” Dad had announced when justifying the bait and switch.

Neither Dan nor Dad took care of their health. They were both heavy smokers, both liked to gamble, both ate lots of junk food and sugar and neither had any workout routine or ever set foot in a gym. Dan had been the country club junior golf champion in high school and it landed him a college scholarship to the University of New Orleans where he drank his way down Bourbon Street, ultimately terminating his college path. He dabbled in assorted drugs and alcohol and identified himself once as the “72 step man” having done 6 separate 12 step programs.

As Dan became the focus of our family, I faded into the background diligently studying, being a “good girl,” graduating at the top of my class and ultimately getting a law degree. I married and had three children and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona drifting apart from both of my brothers largely due to our lack of commonalities and the distance, although I always felt a strong affection especially for Dan.

When my children were small my dad came to visit us in Arizona with a cold that he couldn’t seem to shake. A friend who was an ER doc snuck him past the line at a busy Phoenix hospital and did a chest X-ray. I got a call that day telling me my dad was in dire straits physically and it was likely he had a terminal lung disease that had progressed extensively.

Things became a whirlwind. My mother shut down and was unable to cope and as the family rock I did what I do best. I took charge and mobilized, making a room for dad in our home and I partnered with hospice to care for him. My kids gathered around “Papou” and we made him as comfortable as possible.

Dan was devastated and for a long time stayed in Iowa saying he could not face visiting knowing of dad’s impending death. Soon he came out and spent time with Dad, even mustering up enough energy for the two of them to go to the casino with Dad in a wheelchair and full oxygen mask gear. I shuddered to think that a random casino cigarette smoker might blow up Dad and his sidekick with a booze laden flick of an ash but they lived through the ordeal. Dan left one night and went to a Phoenix tattoo parlor where he had the artist draw a heart that was in the midst of breaking and then brand it on his shoulder.

Dad died and we flew him back to Iowa for the funeral. Dan came to the funeral with a limp and a hand that hung abnormally. The scuttle butt was that he had gotten drunk and fallen asleep on his limb and didn’t wake before the circulation was cut off. He had been living in his car and was getting by with odd jobs. A doctor friend of my parents who observed Dan at the funeral came up to my mom and suggested that Dan be tested for Lou Gherig’s disease. My mother was devastated.

I flew back to Arizona after the funeral to get my kids situated and then flew back to Iowa to help figure out Dan’s situation. He’d been diagnosed with MS and the lawyer in me again took charge getting him the social security disability he needed, helping him get Section 8 housing, buying him a decent mattress and organizing other medical and social service benefits. Once he was situated, again, I spent very little time with him focusing instead on raising three children of my own and trying to deal with my emotionally fragile mother.

Ultimately I divorced, and moved back to Iowa where I would occasionally see Dan at Thanksgiving when I would cook for everyone and he would come. His MS worsened and he limped badly, finally using a walker. Autoimmune diseases lead to other autoimmune diseases and he soon had psoriasis all over his face and body, and had developed Type 2 diabetes. His physical condition worsened each time I saw him.

About a month ago I got a phone call. Dan’s physical therapist had noticed a strange lump in his neck. Further testing revealed the worst: Dan had cancer of the tongue that had spread into his lymph nodes. All the autoimmune complications made his case all the more difficult so he decided be treated at the Iowa City hospital, a teaching institution at the University of Iowa two hours away.

It was like déjà vu of my dad.

My mother went into high anxiety that makes her catatonic and histrionic all at once. Dan is single, having divorced years before from his waitress wife, and his adult son lives out of state and has a new baby of his own. I looked at Dan’s face which is the same face of my dad, and saw in his eyes the same fear I’d dealt with fourteen years earlier with a man that was at the time just ten years older than Dan is now. And I did what I always do. I took charge.

For the past few weeks Dan and I have been on the road back and forth to Iowa City. I cancelled clients and mediations,  rearranged and juggled calendars and other obligations.   I have become his medical overseer attending meetings with each specialist: internal medicine, otolaryngology, radiation, chemotherapy, neurology, and on and on. Meetings involve Dan describing symptoms and answering questions and his lawyer sister hunkering down with doctors to dissect medical terms and protocol. I take copious notes, ask intelligent questions, and then translate for Dan and field phone calls from my hysterical mother asking in anxiety and anguish “Is Dan going to die?!”

The hospital is a finely tuned machine and they identified the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes so they immediately mobilized for two surgeries: one on the lymph nodes and one on the tongue. Before they would treat the tongue cancer however they examined his teeth to be sure there was no risk of infection or other complications. Dan had not been to a dentist in at least 15 years and 7 teeth had to be extracted, gums had to be drilled down and periodontal disease eradicated. Surgery #1 would be complicated oral surgery.

Dan and I traveled to Iowa City the night before the oral surgery where I took him to the most expensive steakhouse in town. We ordered everything on the menu that required abundant chewing as a dental rite of passage; crunchy calamari appetizers, big juicy steaks, crispy salads, lobster tail and I savored a perfectly chilled gin martini. We talked and talked and laughed about our mutual upbringing and life travels. Dan kept saying, “This bill is going to be really expensive Sis are you sure you want to do this?” I felt ashamed that I often dine at fine restaurants and the bill would not be out of the ordinary for me on any given weekend.

Dan at restaurant

Why hadn’t I been closer to Dan all these years? Despite our stark differences in life choices and paths we share the one gift we both got from our father. We are both loving, kind, compassionate people with big hearts. And God specifically chose us to be siblings in his perfect design for our lives.

The next morning I took him for his oral surgery, dutifully wheeling him in the wheelchair as I had done for prior visits  during our intensive time there. The nurse took him inside and I sat waiting in the waiting room, returning client phone calls never letting on that their lawyer was handling their case while she sat in deep grief with strains of post traumatic stress, intermittently praying to the God she is connected to so deeply, while her brother began his cancer medical journey.

Some hours later I was called in to find Dan in his wheelchair with blood soaked gauze in his mouth, moaning softly. I am grateful that somehow I am made of “tough stock” and could calmly focus and mobilize. “In one hour take out the gauze, get him a milkshake and give him another pain pill. If you don’t get these pain pills on board it will be hell,” the nurse advised.

I wheeled him to the car, put him inside and buckled him down, silently praying for an angel escort and began the two hour drive to Des Moines with a moaning bleeding brother riding shotgun.

The drive from Iowa City is  uneventful with just a few reasonably populated towns along the way. I passed one decent sized city that I knew would be milkshake laden but glanced at my watch and it was only 40 minutes in. Because I am a “rule follower” I kept going, trusting that in 20 more minutes I would hit another town even though at that time I had lost all sense of direction and couldn’t even tell you where I was.

At the 60 minute mark I saw a mile marker with a miniscule sign that said “FOOD” and I pulled off the interstate to come upon a non-descript mini truck stop convenience store. Dan moaned as I told him I was going in for a milkshake and he was so delirious I’ m sure he didn’t hear me. I locked the car door and hurried inside, shaking mildly.

As I walked in, an overweight woman was uncannily walking right towards me with a big smile and her nametag displaying that she was Angie. Angie asked me, “Can I help you?” and immediately I burst into tears sobbing uncontrollably letting out all the stress and anxiety that I ‘d been holding in for weeks. Angie put her arms around me as I blubbered about my brother and spilled a stream of consciousness that was largely based on the theme “why can one person have so many things go wrong in his life when mine is so blessed?” a sort of survivor’s guilt manifesto.

“And I need a chocolate milkshake!”

Angie turned me around and low and behold there was a homemade milkshake machine like I have NEVER seen in a truckstop convenience store. She took me to the machine and began to mix the milkshake telling me that she had cared for an ill relative, that her kids came out perfect even though she was an inadequate mother and her sister’s kids were all deviants even though her sister was perfect.

“You and your brother are each other’s teachers. You don’t have to know what it’s all about while you are on this side. Just don’t miss it.”

I hugged her again tightly and didn’t want to let go. I wanted Angie to take me home and make me milkshakes and tell me all about the meaning of life instead of getting back in the car and driving to Des Moines for what would be the first leg of a lonely and dark road with my brother.

Angie took me to the counter where I paid and she reminded me to get some water for myself. “What is your name and your brother’s name?” she asked.

“I am Kim and he is Dan,” I said and she walked me to a secluded corner of the store passing a wide array of beef jerky sticks, chips and processed foods.

There, tucked away on a shelf, was a brightly decorated mini Christmas tree with many mini decorations. Angie pulled off a decoration that resembled a rectangle pill box and she wrote the name Dan and Kim on a sheet of paper tucking the names inside the pillbox and shutting it tightly. Then she showed me the front of the box. “Prayers” it said, and she put it back on the tree.

“Now go take care of your brother.”

I went to the car, found a delirious Dan, removed the bloody gauze and slopped the milkshake down his throat with a big fat pain pill hidden inside one of the gulps. I tried to quickly organize my space, clean up spilled blood and then I got in the car and drove home to begin the recovery before his next surgery.

The next surgeries are coming up and there will be many back and forths to the hospital for them, and the radiation and chemo after that. I wonder if I could find the truck stop convenience store if I looked for it. I wonder if it even exists, and if it does, if Angie is there. A part of me imagines if I found the place and asked for Angie they would say “there is no Angie that works here.”

And I promise you her name was Angie. It’s short for Angel. God reminded me that He has this handled, and that I am not alone.

chocolate-milkshake

 

 

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