Seven years ago today, I lost my hero, Grandpa McGee.
In the last year or so of his life, he struggled with dementia. He was very ashamed and embarrassed of it, I could tell, because in moments of clarity he knew he "lost time" and I could tell that he tried hiding it from anyone outside of me, Dad and Grandma. I'd often see him staring out the living room bay window, sometimes searching for peace and sometimes praying for help. It broke my heart. He no longer knew who I was, but I treated him with dignity and respect and I never corrected him when he was mistaken about something. (That's the trick when working with someone with dementia.) As a result, he knew he could trust me and he felt safe.
But living with him got hard. As he declined, so did I. I knew he was slipping away and after enough conversations with him, I knew he'd pass within months. It was very hard for me to watch and witness first hand. I had never lost a loved one that I was this close to. Seeing our relationship coming to an end and seeing his marriage coming to an end broke my heart into a thousand pieces. I had always dreamt of having a marriage like my grandparents'. They were such best friends and so deeply in love with each other even into their 65 years of marriage. I would sit on the couch in my apartment downstairs of their house and hear him like clockwork ask my grandmother every night at 9 PM about his life. Without skipping a beat, Grandma would tell him his whole life story to remind him who he was, who she was and what kind of life they built together.
Eventually, my family saw how badly it affected me and urged me to follow my dream to move out west because "there's nothing more you can do now." Once I made my decision to leave, it was only a matter of "when." I realized I couldn't wait much longer because my own mental health was suffering. So, I decided to have a talk with him to let him know of my plans.
The opportunity came when I saw him lying on the couch one day. He rarely lies on the couch. He always dressed properly for each day and sits in a chair by the window, in his recliner chair or on the couch. If, for any reason, he was tired or unwell, he would retreat to his bed. But on this day, I could tell he was really struggling.
When I approached him, I took one of Grandma's quilts to cover him and then I asked him what he was thinking about. He was afraid of dying and he was even more afraid that he wouldn't get into heaven. I assured him that while it's OK to have your own feelings, that it was still his choice whether or not to be afraid. So, he could also choose not to be afraid, too. I told him death was nothing he had to fear. I told him that in death, he would no longer be cold, be in pain or be struggling in any way, shape or form. I reassured him that we loved him and that we would miss him dearly, but that it also hurt us to see him in pain every day and to be struggling and unhappy. In fact, I actually told him it was time to let go. I actually had to tell him it was getting hard on Grandma to take care of him. While many of you might disagree with this, I know my grandfather. He is a strong Irish New Yorker. He respects people who give it to him straight and who treat him like a man, not a child. He would want to know if his wife was struggling at all. She was the love of his life and there is nothing he wouldn't do for her. After 90 years of living when he should have passed at least 10 times over the past few decades from one ailment after another, including cancer, there was nothing more his body could handle.
I also reassured him he was getting into heaven. I told him there were already so many people excited and waiting to greet him when he arrived. As proof, I named his closest relatives, like his mother and his brothers and I told him he would never be cold again. Instead, he'd be drinking Blue Ribbon beer again, betting on the horses and watching as many baseball games as he desired. I even told him I "made some calls" and that he's a "shoe-in." He seemed satisfied with that answer.
But what he was more afraid of was letting Grandma go. He worried about paying for the house and all her expenses. I reminded him that he was so smart, that he already paid off the house and the land. She would own the house and land and we would help her take care of it. My father is there weekly to act as "property manager." He could easily handle anything that needed maintenance or repair. In fact, he already was, so he knew I was telling the truth. I also promised that Dad and I would see to it that Grandma would be taken care of. Have we ever given him any indication that we wouldn't? No. He sees that we are there regularly to make sure she would have food, electricity and an ability to shop, go to church and get her hair done weekly, like clockwork. We would still maintain our family traditions for birthdays, holidays and any other special occasions.
Then, we made a deal. I said I'd go to the "other side" first (California). Once I was settled, I would call him to let him know it was then his turn.
I moved to San Diego in June 2012. He had one more bad fall in September and moved into a nursing home, where he began his decline. My family would visit him regularly, but sadly, they noticed how many of the other residents didn't get visitors like Grandpa did. That remark stuck with me.
It was a week before Thanksgiving of 2012 when I landed my first job in San Diego. My first call went to Grandma and she then told Grandpa, as promised. I had one last conversation with him on Thanksgiving, where he asked me to come home for one more visit. I told him I needed two weeks, but that I'm coming.
He passed away on December 1.
Four years later, Grandpa came to me in a dream. It was night time and we were in a big old boat of a car where he drove me up to Young's Field, a softball park in my hometown. There, Dad and my two brothers were waiting for us under the lights on the softball field. Before we got out of the car, Grandpa turned to me and said, "Coach, coach, coach!"
When we got out of the car, I directed him to first base. When I approached the pitching mound, my family asked what he said. I said, "I dunno. He said, 'Coach.' He's 90 years old, I'm not gonna let him coach third base. I'll do it. I send him to first." Then, I woke up.
THE BEGINNING OF ALOHA.
Three years later, in 2015, I felt an overwhelming need to "start something." I had been having visions, strange gut feelings and supernatural experiences for a long time now. That year I decided to embrace my inner Hawaiian girl (before DNA testing proved I indeed was) and to look up Hawaiian words. The first word I saw in my head was "aloha." It was then that I learned the real meaning of the word. I learned that aloha meant more than just "hello" as a greeting, it meant something deep and more significant to the people of Hawaii. It means embracing and embodying "love, kindness, compassion, peace, mercy and affection." That year, after all I was going through in my own personal and professional struggles, I embraced the philosophy of embracing the aloha spirit, but I didn't know what else to do with it. So, after work on most nights, I would just think about starting a non-profit organization in kindness and brain storm ideas.
ALOHA MANA EMPOWERMENT.
Then, after losing a job in August, I decided to look for my first project in aloha mana (mana means the "life-force or power of") in December 2015. I started volunteering as a fitness instructor at a senior living home closest to my house in honor of my grandfather.
About five months later, I was approached to interview for a career coaching job. It was then that I finally understood the dream! Even though I was their number one candidate for five weeks, they pulled the job offer at the last minute to give it to a returning employee. But it was this opportunity that made me realize my life purpose is to coach and empower people to help them reinvent themselves and to live their best lives, like me.
Within days, I first conceived a women empowerment fitness training program, called Bitch Squad Training . It was my second approach in spreading aloha. Even though the name was on the snarky side, the purpose of this group was to empower women ages 18-65 to rise about life's challenges (Life's a bitch, be a bigger bitch!) through outdoor high intensity interval training methods while offering motivational speaking. My talks were about helping women love themselves, believe in themselves and have more compassion for themselves in order to develop the courage and confidence needed to pursue their goals and dreams and achieve optimal health, happiness and success. (Be Bold, Brave and Bitchin'!)
In this time, I also accepted a paid part-time position as an activities assistant at the senior living community where I volunteered. Three months later I became a full-time director. I made it my mission to empower the elderly with love, kindness and compassion and to engage them in activities that mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially stimulated them in order to help them feel loved, feel like they mattered and live a life of purpose even in their last chapter. It worked!
Grandpa, thank you for continuing to teach and guide me with your wisdom even in your death. Now I understand dementia more and how much you suffered, but, most of all, I can see and feel how much you still love me. Thank you for this journey and for this divine purpose in service. This is the ultimate aloha mana.
Live, Love and Lead with Aloha!