Find What Really Matters To You And Have A Meaningful Life

July 26, 2010 by  
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I must ask you again to indulge my story telling ways as I go around the world to make my point.

Saturday night I watched Valkyrie with Tom Cruise.  The film tells the story of the last attempt by German officials to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

It is not a great film but the real story is; men who saw wrong and risk their own lives to make it right.

I often talk and think about what gives meaning to our lives.  These German soldiers, Nelson Mandela, and many others throughout history, show us in a clear way what it is to believe in something so much that they are willing to lay down their lives for it.  But having meaning in life doesn’t have to involve life or death or big statements.  To most of us it means connecting to what is important and giving it its due respect.

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My Husband, My Guardian Angel

June 19, 2010 by  
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There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief… and unspeakable love.

~Washington Irving

To look into my husband’s eyes… I remember vividly, fifteen years ago, riding down the escalator in Albuquerque, knowing that I would soon be looking either into then again my husband’s eyes, or into the eyes of the man I divorced three years before. When I signed the papers to end our marriage I knew I was still in love with the man I had married. Our world had spiraled out of control and ended with neither of us knowing who we were anymore. In the three years of silence we both had focused within. Sifting through years of sadness from our childhood, we both resurfaced more grounded and at peace with life.

There are days I spend a lot of time looking at photos of my husband, looking deep into his eyes. My favorite photos are the ones I took of him.

One of his doctors’ compared my husband’s heart to a tire. There is only so much tread and when spinning normally, there is X years of life. But nothing had been successful at stopping my husband’s adrenaline from racing, which in turn was spinning his heart out of control. We were in the final laps of the race. A heart transplant before the tread ran out. His new heart didn’t come in time. Hospice came. At times there weren’t any words, just long looks into each other’s eyes knowing our time together was running out.

Today marks 18 months since I looked into his eyes… There are times a song will come on the radio and I find myself closing my eyes and remembering the very first time we two-stepped out together. We looked deep into each other’s soul and our hearts connected for the love of a lifetime… A man I fell in love with when I was 26 years old.

My husband. My Guardian Angel. Always.


When A House Is A Home

June 13, 2010 by  
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Yard pictures 012I’m sitting outside in my yard drinking a cup of coffee.  I look at the trees and see them dancing to the tune of a Sunday breeze. The sun, not wanting to impose, caresses the pink flowers standing guard behind my Buddha water fountain which offers the humming birds a place to quench their thirst.

I always refer to my house as my “Tara”.  In the classic film “Gone With The Wind” Scarlett O’Hara drew her strength from her plantation, Tara.  I’m sure, as it is with me, it wasn’t the structure of the house or its riches that made Scarlett endure anything and everything to save her house.  It was, as it is with me, because her house was her home.

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The Heart Of A Champion

April 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Inspiring People

Shannon Kelly’s heart condition almost killed her. Now she has a new hobby: competing in triathlons.

I remember being able to run a mile when I was 13 years old, but I started to slow down after that and I didn’t know why. I played tennis in high school, but when my coach wanted me to run a couple of laps around the track, I almost passed out. He would say, “Shannon’s got a good stroke, but she won’t run for the ball.” I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

When I was 18, my mom found out that she had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—an enlarged heart muscle. Her mother had died of the same thing at 47, and my mom was 42; she was really worried. Then the cardiologist tested my younger brother and me for the disease. He was fine, but I had it. He said I would probably need a transplant at some point.

Photographed by Andrew Brusso
“After my transplant, I thought, Now I can start my new life,” says Shannon Kelly, 39.

My mother’s condition deteriorated over the next few years, and I got a pacemaker at 21. It helped my heart beat better, but I still had trouble

My mom got a transplant when I was 24; it saved her life. But I wasn’t sick enough to qualify. After college, I became a website designer, married, and settled with my husband in Yonkers, New York. With each passing year, my disease got worse and our life got more constricted. By my mid-30s, I couldn’t make a bed without getting winded. I had to sleep propped up on pillows so I could breathe.

Then, in April 2006, I wound up back in the ICU with heart failure. My doctor said, “There’s nothing more I can do for you at this point. Your heart is dying.” He recommended me for a transplant. I was in such bad health that they put me at the top of the waiting list, but it can still take ages to find a match; some people never do. Luckily, I got the call within a month. The surgery took six hours, but as soon as I woke up, I could feel it—my new heart was so strong.

When I left the hospital, I could climb the eight flights of stairs in the unit without stopping. I decided I was really going to build up my strength. I started running on a treadmill at the gym and signed up for tennis lessons. I could finally run for the ball!

I wanted to push myself further. So in July 2008, I played tennis in the Transplant Games. Then the wife of one of my teammates told me about a women’s triathlon—a half-mile swim, followed by a 12-mile bike ride and a 2.1-mile run. The event was scheduled for a year later at Mount Snow, Vermont, and I thought, Let me see if I can work up to that.

Soon I was running three miles a day. I bought a bike and started swimming. And one morning last summer, I was standing by a lake with several dozen other women. They write your race number on your arm with a marker, and I had them add the words Thank you, donor family.

Once we jumped into the water, adrenaline took over. They’d assigned me a “swim angel” with a flotation device in case I had trouble, but I left her behind. The biking part was a killer, but the running seemed easy. I finished the race in the middle of the pack—number 93 out of 189—and it felt amazing.

I’ve signed up to do more triathlons this year, and I’ll be thinking about my donor each time. All I know about him is that he was 17 years old and that he and his family gave me a second chance at life. This heart is a tremendous gift, and it’s up to me to stay fit and take care of it.

For more stories like this one go to:


Being Familiar With The Angels

February 12, 2010 by  
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This journey through life is a winding path. We can’t see how many turns it will make before it ends. Until two years ago I felt thoroughly grounded on my path. I was living a life that was beyond my dreams. In 2003 I began a career in higher education. My husband retired after years of constant travel. While I was at work, he played golf. We helped each other balance. We were all things to each other. Our life together was more than I had ever imagined was possible.

Then the “T” word entered our vocabulary. Transplant. Someone needed to die for him to live. My husband needed a new heart.

The United Network for Organ Sharing, UNOS, offers transplant statistics in real time. There are currently 105,743 people waiting, 3,071 of them are waiting for a new heart. In 2008, 177 people became too sick to survive the surgery, 378 people died before a donor was found. One of those was my husband.

There are numerous resources of support honoring organ and tissue donors and their recipients. What about the loved ones of those who died, waiting for the gift of life?

I’ve often thought back to when my husband and I began our journey, living in a new condo that had a small fenced in area. I watched him transform that space into a peaceful retreat. Planting a miniature Japanese maple in the corner, he designed a brick patio with flowerbeds of small hybrid rose bushes outlining the fence.

Yesterday a friend said, “I put something in your office, but just know, it’s really not from me.” She told me about about seeing this plant and feeling like she was supposed to get it for me. But what if getting flowers this close to Valentine’s Day upset me? Not being able to put the thought out of her mind, she went back for the plant the next morning. I was touched. How sweet of her to think of me.

The plant from my friend yet as she prefaced, not really from her — a small hybrid rose bush.

Reflecting on the words of St. Francis de Sales…

Make yourself familiar with the angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you.


A Special Chance Meeting

January 30, 2010 by  
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Early this morning I was picked up by a friend to go on a hike.  I love hiking. Its great exercise plus I get to be outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty of Los Angeles.  For people that don’t know LA, this is a city with many mountains and hiking trails.  Sometimes, you can actually find yourself in spots where there are no people or buildings and the only sound you hear is the wind.

Forty five minutes into our hike I saw a woman running with her dog.  She was wearing a sports bra and pants which showed her Mercedes Benz scar (an inverted Y).  I know that scar.  It is the same my husband had after his liver transplant and it is the one when he was delirious from ammonia and steroids, he thought was the mark of a special type of warrior.

I felt an immediate kinship with the woman and asked if her scar was from her liver.  She said no.  It was from bowels and pancreas. I let my friend walk ahead of me and I kept pace with this woman who now was also walking.

I told her my husband had a liver transplant in 2006 and she asked how he was doing.  I told her he had passed away in August 2008 but not from the transplant but for the cancer which had returned with a vengeance in 2007.  She said she was sorry and I know she was.  I find there is a depth and honesty in people that have come near death or who are struggling to stay alive that leaves no room for superficiality.  I thanked her for her compassion.

She went on to tell me she had been in a coma for 5 days three weeks ago and out of the hospital only a week.  I tell her what my husband used to say about the Mercedes Benz scar; the mark of a warrior, of special people.  She smiles and tells me she feels she is one of those toys on springs inside a box, the harder she is pushed down the harder she springs back up.

At that moment she realized her dog was nowhere in sight and I realized I too had lost my friend.

We said goodbye and she went looking for her dog while I went looking for my friend who I find a few yards ahead of me.

Fifteen minutes later the woman runs with her dog past my friend and I and says to my friend, that I was a special person.  I thought for a second why she would feel that way before I realized for a short time I had shared with this woman compassion and understanding and I didn’t pity her, I just listened to her.  I had stopped her to say I understood and I honored her bravery.

The woman reminded me how lucky I am to be alive, healthy and to still have the possibility of experiencing many things.  She also reminded me of my husband’s strength of will and spirit.  He was having a nice meal with my nieces the day before he passed away from cancer complications.  She reminded me of all the people who every day struggle to stay alive and come to realize what is really important simply because life is precious.


Organ Donation, A Seriours Matter

August 19, 2009 by  
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I know organs and politics is a bit outside the scope of The Love Project but please indulge me today.

I just read about an article published in a Swedish newspaper saying that Israeli soldiers were removing organs from dead Palestinians.  I find this article outrageous.  It is based on the account of families whose loved ones died in battle with Israelis and I’m sorry for all the useless deaths.

But it seems that the Israeli army has a policy of conducting autopsies on Palestinians killed in battle.  I don’t really know the reason but it might be that the authorities want to make sure the killings are not executions.  But truthfully I don’t know.  But one thing I do know; autopsies result in scars. 

So this free lance journalist, Donald Bostrom, says in his piece ( that the Palestinians families told him their loved ones bodies came back with stitches (yeah?) and that proves organs are being removed.

I think Donald’s piece is meant to create a scandal to simply promote him.  All of a sudden this journalist that no one has ever heard of is making his name known. 

Anyway, moving past that, I’m going to broach a sensitive subject, that of organ transplant.  My husband got an additional 2 ½ years of life because we were able to get him a liver transplant.  But for that we had to move to Jacksonville Florida and wait till almost death was embracing him.  Many in his situation were not as lucky.

Today, August 19, 2009 there are 103,133 people waiting for an organ donation in the United States alone and unfortunately a high percentage of them will die without the chance for a second chance. 

But how many people die every day?  Do they need their organs?  Couldn’t the deaths offset the need for organs?

Let me tell you what my husband and I did in the 2 ½ years he got from his donor: we got married, we built a wine cellar (we were both passionate about wine), we re-did our garden, he got to see me produce a film I had fought so hard to make and we loved each other fully and completely. 

I wish people would donate the organs of their loved ones when they no longer need them. 

I wished we as a people would be more loving towards others in need.  I am signed up with the California organ donation and I also have it in my will, that every part of me that is still usable when I die should go to someone that could make good use of it.

I don’t think the Israeli army is contrabanding organs, but isn’t it time that we start thinking a little bit more about the people that are in need instead of the ones that are gone?  Let me know what you think.


My Little Dog

July 13, 2009 by  
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I got a dog six months after my husband had his liver transplant.  Both Chris and I were extremely allergic and so we could only have a purebred Poodle or a Portuguese Waterdog.

When I was visiting my parents in Brazil in December of 2006, I passed by a pet store with one of my nieces.  When we walked in a caramel toy Poodle was sitting in a box.

He was just so friendly and loving that I had to bring him back to the US.  Chris was waiting for me at the airport with all kinds of toys for the dog.  I had two dogs before but Chris had never had a pet.

Chris fell in love with the dog.  He couldn’t believe that this little animal was always ready to play and to love. He became so much part of our lives that we no longer travelled if we couldn’t bring the little dog with us.

When Chris’ cancer came back and we were making the first trip to Mayo Rochester, we took the little dog with us.  We told others that the reason we were taking him was because we didn’t know where and with whom to leave the dog with, but the truth was we needed him.  We needed to have this being, full of love and always playful, to help us through the first set of diagnosis and tears.

As the time went on and Chris got sicker, the little dog was his constant companion, always by him and loving him.  Having this little dog giving us so much love helped us to keep going.

It came a time when Chris was too sick and fragile to have him around and I had to make sure the little dog didn’t jump on Chris’ very swollen body. 

When Chris passed, my little dog became very attached to me.  When I laid in bed sometimes not wanting to get up, he laid next to me pulling my hands with his paw and demanding that I pet him.

These days whenever I feel blue I just need to spend sometime with my little dog, his antics bring a smile to my face almost immediately.  And what does he do for me?  He just loves me and I just love him.