Avoiding Reality

A while ago, I went with my parents to an appointment with an estate planning attorney. We’ve been pushing them to get a new will and legal documents since they moved to Pennsylvania, but it never seemed to be a priority.

Over the last year, though, both of my parents have continued to struggle with health issues and it has only gotten worse. While their nest egg wasn’t substantial, they had specific wishes for what to do with their estate and it wasn’t enough to just tell me what they were.

As I sat in the lawyer’s office and listened to his questions, I thought about our plan. Or rather, our lack of a plan. The extent of our planning is adding beneficiaries to our accounts, which is a) not a plan and b) not enough. If either my wife or I pass away, the other can manage to keep things going. However, the elephant in the room is what happens when both of us are gone and, more importantly, what happens if that happens when my son is young or if he’s not able to be on his own.

A few years ago, I started to write a post by jotting down what was in my head:

  • I know he is going to get older.
  • I don’t want him to.
  • I want him to stay this age.
  • I want him to be able to stay with us.
  • I want to be able to take care of him.
  • I don’t want him to have to face the world.
  • I don’t want him to have to take care of himself.
  • I don’t want him to have that burden.
  • I don’t want him to fail at it and to have a hard life.
  • I have to set him up to do it himself.
  • I have to put in a safety net.
  • But I’m not going to be here forever.
  • I’d fail him if I pretended he wouldn’t get older, or didn’t do anything because I didn’t think he would get older or because I don’t want him to get older.

There is a lot to unpack there, but the thoughts and questions I had years ago are still relevant today. Each year, I’ve thought “this is is shaping up to be the year we get things under control.” However, each year ended with the same questions remaining unanswered.

Who will take care of him if he is still a minor? At one point, we had a plan there, but it’s been too long and so many years that the family who would have taken him is no longer viable.

How will he make a living? What if he isn’t able to work or generate an income? What if the only money he will have is what we can leave him? I make a good living, but there are a lot of expenses that come with any medical condition, both normal living and trying to have a good life, medical expenses, educational expenses, and other things that chip away at the nest egg.

Facing these concerns and answering these questions is the only way we can realistically try to secure the future we want for our son. But being realistic means accepting and facing reality, which is not a trait I am always known for, especially when it comes to my son’s future. There is always a reason to put it off. There is always “one more thing” we want to do to get everything in order before we talk to someone. The result is another year without a plan, which is such a disservice to him.

It’s time to do different.


It’s a new year.

In video games, after you make progress or achieve an accomplishment, you save your game and create a checkpoint. It’s a snapshot of the way things are at that moment. That way, if anything happens after that point, you can always revert to the checkpoint. Everything before the checkpoint already happened and can’t be undone, but anything that happens after the checkpoint becomes volatile until the next checkpoint is created.

There were so many changes and developments for our family last year. We started last year by adding my son’s service dog to our family. After almost 20 years with the same company, I decided to leave and take a different job at a new company. After 7 years of struggling with the school system, we found a school that is a better fit for my son. Because of that, after 7 years of living in the city of Philadelphia, we also moved to the suburbs.

Most of last year was about those changes, and for most of the year, they felt like changes in transition rather than an end state. As we came upon the new year, I wanted to shift that mindset from “in transition” to “this is the way things are.” I wanted to create a checkpoint that solidified those changes in a way that allowed us to look forward and build new things on top of the old and create new experiences from that point in time.

Of course, the checkpoint includes the both the good and the bad, and last year wasn’t all good. It never is. My son still has epilepsy. We are still very much in the middle of a pandemic. The planet and its people are continuing to degrade. We continue to make choices that hurt each other because we’re too selfish or ignorant or malicious. We still need to be right. We still need to be justified. We still need to win. Or maybe we’re just too hurt ourselves. People are messy.

That pain is part of this checkpoint, too. Some of it is harder to leave behind and accept as “facts from the past” because it seems determined to infect this year, too, and influence the volatile nature of the present and future. As much as the hope is to leave the hurt and the actions and the trauma in the past, it’s hard to ignore their echoes that exist in the present.

A checkpoint also means you can’t go back. You move forward. You can do things differently from that point on, but you can’t go back and undo what has already been done. That’s the risk of creating one. But in life, we can’t go back. Wishing we could go back and do it differently or make different choices is focusing in the wrong direction and prevents us from accepting what is and focusing our attention on the only direction we can actually influence.

Forward is where we have choice. Forward is where there is possibility. Forward is where there is a chance to heal. Forward is where there is intention. Forward is where there is hope.

It’s not a matter of letting go – you would if you could. Instead of “Let it go,” we should probably say “Let it be”.

John Kabat-Zinn

The Long Plateau

We are standing on a plateau.

For the past few years, my son’s condition has remained the same. He still seizes almost every day. He’s still on a handful of medication multiple times a day and the ketogenic diet. He still struggles in school and navigating relationships with his peers.

I should be grateful that he hasn’t gotten worse.

The beginning of our journey with epilepsy was the equivalent to falling off a cliff. We went from a normal childhood to fighting for his life in the matter of months. We went from school and friends to hospitals and doctors and nurses and therapists. We went from playing hockey to being toxic on medication and needing to be carried to the bathroom. Back then, I would have longed for things to stay the same.

Once he was stabilized, we spent the next few years trying to rebuild what he’d lost. Progress was agonizingly slow, especially as we discovered more pieces of him that could not be rebuilt. We stumbled every time we pretended that things were ever going to be like they were before. While we were no longer falling, the slope of ascent was so gradual that it was hard to tell if anything was getting better.

Eventually, some things did get better. There were fewer seizures, confined mostly to the early morning. He graduated from a handful of therapies. He stepped foot in school again. Some things did get better, but not back to where he was before that first seizure. And not any further.

Are we really plateauing or does it just feel that way? Are we doing everything we can to keep making progress or, like a person trying to lose weight, are we giving the appearance of doing everything but secretly skipping workouts or sneaking in extra calories? Or have we truly reached our limit of progress?

Years ago, when the direction of my son’s condition turned around, every day probably felt this way. I wondered whether things were as good as they would get, much like I’m doing now. I wondered if we were doing everything we could and whether we we doing everything right. I looked for someone to blame rather than accepting the reality of the situation. Because it’s impossible to believe that, no matter what you do, things will never be what you though they were going to be.

The longer things stay the same, the more I forget how far we’ve come. The more that “this is it” feeling takes over. The longer I sit in that feeling, the harder it is to hold on to hope for better.

And this plateau feels so long.