Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Big Picture

Life is fragile.  We take it for granted, but shouldn't.

I visited my friend Larry today.  You may remember my earlier posts about Larry.  Last year, he unexpectedly had a stroke and heart attack while in his mid-40's.  Larry's fate struck me as tragic.  He is a nice guy who had a normal future ahead of him; now, it is gone.

Larry is paralyzed on the left side of his body.  Fortunately, the brain-damage we feared didn't occur and his mind is normal.  His body, however, will not recover more than it has so far.  He can't walk and can't do anything with his left arm which, sadly, was his dominant one.

In the months after his attack, Larry was seriously depressed.  He had to come to terms with the loss of his future.  He saw his inability to do all the normal activities of life.  Recently, Larry's attitude has changed, for the better.  He's now concentrating on the things he can do, the activities and joys of life still available to him.  The feeling of sunlight while basking outdoors on a beautiful day.  The unconditional love of his 12-year old dog.  The affection of friends.

Before his attack, Larry moved back to his childhood home to take care of his ailing father, Ralph.  Last week, Ralph died.  He was 82 and in poor health, but you never want to left go of your parents.  They are our signposts in life.

I did my best to cheer Larry up and we philosophized about The Big Picture.  I was glad to see Larry in better spirits than before and my visit seemed to help him.

Just yesterday, I myself was confronting these issues.  On a long walk, I reflected on my own life.  I was fortunate to have a happy childhood, in a loving family of four.  My family surrounded me with warmth and encouragement.  While I could quibble about aspects of my childhood, I won't; I've let those things go.

My mom died young (at my age, 54) and my younger brother died unexpectedly at 33.  My dad, who is also 82, has serious health issues.  I hope he lives forever but I know that's unrealistic.  Soon, I will be left alone, the only survivor of my family.  How strange that is.  How discomforting.  I am staring into the void of the universe, finding it cold and empty.

People often note, sometimes critically, how generous I am to my friends.  What they fail to see is my desire to create new family, to reproduce loving relationships I had early in life.  I may have lost my biological family but I haven't lost my desire for loving connection.

How about you?  What's your take on The Big Picture?

My parents, Ralph (Sr.) and Barbara Jo

My brother Richard


  1. Thanks for sharing this. My take on the big picture is that family is the most important thing in life. I feel that family can include friends and whoever we consider as family so I can relate to your treating your friends as family. The big picture for me is to have good values and appreciate every day we have because reality is many of us take things for granted and we never know when our last day could be. I often reflect about life and what matters to me as well. I feel that self-reflection and self-awareness are very important in life because without these we could end up leading a meaningless life without even being aware of that.


  2. I lost my dad when he was 55 (I was 29), in a year where I lost an uncle and both of my surviving grandparents. It made me realize how tenuous our time is here.

    I am far closer to my friends than my family (who are distant; it's just who we are), and consider my closest friends my family.

  3. I lost my father 8 years ago and still feel the loss. I suspect that when our parents are entirely gone that it does open up questions about our mortality we haven't considered before. Somehow, my children and grand-children take a bit of the edge of mortality off. I have a colleague in a situation similar to yours and he has basically made his coworkers his family...

  4. As someone with no children of her own, I am acutely aware of how friends can become closer than family. My beloved "nieces" are all daughters of close friends. My brother's children are almost strangers to me, unfortunately.

    My heart is gladdened by news that Larry is feeling better and enjoying his world more. All our happiness lies within, no matter our circumstances. Please give him a kind hello from an internet stranger :-)

  5. I can see a lot of you in your parents/brother.

    I am extremely blessed to have long-lived family members, I got to know most of my great-grandparents, my last one passing when I was in my late teens. However I have never been on the best of terms with my own family, but I do try. I adore my half brother, as I always have, and miss him terribly due to distance, but we still have a disconnect from years apart. My mother I have a good friendship with now, but lack the mother/daughter relationship that many have.

    I think you're quite right about making new family. I think my friendships are some of the strongest forces in my life, and I wouldn't trade them for the world. I feel a lot like Sheila explained, my closest friends are my family.

    I've lost two cats (one too young, the other quite elderly) in the past couple weeks, and while our pets are not human beings, they're still family. It's been hard facing death when I have not experienced it so close or so suddenly. I've had some quiet moments to grieve, but at the same time I have wanted to embrace life as fully as I can in the face of the loss.

  6. I really don't know if there is a Big Picture; while I'm a believer, I am not a "common" believer...I tend to follow my own ideas, even in religion. So when things like those happen (last year I lost my beloved granny, she was 90; it's not quite like losing a parent, but it was very painful, because I loved her so much) I'm not able to think that they must be part of a Plan, I just feel pain. Maybe I'm still a little immature...
    Anyway I think that when you have very close friends you see them like family, and there's nothing wrong about this, especially if you lost part of your beloved family.

  7. Hmmmm! I too, try and see the bigger picture. A picture in which we were mere species and not as "grand" as we are in our heads. I guess that's why my culture promotes letting go of attachment and sense of belonging from early on. Of course they preach it, but rarely anyone is able to implement it.

    I know already that I will be devastated whenever I have to face the reality of my parent not being super-humans who live forever. But till then I am going to enjoy while I have them. Thank you for this post!

    You are very strong and insightful. You do spread love and happiness around. I have been feeling it every since I got in touch with you in the virtual world :)

    ∞ © ∞

  8. I love that picture of your parents. I, too, see you in them. Your brother, too. I've been thinking of the bigger picture a lot lately, too. It's hard not to as you see your parents age. And as their siblings start passing. I've been lucky to have them for as long as I have. The ties that bind biological family is strong. But sometimes friends are just as good, perhaps even better. After all, you choose your friends. Isn't it odd how shared experience bonds folks who don't really like each other all that much?

  9. Wow Ally how very insightful.
    I honestly forget to look at the big picture sometimes.
    I have a rather small family and we are not close.
    My mom and brothers live in another country and my family are my 82 year old grandmother, my husband and my two dogs.
    I see uncles, aunts and cousins maybe 5 times a year and it seems like everyone is just living their own life. I have come to terms with that - or at least i think i have.
    Loss sometimes makes us put things into perspective, sadly its after it has happened.
    It's good to know that your friend has you around - some people can make all the difference. I think you are making a difference in his life-