Tick, tick, tick. “Do I cut the red wire or the blue one?”
Which wire do you cut? Now, maybe you are not in a movie where you need to decide which wire to cut to defuse the bomb, but when was the last time you had a situation in which you had no idea what to do? You had two choices, and the wrong choice could be devastating for you or someone else. The right choice could help.
OK, I admit sometimes I’m a little dramatic, but once in a while the fear is real. I’ve come to accept that on occasion I can be socially awkward. I can handle that when it affects only me. When it affects others, however, I can have a tough time making a choice. This was one of those times. My nephews’ favorite uncle was on his deathbed. It was just a matter of when.
Andy, their uncle, was a remarkable man. He had a huge heart and an amazing sense of humor. A retired corrections officer, Andy gave his time to a retreat for terminally ill children, Camp Sunshine. He always brightened everyone’s day and always made me laugh.
Andy was diagnosed with brain cancer, and I was told he was going downhill quickly and was not going to make it. I wanted to do or say something. I wanted him to know I appreciated him. I, like most, wanted to do something to help. Anything. I called my sister to see if I could call or visit. She told me that he did not have the energy for that. What could I do? How do you brighten someone’s day who brightened yours every time you saw him?
I knew he loved humor. It was part of who he was. Then I remembered how my comedy mentor, Dave Fitzgerald, could make cancer patients, doctors, nurses, and family members all laugh about cancer. Dave had struggled through a battle with cancer and had a unique gift. I saw his gift and captured his story in a documentary. It was inspiring and funny, and he gave practical advice from a patient’s perspective. One of the powerful points Dave taught about was the fact that family members and friends of cancer patients are desperate to help but have no clue how to do that. Dave said one of the best things he did with his family was to come up with a list of things people could do to help him. He learned it from another survivor. Dave realized it didn’t matter what the task was, but it allowed people to do what they desperately needed to do, help.
Following that advice helped the patient and the family member. It could be as simple as asking them to pick up some groceries. It allowed them to help.
So, do I cut the red wire or the blue? Do I send this video to Andy, or would that be totally offensive to a dying man? I did not want to hurt, but would sending the video help or hurt? I did not know. Just because my intentions were good doesn’t mean that it would be taken that way. I prayed for two days.
Finally, I mailed the video. I hoped it would bring him a laugh or two. I didn’t even know if he would open it or if he could watch it. I also hoped it would not come across as offensive to him or his family. I had no idea. I also knew I would probably never find out, and I was okay with that.
Sadly, in April, Andy was invited to share his humor with the angels. I have no doubt he’s cracking them up right now. I traveled to Boston to support my sister, my nephews, and Andy’s family.
I got to the traditional Catholic wake early. Hugs, tears, and laughter filled the room. As I came to my feet after praying at the side of Andy’s casket, his daughter joyfully said to me, “Thank you so much for sending that video!” I did not expect to hear that. At that moment the video was the farthest thing from my mind. She excitedly told me that the video had stayed on Andy’s nightstand. The whole family had watched, but what grabbed my heart was when she said, “After he watched the video, for the first time, dad asked for help.” I got choked up, and the waterworks flowed. I could see the powerful effect that Dave’s message had on helping Andy’s family. I could read on their faces that somehow the answer to my prayers helped bring some small moments of relief to them when they needed it. Wow.
I could not have felt more joyful at that moment. It took quite a while for it all to sink in. When I reflected back, I learned another lesson more deeply than ever before. My friend Dave has been gone for over 19 years, but his message, humor, and perspective were timeless and helped a family almost two decades later. When I think back to my creating that documentary with no clue what I was doing, I’m a bit stunned. I just knew that Dave’s story and wisdom needed to be captured somehow, some way. It felt like it was put on my heart, and I just had to figure it out along the way. Now, more than ever, I was glad I had been so persistent back then.
Also while reflecting, I experienced firsthand the power of a product. Dave was deceased. How could he help someone almost two decades later? Simple. Dave’s message was captured and passed on. Capturing his wisdom by interviewing him was part of his legacy and mine.
We need to help other people through our own experiences and also help by telling other people’s stories. We are experts who wish to change the world. What are you waiting for? I captured Dave’s story before I even knew what my own story was. Life is short; so is your career. If I had waited until I knew how to create a documentary, Dave would have been gone. I’m thankful I learned through the process of doing it. Wanting to share his story with the world was what motivated me to figure it out and get through many obstacles along the way. What I learned through the process was gold. Quality product is your legacy.
As speakers, we do not get disability insurance. We don’t get workman’s comp. If we think that giving a speech is the only way to change the world, we will be missing out. We would not help as many people as we could. Andy, thank you for touching the lives of those kids at Camp Sunshine. Thank you for inspiring my nephews to do the same thing. Thank you to Andy’s daughter for telling me. I felt so much joy knowing I had done the right thing and had helped in some small way. Thank you, Dave Fitzgerald, for failing until you figured out how to make your cancer journey funny and inspiring.
Now, it’s our turn. What can you capture? What can we do?