Tag Archives: Christmas and holiday season

No deadline on thank you

All I had to do was stick a couple of magazines in some envelopes and affix mailing labels. I’m not sure why it took me a month to do it.

I could offer the typical excuses — deadlines, conflicting demands on my time. December, after all, is a busy month. But when I face it square on, I realize the only real thing in the way was me.

Sometimes I agonize over the simplest of tasks, convinced I won’t get it right. That propensity leads to a kind of mental paralysis. The more I worry, the more I procrastinate. And when things that matter don’t get done, I pile guilt on top of the worry. It’s such a needless cycle of wasted effort — one that many writers, I suspect, would find familiar. Fear of not writing the “perfect” thing blocks most of us from writing anything at all, even when it’s something as small as a thank-you note.

Paul Giblin (on the right) with Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Chad Brandau.

I wanted to send copies of our December 2011 magazine to Phoenix journalist Paul Giblin, who is currently working as a civilian employee with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan. Paul, a longtime Valley news reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote our lead feature article for the issue, sharing insights into the challenges of “Parenting from Afghanistan” while painting a vivid picture of what life is like in a war zone. I also had an envelope ready for Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Chad Brandau of Tucson, who was quoted in the story.

I looked at the two manilla envelopes daily, feeling completely inadequate. How could I thank these guys for sharing their deepest thoughts? And besides, it was the Christmas season. I should be sending gifts! It would be really lame to simply send the magazines.

Three days before Christmas I still hadn’t sent the magazines — though I’d emailed Paul to tell him they were coming. My husband was home from work that day and had offered to run some errands for me. He had other items to take to the post office. So I finally scribbled quick notes of thanks and stuffed a couple of magazines into each labeled envelope.

I had no idea how long it would take to get mail through to Afghanistan, but it was only a few days later when I received this email from Paul:

We received hard copies of the magazine here in Kabul. Thank you very much. Your editor’s column was especially kind.

Brandau went on R&R back to Tucson just before Christmas, but before he did, he carried a copy with him to show everyone he bumped into. I also posted the entire spread in an encased bulletin board outside the dining facility. You would be amazed at how many people stand out there in sub-freezing weather to read it. Lots of people nod their heads as they read. Also, people stop me or drop by my office to talk about it, particularly newly arrived folks. I hope it was received well by your regular audience too.

Thanks for the tough assignment Karen. Have great new year. - Paul

When life and work merge

When my father died in the summer of 1991, I was already immersed in grief, editing a story for that year’s August magazine by a mother who had lost her baby daughter to a congenital heart condition.

Our circumstances were vastly different; my father’s death, though premature at age 67, came at the end of a life.  Her daughter, who died before her second birthday, was just getting started. My father’s death was sudden and completely unexpected; the result of a malignancy he had told no one about. Her daughter’s death was long, slow and painful — a roller coaster ride of hope-inspiring surgeries and nauseating plunges into despair.

I remember reading her story over and over, awed by the juxtaposition of these two unrelated events in my life. I was consumed by my own grief, yet somehow found it comforting to read about hers. As she described her feelings I found affirmation for mine. And I understood what she had told me when she asked to write her story in the first place: She wanted others who were grieving to know “you’re not the only one who feels this way.”

This week, once again, life and work have merged.

Amid meals, hikes, visits with family members and numerous trips to the airport, I have been editing another story about loss: Phoenix writer Mary Ann Bashaw’s second installment in our 2011 series on “Finding Purpose in Grief.”

The series debuts this month with a story about Joanne Cacciatore, Ph.D., a grief counselor and founder of the Phoenix-based MISS Foundation, who lost her own baby daughter, Cheyenne, in 1994. The February article focuses on a new Valley program created to support parents who face the excruciating challenge of seeing a pregnancy through despite the knowledge that their child will not survive. The goal of the Comfort and Resource Enhancement (CARE) Program  is, according to Mary Ann’s story, to “reduce the family’s suffering through a loving and sensitive, but realistic, approach to this complex journey.”

As I was reading MaryAnn’s story early Wednesday morning, I received an email from my mom, who was sharing sad news from her husband’s side of the family. An eagerly anticipated great-grandchild was expected this Christmas season.  A routine medical exam was scheduled after the mother’s due date passed. When doctors could not find a heartbeat, a Cesarean surgery followed. A stillborn child, a beautiful baby boy, was delivered.