That was my reaction as I scanned the dining room at the Assisted Living facility into which my 93-year-old mother just moved. Not because it isn’t a terrific facility. It’s one of the nicest I have ever seen, visited or heard about, with a wonderful and genuinely caring staff. No, it’s not that at all. It wasn’t weariness, either, although it did follow on the heels of a draining four-day transition, including a crushing array of painful and tedious sorting, organizing, shopping and hauling to massively downsize and, sadly, to discard even more memorabilia from a rich life of living.
This article was originally intended as my holiday message to you. It was published in the December 26 electronic edition of the North Bay Business Journal, but published in the print edition on January 9. Its spirit, however, is eternal.
Not all of it mind you. Two big boxes of family history are headed my way, as I’m the last stop for any chance to digitize and preserve almost a century of living so it can be shared throughout the widespread family. All of the forthcoming scanning and cataloging will be a dose of dullsville … invited and welcome, yes … but infinitely time-consuming nonetheless.
It includes hundreds … more likely, thousands … of photographs, yearbook pages, commencement programs, newspaper articles, announcements and the collective minutiae that memorialize a life, two lives really. My father, who passed away 10 years ago … as one who never let a piece of paper slip through his hands … successfully squirreled away records and magazines from as far back as the 1940s and 1950s that escaped our notice in the decade-earlier downsizing round.
You might figure that the tears are sentimental or nostalgic. I wish it were that simple.
Part of it is the pronounced recognition that your parent(s) won’t be here forever and there’s nothing you can do about it … even though that’s not exactly a news flash. Father Time will collect his fares with no regard whatever for our undying love and devotion for his passengers. Another part of it … and each of these recognitions becomes progressively more heartbreaking … is that their declining faculties are immutable and there is no soothing intervention other than our love and care.
It’s also the agonizing reflection that our parents are just not as intertwined into our daily lives as much as they once were. They’ve done their job. They ushered us into an independent life of our own choosing, but in the process, like the images in an old photograph, they begin to fade as time passes on. By divine plan, I suppose, they play a smaller role in our lives, perhaps to make it easier to adjust to their absence as life continues to turn the dial. In my case, it’s exacerbated by 2,300 miles and an ailing brother whose nearby help is unavailable.
As with many of our problems, we’re pretty good at guiding them to the back of the bus so we don’t have to look at them too closely. It’s not that we don’t HAVE the time … we don’t MAKE the time. Some do, and I freely admit I’m working to do even better myself. But here’s the thing. Our turn is coming. Make no mistake. It’s inevitable, and we can only hope and pray that our children will emulate the example we’ve set when our turn comes.
What does this have to do with building a business? Nothing … and everything. Nothing because our business is supposed to be about creating a sustainable and successful commercial enterprise … and everything because our economic success is closely interwoven with the lives of those around us. If our families are the centerpiece of our lives, and we delight in the love and fellowship they bring, then those same core beliefs and principles must also be embedded in the cultural values that drive our business.
I hope you’ll accept this personal essay as a gentle reminder fit for this holiday season. Don’t let your frenetic social pace, the taste of sweet champagne get in the way of the company of close friends and family that will enrich, and give your life meaning … for all days. Be proactive, reach out to them … nurture those timeless and meaningful relationships that are the foundation of our lives. Whatever you do, don’t forget the precious members of previous generations, near or far, that placed the stones in the path that got you here. Your business, too, will be stronger for the value you invest in your relationships with your partners, colleagues and employees.
As I was leaving to return home, I spoke briefly with a woman clinging to her walker as we rode on the elevator together. She has known my Mom for many years but as she got off the elevator, she turned to me and said gently over her shoulder:
“Thanks for coming to visit. We sure always need it.”
This article was published in the December 26, 2011 edition of the North Bay Business Journal, a publication of the New York Times, and a weekly business newspaper which I have served as a regular columnist for over four years. The Business Journal covers the North Bay area of San Francisco – from the Golden Gate bridge north, including the Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa counties. The electronic version of this article, as published by the North Bay Business Journal, may be found here.
Lary Kirchenbauer is the president of Exkalibur Advisors, providing practical business strategies for family and other privately owned businesses in the middle market. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses in the wine and other industries, and hosts the Exkalibur Leadership Forum for leaders of middle market companies in the North Bay. Please visit Exkalibur.com for a library of valuable resources, articles and insights or connect on Twitter, LinkedIN or the Exkalibur fan page on Facebook.