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What Matters Most...

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles. It empties today of its strength.

-Corrie Ten Boom

My father was recently diagnosed with end-stage abdominal cancer.

But that’s not what this blog is about.

There are a few things you should know about my dad. At 84, he moved 1000 miles away after my mom died, to start a new chapter of his life in the Florida sunshine. An Army veteran, paraplegic, and living on his own, 6 states and 1 district away from family and lifelong friends, my dad is charming, funny, stubborn and strong. There's nothing this man can't jerry-rig. He’s been holding it all together with crazy glue, zip ties, and duct tape (a lot of duct tape) for 4 years. Not the way I would, but living happily and independently. On his own terms.

I have spent the last 2 weeks talking non-stop with oncologists, nurses, and ultimately, hospice. I drop the call with my brother or the family friend to pick up the call from the private nursing coordinator. I squeeze in a business call between meetings with case workers, and chaplains, estate planners and the revolving stream of 24/7 caregivers. I put my work and life on hold to make the flight and rental car reservations, schedule the deliveries, type up medication spreadsheets and write post-it notes for his caregivers. I do all of this, gladly.

As a highly trained problem-solver, I am fighting hard to fix things. To schedule, coordinate, plan, anticipate, make it better, to control the situation. And here’s the conclusion I’ve come to:

I can’t.

So, in this uncontrollable situation, I’m reminded again to Do what I Know:

1. Focus on what I can control.

All progress starts with that first, intentional step. Taking steps we can control helps us regain that sense of equilibrium, even in an uncontrollable, uncertain situation.

  • I can’t control my dad’s health prognosis. But I can control hiring the best care to keep him comfortable.

  • I can’t control what his caregivers are feeding him or how they’re arranging his blankets from 1000 miles away. But I can communicate regularly and trust them to do their jobs with competence and compassion.

  • I can’t control how much time my dad has left, but I can control and embrace the time that I have with him.

2. Focus on Who over How.

As I spin over all of the overwhelming “How the heck am I going to do this?” moments, it helps to shift from “How” to “Who.” There are times in our lives when we need to graciously accept the help people want to give us. We don’t have to go it alone.

  • Who are my resources? Who can help?

  • Who has been through this experience before that I can learn from?

  • Who can I lean on, not just for logistical and medical care, but for empathy and comfort?

  • Who can take on some of the tasks, to free up some emotional bandwidth and also allow me more time to…

3. Focus on what really matters.

Because, at the end of the day, the details and logistics will all work out. No matter what obstacles are before us, the pieces of the puzzle will come together - as they always do. The whirlwind of activities and coordination and planning - that’s not what we remember.

In my case, what really matters is savoring this time with my dad. So here’s what I can do:

  • I can bring hot wings and BBQ spareribs and all the foods he’s not supposed to eat

  • I can rub his feet on a Monday afternoon while we watch Bonanza and Gunsmoke and all of the other wonderful-terrible old westerns that he adores

  • I can bring popsicles and his favorite strawberry smoothies and sip my skim latte while we look through photos and reminisce about his childhood, where he spent days at French Creek, with only a bathing suit and a knife tucked into his waistband

  • I can walk, then trot, then run to keep up with him as he hits full throttle and races me on his mobility scooter, the sun warm on our shoulders and faces, breathing the fresh, blue-sky, spring air around us

  • I can remind him of all of the things we love about him, like the time he saved our beloved summer cottage after the 100 foot tall oak crashed into the roof. Or the time he held me quietly on his lap while I cried for hours into his shirt when I was five, after I’d had my tonsils out. I can remind him that he always made me feel safe, strong, smart and cherished

  • And I can let him know that he taught me about what it truly means to be brave. And how to navigate an unfairly difficult road- like losing your ability to walk and move about the world -not with complaint, but with strength and dignity and grace

  • I can take one step at a time, and refuse to let those obstacles and challenges stack up high and heavy, robbing me from focusing on what matters most

And I can embrace every moment we have together, and be forever grateful for knowing and loving

Jack Douglass Denny, the human being who is, and will always be, my father.

That’s what matters most.

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363 views6 comments


I'm behind on emails and just reading this with tears in my eyes. So beautiful.

There is a phrase in tech called "good enough" which I used to despise. The concept is not to let perfect be the enemy of good. When I reflect of this term in context of the life events that you're going through, I feel very differently, and am more understanding of the concept. There are limits to what we can do no matter our desire to make things as perfect as possible. Accepting our limits is the hard part. You're a good daughter and a lovely person.

Susan Hall
Susan Hall
Aug 03, 2023
Replying to

Thank you, Sandy. I feel the same about you. If we are lucky enough to live long enough and love enough people, we will have "rocks" to deal with. I'm learning to see the grace in the gray.


Savvy advice Susan! Sending love as you navigate the challenges ahead with compassion and grace as you focus on what matters MOST. May the sun continue to warm your shoulders and heart💛

Susan Hall
Susan Hall
Aug 03, 2023
Replying to

Thank you Sarah. We all need a reminder sometimes!


Unknown member
May 30, 2023


Susan Hall
Susan Hall
Aug 03, 2023
Replying to

Right back at you Tori! ❤️


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