How Can My Friends’ Worst Phone Call Ever Lead To Someone’s Best?

How Can My Friends’ Worst Phone Call Ever Lead To Someone’s Best?

Joy.

Today, I’m thinking about joy.

Joy, the name of the wife of good friend, Brian.

Joy, the emotion instantly drained from Brian’s heart when he received that phone call a couple weeks ago.

Maybe you’ve gotten one of those phone calls, Dear Reader.

One with the worst news possible.

While Brian was working out of town, Joy was involved in a single-car accident.

He was on the next plane back home, staying by Joy’s side for 10 days.

Stayed there until doctors said there was nothing they could do, explaining that it looked like his wife was there, but she wasn’t. Her brain had no activity. There was no Joy.

But there was something he could do that would change at least four lives.

Would he, could he, give permission to donate Joy’s organs?

What might seem like an obvious answer for you, wasn’t so easy for Brian.

Of everything they had discussed in their 20 years together, they had not gotten clear on organ donation.

“There’s a chance she wouldn’t have wanted to do this,” he shared with me.

She was also the woman who couldn’t turn away a rescue dog or cat.

Who couldn’t say no to that kind of life.

So, Brian said, “Yes,” choosing to make Joy the ultimate rescuer.

“They know for sure they had people waiting for her heart, pancreas, and kidneys,” he shared looking for some glimmer of meaning his tragedy.

“The phone call,” I said. “Maybe we can think about the phone call.”

“As awful as the phone call you got a couple weeks ago,” I offered. “Can we think about the phone call at least four families got this week?”

One with the best news possible.

I reached out to a wonderful family who knows both calls.

My neighbor’s niece, Camden, died in a car accident in 2000. “Her brain injuries were irreversible and we too had to decide whether to donate her organs or hold her when she took her last breath,” her mom, Maury, shared with me.  “We chose life. For others. We donated her organs.”

There’s another chapter to their story.

Eight years after the death of their daughter, Maury’s husband, George, was gravely ill, the one in need. It was as if losing his only daughter and slowly, literally broken his heart. Now, he was the one waiting for a heart transplant.

That’s when they received another midnight phone call, the one telling them there was a new heart for George.

This time the miracle was theirs.

“There’s nothing you can say that’s going to make this all right for Brian,” Maury counseled me. “With grief comes so much guilt and the ‘if only’ and ‘what if’s.’”

I know that.

I prefer for life to feel tied up with a neat little bow instead of the mess of tangled spaghetti it so often does.

Maybe you understand.

Maybe even in the mess, you, too can appreciate how much can change with a single phone call.

Maybe today, you, too, can think about Joy.

Find more stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

New Christmas China Sets The Table For Better Times Ahead

New Christmas China Sets The Table For Better Times Ahead

Sometimes you just can’t fake happy.

You’ve suffered a loss that’s just too big.

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A friend reminded me of that this week.

Got me thinking back to a time a few years back when my best lady friends were gathered around a dining room table celebrating my birthday.

As often happens, we each went around sharing updates on our lives.

“Taking a trip to France this summer,” Tricia beamed.

“New job is going great,” Kim shared.

Yeah, we’re a pretty upbeat bunch.

Admittedly, all the “up” can be a bit much.

Which leads me to Gracie and her turn.

“I’m bitter!” she announced bringing our positivity to an abrupt halt.

In truth, I think she scowled, “I’m #%(#$ bitter!” But I’ll clean the story up for purposes of sharing in this family newspaper.

“Henry got the Christmas China.”

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“Henry,” we knew was Gracie’s soon-to-be ex-husband. The cheating spouse who managed to break her heart and finances.

Talk about talent.

“The house, the 401K, the boat,” I was willing to let all of it go,” she shared. “But the Christmas China? The #(#*%* Christmas China? I loved those dishes!”

I had to go look up, “Spode Christmas China” to appreciate the beauty of the white plates with Christmas trees on the front. Apparently, this is a big thing to a lot of folks come holiday time. Certainly, was to Gracie.

Fast forward a few months, my friend, Dana, who was also at that party, but knows Gracie only casually through me, got a call from her mother who was working her way around an antique store in a small Tennessee town.

“Dana,” she said in her Southern drawl, “They have the most beautiful set of Spode Christmas China for a really great price. I thought you might like a set.”

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Dana’s heart lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Whatever you do, buy that China right away!” Dana told her mother.

It was April by the time that China made its way from Tennessee to Dana to Gracie.

First thing she did was set out the plates on the wobbly table in her small apartment.

“These are the most beautiful dishes I’ve ever seen,” Gracie squealed. “The pattern is even prettier than the dishes I lost and this set has more pieces!”

Don’t you know those dishes sat out on Gracie’s table for that entire year.

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“Because I can,” she exhaled.

I believe they were the first ray of sunshine in one of the darkest chapters of Gracie’s life. When she had to rebuild her life, her heart, her finances, her home.

I shared the story of the Christmas China the other day with a friend who is suffering a new loss.

She can’t fake happy right now.

But she loved Gracie’s story.

Gracie, who is now married to an awesome guy.

We raised a toast to friends who give us a moment to be bitter.

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Who call in small miracles to help us fill in our empty spaces.

To hope.

And of course, to Christmas China.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

Your Friend Picker–Three Lessons That Fine Tuned Mine

Your Friend Picker–Three Lessons That Fine Tuned Mine

“How do you pick your friends?”

What an awesome question I was thrilled to get recently from a certain young person in my life.

Let’s talk “The Picker.”

The one that selects the friends you choose to have in your life.

My own Picker has been shaped and modified for the better by three wonderful friends over the years.

Thank you, Gina, for explaining it all boils down to fruit.

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“Picking good friends is like walking through the produce aisles at the grocery store,” she told me. “There’s plenty that looks good at first glance, but you have to pick up each piece. Does it feel right? Smell good? Seem like it is a good thing to put in your body? Will they nourish you? Or bring you pain? There will be some friends that seem like a good choice at first, but upon closer inspection, you find they should be put back on the shelf and left behind.”

Thank you, Tricia, for teaching me that those good friends are the baseline for picking a good man.

The oh-so-wise, Tricia, on the far left, along with the equally wonderful friend and teacher, Lori, in the middle.
The oh-so-wise, Tricia, on the far left, along with the equally wonderful friend and teacher, Lori, in the middle.

“What kind of girlfriends do you have?” she once asked me.

“The best!” I declared, thinking the sweetest cherries and berries. Not a mushy apple in the bunch.

“Perfect. Now you should expect the same standards in a romantic relationship that you get from your girlfriends,” she spelled out.

This might sound like Obvious 101 to you, Dear Reader.

Me?

It was a big clonk over the head.

One that I wasn’t ready to hear until my 40’s.

I looked at the magnificent group of women friends who surrounded me and enriched my life. Then I looked at the stupidly long list of junk I’d accepted from various men over the years.   Things I wouldn’t have stuck around for with a female friend.

Not

A

Chance.

That rotten fruit would’ve been back on the shelf faster than you could say, “Squished banana.”

That one nugget changed my focus on the kind of man I was looking for.

Don’t give me too much credit.

It took Sandra to put on the final polish.

Been amazingly lucky to be friends with the wonderful SanDra since we were freshman roommates at Stanford.
Been amazingly lucky to be friends with the wonderful SanDra since we were freshman roommates at Stanford.

“You want to pick a ‘Hand Over Heart,’ kind of guy,” she counseled me after a big break up she was not-so-secretly happy to see come to pass.

“Hand over heart?”

“Yes,” she said. “The kind man who would lay down his life for you, who is such a good solid person that you find yourself actually putting your hand over your heart when you describe him.”

You can bet that Gina, Tricia, and Sandra were all there a couple of years ago when I married my Mr. SummerFest.

I caught a glimpse of Sandra as I walked down the aisle.

Yep, she had her hand over her heart.

“Good pickin’, my friend,” she said.

Talk about the ultimate fruit salad kind of day.

SanDra toasting us at our wedding. The "Dra" Seal of Approval--sought by brides the world over for their selection of groom. Granted to only a special few.
SanDra toasting us at our wedding. The “Dra” Seal of Approval–sought by brides the world over for their selection of groom. Granted to only a special few.

So there you have it, Young Friend.

That’s how I pick.

How about you, Reader Friend?

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

Four Reasons I’m Against Gay Marriage

Four Reasons I’m Against Gay Marriage

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-I’m against gay marriage, because to me, there is no such thing. It is simply, er, marriage.

-I’m against gay marriage, because I would never want to be married to a gay man. I imagine our love life wouldn’t be all that great. Oh, and I’m already married. To a straight man. A wonderful straight man. There’s that.

-I’m against the gay marriage ban. Oh, that’s it. That’s what I’m really against. Gay marriage bans, which of course, are only selective marriage bans. I live in one of the final four states to hold onto an all out marriage ban, which is a wonderful thing because that’s going to be one amazing party when it’s lifted. How boring to be in the 18th or 34th state.

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-The picture above says it all. There is only one man in this picture whom I would want to be married to. That hunky guy on my left. The rest of them? Not a chance. However, even though I don’t want to be married to them, doesn’t mean I’m not thrilled they are married to someone else.

There’s Roger & Mark, together 10 years. Married 2 years.

There’s Craig & Michael. Together 20 years. Married 10.

Craig & Michael actually introduced me to my husband and worked their magic to get him to ask me out. Thank goodness for friends who knew I wasn’t going to see my way out of 47-years of single-hood without some intervention. (Which answers the question single women across America have been asked, “How you ever going to find someone if you’re just hanging out with your gay boyfriends?”)

So let it be said, that my marriage is not threatened by these men being married to each other. It was created and inspired and now supported by them.

We love you guys. Thank you for being the kind of people who pour your energy into creating a new marriage rather than seeing it as an exclusive club where yours only counts if others don’t get to get in.

-Oh, the fourth reason I’m against gay marriage.

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My sister and her wife. Couple years ago, after being together 10 years, they went and eloped in Canada. Eloped! How can I support a marriage where I didn’t get to eat wedding cake?!  It’s all about the cake, right?  The part how they are the love of their lives, have created a loving wonderful family, support each other to the moon and back? Eh. Cake. I want cake.

Here’s hoping that other Kagan (Justice Elena—no relation, btw) and at least four other justices see the light when they hand down their historic decision later this year.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com
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My Husband Wants Me To Start Dating

My Husband Wants Me To Start Dating

My husband wants me to start dating.

Wait, it gets better.

He wants me to start dating women.

If this isn’t among his sweetest, most endearing qualities, I don’t know what is.

See, we’re not that wild, exciting swinging couple you might be imagining.

About as far from that as possible.

Look “Boring” up in the dictionary and there are our contented, smiling faces.

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The deal is Husband is worried about one of the greatest treasures of my life: my girlfriends.

Let me tell you, I have some amazing friends.

What I lacked for in a husband and kids all those years of being single, I certainly made up for in friends.

The local gang is unofficially known as, “The Pretty Ladies,” simply because we enjoy the pretty.

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Truth is, when we first started dating, Husband didn’t get all the Pretty Lady gatherings-birthdays, holidays, just because, and more.

“You meet your friends every Sunday morning to go for a run?”

“Yeah, it’s the greatest,” I smiled. “We run, we talk, and have coffee. It’s like our weekly golf game,” I said trying to talk in guy terms.

Thing is, as a single dad raising his daughter alone, my husband didn’t have time for things like golf. And I think he was kind of jealous of my time with my friends.

But a couple years into marriage. He gets it. Boy does he get it.

How my girlfriends energize and motivate me. How they make me happy. How they fill up an entirely different part of my heart than the huge chamber that’s reserved for him.

Husband is freaking out because two of my best friends, my running Pretty Ladies, are moving on.

One moved to Montana.

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One is getting ready to move to the beach full time.

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What do you do, Dear Reader, when your girlfriends move away?

If you’re me, you’re sad and trust that another great Pretty Lady is on her way to fill the void.

If you’re Husband, you freak out.

“We need to get you some new Pretty Ladies!” he declares on a daily basis.

And he’s looking everywhere.

I come back from an exercise class.

“Wow, that was a good workout,” I share.

“More importantly, did you see any potential new Pretty Ladies?” he asks desperate.

No matter where I go, the grocery store, walking the dog, carpool line, “Meet any PL candidates?” he wants to know.

I’m not worried because of all things I’m not good at, making friends is not one of them.

I keep my friends, too.

Still have that same bestie from the first day of kindergarten.

Weekly Sunday runs might not be the same, but we’ll run together when they come to visit.

I might try out coffee with some new friends or fit in an extra girls’ trip this year, just to stretch my Pretty Lady wings.

Whatever it takes to make Husband happy.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

When Divorce Means Losing Your Friend’s Spouse

When Divorce Means Losing Your Friend’s Spouse

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I got a divorce this week.

Thank goodness, no.

Not my husband and I.

I think he would agree that were going pretty darned strong as we cross into our third year of marriage.

Still, I got a divorce.

A friend of mine let me know she and her husband made their split official.

Signed the papers.

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Done.

Over.

And so I mean I got a divorce, Dear Reader, in the way I know you have, too.

In that divorce doesn’t just happen to the two people ending their marriage.

It happens to everyone in the couple’s world.

Everyone who loves them.

And I do love this couple.

I can’t and won’t lie.

I wouldn’t say that about all my friends’ husbands.

You know how it goes–“The Friend’s Husband Standard” goes—he makes her happy and I get my own time with her.  That’s about all I ask.

But every once in awhile a friend hits it out of the park.

Such was this case.

This was a husband I liked.

I liked them together.

And I loved their story.

When we gathered seven years ago to celebrate their marriage, there was such a joyous sense of “Of course! That’s why it had taken these two so long to find love, because they were destined for each other all along.”

There was a sense of love stories do come true, long before I could see my own unfolding.

In fact, I joked that the toaster that still sits on my kitchen counter was my first wedding present.

This couple received two identical toasters as wedding presents, so I bought one off of them.

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Boom. My first wedding present.

Just like I don’t know exactly what happens inside my fancy toaster, none of us really knows what’s really cooking in someone else’s relationship.

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So, perhaps, this divorce is for the best.

It’s not for me to say.

What is for me to say is the divorce is not theirs alone.

No divorce is.

Not if there are kids, which, it turns out in this case, there are not.

Not if you liked the guy.

Not if you liked them together.

You don’t get to ask me to love your person and then expect me to unlove them just because you guys can’t make the marriage thing work.

I share this divorce news with you, Dear Reader, because I know you’ve gotten one, too.

You’ve felt the loss.

Maybe the loss of your son-in-law who you like better than your own daughter.

Maybe the loss of a good friend.

Maybe just the loss of what was a good love story.

What to do with that?

I’m choosing to celebrate the love that was.

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Maybe it wasn’t meant to be here forever.

But it was here once.

I’m holding onto that as hope that my friend can find that again.

That they both can.

I’ll let go their marriage.

But I won’t let go love for both of them.

I won’t let go hope.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

How Great Friendship Comes Down To A Stack Of Pancakes

How Great Friendship Comes Down To A Stack Of Pancakes

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My friend called this week to explain something I’d never considered.

Great friendship comes down to a stack of pancakes.

Her sweet call was apparently prompted by a visit with another friend of hers.

A friend who has just filed for divorce.

“Being there for her reminded me how you were there for me,” my friend said in a voicemail that I know I will keep for a long time. “How years ago you were there for me during my divorce, how every Saturday for at least nine months, you faithfully came out to breakfast with me. By my count, that’s 36 pancakes. 36 pancakes that got me through a dark time. I just want to thank you again for everyone of those pancakes.”

This is where our versions of the same story diverge.

Sure, I remember those Saturday morning breakfasts.

Fluffy buttermilk pancakes, melting butter oozing down the sides, a pool of maple syrup for dipping, as I’m a pancake dipper, not drencher.

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I remember looking forward with great anticipation to that Saturday morning date, as well.

It’s just that I remember the story as my friend getting me through a tough time, not the other way around.

I remember being new in town and recently dumped by a long-term boyfriend who I had thought was The One.

Yeah, you remember him. You had one of those, too?

I remember it like this: I knew very few people in town. But at least every Saturday morning, there would be my friend’s laugh, her honesty, her friendship. And someone else’s tears.

Yes, some weeks, those could be some salty pancakes.

There’s also the small matter that my math for this story works out differently.

Truly, I think my friend remembers a Jenny Craig version.

36 pancakes?

One pancake per week?

That doesn’t compute with my “He dumped me who cares if I gain 10 lbs?” memory of the story.

Oh no, there was at least a short stack of pancakes served up each of those Saturdays.

At least.

Which makes mine a 108 pancake memory.

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I do believe I still have those fat jeans stuffed in the back of my closet to prove my point.

The important thing is, my friend proved hers.

That even though, all these years later, living 500 miles apart, both happily married to better men than those who broke are hearts, you never forget a true friend.

A real friend.

The kind my friend will now be to her girlfriend who is facing her challenges.

“We’re going to be eating a lot of pancakes,” she said as she wrapped up her voicemail. “And I just wanted you to know you’ll be sitting with us at that counter in spirit for every single bite.”

So, Dear Reader, this column is for you.

You, who has had a friend there for pancakes. Who can’t remember who was really helping whom through a dark time.

Thank God, for you.

For our friends.

For pancakes.

Now, would someone please pass the syrup?

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I would love to know who was there for your proverbial stack of pancakes?

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com.

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

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