I Lost My Father To Covid-19: Why My Loss Is Different


March 14th, 2020, family and friends gathered for a small dinner to celebrate 50 years of marriage for my parents, Harold and Tomoko Lowe. Conversations and laughter were flowing, and the many smiles reflected the joy in the room and the pride and happiness my parents must have been feeling. It was everything my parents would want to celebrate their lives together- just a humble, happy group of friends and family gathered quietly to celebrate what they considered just another day/year in their lives.

Unbeknownst- this would be my last memory of my father.

My Mother (Oba) and Father (Ogi)- 50 Years!

The following Wednesday, I called home to tell my parents that I had come down with symptoms of the virus and was getting tested immediately. I would learn that my father had already become ill with flu-like symptoms two days earlier, and was ‘toughing it out’ as he always did. I would suffer dearly with my symptoms that night into Thursday as this virus took flu like chills and sweating to extremes. By the time Friday arrived, along with my results- it was no surprise to me that I was positive for Covid-19. That was March 20th- and I may have been the first identified case in my town. While the call with my results will be remembered, it will always be overshadowed by the next call I made to my parents.

Upon connecting with my mom and telling her of my positive results, I could sense in her voice that something else was worrying her. She informed me that my sister had just left to take my father to the hospital. I knew immediately that he had to be in bad shape to agree to go. He was coming up on 77 years, but he was strong, healthy, and as active as those 10 years younger.

Personally, my symptoms were already dissipating, except for a feeling of being exhausted. My mind and body continually urged me to lay down and nap. Morning, afternoon, or evening- I found myself wanting to stay in my bed. Saturday night, I asked my son to move a zero-gravity deck chair up to my bedroom, to the dismay of my wife, just to have a place to sit down rather than just lay in my bed. It was a move for me to defeat the urge to lay around and it was the decision that made the biggest change in my recovery mentally.

As the nurses updated us over the weekend, my father seemed to be stable and this carried over into the beginning of the week. He continued to struggle with his lungs and and breathing, but it was still a surprise to be awoken in the middle of the night (Thursday Morning) to learn that he needed to be intubated. Having followed the news of the virus, I had a deep fear of this happening and knew this was not good news in his battle.

My own battle had begun internally over the next week and a half, as life continued on. My mother began to show symptoms, needed to be admitted, and spent 2 days in the hospital. I was official recovered as my quarantine timeline came to an end. Inside, I was bottling my mixed emotions- sadness, anger, relief, and frustration- along with the personal challenges of suffering and recovery for my mother, my sister, and myself. We were all dealing with the virus while everyone else worried about changes to lifestyles and families throughout the NorthEast. My mind was bombarded with thoughts and worries of personal issues, family issues, the virus, lifestyle changes, economics, recovery, etc… and I had to accept that there was no way for me to see my father.

Part of the unprecedented changes in society were rules preventing anyone from visiting patients in the hospital which included my father. While I know that my father would rather limit visitors anyways in normal times, I also know that he would have wanted someone to be there. In his darkest hour, I was prevented from being there to simply hold his hand. In his darkest hour, I felt fortunate that my mother was recovering. In his darkest hour, I felt fortunate that I was recovering and my family remained symptom free. In his darkest hour- I was not there for him.

(In his darkest hours, I am thankful that the doctors and nurses took our place so he could have someone by his side. They became his family for the 19 days he was there and for this, I am eternally grateful.)

Ogi and Oba with their grandkids

My father’s darkest hours ended 13 days after being intubated, and upon hearing the words from my sister of his passing, my mind went blank. Nothing that can prepare you to hear that you have lost your father, and there I was, standing in front of my wife and kids, trying my best to tell them that ‘Ogi’ (Japanese for Grandfather) had passed away. I had kept my kids informed throughout this ordeal, but like myself, hearing these words came as a surprise and still hurt.

While I expected to continue to sob tears of sadness after my kids and wife were done hugging me, I didn’t. My dad was gone, yet I had no urge to emotionally explode. I had suffered with the updates from the hospital for over 2 weeks, yet I never saw him suffering. My dad was gone, yet I could only visualize seeing him healthy and celebrating 50 years of marriage. My sister had set up a video call through the nurses towards the end, however, I chose not to participate. I chose my last memory of him to be that of celebration, not of intubation. My dad was gone, yet I had no urge to emotionally explode, and I don’t know why.

I have cried multiple times thinking about him. I have cried watching Grey’s Anatomy (Binge watching with my daughter). I have cried at commercials. I have cried at night falling asleep. I have even cried for no reason. These only last a minute or two at most, but they are all in thought of my dad’s passing. These passing moments are recognized, yet I still have this void that has no closure.

My mother and sister have been quarantined with each other and had each other to lean on throughout this time and I am thankful for that. While I live only 5 miles away from them, it was as if I was in California. My mother was fearful to take any chances under quarantine with this virus even for a quick visit for a hug. A hug that I wanted, a hug that I needed. I know it was not a decision she made lightly, however, it is one that left me on the outside looking in- just as the virus kept me on the outside of my father’s death.

Understand that I know and recognize that all of my family was and is there for me. Physically, my wife and kids were there for hugs and talks anytime I needed. However, there is something about being isolated and away from my mother, my sister, my nieces and nephew, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins that leaves one empty. I had communicated and updated my Aunts, Uncles, and cousins throughout the time period, but we have not been able to gather and reflect on the life of my father- together. We utilized Zoom to provide some resemblance of a gathering, but the lack of physically being together is strikingly impactful. There is no one and nothing at fault for me to hate. The circumstances are all out of our control- and I hate that.

I lost my father to Covid-19; I am not sure that I will have closure; I don’t know if I ever will.

Until we meet again….

3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!


inclusion

3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!

As a teacher and parent, I find there are many opportunities to be open and honest with students. By doing so, you can build a solid level of trust from which you can build a solid relationship. Many educators are afraid to be truthful with students for fear that they will hurt the fragile self-esteem.  How can we tell students that success is getting up one more time than they have been knocked down- if they have never been knocked down? How is a child supposed to build self-esteem without ever having to hear negativity? You see, it is not that you provide negative feedback, but rather what you follow-up your statement with!

  1. “You are being LAZY”- I actually had a principal who hounded me for over 3 years to “be more diplomatic” when I spoke to students and parents. During this time, not a single complaint was ever brought to her attention, as it was only her issue with me. She even gave me a book to read “The Myth of Laziness” by Mel Levine. (I don’t think she thought I would read it.) After reading about half of the book, which brought out some good points, I found a paragraph where the author had contradicted himself, highlighted it, and returned it after the weekend. The premise for her was that LAZY was a label, and I should use the word unmotivated as they could become motivated. In being a good teacher, I gave it a try for 2 weeks, with which my students and a parent (during parent conferences) stopped me and said “You mean (I’m being) LAZY”? YES, that’s EXACTLY what I mean! You see, it was not that I was labeling anyone, but just being truthful. The students and parents understood this because I would similarly praise students when their work was Spectacular or Excellent! The statement allows every student to know what you mean with clarity, and as long as you are praising their positive efforts, you have every right and student’s understanding that their work is unmotivating. 😉
  2. “I am disappointed with you(r actions)”- This is an extremely powerful statement to make when you have a great relationship with your class. Throughout any school year, there are so many A-HA moments and times to recognize positive behaviors that students revel in the wave of positive feedback. Especially in elementary school, students attend with the objective to be the best student and impress their teachers. Just walk through the hallways on the first day of school if you don’t understand this. If you are meeting your students at their level, and forging a relationship built on each student giving their best effort to improve everyday, then this one phrase is all you need to hit home an important point. This phrase MUST be followed with a sincere conversation about what disappointed you, and what the student needs to do to recover. It requires a true love of the student to then say “I am PROUD of YOU”! When you get to this point, your students’ trust in you, and will be motivated to do their best everyday (except for those bad days that always come along)! There truly is nothing more motivating for kids today than to have someone who is truly PROUD of them!
  3. “It’s NOT good enough”-  Whether you are talking about grades, effort, or attitude, there is nothing wrong with letting your students know the truth.  The truth is what they want to hear. they may not like it, but they will respect you more if you speak it. This is for every student at their level of failure. If a student gets a 90, everyone’s first reaction is to praise, however, a 90 score should draw a “It’s NOT good enough” for your best students. Why should your top students expect anything less? Didn’t you promise to push each and every one of them to reach their full potential? If the A student is short of a 100% due to a lack of focus, you must let them know. If your C student gets a C+, you must let them know how PROUD you are of them, but you must also motivate by letting them know not to be satisfied. To push every student at their level to become better and push their potential should be the goal in every classroom. It is only then that you are truly teaching to every student to give an effort that is good enough!

In the end, it comes down to the students. We talk about differentiated instruction- but this is a myth. There should never be any talk about differentiated instruction as the foundation of the job is built on the premise of doing so. If you are truly differentiating, it should be in your efforts to reach your students each and every day! You can talk about providing different content to your students, but the content is not going to change broadly. You can, however, change the attitude of which each student approaches learning!

Dare to Dream? The Scariest Part of Being a Kid Today


“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Such a simple question to be followed up with a conversation with a child that could last for hours if you wanted it to. My mother tells me that I wanted to be a garbage man (maybe because she used to always tease me that Grouch from Sesame Street was my true father), an astronaut, an inventor, and a race car driver, but most of all, I wanted to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Personally, I remember having the dreams to be many different things, and the encouragement to become all of them……That is until around 8th Grade.

dream-1

It is clear to me that from 8th grade on, the thoughts and dreams about my future was systematically redirected by the adults around me. My dream world that allowed me to believe I could achieve anything had slowly transformed into a reality that told me I could only accomplish what others would limit me to. However, I was born with, or developed, a stubborn personality as a young child. It may have been from moving around so much as an Air Force Brat, or just simply a trait passed on from my parents. Either way, I have been called obnoxious, thick-headed, opinionated, and many other names, but it is a trait that has allowed me to accomplish many goals that adults told me I would never do. Dreaming to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed me to overcome my size and weight disadvantage to not only play in High School, but also to play and excel in two sports in College. When I look back, I was driven to succeed by these “Dream Killers”.

Being a kid today, I don’t know if I would have been as successful with adults telling me “You can’t”, more than “You can!”  It starts with teachers wanting to know “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and replying “Well, that’s a great dream to have, but the chances are slim, so what job do you want to do?” Even the coaches talk negatively about anyone’s future in athletics, “There are thousands of kids out there who are bigger, faster, and stronger than you.” Today, the difference is that these talks happen much earlier when these kids have no option but to believe the adults! We have become a society of dream killers, or fantasy supporters, for kids as young as 6, 5, or even 4- and both are extremely dangerous to the future of our youth.

The dream killers have evolved into opportune predators on young dreams. These adults no longer wait to kill the dreams of children, but rather suffocate the dream before it has a chance to even breathe. They come in many forms, with many different messages to kill the dreams:  Anything less than straight A’s is not good enough; You have to go to college to be successful; You will be lucky to play in high school; You can’t raise a family doing that. The fantasy supporters can afflict even more damage with their message of support. These are the adults who will encourage and support a young mind blindly. There are no mixed messages here, just one of full support constantly: You are the best!; You are going to be the next _______; Nobody is even close to being as good as you. The danger either way is that we are limiting our children by focusing their minds into our reality. By doing so, we limit the thoughts of imagination and creativity to whatever our vision is, which denies each child the given right to explore and choose to live life as they see fit.

Why have we become so focused on the adult future of our children rather than living in the moment with them? Why do adults feel the need to plan a future for kids that are 10-20 years away? How many of you knew what your passion would be at age 6? 10? Heck, even at 18? The danger I see is that we will have a generation full of regret and second guessing, and this is a dangerous state of mind. Our country has been built on strong-minded individuals who believe that passion and determination teamed up with great working habits will equal success. When we look at our leaders and innovative thinkers, we do not have minds that regret or second guess their decisions of the past. They understand that decisions and choices are made with details available at that time with the resolve that it is what is best at that time. Hindsight is 20/20 but it does not mean that we should relive our decisions. A generation that regrets and second guesses their present, because surrounding adults limited them in the past, will limit the success and advancement of, not only, their lives but the lives of those around them.

We must be careful to make sure we balance our encouragement of our children with a dose of reality. However, we must never limit their imagination, creativity, and dreams. Children have the world at their fingers, and many different paths to choose from. No matter how our lives are in the present and no matter how our past helped to shape who we are today, our dedication needs to be focused on supporting our kids to explore on their individual journey. On the path of life, we should never be the leader making decision ahead of them or the advisor that guides them, but rather the supporter following behind them who can advise when needed. To raise fierce leaders and innovators, we must allow our children to dream, and make mistakes so they may learn that success is simply about getting up one more time than you fall!

Feel free to Like, Share, or even Comment below!!

 

 

An Open Letter to My Son on World Autism Awareness Day


This letter was written by a friend, Jerry Turning, and posted to his FaceBook Page.  It is with his permission that I pass his words of wisdom on. On this day of World Autism Awareness, his words encompass a message needed for all sons.

 

An open letter to my son on World Autism Awareness Day:

Hi handsome. I’m not quite sure when you will read this, but there is so much I want to teach you, sometimes I get scared that I’ll forget some things or leave something out. So I decided to make a short list of some life lessons I want to teach you. They are in no particular order, but if you use them as a guide when life gets challenging, I think you’ll find your way:

Jerry T

1) You have Autism. That means you are special. You have been given an amazing gift to see the world differently than other people.

2) I spent a little while feeling sorry for you… for me… for us. I was wrong for that. You have made me a better person and you are absolutely perfect exactly how you are.

3) But that doesn’t mean you don’t face challenges. The world is not always as patient and understanding as we would like. I’ll do my best to change the world for you, but in the mean time you will have to learn to cope in this wacky world.

4) I will not allow you to use “Autism” as an excuse or a crutch. You are capable of anything.

5) Be open-minded. Learn to compromise.

6) But stand for something. Defend it ferociously.

7) Respect women. They are a more perfect creature than we are.

8) If you hurt someone… apologize (and mean it)

9) If someone hurts you… forgive (and mean it)

10) If you have to choose between popularity and loyalty… choose loyalty.

11) Trust… but only after they earn it.

12) Find something you love to do… get really good at it… and then convince somebody to pay you to do it.

13) One good friend beats 10,000 so-so friends.

14) Learn the difference ^^^^^

15) Be humble. Just when you think you have it all figured out, Life will teach you how wrong you are.

16) Talk to God.

17) Learn baseball. It is the perfect game.

18) Your Dad is just a man trying to figure it all out… just like you.

19) Your Dad will have your back… always.

20) You are your Dad’s hero.

Like, Share, Comment- and Spread the Word!

I had to Apologize to My Students- Their Reaction Left Me in Tears!


Page 1
Portion of a letter given to me from a student in a partner class after learning I was leaving. Truly humbling to learn you inspire students who are not even in your class.

Almost 2 years ago, due to circumstances in education, family, and life, I made a decision to leave teaching, to walk away from my classroom.  Two weeks prior, I had to endure the task of informing my students of my decision. It’s ironic how selfish one can be in a profession that is filled with the rewards of giving. My profession, for the first time in 15 years, started feeling like a job in the weeks leading up. I had lost focus, and with it, lost the love and passion from which I thrived. It had become all about me: the hatred building up inside of me, the decision I had to make, the failure I was going to be in my students eyes. I hated that society didn’t value my profession. I hated that the Federal and State governments tried to label my students as Proficient or Non-proficient. I hated that my performance was going to be judged based upon these tests. I hated that I was a data collecting machine. I hated Summative and Formative testing. I hated those who spoke of pedagogy and rigor. I hated that my district didn’t value technology. I hated that I was reprimanded for the tangle of electrical cords when my request for replacement batteries for laptops was denied. I hated that increasing contributions to my benefits package guaranteed a continued pay cut every year. I hated that a yearly pay cut meant I could not provide for my family and left me no choice. I hated having to make that decision. I hated that I had to look my students in the eye and tell them “I am sorry, I failed you as your teacher.” In my search to excuse my feelings of failure, I had lost sight of the only opinion that truly mattered. In those weeks, I truly did fail my students, but my students never failed me.

On that dreaded day of revelation, about 30 minutes into my tear filled explanation of my decision to leave the classroom, one of my students stopped me.  She stated through her own tears, “Why do you keep saying Sorry? You did nothing wrong.” She continued by clarifying in 3 minutes what I had tried to say in 30.  She informed all that putting my 3 kids ahead of them as students was nothing to apologize about. She proceeded to lecture the class and myself that even though we only had 2 more weeks together, we should be thankful for the last 4 months of being Mr. Lowe‘s class.  With the conviction of a true leader, she requested everyone to not discuss this anymore and make the most of our last 2 weeks together.  She ended by telling me that I was more than just a teacher to this class.  She believed in everything I said including forever being one of Mr. Lowe’s kids, and my being out of the classroom was not going to change that! There have been plenty of times students had to correct me and there have been plenty of times students have inspired me, but this was just the beginning of the most inspiring 2 weeks I had ever experienced. It is inspiring to see your students put into action everything that you preach about as a teacher especially when you had just dropped a bombshell on them. “Leave your troubles at the door.” “When you enter this classroom, you enter with a promise to always do your best, even when things are at their worst.” “Are you proud of your work?” Did I ever mention these were 4th Graders?

In a true moment of students teaching the teacher, I had become that lost student needing help, disengaged due to outside circumstances. The outpouring of support came, lesson after lesson. Parents and students, past and present, went out of their way to deliver messages of inspiration and encouragement. My students were right, I had nothing to be “Sorry” about. In fact, I was grateful. I loved every minute I spent in the classroom. I loved inspiring. I loved seeing the Ah Ha moment. I loved the laughing. I loved the dancing. I loved when they made fun of me. I loved the raw emotions of crying, fear and anxiety turn to happiness, courage, and hope. I loved seeing a C student get a C+. I loved seeing BFFs form from my choice in seating. I loved the hugs of excitement and sorrow. I loved to see confidence sprout from doubt. I loved saying “I’m proud of You.” I loved getting in trouble because I fought for my students. I loved working with parents. I loved being inspired by students. I loved seeing them present their work. I loved hearing them sing. I loved welcoming them in the morning. I loved being loud in the hallway with them. I loved the high fives. I loved the down lows. I loved the April Fools pranks. I loved the egg toss and the egg drop. I loved having International Day. I loved steps of improvement no matter how small. I loved the first day, last day, and all the days in between. Most of all, I loved my students, each and every one. I would like to end by telling each and every one “I thank you for being a part of my class, my family! You played an important part in making me the teacher I was, and the person I am today! For this, I will always love you!”