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The World Is So Small

August 22, 2018 — 1 Comment

People send me messages on Facebook pretty frequently.

Usually, though, they don’t live on the street I grew-up on.

Let me explain.

The other day I received a message from Maurita. She explained how she and her husband, Kevin, just had a little boy, Colin, who was born with a different little left hand. In the days following Colin’s arrival, Kevin remembered that he had seen me speak two years ago. He works at a hospital under the same umbrella as the company I work for and I had done some events, one of which was in the city he works in. Small world, right?! So, they reached out to me for any insight I might be able to share with them. Since I knew he worked relatively close, I asked if they lived near Madison, WI, which is close to where I live. I thought maybe I could just visit them.

This is where things get fun.

“We are actually in Verona and would love to meet up!” she said.

Verona?? That’s where I live.

Not only that, she then tells me they live in the same neighborhood I grew-up in.

AND THE SAME STREET I GREW-UP ON. I tell her which house I lived in and she totally knows which one I mean.

So crazy!

We make plans for me to come over for a visit the next day.

It gets better.

The next evening I head over to their house and as I’m driving by the house I lived in all through middle and high school, I pull over right past it because I’m voice-to-texting my wife and need to concentrate. A lady pulls up beside me and I motion for her to go around. Instead, she rolls her window down and says, “I’m sorry! I thought you were someone else. Somebody is coming to pick-up my daughter. I live in this house.”

I laugh.

“That’s hilarious. Because I lived in this house for about ten years!”

Then I had to awkwardly explain that I wasn’t stalking her, but that I was going to visit with some new friends down the road. I think she believed me.

Then it was off to visit with my new friends!

Is this the cutest or what??

Colin was upset when I got there, but mom and dad knew exactly what to do. “Is it ok if we go sit on the patio? Colin loves the humidity for some reason,” Maurita told me. Sure enough, as soon as we got out there he calmed right down! So adorable.

We sat on the patio, Colin, mom and dad, and Maurita’s mom, and talked for a long time. We talked about their experience so far, situations we’ve both encountered and how to deal with them, I shared advice I’ve gleaned over the years…we literally laughed and cried together and it was fantastic.

One of the things that really got to me was when they shared their birth story with me. It was difficult. Colin’s difference didn’t show-up on their ultrasounds, so when he arrived the first thing they heard was, “What’s wrong with his hand??” I’m still stunned by that. The doctor then said, “I’m sorry,” but nothing further. The hospital took care of them, but gave them no information about why this might have happened, nor did they direct them to any resources to help them. Everything they knew and learned over the next six weeks came from the internet.

Just a reminder: It’s 2018.

It showed me that we still have a long way to go. The first response any parents should hear when their baby arrives should be POSITIVE. It lit a fire in me to go to somehow connect with hospitals to make sure this doesn’t happen again. To make sure they are trained and prepared for these circumstances and that they have answers and resources available immediately for the parents. I know a book they could give them that I think will help.

It was awesome to connect with my new friends and we had such a great time learning from each other. We’ll definitely be getting together again soon. These types of connections really are everything. If you know of other families near you who are affected by limb-differences in some way, take some time to get to know each other. Go to their house. Hangout at the park. Go to the zoo. There’s really nothing like being together and sharing stories and learning from each other.

So tiny!

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find out you have some other crazy connection that reminds you how small the world really is.

The other morning I saw MedFlight in the sky while I was driving to work.

It jogged my memory of when my dad was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery in July of 2014. Not because he had to be MedFlighted there, but because we got a special tour of the helicopter and landing pad on the roof of the hospital while he was recovering. He needed to get out of his room, so one of the RNs arranged the excursion. And of course he knew somebody who was part of the MedFlight team, too, so up we went.

It was pretty awesome. We were shown every nook and cranny, inside and out, and got to walk out on the helipad to look over the city.

helipad

The other morning, though, as I thought about it, other thoughts crept in. Did dad really think it was awesome to be up there on the roof in a wheelchair getting some fresh air? Or was he just acting like it so the rest of us would be ok? Was he struggling that far back with the perception of this new life he thought he’d entered? And then I started crying. Because I don’t know the answers to those questions and I never will.

About four months later – two years ago today – my dad committed suicide.

Life for the rest of us has moved on, but I still think about him a lot. I do believe he thought it was cool to be up there, too. I recall how desperately he wanted to be out of that god-damned recovery room. The morning they discharged him he called me and I could hear the relief in his quivering voice. “Ryan, they removed that damn thing from my arm and I just…I got all emotional. What the hell?” he confessed to me. I told him that was completely understandable; he’d been through a lot! Physically, emotionally, mentally…”feeling emotional” was an understatement as far as I was concerned. I’ll always treasure that moment we had.

I’m not sure if I’d say things are easier or better two years later, mostly just different.

I still get sad a lot and I’ll admit that sometimes I still get upset. Every time one of my kids has a birthday. Every gymnastics meet. My son Sam received his black belt in karate last weekend after working hard for more than four years and Papa wasn’t there to see it and to celebrate and to tell Sam how proud of him he is. That kills me. It kills me. And I know people mean well when they say things like, “Oh, he was there watching, too!” and “He IS so proud of Sam!” but the truth is, it’s not the same. It’s not the same at all. He should have been there smiling and clapping and shouting and cracking inappropriate jokes with me in the stands. He should have been there to shake Sam’s hand and give him a big hug and be in the picture pointing.

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My brother Joey got engaged last weekend, too. He NAILED the proposal. Had his friends hold homemade signs and play music at the Wisconsin Badger football game! Just perfect. Now, I’m not speaking for him because I know he handles this all in his own way, but for me…I’m devastated my dad isn’t here to congratulate Joe. I know he’d be proud of him. But, he won’t be at the wedding. And if they have kids, they’ll never meet him. It just sucks.

What’s so difficult about suicide is that the person is doing what they think is going to help everyone. My dad wasn’t trying to hurt us. He apologized and still did it. It was the only other solution he could come up with that made any sense…to him. In so doing, though, he left a hurt in everyone who loved him. And a lot of people loved him. That wasn’t his intention, but it was the result.

On a personal level, his not being here is hard because I’m learning so many things about myself that I want to talk to him about. My parents divorced when I was four and the fact of the matter is that both his presence and his absence in my life while I was young had a profound impact on who I am today.

Years ago a homeless friend of mine, Al, told me his story about his relationship with his dad. Al’s life crashed and burned because of his addiction to alcohol. One day he got a call that his dad was dying and he should come right away. Instead, he went on a week-long bender and never got to say goodbye to his dad, even though he had the chance. “If your dad is alive, talk to him. If there’s stuff you’re afraid to talk to him about, talk to him about it anyway,” he told me. I vowed I would and to a certain extent I did, but there’s so much more I know now that I want to talk to him about than I even knew back then. And trying to figure it out without him is hard.

So, what now?

Sure, there are times that are more difficult than others and grief still sits for spell, but by and large life goes on with only his memory now. Julie and I are both busy with the things we’re passionate about and the kids are probably busier than we are. We work, we relax, we do our best to focus on the future and the good things lying in wait for us there. It sucks that he won’t be here to see what happens next, but that’s the reality.

Dad, I miss you. I love you. That won’t ever change.

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, please get help immediately. Call 911, contact a counselor, contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline, call a friend…I know you might not believe it, but people love you and are there to help. There are other options.

If you’ve experienced loss, you probably already know this, but the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a wonderful resource to help us heal.

I need you to do two things right now:

  1. Think of the names of three people in your life that have made a positive impact on you.
  2. Tell them you appreciate them and why.

Text them. Call them. Write them. Email them. Visit them in person. I don’t care how you do it, I just need you to tell them and to do your best to make sure they understand the difference they’ve made in your life.

This is weighing on me heavily today.

A co-worker sent me a lovely email about a talk I gave a few weeks ago. She was so kind and encouraging and toward the end of her note she shared that she lost her father to lung cancer a little over a year ago. “He was very humbled by all of the people in his life that reached out to extend their concern and well wishes. He got choked up (which didn’t happen often) when he would say, ‘You never know the impact that you have on people,'” she said. “I was grateful that he was able to see that, as I think many people never do. It is really touching to know what an inspiration you have been to the world and I can understand why you, too, got choked up speaking about that.”

When she said that “many people never do,” I thought of my dad. I lost my dad to suicide at the end of 2014. Today I’m struggling with it more than I do most days. Shortly before he took his life, he was celebrated by hundreds of people who came to show their appreciation at a retirement event. He worked hard for his city, making it beautiful for 30+ years. He knew everybody. He was also a baseball coach for years and impacted boys who turned into young men who then waited in line for hours to pay their respects at his wake. The line at his wake was embarrassingly long. The number of people who came was overwhelming.

He wasn’t perfect, but he made a positive impact on so many lives and I hope he understood that to some degree.

Honestly, I’m still learning how to accept compliments, too. I frequently get messages thanking me for Different Is Awesome! and my talks and school visits and the website and I promise you every one of them makes me smile. Even so, I still struggle to embrace them, which I think happens to a lot of us. We’re insecure. We’re a little embarrassed, maybe. We deflect. We even forget the good notes and instead remember any negative ones we’ve received!

So, the challenge here is two-fold. First, make sure you’re actively thanking the people in your life who are affecting you in a positive way. Often. Chances are they need to hear it more than you know. Second, let’s learn how to embrace compliments and kindness appropriately. When you help others, feel the warmth and gratitude when they thank you. Remember that you are valuable and that it’s not arrogance to think so.

It’s the truth.

I like to smell good.

Which is kind of a win-win situation for me and whoever is near me, right?

The other day Andy sent me a message, saying, “I’ve got a question for you…. As my son (LBE) is getting older (he’s 10), he’s needing to start wearing deodorant. How do you apply deodorant to your armpit?”

First of all, I LOVE THAT I GET QUESTIONS LIKE THESE. For real.

Secondly…watch this video to see how I do it. Parents, you especially will enjoy this.

What about you? Have you discovered any tips or tricks that have worked for you? Certain brands or types of deodorant that work better than others? Share your experience in the comments below!

Our instinct as a parent is to protect our kids.

That’s a good thing.

Sometimes, though, we need to protect them by not protecting them.

See, we spend a lot of time teaching kids how to be polite to others who have differences and that’s super important, but parents of children with differences also have the task of equipping their child with the ability to handle what are oftentimes awkward and sometimes even hurtful situations. My friend Eric recently shared one of these somewhat awkward experiences that his son Sam had.

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Eric is one of my favorite people on planet Earth and I love that he shared this. It’s a universal experience for parents of a physically different child. Our instinct is to jump in, right? To protect our child by correcting the offender. Maybe teach the person a lesson. Or at least let our kid know we have her back. Mama bear, etc. And honestly, this is true for any kid, regardless of their limb configuration.

I remember having a talk with my dad about this once and what he told me made a lot of sense. He said that when I was little and I encountered a situation where another kid was being pushy or asking questions over and over or touching my arm without asking…he would keep his distance and just watch. He said it was almost unbearable at times, but, “I knew you were going to have to deal with this for your whole life, so I wanted you to learn how you best dealt with it.” Of course he would have stepped in if things got out of hand (so to speak), but he couldn’t remember ever having to do that. Sometimes he’d talk with me about what happened afterwards, just to see how I was doing, and I’m sure that helped to reinforce the skills I had just worked on.

I realize that telling people how to parent is basically like prancing into a mine field, so please take this for what it’s worth. I’ve seen and experienced the value in this approach first-hand, which is why I’m sharing it and I hope it challenges you and that you find it helpful, too. It’s not easy, I know, but in the long run I think it puts our kids at an advantage and makes them even stronger.

What do you think? Is this your approach, too? Have any other tips from your experience? Please share them below!

Some time back I connected with Joe from SleppSolutions.

Joe invented something that I think is pretty awesome.

This device is called Free Hand Fitness and Joe invented it so that folks with arthritis and/or hand and wrist issues could still get the physical benefits of doing push-ups, rows, planks and more! Joe isn’t personally affected by limb-difference, but saw that it could be useful for those of us who are, which is awesome. You can see Shaholly using it in the video above! The device itself is really well made using high quality materials; this thing is not going to break and looks like it’ll last forever!

Personally, I tried using the device many times and Joe went out of his way to try and get it to work for me, but I found that the vast difference in bicep circumference between my left and right arms was just too much to overcome. So, totally not the fault of the device itself. My left arm ends very shortly after the elbow, so I just don’t have much to work with there; less than Shaholly (above). I believe the device will work perfectly, though, for anybody whose forearms are similar in size.

Excited to try out my new #FreeHandFitness exercise system! Thanks, Joe! @sleppsolutions @shahol1 #adaptiveathlete

A photo posted by Ryan Haack (@livingonehanded) on

One of the challenges we have as adaptive athletes is maintaining some semblance of symmetry when we workout our upper-body. Free Hand Fitness helps tremendously in this area! Definitely check it out and see if you think it might work for you!

Joe has been kind enough to extend a discount to all my readers, too! If you enter LOH (in all-caps) at checkout, you’ll get $15 off!

Head over to Free Hand Fitness, take a look around and see if the device might help you meet your fitness goals today!

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What are your biggest fitness challenges?

My mother-in-law had shoulder surgery recently.

“Can I borrow one of your KNORKs?” she asked me afterwards.

Of course I said yes.

If you’re unfamiliar, KNORK makes amazing, high-quality silverware. You can read and see more specifics about their utensils here, but this guy is the piece that those of us with one hand (or the use of one hand) gravitate toward:

knork

Basically, the head of the fork is forged in such a way that it works like a knife, allowing you to cut and eat your food using only one utensil and one hand. Here’s a real life example from when we got our first KNORKs years ago:

That video is from 2013 and we’ve literally been using our KNORK flatware every day since. We still absolutely love it!

In fact, it’s on my Holiday Gift Guide, but you know who else loves it this year? Oprah. Oprah loves it and has placed it on her list of Favorite Things for 2015! So cool!

And now we get to the part I love.

This year’s giveaway is, in my opinion, THE BEST YET!

Sarah and the amazing folks at KNORK are graciously providing amazing prize packages for TWO lucky winners! So, what will you get if you win? You will get one 20-piece set (valued at $80) AND a set of their new steak knives (valued at $50)!

knork set knork steak

You have TONS of chances to win, too. Just use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter and share like a maniac for more chances to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You have ONE week to rack up as many entries as you can! Go nuts and good luck!

Eric Edholm’s recent blurb about Jason Pierre-Paul’s new football glove is just another example of why we need to keep having conversations about how words have power.

If you’re not a sports fan, Pierre-Paul is a defensive player for the New York Giants and over the summer he had an unfortunate accident with some fireworks resulting in the loss of his right index finger and damage to his thumb and the other fingers. Nobody was sure if he would recover well enough to even be able to play again, but the Giants recently cleared him to play and he will be wearing this modified glove on Sunday.

Now, let me be clear: I’m not personally offended by Edholm’s take. I can appreciate his use of the word “handiwork” and imagine he rightly smirked while writing it. He can say whatever he wants (and clearly has), but he’s also subject to critique and in this case, I think it’s warranted.

Edholm tells us how “creepy-looking” the glove is and that he’d buy one “for it’s sheer weirdness.” He says he can’t stop staring at it. “And if he needs this strange-looking glove to thrive, well then so be it,” he says, dismissively. He also refers to another player who was missing digits and wore a glove “on his good hand.”

Edholm clearly has no qualms with what he wrote, basically calling anybody who has a problem with it an idiot.

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And this is exactly the problem, as I see it.

I know countless people, including many friends, who use modified equipment because of how their body is shaped. Many of them were born that way. Others lost parts of their bodies in accidents or war. Do they look different? Than most people, absolutely. And as we all know, Different Is Awesome! So, would I ever describe them or the tools they use in their lives as creepy or strange-looking? Would I make jokes at their expense? Nope and nope.

The fact that Edholm finds this acceptable and is himself annoyed and offended that anyone would take umbrage with the words he used is precisely why we need to continue having conversations about how to treat others that are different than us with respect. It’s not about being “offended by everything.”. It’s about teaching people that the way we talk about others can and should be done respectfully.

And yes, Pierre-Paul did it to himself. But really, do you think he was trying to blow his fingers off? It was an accident. And as stupid as anyone might think it was for a millionaire athlete to be setting off fireworks, that doesn’t mean he deserves ridicule and disrespect. It doesn’t mean he automatically becomes fair game to be the butt of bad jokes. “But Ryan, he’s a strong, grown man. A football player, no less! He can take it,” you might be saying. I don’t think it’s our place to make that judgement. In fact, I have to think he felt more embarrassment and fear of this new life he has now to lead than any of us may ever have to face.

My point here is not to shame Edholm. It’s to try and illuminate the truth that our word choices matter, even if we think they aren’t a big deal. I’ve heard from enough parents of limb-different kids to know that other kids at school or on the playground use these exact words – creepy, weird, strange – to describe their sons and daughters.

As adults, we need to set a better example.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we need to think more carefully about the words we use? Or do you think we need to have thicker skin?

A year ago today I saw my dad alive for the last time.

I knew this day was coming and I’ve done my best to prepare, but I’m honestly still not sure how the day’s going to to go.

As with any loss, but especially suicide, there are things I wish I could have done differently a year ago. Like, I wish I would have visited again before he took his life a couple weeks later. Things I wish I would have noticed. Like how he chose to stay behind and make the pizzas instead of going door-to-door with the kids. But, I fully realize that wishing I could have done things differently doesn’t change how they actually went and it doesn’t help. I also know it’s natural to feel these things, though.

The truth is, everything that happened that Halloween day in 2014 was totally normal. We went over to Papa and Donna’s, the kids went door-to-door with Julie and Donna, Dad and I stayed back to make pizzas and handout candy, we took pictures and then we went home. Pretty much exactly the same as we’d done the past ten years.

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

For a while I was actually kind of mad about the fact that the last time my dad saw my kids, Claire was dressed like a hotdog and Sam was wearing a friggin’ green morph suit. Over time, though, I’ve come to think it’s pretty funny. That’s who they are. And I remember my dad thinking it was so funny. I also remember handing out candy while he was in the dining room and knowing the mom of the very first kid that came to the door. “You knew her??” he asked me. “Yeah, we used to work together,” I answered. “Of course you did,” he said with a chuckle.

It was a running joke with my dad and I, ever since I was little. Wherever we went, I knew somebody or they knew me. He’d give me grief about it and shake his head, but the irony is that he was the same way! My dad knew everybody and everybody knew him. So, really, it was an inherited trait. One I’m grateful for.

So, today we’re going to celebrate Halloween like we always have. The kids will dress up and we’ll go over to Donna’s and trick-or-treat in their neighborhood and eat pumpkin-shaped pizza and handout candy to other kids. It might be hard. We might cry. But we can also talk about the happy memories we have about all the Halloweens we got to spend with Papa, too.

And there will be plenty of candy, I’m sure.

We love you, dad, and we miss you so much.

And I’ll think of you smiling every time I run into somebody I know today.

Happy Halloween.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.

The other day my son and I were getting groceries and as we walked toward the orange juice we saw a guy about my age who had an arm just like mine. Once we passed him, we looked at each other and smiled and Sam said to me, “Dad, I know what you were thinking.” “Oh, yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said and then dramatically pronounced, “I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE!!!” while holding his fist in the air.

We laughed super hard because that’s not what I was thinking at all, of course, but it did get me thinking about how I really do react when I see someone else with one hand. This is basically how it goes:

  1. Nice! One hand.
  2. Was that head-nod too obnoxious?
  3. Should I go say hello?
  4. Should I give him a Living One-Handed card?
  5. Would that be weird?
  6. Crap, now he’s past me and I missed my opportunity.
  7. Should I go after him?
  8. Will that scare him?
  9. Am I about to get arrested?
  10. Can I survive in jail?

As you can see, it’s a rather stressful situation!

The truth is, I never used to notice people with one hand. I’m convinced it was because my own one-handedness was never in the forefront of my mind. But, once I started the website, I suddenly noticed all the time! I imagine it’s like when you buy a car, say a Toyota Camry, and then all you see are Toyota Camrys on the road.

Typically I don’t approach people with one hand, just as I don’t approach people just because they have brown hair or blue eyes. I’m naturally an introvert, too, so approaching strangers isn’t my strong suit anyway. That said, if the opportunity presents itself and it doesn’t seem super awkward, I might say hello and tell them about the website. And now with Different Is Awesome! being out, I can bring that up pretty easily if I happen to be around the parents of a child with one hand, or any physical difference, really.

My kids always run up to tell me whenever they see someone with one hand and it’s adorable. I love that they are aware and excited about what I do and that its removed any fear they have about someone with one hand. When we were in Ohio this year for the Helping Hands Midwest picnic, the man at the front desk of our hotel had a limb-difference and do you know how I knew that? Each of my kids went to the lobby to get breakfast at different times and each of them returned to excitedly tell me about him. As we checked out I mentioned it to him and he thought it was hilarious and we had a nice short discussion about the picnic, which he hadn’t heard of.

Ultimately, I notice people with one hand more now than I did before, but for the most part I don’t do anything but that…notice it.

And sometimes yell, “I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE!!!”

If you’re an adult with a limb-difference and you see someone else like you, how do you react? If you’re a parent and you see another child who looks like yours, do you seek out the parents? Share your experience in the comments!