A Smack in the Face Reminder

Reminder_header

When I posted up my first blog as the re-launch of this site, I stressed how this site would be an online home for sharing stories about living life to its fullest, seeing the world and generally making the most out of life.  I have plans for future posts, from concepts such as travel hacking to guest posts by other writers, telling their stories of their travels.  My hope for the site really is to show the various ways that you can take your life and make the most of it, from the independent location worker, to the world backpacker, to the cubicle dweller, the stay at home mom and everyone in between.

One thing I have learned in my life is that, sometimes, you need to make a decision for yourself, you need to choose to change your life, change your direction, change yourself.  You need to take make the decision to take your own life in your hands and make the most of it. For better or worse.  The only person you have to hold accountable for your happiness and your life is yourself.

To transition this blog to the main point that I want to convey here, in the past, I have chosen to live my life the way I wanted to.  I was never forced into making a decision.  I never had any life altering events force my hand one way or another.  To the same point, I never lost anyone close to me as I was growing up.  I had not lost any aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents or anyone else close to me.  Sure, great aunts, great uncles, my great grandma, my grandparents on my dad’s side, have passed away, but I was never close enough with any of them for it to really affect me.

That all changed on Monday, May 8th.

Cancer is a Heartless Bitch

Many years ago, when I was in my teens, my grandpa was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer.  I remember seeing how much it scared and affected my family, but I think that the time, being as young as I was, I did not understand the gravity of the situation.  With all of our prayers and God willing, my grandpa made it through and is still cancer free to this day.  I didn’t realize until much later in life that we almost lost him that year.

In the past 5 years, 2 of my colleagues/friends have been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Robert and John were both healthy, hard-working, family guys when they were diagnosed with NHL.  I am very happy to say that have both beaten it, however, John still continues his recovery today.

As the years go by, as the awareness of cancer grows, both personally and in the media, it is hitting closer and closer to home for me.

Live Strong

I now wear this daily.  At first it was to support John and his battle with cancer and its various ailments over the past 2 years.  Then just last November, 2010, my family suffered a crushing blow, and I started wearing it to support 2 people.

My uncle had been diagnosed with Cancer throughout his body.

A seemingly healthy, active man in his late 50′s.  He had yearly check-ups and aside from the stress of a job that he loved, he was healthy.  Then one day in November, he had a pain in his side that lasted a little longer than it should have.  A few doctors and tests later, my aunt received the news that her husband had cancer. Throughout his body.  From his tailbone to his brain.

It enveloped him, but it never defined him. Even after every single doctor’s visit came with worse and worse news, he always had a smile on his face, a joke to tell, a hug to give.  He always told everyone not to worry.  He bore that burden.  He was the provider, he was the worrier.  In that respect, he reminds me very much of my grandpa.

He was a huge sports fan, a huge Yankees fan.  The featured image at the top is in honor of his team. He was a father, an uncle, a husband and a son.  He was one of the most giving and caring men I have ever met in my life, and it was a privilege and an honor to know him.

 

Alan Zwickler lost his battle with Cancer on May 8th, 2011.

 

Hitting Home

This was the closest death I have ever experienced.  I grew up very close to my cousins, my aunt and my uncle.  We played basketball on easter and thanksgiving at their house.  We played stickball in the street, volleyball and basketball in the pool and football wherever we could.  We watched every major sporting event as a family.  I will always remember the March madness parties, the NBA finals, the World Series, the Super Bowl, the World Cup.  Until I was 16 or 17, we spent every one of these as a family and those will always be my fondest memories of him.

He was initially diagnosed 6 months ago and went downhill fast.  I was there with him the weekend that he found out and I am still in shock to this day.  I don’t even think his death has really registered in my brain just yet.

I know I can learn something from the type of person he was, but I also believe that this hits even closer to home with my belief in living in the now and making the most out of every day.

Your days are numbered, the problem is, you don’t know what that number is.

Is is 18,250? 7300? 1825? 365? 30? 7? 1?

I have read stories about how medical scares really force people to re-evaluate their lives, make drastic changes, live life to the fullest.  I could give you hundreds of examples right here if I wanted, but to me this is more important to learn and acknowledge how precious life is and how short it can be.

Are you saving money for retirement?  What is your plan if you don’t make it that far?

Do you have a 5 year plan? What about a 5 day plan?

Are you living a memorable life, or are you just getting by?

Are you making a difference in someone else’s life?

 

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Have you ever lost someone close to you?  How has it affected your life, your plans for life and your goals in life?  Let me know in the comments below.

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  • http://www.hecktictravels.com Peter Heck

    Justin, I’m so sorry for the loss of your Uncle. He sounded like a wonderful person.

    I was smacked in my face 4 years ago when my Mom lost her battle with cancer. She was diagnosed and 3 days later gone. It hit me hard, but it woke me up to make sure that I do something important with my life. Not a day goes by without me thinking about her.Stay strong brother, and cherish the memories you had with him. I pass my deepest condolences to you and your family.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Peter –

      Thanks for dropping by and the kind words. He really was a great person. I can only imagine how hard 3 days notice must have been with everything that happened with your mom, that is just crazy. My condolences to you friend.

      Thanks again, it is greatly appreciated.

  • http://twitter.com/Ayngelina Ayngelina

    Wow Justin, I am so sorry.

    My father died in a motorcycle accident when I was 5 and I have always felt a sense of my own mortality. It probably helps me make tough decisions in my life as I know I won’t always be around.

    As difficult as it is to lose someone without notice I think it is harder to lose someone to illness. Although you have to time to say all the things you want them to know there is a sense that it is a waiting game.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Thanks Ayngelina – I definitely know what you mean when it comes to having events like this giving you a sense of your own morality. If anything, it does make you take a second look at how you live your life, that is for sure.

      Thanks for dropping by and the kind words.

  • http://www.insearchofmermaids.com Patricia GW

    I hope you can heal Justin, as you keep your uncle in your heart.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Thanks for the kind words. I still don’t think it has sunk in yet, but it has definitely affected all of us in the family.

  • Danielleleehdasm

    I was a colleague of Alan. He was a mentor, a teacher, a friend. Alan was one of the most caring people I have ever met. He took the time to get to know everyone he encountered on a personal level. I went through some tough times with my own health and Alan made sure he checked up on me and encouraged me through my difficulties. He always had a joke or a fun fact to make me laugh. Even through his last months, he disguised his pain with humor so we would not worry about him. He was a gifted writer and would send out these funny, witty emails to keep everyone’s spirits up. He always put others first even when he was in so much pain. Alan inspired me to be the leader I am today and I am truly grateful for his advice… Not to mention blessed that I was able to know him for a small part of his life. He will truly be missed and I will never forget him.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Danielle –

      I cannot express how happy and blessed I am to have now written something that someone like yourself would have found, seemingly out of the blue. I figured, for someone as wonderful as Alan, it was absolutely the least that I could do.

      He was a wonderful person, inside and out, from the beginning to the end. I am so happy to hear that he touched your life, as I am sure he impacted so many more.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and leaving a comment, it means so much to me.

      • Danielle lee

        I found this by googling his name when I was looking for his obituary. I’m glad I found this instead. I will be at his service today in Charger gear… I’m so glad that everyone is making the best out of today with their sports apparel. I know that’s what he would’ve wanted… A party in his honor, not tears anymore. Maybe I’ll see you there Justin. Thank you for the inspirational words you have written.

      • Danielle lee

        I found this by googling his name when I was looking for his obituary. I’m glad I found this instead. I will be at his service today in Charger gear… I’m so glad that everyone is making the best out of today with their sports apparel. I know that’s what he would’ve wanted… A party in his honor, not tears anymore. Maybe I’ll see you there Justin. Thank you for the inspirational words you have written.

  • http://twitter.com/PipeDreamJunkie Carrie

    My condolences to you and to your family, Justin. Losing a family member is impossibly hard, and one never really does get used to the absence of that beloved someone. I lost my grandfather – someone who I revered as a father more than a grandparent – when I was 17 due to adrenal cancer, and to this day I still miss him horribly.

    I think in many ways, you really do take on a new perspective to your mortality. Like once you said you’d be an astronaut, but after the shock wears off, you sort of get into the mindset of “That’s going to take too long. What can I do right-now-at-this-very-minute?” or maybe in the reflective mode of “Have I made an impact?” or whatever.

    Death changes you, and it can define you, and I think in many ways, it can evolve you into a greater human being. But the loss, in some ways, always remains.

    You and your family are in my thoughts, Justin. Again, I’m so sorry for your loss. Feel free to send a line my way if you need someone to talk to.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Carrie –

      Thank you so much for dropping by and the kind words. You definitely hit on the same points that have been running through my head the past few days. Events like this do make you question the direction of your life and the impact you are making right now.

      Thanks again, I really do appreciate the kind words

  • Akhummingbird

    J,

    Food for thought for sure. I have lost a few family members but all of them were overseas so there was somewhat a disconnect. The one loss that hit me the worst was my grandpa, as he was unexpected. It was January 21, 1991. Oddly enough, It also happened to be the day my daughter Amanda was conceived. (Pete consoled me :p).

    Really my point, I haven’t had to deal with family, here, passing or have serious illness and for that I count my blessings.

    My heart breaks for you, as it has for the few friends that I’ve lost to cancer over the years, or a friends mom, or for a friend met through SSF that passed from kidney failure. None are easy, all hurt, and I still count my blessings wondering when it’s my time. That fact scares me, thus working on my weight so as not to be a statistic.

    Love you, Justin. I thank the good Lord above for you and the friendship that we have and for you, my dear, dear friend, my heart hurts for you.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Thank you momma, it definitely means a lot. Just how sudden it all was, when we found out, and then how quickly everything deteriorated. It is just mind-boggling how agressive everything was and how quickly he was taken from us. I worry more for my aunt now, he was everything to her.

      I wrote the headline and this post really as a reminder for everyone as to their own mortality, and with that aside, I am really happy for you with the strides you are taking.

      Love you Nicki.

  • http://twitter.com/BAbackpacker Breakaway Backpacker

    Justin I am so sorry for your loss. I know how you feel a few years ago I lost my uncle and my cousin (father & son) within 2 weeks of each other. It was very surreal and intense. I had the same thought you had afterwards about life. It really was a wake up call and slapped me in the face to wake up life is short & our days are numbered. Because of that and other things that happened in my life I set out to be happy and live a life I want to live. Life is too short to not be happy.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Thanks Jaime, I really appreciate the comments. You are 100% correct, life is too short to not follow your dreams and make yourself happy. I am sorry to hear about your loss but so happy for you with everything you are doing now.

  • http://twitter.com/JacknJillTravel Jack and Jill

    So sorry to hear about your lost. I think a lot of people live their lives as if they’re going to live forever. Part of it is talking (or even thinking) about your own mortality seems to be seen as taboo (as if you don’t think about it, it won’t happen). Quite unfortunate.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Thanks for the kind words… I really do appreciate it. I think you are 100% correct, too many people live their lives always looking to the future, not worrying about what is right in front of them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717510431 Elise Reeks

    Sorry to hear about your Uncle, Justin.

    In the last 15 months that we have been away 4 people from within our families. Hard stuff. It seemed to all come at once.

    I find the whole idea of death such a hard thing to cope with, but in a way I think it makes me realise that this is life and we have to make the mot of it. Don’t get me wrong,
    grieving is
    definitely
    still part of the processes for me, but losing loved ones also does make me remember that we only have one life and we have to live the best of it.

    I totally agree with what
    @twitter-35399535:disqus
    said as well about losing someone to an illness…the knowing that they are going to be gone soon makes it harder to say goodbye I think.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Elise –

      Thank you for dropping by and the kind words. I completely agree that part of the mental and emotional processing of all of this is the realization that death is inevitable, and even in some cases, sudden, but I think that even as much as you can prepare yourself, dealing with the sudden loss of someone so close still takes a hard emotional toll.

      I don’t think that now, 3 days later, I have still processed it all. My mind is stil reeling and it feels like it is all a dream. One day at a time is the only way to deal with it, I guess.

      Thanks again, I really do appreciate it.

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleploehn Nicole Ploehn

    Justin, I know exactly what you are talking about and feeling! On April 10th I lost my grandfather to Alzheimers (he was like my dad, and I could never deny being his granddaughter!) Like cancer, alzheimers hits and they go downhill from there! I will keep you and your family in my prayers as I know it is not easy.

    You are absolutely right about seezing opportunity, and knowing your plan! My blogpost tonight was about beating those obstacles and struggles that we face because they impact our plan. The fact that we are still here is a a testament to what we have left to do.

    Your memories will be with you forever and use those to drive your success!

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Thanks Nicole, I really appreciate it. These illnesses are just so rapid and unforgiving at times, it is a shock. As i alluded to in the blog, the last 4 or 5 people I have known to battle cancer have WON! I guess the odds were not in his favor, and at this point all I can hope for is that he didn’t suffer.

      Thanks again for the kind words, I do appreciate it.

  • http://twitter.com/nomadicchick Jeannie

    This is so powerful and I’m sorry you lost someone. Life is so finite and we too often don’t pay attention to what is really going internally. I just wrote about a tense health scare in India. I realized I want to live how the Buddhists think, which is live like death is always present. Which means YOU being present and accountable for your own life.

    A smack that can lead to the fullest existence and honor those who can’t be with you anymore. That’s a butt-kicking way to live. :)

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Jeannie –

      Thanks for dropping by and the kind words. Like someone else here said, a lot of people tend to live like they will never die, always talking about and planning for tomorrow, without really looking at themselves and their lives today. It definitely is an eye opener and something that really makes you take a long, hard look at your life.

      Thanks again, I really do appreciate it.

  • http://twitter.com/cherszy Cherszy

    I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle Justin.

    I’ve lost two uncles and an aunt in three consecutive years myself. As much as it’s been hard for me, my family, and their families, I think it’s a good thing to learn how to let go and think of how they’re now in a better place, without having to suffer the pains of today’s world. And with each of those losses, I come to appreciate what I have right now, especially the experiences that come with my life. I’m not really much of a person who dwells in the past, so I just move on with the flow of life despite the constant memories of lost relatives haunting me once in a while. I guess it’s good to remember them and how much they’ve shared to us, but it’s better if we remember how much they’ve taught us about the fragility of life. We never know when it’ll end, so all we’ve got to to is to enjoy it while we still can. Experience as much as we can!

    Live and learn. :)

  • http://twitter.com/cherszy Cherszy

    I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle Justin.

    I’ve lost two uncles and an aunt in three consecutive years myself. As much as it’s been hard for me, my family, and their families, I think it’s a good thing to learn how to let go and think of how they’re now in a better place, without having to suffer the pains of today’s world. And with each of those losses, I come to appreciate what I have right now, especially the experiences that come with my life. I’m not really much of a person who dwells in the past, so I just move on with the flow of life despite the constant memories of lost relatives haunting me once in a while. I guess it’s good to remember them and how much they’ve shared to us, but it’s better if we remember how much they’ve taught us about the fragility of life. We never know when it’ll end, so all we’ve got to to is to enjoy it while we still can. Experience as much as we can!

    Live and learn. :)

  • http://twitter.com/cherszy Cherszy

    I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle Justin.

    I’ve lost two uncles and an aunt in three consecutive years myself. As much as it’s been hard for me, my family, and their families, I think it’s a good thing to learn how to let go and think of how they’re now in a better place, without having to suffer the pains of today’s world. And with each of those losses, I come to appreciate what I have right now, especially the experiences that come with my life. I’m not really much of a person who dwells in the past, so I just move on with the flow of life despite the constant memories of lost relatives haunting me once in a while. I guess it’s good to remember them and how much they’ve shared to us, but it’s better if we remember how much they’ve taught us about the fragility of life. We never know when it’ll end, so all we’ve got to to is to enjoy it while we still can. Experience as much as we can!

    Live and learn. :)

  • http://twitter.com/cherszy Cherszy

    I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle Justin.

    I’ve lost two uncles and an aunt in three consecutive years myself. As much as it’s been hard for me, my family, and their families, I think it’s a good thing to learn how to let go and think of how they’re now in a better place, without having to suffer the pains of today’s world. And with each of those losses, I come to appreciate what I have right now, especially the experiences that come with my life. I’m not really much of a person who dwells in the past, so I just move on with the flow of life despite the constant memories of lost relatives haunting me once in a while. I guess it’s good to remember them and how much they’ve shared to us, but it’s better if we remember how much they’ve taught us about the fragility of life. We never know when it’ll end, so all we’ve got to to is to enjoy it while we still can. Experience as much as we can!

    Live and learn. :)

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Thanks for dropping by and the kind words. I am not a person that really dwells in the past either, so it is a little easier for me knowing that they are not here in the present and suffering.

      Events like this definitely make me take a hard look at the impression I am leaving in this world, and make me want to do the most with my life.

      • http://twitter.com/cherszy Cherszy

        That is true! Events like this punch us in the face to get us back to the harsh reality of the brief transition from life to death. We really have to cherish everything that we have now and hope that we can leave something of ourselves to the next wave of living beings. :)

  • Pam Buck #1077

    Hi Justin.  I also worked with Alan for many years. He was my first assistant manager as well as my first HRM, oh so many years ago. Our paths would continue to cross through district meetings in Orange and he was always so happy to see the associates and managers he taught, mentored, and influenced through out our careers.  He offered me encouragement and advice, not only as a manager but as a friend.  I remember telling him the last time I’d seen him at our Orange store support center that I had returned to university to get my BA in psychology and he just lit up with joy.  I graduated last year and my thoughts turned to Alan thinking he would be happy to see someone he hired as a part time cashier in 1985 would still be with the company AND a university graduate.  I’m so honored to have worked with Alan and he will be missed so much.  I’m so sorry for your  loss.

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Pam –

      Thank you so much for finding my blog and leaving a comment. Congratulations on graduating, I am certain that Alan would have been so proud of you. He was truly one of the most kind, compassionate and supportive people I have ever had the privilege of meeting and knowing.

      I have passed along your comment to my aunt, Colleen, Alan’s wife. All of these comments mean so much to us in the family.

      Thanks again, so very much

  • Steve Ford

    Alan Zwickler was one of the most generous and gracious individuals I have ever known.  I worked with him for almost 14 years and Alan was the person that recruited me to the company.  Throughout his life he always supported the values that made him what he was, a man of deep integrity, passion, and faith in his beliefs regarding the overall goodness of people and his role in supporting people attempting to improve themselves.   Although I have not spoken with him in sometime, I will miss him and carry his memory with me– in my soul forever.  

    • http://www.justinhamlin.com Justin Hamlin

      Steve - 

      Thank you so much for the comment and the thoughts about my uncle.  He was a wonderful and amazing person who definitely affected the lives of so many people.  To have even the few of you that reached out to me through this blog just proves how far his reach truly was.

      Thank you so much for your comment, it truly is appreciated.

  • Kelly

    Hi there. We just found about Alan’s passing yesterday from a call from Colleen. We spent time with the Zwickler family over 20 years ago when we lived in So Ca. They had a profound impact on us. My husband and I were dating at the time and had no family on the West Coast. Phillip met Alan and became fast friends. We spent a few holidays with them and right after we got engaged went to their home to celebrate! Alan was so good to us
    Thank you for sharing your heart.
    I’m so glad to have found this blog.
    God Bless,
    Kelly and Phillip Vaughan Charlotte, NC