Author Archives: Kelly J. McCleary

About Kelly J. McCleary

Mother of three, author, financial professional

Foreign

My girls’ don’t remember their first trip overseas. They were each about two when they boarded their first airplane to make the long trip to their new home. More than a decade later, they tested their wings again, this time to explore the world on their own terms. I wasn’t sure how they’d adjust; I shouldn’t have worried.

International travel is grueling. Though we’d excitedly planned the trip for months, even I had a certain amount of dread before we left knowing what was coming. But with Megan’s mobility issues and Claire’s social anxiety, there was definite risk to our trip. I was proud of them both; they did great. It was fun to watch their worldview broaden as they experienced another part of the world. They experienced what it’s like when the food, language, transportation, architecture, and even the electrical outlets are different than what they’re accustomed to. Watching them discover the wonders of two of the world’s jewels was a joy.

Our adventure began within the first few hours, even before we got to the airport. Ever since a friend 25 years ago recommended flying Aer Lingus when I eventually went to Ireland, we drove to Chicago the day before our flight. On a whim, we stopped at the St. Louis Arch, all lit up at night…it was magical. Once in Dublin, we grabbed packaged cookie-waffles and caffeine in the airport and found our way to our rented apartment. For the next three days, we explored cafes and castles and churches, chasing leprechauns down cobblestone streets which have seen a millennium of history. Then off to Munich, for Bavarian architecture and food and a sobering trip to Dachau. We learned that we like chocolate muffins but not German coffee. We learned that public transportation is convenient, once you get the hang of it (they didn’t believe that I put us on the right train going in the wrong direction to teach them how important it is to look at the map in advance). They learned the importance of flexibility and rest, and they kept their sense of humor when things didn’t go perfectly.

I was proud of them, just as I’ve always been proud of them. They are now citizens of the world, though they’ve always had one foot standing in two different countries. They’ve seen for themselves that the world is a big place and that there is not just one right way to live in it.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  –Mark Twain

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Guilt

Because my dad has a mental illness, you’d think I’d have avoided the same fate in my own marriage. Yet, somehow I didn’t connect the dots until way too late. Now that it’s all unraveled, I‘m in major reflection mode.

Grieving as a widow would be cleaner. Instead, the love of my life, or someone who strongly resembles him, is still out there, walking through life alone with his demons, surrounded by the hard plastic bubble of disease that protects him from healthy relationships. That’s so incredibly sad—for him, for me, for the kids. Or…is the truth really an alternate reality, that what was, never was at all, and was instead all a lie? Was I the recipient of love or manipulation? Was it fate or convenience? Was it mutual or parasitic? The questions are unanswerable, and they’re torture.

I only know for sure how I feel: it was real for me. I loved – still love – him. The decision to break free from the destructive vortex was by far the hardest I’ve ever made. If it weren’t for the kids, I might be there still. But they deserve a life. I’m learning that I do, too.

So was it real or an elaborate ruse? As Forrest Gump decided, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both happened at the same time. I may have given a lot, but I gained more. I did feel love and support some of the time. I grew older and wiser. But mostly, I have my kids. I wouldn’t change a thing. I wish him only peace, and I look forward to seeing him on the other side, well and happy and whole.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” –Dr. Seuss


Cashews

For the three weeks Megan was in ICU, as the chemo which saved her life raced against the havoc already wreaked on her body, I lived the isolated life of a mother far from home with a critically ill child. Messages and cards from family and friends were like a glorious ray of sunshine piercing dark clouds. I’ll always be grateful to those who regularly parted those clouds for me. Living 24/7 in that foreign environment, battling daily to keep terror at bay, takes a toll: you never forget those who offered small but vital doses of comfort.

One of those wonderful people was a fellow team member from fifteen years ago. She’d long since retired, but we’d stayed connected through the magic of social media. One of her messages was a heartfelt note asking if there was anything she could do for me, maybe something from home I was craving that she could send me? My first deeply-rooted independent instinct, which always has me preferring to be the helper versus the helped, was to politely decline. But my friend’s plea was so sincere that I remembered a lesson given to me years earlier by another friend, that sometimes the best gift I can give to someone is to let them help. Plus, her specific suggestion, which I’ve also learned makes receiving easier than a general “what can I do?”, had triggered an immediate idea. You see, the best salted cashews on the planet are sold in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas at Nifty Nut House. I’d never actually bought any for myself, but had received them as Christmas gifts over the years. I chose to give my friend the gift of allowing her to show me that she cared, while I also worked on my own hard lesson of self care.

A few days later, the blessed red and gold box arrived: two whole pounds of the sweet little nuggets, all for me. I carefully locked them away in my locker in the parents’ lounge and nursed them over the next couple of weeks. Twice a day, when I temporarily left the noise and chaos of the whirring machines and blinking lights to quietly eat my breakfast and lunch in the lounge, I grabbed a handful of the treats out of their beautiful box and was reminded I was loved. It brings me to tears to think how much this small gesture meant in my time of need.

So another huge thank you to Marilyn and Loree and Jessie and Sarah and Dawn and Alex and Jennifer and Tim and Dana and mom and dad and everyone else who was there for me when I needed you. I can’t ever adequately repay you, but I can pay your kindness forward…something I promise to spend the rest of my life attempting to do.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” –Aesop


Amputation

I was never going to be divorced, and yet, here I am. I’d known it was coming for awhile before it hit, like a slow motion train wreck. Still, I fought it…who wouldn’t after 30 years? Ever since, I feel like I’ve been walking around missing a limb. The difference, of course, is that an amputation is visible…a broken heart is not.

Once I accepted the inevitable, that there are things worse than amputation, then the adjustment began. I go through the motions of life; much is the same, but every now and then, I go to use a familiar muscle, and the loss hits me afresh. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, lamenting the life that was, only to remind myself that life turned out to be a lie.

So I focus on building new muscles and a new life. I give up the last vestige of any sense of being in control and learn to float where the current takes me. I practice being still and listening. It’s surprisingly peaceful to no longer fight against nature’s forces. Pulling my paddle into the canoe stills the water, allowing me to see what’s in its now calm depths. I trust in God’s love for me and His direction for my life. Though scarred, I am at peace.

“Be still and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:10


Bittersweet

I love my kids more than my own life; I’m sure most mothers feel that way. I’m their fierce protector and defender, and no one is more proud of their hard-fought accomplishments. Each of the three of them is a unique, amazing human being, and it’s been a privilege to walk with them for awhile.

But that’s the rub…”for awhile.” While I want them to grow up and be independent and spread their wings, that means they will inevitably leave. It’s the ripping away of an entire organ in my gut. Like applying an aloe leaf to a burn, it’s comforting, and yet the intense pain remains just above the surface.

I will cherish and nurse the gaping wounds each of them leaves on my heart until my last breath.

“Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved.” –Eric Fromm


Logic

The world is made up of two kinds of people, those who are driven primarily by logic, and those driven primarily by emotion. Of course we are all made up of both, but one or the other perspective tends to dominate. I’m a logic person, no surprise given my career choice in finance.

Though I view the world through a logic lens, I increasingly find it easy to feel empathy, and it’s because it seems inherently logical. I simply assume that an obvious inference of the golden rule must be true: that others must feel about the same way that I do. Attempting to put myself in others’ shoes and imagine how they might be feeling, to determine what response is appropriate (and needed) from me, is simply logical. The only underlying requirement in this obvious definition of empathy is a belief that others deserve the same treatment that we wish for ourselves.

I read an article this morning providing evidence that kindness is contagious. Given this week’s series of hate-driven tragedies, it’s abundantly clear that our public officials aren’t going to accept responsibility for the current divisive, toxic atmosphere of ‘us vs. them’. We’re on our own to heal our country. I’m tired of waiting for ‘them’ to fix it. I don’t even know who ‘they’ are, and whoever they are, they’re clearly not solving it. There is only ‘us’. I’m inspired by the article to see if I can change my tiny corner of the world through kindness and see if it spreads. I don’t know what else to do in response to this week’s horrific headlines. It seems like the only logical thing to do.

“Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Seasons

We’re officially in autumn now, my favorite season. But I’ve also learned there are seasons to life, and, thanks to a wise friend, even to friendships. That’s been a lesson I needed to learn.

My friend shared her wisdom with me about five years ago, paying forward a truth shared with her by another friend. She said that knowledge had given her much peace to let go of friendships whose season had passed. It makes so much sense if we just think about it. Every relationship works as long as both parties receive something from it. As life happens, our needs and our capacities change, sometimes fundamentally. We may move or become a parent or marry. These changes cause inevitable changes in other relationships. It can be easy to take those relationship changes personally or make us feel obligated to fight against our own life changes, but we shouldn’t resist this natural evolution. It is a normal part of life, if one of the sadder ones. We must give ourselves permission to let life evolve, including the relationships of those once important to us.

I lost touch with this friend a few years ago when I changed jobs. Our paths simply diverged enough after that, in spite of our stated goal of staying in touch. But happily and ironically, in this newest season of my life, we have reconnected, picking up where we left off. I am glad our paths have reconverged. Here’s to ever-evolving seasons of life.

“In the depth of winter, I learned that within me lay an invincible summer.” –Albert Camus