Six Lessons from Pain

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pain

In 2006, my health began to decline — quickly.

Each day started out with pain throughout some part of my body and a headache that never subsided for almost nine months.

As the headaches intensified, I thought I would just be tough and that it was another weird phase. I have not always had the best of health during my life. All of this really started when I was about 16, and contracted a severe case of mononucleosis (glandular fever).

This ended up getting me confined to a hospital ward in Oxford, England for a week. The episode ended with me losing about 30 lbs in two weeks and almost seven weeks off of school. It was also during this time that I began to experience frequent migraines or cluster headaches.

In university, I was diagnosed with a mitral valve prolapse when it was discovered I had arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). This still has an effect on me from time to time.


So, when my health began to decline, I wondered whether one of these past issues might be flaring up. After almost a month of putting it off, I finally paid a visit to our local medical clinic to see what might be wrong. They took some blood, and ran some basic tests but could find nothing out of the ordinary.

The second month, my body began to collapse and I found that I was not able to even walk without the use of a cane. By now, I had been excused from work and I was on disability. Much of my day was spent trying to rest and keep the lights off so that my headache would not increase.


My family and friends were concerned enough to encourage me to go back to the doctor and unable to determine what might be wrong, I was scheduled for several consultations in the hospital.

During the next month, I was admitted and tested for everything from cancer to diabetes. I was not overweight, but at times could keep little down. CT scans and MRIs covered pretty much every part of my body at some point, but they found nothing.

The final conclusion from the specialists was that I had contracted fibromyalgia, but they could still not explain why my body was failing.

The next several months were miserable, as my body grew weaker to the point where Sundays were just about my only excursion out of the house. It hurt too much to endure long car rides and I had to have help from my wife or my sons just to move from one room to another.

While it was not the only time in my life that I had been confined to bed rest, this time of testing proved beneficial in other ways. My wife and sons were gracious in being willing to spend so much time keeping me company, and I believe that it helped us to grow closer.


During those months, I often questioned in my heart and mind, “Why?”Or, in the words of the song written in 1972 by Kris Kristofferson, “Why me, Lord?”

Why me Lord, what have I ever done
To deserve even one
Of the pleasures, I’ve known
Tell me, Lord, what did I ever do
That was worth loving you
Or the kindness you’ve shown.

I am by no means perfect. I didn’t reflect on this question because I thought I did not deserve what others have to struggle with. The real reason I was asking was that I just could not understand.

Yet, this time of reflection allowed me to redirect some of my priorities. I learned how valuable family can be and I became more grateful for the relationships that helped me survive from day to day.


Many times as my body was racked with pain, there were episodes where I would be curled up on the floor. Yet, through the clouds, I began to see the rainbows of promise. Some people have to endure things like this alone. This then adds a new level of discouragement and/or depression to the list of ailments.

The reality is that, as fallen human creations, we do not deserve any pleasures in life. If we are honest, what we do receive at the hands of a gracious God is far better than many around the world.

This fact would soon come into play in a way that we could not have imagined when I was invited in an email to visit Liberia, West Africa. That is another series of stories by itself.

Suffice it to say that the discomfort, the tears, and the pain brought me to understand several aspects of life that are easy to overlook.

1. Don’t take life for granted.

Life is so short. Not every person will have the privilege of living half a century, much less to 70 or 80. All too soon, the hands of the clock race around the face of each day. Days blur into weeks, months, and then years. We look back and wonder what we have accomplished with our lives.


2. Love your family.

I understand that not everyone has a good family. But families are not always made by blood connections. Sometimes, family consists of those you attend church with.

It could be those with whom you work that you have a close connection. Some of us are blessed with great families and we will only get through difficulties when we learn to extend love back and forth.

Family may even include friends who appreciate and pray for you, even during times when they may not know how difficult life is at the moment.


3. Realize that trials are not unique.

When I arrived in Liberia, West Africa just four months after my body began to recover, I understood how blessed I truly was. Observing the horrendous lack of standards in medical care made me realize why the life expectancy was so low in West Africa.

In England (and the US), I had access to medicines and treatment that allowed me to recover. Had I been born or lived in Liberia during that time, my life would probably have come to an end.


4. Learn to exhibit a spirit of thankfulness.

Honestly, this life lesson was very difficult. I did not want to be thankful. I wanted to complain. I did not FEEL like I was thankful, but I soon understood that my struggles were also being carried by those who loved me so much.

As my body began to recover, I was able to give thanks. I gave thanks for life, for better health, for more days of clear-headedness, for family, for love, for medicine, for good doctors and hospital staff, and most of all, for strength, grace, love, and the mercy of God.


5. Understand real success.

Success is not always made up of fame and fortune. Success can sometimes be the privilege of being able to get out of bed in the morning. Success can be measured in the real treasures of life like a loving wife and family.

Looking back, my wife and I cannot tell you how we paid our bills or even managed some weeks to purchase groceries. We did not have a large bank account and there are many things we did without during that time.

However, I can look back and realize that we experienced success because we had each other.


6. Know where your faith exists.

For my family and I, our faith is in God.

This was not the only struggle we ever faced, nor will it probably be the last. In fact, a few years later we would move to Liberia, West Africa where one of my daughters and I faced death’s door more than once due to tropical diseases.

These diseases still give us trouble and pain even today having been gone from Liberia since 2012.

However, I do not blame God and curse Him for the extreme trials we have faced. I have learned to accept that there is something I need to learn. Like the patriarch Job in the Bible, I have learned to say –

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. — Job 23:10

Originally published through Medium on “Live Your Life on Purpose”

 

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Too Much for a Funeral?

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Avoid Price-Gouging at a Funeral Home

cemetery2

Whether it is a small family-owned and run funeral home or it is a large corporation that owns hundreds or thousands of funeral homes and cemeteries, businesses operate in order to make a profit. However, there is a huge difference between a locally owned and operated firm versus one owned by a large corporation.

As one example, this quote is from Marketwatch in an article dated March 7, 2017.

“The survey found median prices at SCI (the largest corporation in the industry) were 72% higher for simple cremation, 50% higher for simple burial, and 47% higher for a full service funeral than at independent homes surveyed.”

This series of articles is not designed to disparage making a profit in the funeral or cemetery industry. As I have stated previously, I still have friends and former colleagues in the industry. I would drive across the state to work for them if I needed a job in the industry again.

What concerns me is that families are rarely given the knowledge needed to make informed decisions that will help them save money. There are many things that an overwhelming majority of funeral directors will NOT tell you.

In addition, the exorbitant rate of markups found in many firms is shocking, and the only way you will normally find out is on the worst day of your life.

Nobody truly likes the thought of their loved one being burned in a crematory, or being buried in a box six feet under the ground. The thought of those we love not being with us is bad enough without having to deal with the thoughts of horror that can run rampant through the mind.

Funeral directors know and are trained in how the human mind works. They will use these methods to steer or guide you into making the decisions you do. Many times, you will have no idea of the controlling or manipulative tactics that are employed in order to drive up the cost of your loved ones’ funeral.

The western world is one of the few places where so much money is spent on the disposition of a body. On average, we spend 4 times as much as the cost of disposition in the UK, as just one example.

300–500%

This is the average markup on a casket. Simple terms, the funeral home or corporation buys average metal caskets in bulk from companies like Batesville for around $300–500 each. They are then delivered and placed on display where families will pay $1300–2500 for the same piece of shaped metal. The lower end pricing normally reflects costs at independently owned firms versus the prices found at corporate-owned locations.

What to Do

1. Stay away from items that are nothing more than gimmicks or phrases that are inaccurate at best and grossly misleading at worst.

“Waterproof”

Concrete is porous. This means that the lined vault you purchase after being told it would keep your loved one dry is nothing more than an over-priced fabrication (in modern English — a big, fat lie).

“Sealed caskets”

The additional cost of several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars added to your bill is simply the extra inclusion of a rubber gasket that costs the funeral company less than $20. Again, sealing a casket does nothing to protect the integrity of the body. In fact, if you choose a mausoleum-type entombment, you will not be told that the casket is NOT fully tightened down and sealed.

“Keepsake caskets”

A solid casket made of wood will generally cost between $800–1500 to the funeral home. Some may be a little less, but those are then increased to $3800–7500 for the same item. One of the costlier features is a keepsake drawer built into the casket lid where families are encouraged to leave mementos for their loved one. If a family expresses an interest in one of these caskets, the funeral director will NOT tell them that they are welcome to place letters, pictures, or keepsakes in ANY casket, even if it does not hold the expensive feature.

2. Do not get suckered into purchasing expensive items that seem like they are a “required service.”

“Rental caskets” — Yes, this is an actual item.

It involves the use of a long cardboard box. The deceased will be cremated, but the family wants an actual funeral service. Funeral homes have a special unit that opens from the top and the end. This allows the cardboard box to be inserted into the nicer looking casket just for the funeral. The privilege of using this rental service will cost you an additional $900–1700 on average. The casket is then removed from the funeral service and the cardboard box holding the actual remains is taken out for cremation. This rental service is generally for a use period of 45 minutes to one hour.

“Embalming”NOT REQUIRED BY LAW IN ANY STATE!

If there is no viewing to take place, embalming is not necessary. If only immediate family members are going to say goodbye, again, embalming is not necessary. Embalming is supposedly the preservation of the body, but this is not entirely accurate. Embalming does not AND cannot guarantee that your loved ones remains will remain intact and not go through any form of decomposition over any set period of time. Embalming is merely a chemically induced means of forestalling rapid decomposition and allows the body to be prepared and seen in a more natural state for funeral services.

3. Shop around. Shop around. Shop around.

“Choice” — If the death was sudden, the family is still allowed to choose which funeral home they want to use. It does NOT matter which funeral home is on duty. What matters is what you want.

“Check prices” — FCC requires that all funeral homes provide a General Price List (GPL) and casket price list. Locally owned funeral homes will normally post these online as well, but the homes and cemeteries owned by large corporations generally do NOT publish their GPL. Staff are often trained to stall your requests until they can get you seated in a chair where high pressure is the name of the game until you sign.

“Online” — Read online ratings for your selection of funeral home. While reviews are not as prevalent as for other customer service based companies, you can normally learn a great deal about the way a funeral home or cemetery operates.

“Flowers” — Yes, it is important to even shop for flower arrangements. In the shock that comes with the death of a loved one, most families do not give one moment of thought to what they spending.

Funeral homes that are directly linked to a florist shop are not always the best place to shop. Connected florists often have higher profit margins because of the reasons already stated. Visiting a local florist and making a selection without telling them it is for a funeral can save you 40–60% on the cost of a floral arrangement.

In my next article, I plan on giving information on the best practices needed in order to save the most amount of money.

Sticker Shock at Funeral Homes

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casketOn the worst day of your life, the last thing you or your family should have to deal with is sticker shock.

A quick perusal of this link will show a wide variety of prices that have to be considered.

The average price of a funeral in the USA is currently between $7–10,000. Do you know WHY it is so high? Do you know what you are required to purchase and what is just an option? Do you know that many funeral homes love when you walk in with an insurance policy and no idea what you should be spending? Why is this?

The normal scenario for most families looks like this:

A sudden death, prolonged illness, hospice care, or car accident results in either the deceased being transported to a local hospital or the local law enforcement will be authorized to contact the funeral home that is on duty.

Most funeral homes in a town or county are on a rotation. This simply means that when an accident occurs, the coroner will contact the on-call funeral home to come and collect the deceased. The family is given no notice of which funeral home has your loved one in their preparation area. There is also no guarantee that a pre-planned and pre-paid funeral policy will be in force.

The next morning, the closest or next-of-kin will receive a phone call from the on-duty funeral director where the body is located. The shock of the death has not normally settled in and now a call comes extending a professional courtesy of condolences and informing the living that they need to come same day or the next morning to the funeral home to make arrangements.

Sadly, the disposition of the deceased waits for no individual.

One of the hardest aspects of my job as a manager or funeral director was watching the faces of families entering the front door of the funeral home or cemetery office for what could be the first time in their life.

A good funeral director or cemetery manager will work hard to put the family at ease, as much as humanly possible. A compassionate funeral director or cemetery manager will try to make the process smooth by guiding the family through every decision.

Yet, it is at the moment that the family walks in that a huge problem exists. As in every industry, some truly care about a career, especially in those jobs that involve customer service. However, there are also those who only see what they do every day as a job.

Photo by Madison Kaminski on Unsplash

Whether you know it or not, a funeral director or cemetery manager is also required to be a salesperson.

The level of expertise and compassion can and will determine how smoothly everything moves forward from the collecting of the earthly remains of the deceased to the burial or cremation process, but it normally comes at a price.

More and more funeral homes and cemeteries are being purchased by large corporations. With each purchase, compassion goes out the window for the sake of profits and exorbitant cost markups. The compassion that should be shown to a grieving family is regularly being replaced by price-gouging and sales pitches designed to make you feel guilty. This guilt could be about the level of service you provide for your loved one down to the casket selection.

As the family signs the paperwork, the hardest part of the process has not yet arrived. Insurance and payment is covered and then the funeral director will stand. Informing the family that they need to follow him or her into the casket selection room, you will NEVER be prepared for the shock that is coming.

Many families I assisted and cared for managed to keep it together through the paperwork process. There might be a few tears, but standing to walk into the casket room was almost always a shock that brought tears and massive expressions of grief including wailing, shrieks, or screams of agony.

There is something about the entrance into that specific room that generates a great sense that this is very real. “I have to choose a final bed for my husband, wife, brother, sister, grandparent, baby, or child to sleep in.”

I cannot recall the number of times I was asked if I could make a selection for them just so the family would not have to enter THAT casket room.

Funeral homes and cemetery offices have largely become marketing machines. Caskets are aligned with the most expensive brands being softly lit. Lids are open revealing plush pillows and satin or velvet finishes. Soft music may be playing while the funeral director/salesperson is expected to direct you to these selections.

Many funeral homes, especially those owned by corporations do NOT put out the cheapest caskets available, and some directors will go so far as to lie to the family telling you that there is nothing cheaper.

The casket room has a wide selection from high glossy wood caskets to different gauge metal caskets. Some have keepsake drawers, while others are labeled as sealed and “waterproof.”

There are NO waterproof caskets.

The FCC and funeral laws are slowly changing to correct the myths still being perpetrated by funeral homes and cemeteries about waterproof caskets or vaults. Concrete is porous. Metal rusts and loses its integrity quickly depending on the soil composition and local water tables. Caskets with a rubber gasket also decay and provide no guarantee that water will not enter the final resting place of your loved one. Vaults are the same way and do not offer guarantees.

But many spend thousands thinking that the body of their loved one will remain dry and safe.

Back to the casket room, the director is taught to watch you closely for buying signs. He or she will point you in the direction of certain caskets and may even include softly spoken words such as: “Your loved one deserves the best you can afford.” Or, “This casket provides peace of mind that your loved one will ____________.”

No, no, NO, ABSOLUTELY NO!

With sympathy and empathy, your loved one does NOT care about what kind of casket. You will NOT see that casket or vault for more than a few minutes. When your eyes are red from weeping long into the sleepless nights, you will NOT give one thought or have peace of mind about whether you bought the right casket or not.

The reality is that funerals are for the living, not the deceased.

On average, families that enter a funeral home for the first time after the loss of a loved one will spend approximately 35–60% MORE than they would if they had been prepared. The funeral and cemetery staff knows this and many are trained to capitalize on your grief.

Bonuses, monthly contests, and corporate pressure are heaped on funeral and cemetery staff to keep the average profits high. A funeral director with a conscience and who helps too many families keep their costs low will soon find him or herself out of a job.

The ivory towers that hold executives of the large funeral corporations do NOT care about your family. They do NOT care about the deceased. They ONLY care about profits.

My purpose in writing these articles is with the hope that people will read something that will help them face the inevitable on the worst day of their lives. I still have close friends in the industry, but far too many that I worked with only cared about profits and large paychecks.

In a coming article, I plan to address the markup levels of everything from services to caskets to vaults to the candles available to purchase at the funeral home.

10 Things to Know About Funerals

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While every state is different, I wish these were some things that EVERY adult knew about funerals. Having previously been in the cemetery/funeral industry for almost 8 years, I can speak to the practices of private firms as well as cemeteries and funeral homes that are owned by large companies. My experience includes working for three of the largest firms in the world.

There is a great amount of money to be made, but it is normally made at the expense of the living on what could arguably be the worst day of their lives.

Not all companies, cemeteries, or funeral homes are corrupt. This also applies to funeral directors or cemetery managers. Some of the nicest folks I have ever met and considered to be friends have worked in the cemetery/funeral industry.

1. A Last Will and Testament means nothing at a funeral home. This document is for the disposition of your property and has nothing to do with your earthly remains. In common law, the deceased is considered to be the quasi-property of the next-of-kin. Basically, this means that the next-of-kin is responsible for providing the necessary and legal means of disposition.

2. Legal disposition is restrictive to the laws of your particular city/county/state. I am not aware of any state that permits the digging of a big hole on your property and burying your family member. Some states may put severe restrictions on such actions. For example, I worked in several states that required a minimum amount of land had to be fenced and set aside by the landowner in perpetuity for the burial of human remains.

3. Some think that they can just save money by donating their body to science. In their minds, this avoids the expense of a casket, embalming, and then burial or cremation. This is a myth. Many states have placed restrictions on companies that used to provide this kind of service. Some companies are so overloaded with bodies that unless you have some form of disease that a science center wants to research, then your family will be required to provide disposition. In addition, once the science center has finished with all of their research, many do charge the family for cremation and an urn to send the cremains back to the family.

4. Cremation is simply a form of disposition of human remains. Wikipedia gives a very good description of cremation’s history, modern techniques used, as well as some religious aspects as it pertains to various religions. On average, cremation tends to be the least expensive means to dispose of human remains. In some parts of the USA, cremation only accounts for about .5–1% of all dispositions. This is particularly true in the southern states. However, in some places like New England or the upper West coast, cremation can account for 95%+ of all dispositions.

5. Embalming is NOT required except in certain circumstances. This is a common charge that is included on itemized funeral home charges. It is pushed by funeral companies onto the consumer because it is an easy way to make a larger profit margin. If you have any questions about the use of embalming, then check the laws in your state.

For those who want the bottom line, embalming does NOT preserve the body forever. Factors in the length of time it takes for a body to fully decay depends on the embalming process, soil composition, and burial vs. entombment in a mausoleum.

Embalming simply helps preserve the body from more rapid decomposition and is generally for the purpose of being able to have a funeral where viewing is going to be present. Embalming does not and cannot provide any guarantees about the state of your loved one’s body.

As a general rule, embalming may be required by a funeral home if there will be a public viewing. However, family members are generally permitted to say their final goodbyes without an embalming process of their loved ones.

6. Prepaid funerals do NOT cover all costs involved in a funeral. For example, the overwhelming majority of large funeral firms have “add-on charges.” Most of these are almost 100% profit making items that are not necessary and certainly NOT required.

7. Cemeteries are generally not a part of a pre-paid funeral plan. A funeral plan is provided by a funeral home but the charges from a cemetery are normally separate. This often includes cemeteries owned by the same company that owns the local funeral home.

Charges at a cemetery can amount to several thousands of dollars that a family was not expecting. As with funerals, laws vary as to what is required. Some may require some type of vault to surround the casket, where others will still permit the burial of a casket without an outer covering. Vaults were designed as a means to more evenly distribute the ground and provide a nice uniform look to the cemetery. We will talk more about various products in a later article.

8. Funerals are for the living and not for the deceased. One area that still brings up resentment is the guilt that the living is made to feel for the deceased. A smooth talking funeral director can easily talk a grieving family member into spending a great deal of money. Many of the large firms train their funeral directors or cemetery workers to play on the emotions of the family in order to drastically inflate the amount of money the family pays for a final disposition.

9. Preplanning is different from prepaying. Preplanning is the preparation that a person or a couple makes in the anticipation that death is coming. Planning booklets are normally provided or available free or little cost. These booklets allow you to put down your final wishes so that your family is not struggling to deal with their grief as well as having to make decisions about which is the best casket for dad or mom.

Prepaying involves a payment plan. This can be insurance based or an endowment where money is paid by a family or individual to cover (prepay) for final expenses. However, many unscrupulous firms do not stress that these plans do not freeze prices for the future. So, for example, if a pre-paid plan was paid for over 5 years back in the 1980’s or 1990’s, that funeral or cemetery policy may actually only cover a small fraction of today’s costs.

10. Nobody should feel required to pay for an expensive funeral. Again, while we will look at cost breakdowns in another article, the average funeral costs in America are between $7,000 to $10,000! These costs can quickly escalate if you or your family are NOT prepared to handle what you will face as you walk through the doors of a funeral home on the worst day of your life.

Stay tuned for more helpful information on the costs associated with funerals and cemeteries.

Sympathy or Empathy?

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empathy

Death

Endless grief

Years too few

Tears fall down unbidden

When will the sadness leave

Bodies tired from sorrow

Days too many

Hearts ache

Pain

Definition of sympathy — “Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”

Definition of empathy — “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Until November 1995, I thought of empathy and sympathy as being synonymous words. Earlier that year, I had started a career in the cemetery/funeral industry.

Often I prided myself that I felt and expressed pity and sorrow for those who lost a loved one in death. Through the almost eight years in the industry, culminating my career as a funeral director, I realized that most of my colleagues showed sympathy.

Yet, many of those colleagues had an edge or bluntness to their mannerisms that did not evoke a good rapport with the families who came in to see us on what was probably the worst day of their lives. Very quickly after starting this career, I realized many things.

Three points, in particular, stand out.

1) Many who enter the business of caring for the deceased do so because they have learned that it can be a lucrative business.

2) It is impossible to understand and express empathy to others when you have never experienced what they have.

3) Not everyone handles grief the same way.

At a later date, I intend on writing on points one and three, but this post is about point number 2.

November 1995 changed my perspective. For the first time in my life, I experienced the loss of a loved one — a close loved one. In fact, the person that I lost was my brother, John. He was 4 ½ years younger than me, but we were best friends.

Before November 1995, I had no problem expressing sympathy for those I helped to bury a family member or a friend. This was true whether it was a funeral for a baby, a child, a teenager, or an adult of any age.

However, when the winter of death approached the door of our family, it was like a switch turned on inside of me.

I was able to not only sympathize, but I could empathize. In other words, I not only had feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune, but I also now had “the ability to understand AND SHARE the feelings of another.”

Do not misunderstand what I am saying here. My words are not meant to imply that unless a person has experienced a loss that they are not able to show true feelings of sorrow or grief at a funeral. Everybody expresses grief in different manners.

Mypost is meant to share where I was at in my life. I was almost 30 years old and had to learn the hard way what it meant for me to show empathy, not just sympathy.

This really resonated with me, when I was called to serve a military family. Their eight-year-old child had gone with a friend to a nearby lake and had accidentally drowned when their little canoe overturned. When the family arrived at the funeral, I sympathized with them over their loss.

However, one of the family members resonated with my heart. It was the older brother, who was 17 and getting ready to leave for Basic Military Training. After the funeral, the family stood at the cemetery and I felt impressed to walk up to the young man. Asking permission to speak freely, they granted it and I briefly in just a few short sentences shared what I had just gone through no more than about 2 or 3 months earlier.

The older brother kept nodding his head as I shared. When I finished, he stood up and walked over to me.

Giving me a hug, this tall, young man thanked me profusely for being willing to share. He told me that he had never experienced a death in his family and that my account helped him to realize that there were others who shared in similar feelings.

When all was concluded at the cemetery and the family left, I spent time walking through between the cold gravestones and wept again for the loss of my brother and because of what I was feeling for this family I had just finished serving.

On the worst day of a person’s life, they need to know that there are others who are there for them. Some need to be made aware that the shoulder they can cry on is one that has been bowed low under the weight of a loss as well.

The average family experiences a loss of a close loved one about once every 7 years. My family was not average before November 1995, and after that date, we have had several pass away with sad regularity.

One truth I seek to share is the difference between sympathy and empathy. When I express grief or sorrow with another individual, it is because I have also been there. I know what it is like to lose a 22-year-old brother to a massive heart attack, several family members to different types of cancer, the loss of a miscarried baby, and the loss of a grandbaby.

This does not make my family or I special. Death is part of life.

However, these sessions of pain, grief, and sorrow allow me to better express care for those who are in need today because of what I experienced yesterday, and because of what we all experience tomorrow.

Views, Reads & Fans

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clark-young-160446-unsplash

Just a brief introduction so you know where I am coming from.

1. I am a self-published author of a small book based on little known characters from the Bible. This was published through Amazon Createspace a little over a year ago. While it has gotten some traction, it is not anywhere near where I would like it to be. Of course, like any author, it would be nice to see it on a Best Seller List. One day, maybe that will come for something I write.

2. I was told about Medium in the Spring of 2018. I looked at it a few times, decided it might be a little too difficult or time-consuming to deal with, and kept shoving it to a back burner of my writing stove.

3. I have owned and designed my own websites in the past, and have been blogging for over 12 years. At one point, one of the sites I owned was regularly seeing about 3–4,000 unique visitors a day which some days seeing surges in excess of 8–10,000 unique visitors.

4. However, like many writers, it is easy to get discouraged. I got tired of trying to find more contributors and editors who would be willing to share the same passion that I did for the blogs. There are still a couple of people who have written recently on at least one of my blogs and I am very thankful for their contributions. So, the blog posts grew less and so did the readership.

That brings me to July 2018 where all four of these points come together.

I took a chance that somebody would be interested in reading my blogs, my stories, my poems, my Haiku, or my whatever I wanted to share. Much of what I wrote at the beginning was simply a response to Writing Prompts with a Facebook group called Warrior Writers (sadly, no longer in existence).

Then, I was reminded about something that I had forgotten about.

MEDIUM!

$5.00 a month? Are you kidding me? That is nothing. I spend more than that on each trip to the local coffee shop to get a raspberry white chocolate frappe. Why not?

Not one to start off with freebies, I decided to take the plunge and buy into the Medium Partnership Program. My ONLY goal was twofold. 1) To see if somebody liked my writing. 2) To eventually make enough money to pay for my monthly subscription of $5.00.

Here is what has happened.

July — 1 story

123 views

71 reads

24 fans

Earned: (Drum roll, please — — $0.00)

Not one to quit easily, I thought, well, I will give it another month or two.

August — 6 stories

432 views

265 reads

105 fans

Earned for August: (Another drum roll, please — — $0.19)

Part of the problem was that I had not figured out how to put stories behind the paywall. I was frustrated to say the least. However, I figured it out the first of September and things began to change.

September — 4 stories

488 views

347 reads

58 fans

Earned for September: $4.66

I will admit that I did a little jig. Told a couple of friends. Bragged about it to my family and signed my wife, Violet, up to write and make money. Barely enough to pay off my subscription, but I had done it.

I was on Cloud 9 and thought to myself, “Wow, only 4 stories and made over my goal!” However, another side of my brain said, “Don’t count chickens before they hatch!”

So, I set a lofty goal of making at least $10.00 in one month.

October — 12 stories

601 views

419 reads

118 fans

Earned for October: $12.39

Amazing! I have no doubt that Mark CAN make money off of what he writes. On to the next month.

November — 15 stories

1195 views

791 reads

232 fans

Earned for November: $9.88

When I received the total, I was disappointed, but still pleased that I was over the $5 subscription amount. So, on to writing in December and thinking that maybe I could take this a little more seriously.

December — 17 stories

4071 views

3103 reads

451 fans

Earned for December: $52.51

What??!! I made enough to take out the family for a celebratory meal. Ok, maybe it was just Denny’s, but this was huge to me. My 12-year-old girls ask my wife and I, as well as my son, Trenton, who has also started writing, how much we make EVERY Wednesday. They are excited and help to keep us encouraged.

For January 2019, I decided that I needed to step up my game and see what difference it makes. My goal is to write at least one story or article for every single day. I am ahead of my goals as I have seen four stories published as of today, January 4th, and I have three stories ready to go for the next few days.

Each month I read the newsletter that comes out and read that only about 9.1% of all writers make more than $100. I determined in November (and told my family) that my goal is to be one of those in the 9.1%. That means that approximately only 1 in 10 will earn enough to pay for a nice meal. This will be me soon, maybe even in January.

All of this to say that if I can write and make money, then you can do so as well! Write about what you love and what excites you. Pay for the Medium Partner Program. Ask to join and write for publications you like.

Celebrate your successes! I look forward to seeing where I am at in 6 months and then as we close out 2019.

Join me!

Ten Quirky Things About Me

Posted on Updated on

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My original thought when challenged to do this was that there is NOTHING quirky about me. I am, well, I am just me! After all, if the rest of the world was just like me, then it would be a boring place.

While speaking openly about my hesitations, my lovely wife, Violet, gave me one of those looks that made it clear that she KNOWS I am quirky. Therefore, I must write and share before she writes on my behalf. LOL

1. I was born in England and consider myself to be quite British. I spent several years growing up in the UK as well as an adult. However, I have NO British accent. I tell people that it never came through Customs and Immigration. There are times that I imitate various accents from around the UK. When I lived there, I could copycat local dialects after being around locals for a very short time.

2. Sometimes, when I am serious or in a serious situation, I smile or emit what some term as nervous laughter. It is not that I think the situation is funny, but I think is simply a response that was learned as a child.

3. When I was growing up, we did not have a TV until I was about 14. We would visit friends or family though and I learned to like the tv series, Star Trek. I was particularly fascinated with Spock, who was supposedly from Vulcan. The fact that he could raise his eyebrows independent of each other triggered me to learn how to do this. I have spent hours learning to control the muscles in my eyebrows. Today, I can still raise one or the other at will, simultaneously or separately. My children have always thought it funny that I can keep time to music using my eyebrows!

4. I love languages. Through the years, I have taken Spanish, Biblical Hebrew, Greek, and Russian at university levels. However, I have also dabbled to various levels and am self-taught in Esperanto, German, Icelandic, and most recently Mandarin. The latter is becoming a favorite and I often visit a couple of local businesses owned by people from China or Taiwan. Each of them are so kind and friendly and have helped me gain a larger vocabulary in Mandarin.

5. Food videos are one of my quirks. I subscribe and watch every video of Mark Wiens of Migrationology, The Food Ranger, and Strictly Dumpling. I have enjoyed food from various parts of the world and watching one more video while eating a meal or a snack is a great pastime with the family. One day, I want to be able to visit some other countries and enjoy street vendor cooking again. Speaking of The Food Ranger, it was watching Trevor James that got me started on learning Mandarin. Tai hao le!

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6. I am very protective of family and friends. One of my quirks is that I do not have a lot of close friends because of this. It has both positive and negative impacts because most do not understand the way my brain works.

7. Speaking of brains, I am a very odd creature in the midst of one-dimensional thinking males. I am actually a multi-track thinker and often have any number of conversations or ideas going on in my head at one time. I can concentrate on each exclusively and there are times that I think I have had a conversation with a family member or friend, but I did not. In my mind, I have already come to what I consider is the most logical conclusion.

8. Being British, I have a dry sense of humour (that is humor to Americans). Whether it is enjoying Chicken Run for the 2,417th time, Mr. Bean, or other British shows, my puns often reflect diversity from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Some understand, while others look at me like I am weird.

9. I have a problem with my eyesight. I am actually blind from birth in my right eye due to having no natural pupil. My pupil is an irregular implant. Being from a strong military background on both sides of the Atlantic, I tried to gain entrance into and have been rejected by the British Army, The Royal Air Force (2 times in 2 different towns), the US Navy, the US Air Force (6 different times with 6 different recruiters), and the US Army. I finally was accepted into the US Army and went to Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Sworn in early September, I was then medically discharged for my eyesight end of January. It was one of the worst days of my life. I still regret not being able to serve as a full-time career in the military. I am immensely patriotic and still visit military bases when I can and just imagine what it would be like to still wear the uniform.

10. The last quirky thing I can think of is that I love aeroplanes (airplanes to the Yanks — LOL). It does not matter what size or shape, slow or fast, military or civilian, I love watching them fly. We live under the flight path of a regional airport and if I hear a plane, I am outside watching it. If a plane is on final approach or preparing to take off, I will park on the side of the road and watch it. I have had the privilege of taking a few flying lessons in civilian aircraft as well as a glider. Loved every minute of it. Strangely, while I have been to numerous airshows and have sat or flown in many civilian and military aircraft, I have yet to step foot on a helicopter.