Posts Tagged ‘Lessons Learned’



August 28, 2012

Today, we are waiting for Hurricane Isaac to reach the southern coast and New Orleans; and while we  wait, memories are flooding my head.

Seven years ago today, Hurricane Katrina hit and destroyed New Orleans.  Seven years ago this coming weekend, I went to Rochester to visit my 92-year old mom.

My sister and her husband joined us for the traditional Sunday dinner on the porch of the house Mom had lived in for over 70 years.  I don’t remember WHAT we ate, but I am sure that most of it had been harvested from her garden, cleaned, and prepared by Mom just that day.

As we finished dinner, she looked at us and said she was glad we were there that day, as she had been watching the destruction in the Gulf and she had a question for us….considering the damage to the oil rigs down there, did we think that perhaps we should reconsider our position on drilling for oil inAlaska?  I also don’t remember the ensuing conversation, but I do know I at least said that I didn’t know that was going to be the question of the day, and I had not done my homework.  I expect my brother-in-law gave her a respectable answer.

That was the last time I saw my mom in her house.  By the next week, she called my siblings to tell them she was too sick to cook; by Sunday, she wanted to head to the doctor, and by Monday, I think, she was in St. Mary’s Hospital while they searched and searched to no avail, for what was causing her pain.

And almost before we knew it…she was headed to Bethany Samaritan for physical therapy to regain her strength so she could return home…..she refused the therapy; she did not come home; and we started the ten month journey of saying goodbye.  

Fortunately, I was still in physical therapy recovering from my fall three years before, and working only part time at MSP Resources, so I had the flexibility to be in Rochester Friday-Monday; I will always be grateful to my friend JJ for that help and understanding, and to my sister Nancy for a place to stay every week in Rochester.    

Slowly my siblings and I came together; created a schedule that worked for each of us so that among four of us and a dedicated sister-in-law, my mom had one of us there every day.   A fifth sibling came when she could. And interspersed were visits from grandchildren and great grandchildren and even singing performances from the great-great grandchildren – that according to my mom’s way of thinking, made her “Queen of the Nursing Home”.   And in between, we managed to “finish some business” for her: the Rochester team helped her with her own last act of independence, as she changed her will to reflect what she wanted rather than what my father had thought best oh-so many years before; and, since “houses don’t do well when they are not lived in”, most of us pitched in to do what we could to sort and clean and distribute her lifetime of possessions and memories…and what was left was  disposed of in a garage sale handled by my brother and his wife.

The house went up for sale, and was sold; and for my mom, she could cross that last task off her to-do list of life.  It was finished; and now she was ready to move on. 

Mostly for our own benefit, we kept a journal at Bethany-asking each sibling to record their visit, how she was doing that day and any significant incidents.  Sometime along the way, my mom started writing her own entries in that journal, starting first with just a shaky “BK” to tell us SHE was there, too, and slowly she added her own thoughts.  It was a precious thing to all of us; little did we know that as she was declaring “her purpose here was done” and dealing with her own loose ends, that one night she would destroy the journal because she had written “crazy” things in it.

In her own way, I think she said individual goodbyes and gave us our final marching orders; to me she said “I’m not worried about you; you were born independent and have been that way all your life, but there are two that I am worried about…take care of them.” 

And when, after a couple last few weeks, the goodbyes were said, she simply got up one morning, got dressed in one of her “nicer” outfits, laid down on the bed and quietly passed on from her life here on earth.  I am sure she is disappointed in me for not being able to fulfill her wish to take care of her two needy babies, but at the same time I hope she understands, they rejected my attempts when I tried.

So here we are, seven years later.  And on the very day seven years ago that Katrina unleashed its wrath, we are now watching another monster storm head once again to New Orleans.  Again,  I am struggling with repercussions from my fall ten years ago, have been through five months of physical therapy, and know the diagnosis is not good.  I’ve not worked for a year, and have determined the event career is most likely ended-at least as I now know it…and am contemplating whether I can muster the energy to reinvent myself one more time for one last career, or simply give in.

So where is my mom when I need her to help me find my way?   Maybe I am just not listening hard enough…or perhaps the return of the storm threat to New Orleans is meant to remind me that I should not give up, that I can do it and somehow I will create a new path into the future.



January 19, 2011

This week we have all watched with horror and sadness as one year after Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, news media revisited to capture progress towards reconstruction…and found little good news to report.  Instead we find a country on the precipice of total destruction, unable to right itself, and apparently proving to be too big a challenge to those in the international community that rushed to its aid.  One year later, Haiti is a nightmare.

And the horrors of that nightmare intensified this past weekend, as Baby Doc returned to the scene of his crimes 25 years after he was overthrown and departed.

For most Americans, this is, at most, an interesting twist to the story.  For some, like me, I presume it conjured up memories of our own nightmares of Haiti and interactions with Baby Doc.

Some years ago, a client wanted to hold their dealer meeting and new product introduction aboard a cruise ship.  The ship was bought out, and because of the size of the new product – a major line of massive recreational vehicles for self-contained camping, touring and partying – the decision was made to stage the actual reveals in a port-of-call along the way.   After site visits by us and our client, we recommended our best option, but the client had fallen in love with the pristine beauty and charm of Haiti, and unfortunately for all involved, we succumbed to their wishes – against our better judgment.

The logistical challenges of getting RVs just off the assembly line to Miami and then Haiti ahead of the dealers so that they could be placed in the display area prior to the dealer arrival was only the beginning of our many challenges.  But eventually, the team and travel staff headed out and the cruise commenced.  I breathed a sigh of relief, as back in the office, I received confirmation of product arrival in Miami and then, the sailing of the ship out of the port of Miami.  And that definitely was a “not so fast” moment on my part!

The afternoon of the Product Introduction, I received an emergency call from the cruise line:  Baby Doc had confiscated one of the new RVs and it was now locked up within his compound.  They had been negotiating locally with him all afternoon, to no avail, but in order to stay on schedule, the group had been transferred to the port, had re-boarded, and the ship now needed to sail without the RV. Did they have my permission to do so?  After ensuring that the cruise line would work on the client’s and my company’s behalf to outline options to both the client and our travel personnel, we agreed the best approach was to sail, and then continue trying to get the product released…which could then be scheduled as cargo on a subsequent cruise and would ultimately be returned to the US and shipped back to the client.  With that, I okayed the plan, the ship sailed and stateside, we picked up the effort to reason with Baby Doc.

The next day, I got another call from the cruise line.  No, they were not confirming we had convinced Baby Doc to stop being childish; they were calling to report one day later, we had another disaster brewing.  A significant number of the guests and many of the travel staff had become ill in the night.

By the time the ship reached Cozumel, we had a full-blown medical disaster, with most of the guests and staff very sick and all captive on what had now become a floating first aid station- and one that was running out of meds.  Of course, the culprit was the two-hour Haitian buffet of seafood set outside in the sun, with little provisions to keep the food at temp.

Sadly, this second disaster gave us leverage with Baby Doc – and we were able to convince him that releasing the RV was warranted in view of the consequences of dealing with negative international press about him and his country in view of health crisis caused by the food poisoning.  Overall, it was a situation from which we could not gracefully recover.  Fortunately, all recuperated-some after being hospitalized and battling the illness for extended time, but of course, that client no longer trusted us to handle either their dealer meetings or their incentive programs.

So memories of Haiti and Baby Doc represent a nightmare to me; and to all those on board that cruise, I am sure.  The only redemption was this became a significant teachable moment for me.  First and foremost, the client is NOT always right, and it is our responsibility, holding firm to our principles, to convince them of better alternatives; and secondly, it began my commitment to the process of Risk Assessment and Emergency Action Plans that I am still passionate about decades later!

Over the weekend, those memories combined with the news that Baby Doc had returned to Haiti, triggered a survival instinct within me that has been signaling “fight or flee”.  That man is deranged and dangerous! I caution all to watch him carefully as the world decides what to do about whatever he is up to.