Marshmallows & Presidents

What seems like another lifetime ago, Joachim de Posada was on a plane traveling from San Juan, Puerto Rico to New York City. He was reading Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It can Matter More Than IQ.
emotional-intelligence
Buried in the pages of this powerful book was one page discussing the Stanford University marshmallow experiment led by psychologist Walter Mischel. This series of studies, conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was on the concept of delayed gratification.

In the study, small children were left in a room. Each child was presented with a marshmallow and given a choice of eating it immediately or waiting fifteen minutes without eating it. The children were told that if they if they waited the fifteen minutes they would be given a second marshmallow.

Two out of three children ate the first marshmallow right away, but one out of three waited the fifteen minutes. A decade later, researchers conducted follow-up studies and discovered that the children who waited for the second marshmallow were more successful as adults than the children who had gobbled the first marshmallow immediately.

Joachim was fascinated by this study and was convinced that the principle of delayed gratification was the most important factor for success. What he could not understand was how such an important concept was buried in one page of one book. This idea drove Joachim to spread the marshmallow study’s results to audiences all over the world. And because his audiences were so taken by the concept, Joachim published the book Don’t Eat The Marshmallow…Yet: The Secret To Sweet Success in Work and LIfe. 

marshmallow-book

The book was more successful in Asia (specifically Korea) than in the United States. As Joachim spoke to audiences all over the United States, he explained that the Koreans understood the concept of delayed gratification better than Americans. He suggested that the principle of delayed gratification was one that United States presidents should study and understand so that the country would stop consuming more marshmallows than it produced. Joachim wanted to take this principle of success to the government in hopes that we could save the country from economic ruin. Because of this, he implored Americans to grasp this concept and apply it to their economy.

Joachim died on June 11, 2015. He is no longer here to inspire, to educate, and to continue to spread his message.

Or is he? 

Joachim is my father. Since his death I have been slowly and steadily writing a book about the things my father did while I was growing up to foster a close relationship between us. You see, my parents were divorced and my dad’s career had him traveling 80% of the time. Yet, despite him not being physically present in my daily life, my dad seemed to always be there. Through post cards, daily phone calls, and traditions he created, my father mastered the art of being there when he wasn’t. And as I grew, so did our bond. My father was a permanent positive figure in my life, always available to listen, give advice, celebrate my triumphs, and hold me up when I failed. Because of his incalculable influence on my life, I thought that I could not live without him. But as my father often told me, humans are resilient beings able to tolerate almost anything.

Following my father’s death, I found myself hearing his voice in my mind offering advice, celebrating my triumphs, and holding me up. Not because I actually hear voices in my head… but because my brain remembers his words and his influence. What’s more, my heart remembers. Today I realize that although I cannot touch or see my father, I can feel him. My dad proved to me that he would always be there even when he wasn’t, and he proved it in the most literal sense imaginable.

What I find most gratifying is to see how my father’s presence manifests in others as well. Throughout the year and a half since his passing, I have learned how so many people carry Joachim de Posada in their hearts. I have also seen how his message continues to spread.

This week, during one of the most controversial elections this country has ever seen, The New Yorker Magazine posted this cartoon:

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This post is not about whether you think Donald Trump is a marshmallow eater or resister. Regardless of whether you think this election is a result of delayed gratification or instant gratification, the point is this: The message of the marshmallow is spreading. Delayed gratification is a factor of success to which the United States and we Americans must pay attention.

40 years after Walter Mischel began this study…

12 years after Joachim de Posada published Don’t Eat the Marshmallow…Yet…

One year and a half after Joachim’s death…

The concept of delayed gratification is still spreading. Your ideas can continue even when you’re not there to share them. That is the legacy my father left behind. The power to be there when you’re not.

Now with the Internet and social media we each have more access to spread ideas than ever before. And we all have opportunity to leave our legacy. I can only hope that we use these media for good. I hope that if you have an idea or a product of value, you share it with the world. I hope you can spread your message to inspire and educate others. My dad always said, “you can be just one applied idea away from success.”

What I have learned is to live fully and authentically during this life, nurturing my relationships with friends, family, and clients. I have learned that if we can stay connected with each other and serve as a force for good, for education, and for love – we will never die. Our essence will live on long after we’re gone.

How do I know for sure?

My dad taught me that.

jdp

The Gift of Grief

The day my father left his body, I, for the very last time, kissed his cheek, hugged what remained of him, held his hands, and walked out of the hospital room. I approached the parking lot, got into my same car, took the same route home, walked into the same house to see the same husband and the same kids. Everything in my life was the same, yet everything was completely different. My world as I knew it had changed. 
 
 It was the end of my dad’s life. It was end of his struggle with cancer. It was the end of him attending birthday parties or family functions. It was the end of his career. It was the end of long conversations. It was the end of surprise visits. I felt it was the end of so much. Death does that. It highlights the ends, causing sharp pain which cuts through your heart. Even though I felt this sharp, deep pain, I found myself comparing my situation to others’ and I didn’t feel that I deserved to be in pain. After all, things could be worse. Some of my friends lost their parents much earlier in life. Their parents had not been around to walk them down the aisle or see their grandchildren born. Some of my friends lost children, which is out of order. Our parents are supposed to leave before us, not the other way around.  Some friends have lost their spouses, young and old. Knowing this, I thought to myself “Who am I to complain?” So I didn’t. 

I also wanted to believe that my father’s presence would remain with me. I had to believe that we were still connected and he was still here with me. I needed that. But by the same philosophy I thought if he was here with me, then I “should” not miss him. I should not grieve him because he has not left.  

I suppressed my pain, thinking that was the right thing to do. 

At the time, a friend of mine sent me Rob Bell’s podcast interview with David Kessler on grief.  It took me a while to muster the courage to hear it. I thought it would be too heavy for me. But eventually I did press play. That podcast did something for me that I will be eternally grateful for. It gave me the gift of grief.

By concealing my pain, what I was really trying to do was avoid suffering.  I did not want to be a victim of my loss. My father had taught me to focus on the positive, to use humor in all circumstances, and to be strong. If I grieved, I thought, I was letting him down. But Kessler said something that will forever stay with me. “Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional.” I was merging the two and I did not have to. That changed everything. Pain is inevitable. I have permission to grieve. It doesn’t matter if my loss is more or less tragic than anyone else’s. It doesn’t need to be compared. It is my personal and unique loss and it sucks. 

Kessler also helped me reconcile the internal conflict I was having about missing my father but wanting so desperately to feel his presence. “It’s not about the grief, it’s about the change.” My relationship with my father had changed. A relationship, by the way, that I had for 35 years. A relationship that helped mold me and define me. I no longer had a relationship with my father, the person.  I had a relationship with my father, the soul. I had lost one of the most important senses we humans have, the sense of touch. I could see my dad in my mind or in videos. I could sniff his cologne and smell him. I could hear his voice. I could remember him.  But I could no longer touch him. I could not kiss his cheek, hug him or hold his hand. I am allowed to feel the pain of that loss. 

The most beautiful realization I made, however, was not while I was listening to the podcast. The realization came later. When I gave myself permission to grieve, I found that I was still the same person as before. I was still positive. I still used humor. I was still strong. I often think of my dad, cry, and minutes later find myself laughing at something adorable my child did. I can miss him and feel his presence simultaneously. 

I can grieve with grace. 

I have also come to appreciate the cycle between ends and beginnings. The end of one thing is always the beginning of something else. A newly wed welcomes a life of companionship and romantic dinners, yet misses the simplicity of being single.  A new mother thanks God for her beautiful, bouncy, baby and yet sometimes mourns the time when she was only responsible for herself. As parents gloat with pride of the college their bright and independent son has been accepted to, they mourn their little boy who creeped into their beds in the middle of the night. Even happy beginnings come with sad ends. Although I reached the end of my human relationship with my father, it was the beginning of a new relationship. A relationship in which I carry him with me, everywhere I go. If we deny ourselves the joy of the beginning or the pain of the end, we are denying ourselves the act of fully living. 

The gift of grief has allowed me to live fully, in the present moment, truly feeling the happy and the sad. I used to have a mantra whenever I felt a twinge of pain,  “I am strong. I do not feel sorry for myself. I am not a victim. I am blessed. I have a good attitude.”  I continue to reiterate these mantras but I add “I am also human…and I miss my dad.” That’s ok too. 

Caroline de Posada-Rodriguez

If It Is To Be…It Is Up To Me.

That was the last daily motivational email my father ever sent, February 3, 2015. Just a few days earlier he had been operated on due to an intestinal obstruction—a major surgery, coupled with a large incision in his abdomen and bad news about the spread of his disease. My father had begun recovering at his usual speed—faster than expected—when suddenly he encountered a roadblock. The area was infected, and the doctors and nurses had not figured that out. An irregular heart rate was our only sign. An angel nurse insisted on transferring him to the ICU despite not knowing what was wrong with him. Before long, my father went into sepsis. Up until that day, he had kept up with sending his daily emails. He was so committed to his work and to spreading a positive message that he would send his emails even if it meant he had to dictate them to me and have me send them for him. I was always impressed by his commitment and follow-through. Joachim de Posada always did what he said he was going to do. 

But on this day, the infection had spread so quickly that his organs were shutting down. My dad was dying. He was becoming incoherent and losing strength. He could not move and could barely speak. Many doctors tried to assess what to do with him. He was a lost cause, they thought—covered in tumors, his heart at risk, and his infection spreading into his bloodstream. He was probably not strong enough to make it through another operation, but they finally decided to surgically remove the infection. I was instructed to have someone bring me my father’s living will. The nurse looked at me and said, “You’re father is too weak. His medical history is terrible. He is covered in tumors. He has a large incision in his abdomen. His organs are failing. His heart is failing. You must understand that you’re father will not likely come out of this surgery alive.”

“You haven’t met my father,” I told her. I came back into the room, stood by his side, and talked to him only minutes before he was to be wheeled into the operating room. I whispered in his ear how much I loved him and needed him, and how I wanted him to overcome this and get through this surgery. I begged him to be strong.

He did not respond to me coherently. I believe he was having hallucinations. I looked at my phone and realized it was a Tuesday and my father had to send his daily email. For the first time he had not remembered to send it. My heart sank. It was a realization of just how ill he was.

But I could not let him falter; I was his partner. In my desperation I felt if he sent the email, things would not change. He would overcome his illness as he had in the past.

I anxiously reminded him about the email. As he was being prepared for surgery, I opened up his laptop and asked him, “Dad, what do you want to share on your daily email today?” He just shook his head; he was too weak. I wondered if I should send an email on my own. Think, Caro. Think. Say something motivational. But I was in too much pain watching my father’s situation. I couldn’t think of anything.

As I solemnly closed his laptop, my dad’s finger summoned me over. My dad and I had a strong connection; all he had to do was move a finger and I knew what he needed. He often joked that when he saw me walk through the door, it was like seeing an angel because I was the only person who could understand what he needed when he could not communicate on his own. He would make a hand gesture, and I knew he needed ice, or to be moved, or that he was cold. So when his one finger moved, I put the computer down and put my ear close to his lips. I expected more nonsensical rambling, but instead he whispered, “I know what I need you to write.”

“For your daily email?”

“Yes.” He paused, took a few moments to catch his breath, and slowly said:

“If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Seconds later, a team of nurses and doctors wheeled him out of the room, leaving me by myself in an empty ICU room with a laptop. I typed his words and pressed SEND.

What a man he was. He knew how much trouble he was in. He knew he might be dying. But he accepted responsibility for what he had control over. He had always accepted responsibility for his successes and failures. He took matters into his own hands. He did not leave the important things in life to chance.

But now his body was failing him. He could not control what his doctors were going to do or how his organs and heart and body would respond. All he had control over was his mind and his spirit—sometimes that is all we have. He made a decision to hold on to his life. He was not ready to leave. He stood by his principles and spoke from his heart. 

Needless to say, he survived that surgery—much to the surprise of those who were caring for him. Months later, we encountered the same nurse who had pulled me aside that day. She took one look at my father and said, “Oh, my God. I remember you! Your daughter knew you would pull through. She told me I didn’t know you and that you would make it through the surgery. And she was right. I will never forget you two.”

After his surgery, I put his laptop away and concentrated exclusively on caring for him. He was under heavy anesthesia and it took a while for him to wake up. His body slowly started recovering—an intense time. 6 days later, he was finally talking and thinking clearly. He looked at me and asked me if I could send his email for him. I was thrilled. He was coming back! As he started to dictate, his words caught me by surprise:

Dear Clients & Friends, 

Upon reflection, I have decided that due to current projects that I want to prioritize at this moment, I will temporarily stop sending my daily motivational emails.

What? “Dad, why are you stopping your emails?” My heart ached. I feared he was giving up his fight. He looked at me and said, “Caroline I need to focus on recovering now. I have to concentrate on that, and all the energy I have left will go into the book you and I are writing together.” He continued to dictate:

“From now on I will send emails from time to time as I can. As always, one must walk his talk. Following my own principles, I’ve realized that I must focus on the things that are of most priority right now. Most importantly, I expect my latest book, LOVE, DAD: How To Divorce Your Spouse Without Divorcing Your Kids, which I am co-authoring with my daughter Caroline, to be out by June, 2015. Have a wonderful and productive week.”

He knew the road to recovery was going to be difficult if not impossible. And he knew he could not commit to sending emails every day. He was not willing to break his commitment. If he was not capable of sending an email everyday, he would notify each of his readers. My feelings of disappointment turned into feelings of respect. He continued to make decisions in line with his moral code.
 
Those last months of my father’s life were extraordinarily difficult. They took a huge toll on him and finally, after a long battle, he told me on June 9th that he was ready to leave this world. He was at peace but he was done living in pain. He died on June 11th, but I remember his last email distinctly:

If it is to be, it is up to me.

He lived by that philosophy until he died. I look back at his message and think how ironic it was that his goal was to finish our book by June, 2015. It was June, 2015 when he left this world. I feel that leaving was his way of bringing out the book, as the book has been writing itself since he left. 

My father lived by his principles and commitments. He did what he said he was going to do. His final motivational email was the most appropriate way for him to end them.

If it is to be, it is up to me.

Joachim de Posada always did his part. Always. And he taught me to do mine. I write this post today to say that I will continue to spread my father’s message and keep his memory alive. Joachim de Posada led a life of example—one that will inspire many to take their destinies into their own hands. My heart is heavy with my father’s loss, but my spirit is buoyant with purpose. To quote my father:

“From now on I will send emails from time to time as I can. As always, one must walk his talk. Following my own principles, I’ve realized that I must focus on the things that are of most priority right now.

I thank you for reading this, and hope you’ll join me in honoring my father’s legacy.

Joachim de Posada and daughter, Caroline de Posada

Joachim de Posada and daughter, Caroline de Posada