Over the nearly six years that we’ve published Shorts, the newsletter has changed, probably because I, as primary writer, have changed. In 2006 when we launched Shorts, it was admittedly a “marketing” piece, designed to inform our readers about new happenings in the law, health care operations, clinical developments and all things “long term care.” And admittedly, it was also designed to keep the Poyner Spruill Health Law Team front and center in the minds of our clients and potential clients. It worked. In 2006, we began with 300 readers. Today, our readership is somewhere in excess of 1,300, and I can barely keep up with the requests to “add me to your mailing list.” That’s a blessing.

Somewhere along the way, to my great surprise, we also got noticed by folks outside North Carolina. Our marketing director, without telling me, submitted Shorts On Long Term Care to the Legal Marketing Association’s international newsletter competition. In late 2009, she called me from Las Vegas to say that Shorts had just been named First Place Winner for law firm newsletters — not just among long term care or health care newsletters, but ALL newsletters written by law firms in the U.S. (and several other countries) on any legal topic. Boom, bang, boom. That was a special day!

Somewhere along the way, Shorts changed from a legal newsletter to a publication that talked not about just law and long term care, but also about my musings on life. My first dalliance in “soft” stories was “Midnight’s Requiem,” written in 2009 to express my grief about the death of my little black cat, Midnight. The story generated nearly 300 email responses. Next, I wrote “The Falling Tree,” which celebrated the aging process and generated another couple of hundred emails from across North Carolina, the U.S. and even England. A friend was so moved by that story that he created a painting depicting The Falling Tree that now hangs on my dining room wall. I wrote about my trips to Nicaragua and our work with the impoverished elders. I celebrated the life of Debbie Mathis of the Lutheran Services for Aging organization and, most recently, mourned the passing of my friend, Riley Clapp.

What has amazed me is that our “soft” stories touch readers the most and, ironically, bring us the most legal business. I guess that just goes to show that folks want their lawyers to have brains and hearts. Life is strange indeed.

So I’m now on deadline for the next issue (and if we skip an issue, I get frantic calls asking if we’ve stopped publishing Shorts), and I’ve decided in celebration of the year’s end that I’ll take a break from law, and long term care, and write about my upcoming Christmas.

This has been, honestly, one of the most challenging years of my life, and for most of 2012, I’ve just wanted it to be over. My precious mother turned 75, and I’ve witnessed her slowing down. I turned 55 in July. One of my biggest clients was sold, and off went the business to a fancy D.C. law firm. My niece lost her job. I’ve been tired and a little depressed. Two of my best friends from my days working in Washington, D.C., at the American Health Care Association died of cancer. My stepfather, Frank, was diagnosed in October with a rare form of cancer that will require major surgery and a long recovery. That news and the days of being with Frank, Mom, and Frank’s daughters at the Duke Cancer Center took me back, deeply and painfully, to Dad’s death in 2002 at Christmas.

Then I learned that my best friend’s daughter was pregnant, after losing a child last year and that if this “Little Man” lived, he would be my godson, but he was trying to come way too early. His chance at living was measured by how many days he could stay in the womb. Again, I found myself just wishing for 2012 to be over and for 2013 to arrive, with a new beginning.

So when I sat down to write this article, I put on a CD called “The Gift,” by Susan Boyle. As I wrote, and deleted, and wrote some more, I heard her sing “The First Noel,” then “Let Me Be a Channel of Your Peace” and “O Holy Night.” I found myself singing along with Susan, and my spirits soared. And I thought about my gifts.

I realized that whatever higher power we believe in — whether it’s God, Mohammed, a Prophet or some other spiritual power — faith is easy when times are good. Our faith is tested and strengthened and our character measured when times are hard. There’s an old gospel song that came to mind as I wrote this that says:

Lord, please help us learn the secret, even little flowers know, if it never, never rains, then we’ll never, never grow.”

In that moment, I realized that 2012 wasn’t the worst year of my life, it was the best. Because, along the way, I learned some precious lessons: my stepfather, Frank, had done his best to be a father to me, not a stepfather; his illness bonded me with his three amazing daughters and gave me new friends and sisters for life; a dear friend loved me enough to ask if I’d be the godfather of her grandson; I’d never again stand beside a grave as I did at my father’s and wish I’d done more; my sisters and I, by sheer chance, now lived in the same state for the first time in 14 years and at a time when that really matters for Frank and my mom; the daughter of my departed friend from D.C. met me, by chance, at a lecture this past October in Myrtle Beach at the Autumn Corporation Annual Meeting (we celebrated her mom’s life privately); my sisters from my father, Jack (Robin and Joy), and my sisters from my stepfather, Frank (Rhonda, Janice and Pat), are circled like wagons on a Nebraska plain, ready for whatever may come with Frank’s illness; and a thousand other wonderful things that have happened to me in this year that I thought of as my worst.

Then to punctuate that message, as I wrote this story, Mom called and asked me to come for Thanksgiving dinner. Frank’s daughters were all coming and she wanted me there. It was only November 3, not Thanksgiving. But I knew without being told that we would celebrate Thanksgiving early this year because Frank’s surgery was coming up soon. I knew that we would pray for Frank, and for Little Man (my Godson) and for my sisters and friends, those still here and those recently departed. I looked outside the door of my breakfast room, where I write, and saw the most glorious fall day, with crisp air and golden leaves and I thanked God for the worst year of my life, 2012. In that instant, as my dogs romped in the yard, I tasted in my memories the smell of Thanksgiving gravy and Christmas treats … the noise of family, babies and wrapping paper tearing … I knew that I have been the most blessed in this, my most challenging year. I turned up the Susan Boyle CD and sang at the top of my lungs to my two puppies and kitty cat:

Let me be a channel of Your peace;
Where there’s despair in life
Let me bring hope
Where there is darkness
Only light
And where there’s sadness
Ever joy

Make me a channel of Your peace
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
In giving to all men that we receive
And in dying that we are born
To Eternal Life

Oh, Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul

I thank you for reading our newsletter so faithfully and wish for you the peace that comes from knowing your worst days or years are actually your best. Happiest of Holidays from the Poyner Spruill Health Law Team and from me, personally. I think I smell a happy Christmas! Ken

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