Oh, the lessons I’ve learned. And, farewell.

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press Opinion page, October 4, 2019

It’s said that the right decisions are the hardest ones to make. That’s certainly been true for me.

In 1993, I was a practicing attorney with a baby on the way when my two-year-old son was diagnosed with autism.

Autism – one new word, a whole new life.

On an October morning, I tearfully told my colleagues I was leaving the law firm to figure things out.

Though I never returned to the practice of law, my advocacy training proved useful as I navigated a persistent parade of challenges.

In retrospect, I realize the trials were setting me up for my next chapter.

In the summer of 2007, I sent an essay about parenting a child with autism to Mike Burbach, the Opinion page editor, now Pioneer Press editor.

After it ran, readers sent emails thanking me for sharing an experience which paralleled their own.

I wrote another piece and found I enjoyed it.

Though Burbach noted I’d picked a bad time to get into the newspaper business, I was undeterred. My dusty journalism degree and I had found an unexpected purpose and platform.

With resilience often the theme, I’ve written about interesting and relevant people and organizations whose stories offer insight and inspiration, with an ulterior motive. Sharing these stories helps me to remain optimistic.

Whether the topic is Alzheimer’s, caregiving, opioids, or dyslexia, my goal has been to raise awareness about challenges with which we often silently struggle, regardless of skin color,  gender, or political affiliation.

Though 2020 will be remembered for many things we’d rather forget, there is one thing I hope we remember: our ability to adapt.

Be it nonprofits, schools, businesses, or families, 2020 has required us to adapt to unexpected change and challenges.

My family is no exception.

When coronavirus settled in, so did my son Jack – in what was intended to be our guest room.

I’ve resumed the caregiving/coaching role I thought I’d forever relinquished when he moved into his first apartment 10 years ago.

It was another difficult decision that feels right.

But it’s not the only one.

When my most recent column here, about Emma Bell’s book, “9 Secrets to Thriving,” went to press two weeks ago, I felt accomplished – and done.

It’s time to call an unexpected, part-time gig as a newspaper columnist a wrap.

But first, a nod to a few folks and a few lessons I’ll always treasure.

From Greg Rye I learned about the importance of creating and sharing connections and expressing gratitude.

To everyone who shared their stories, I also offer thanks. I carry all your stories in my heart.

From the late Vince Flynn I learned about perspective and determination. Though his dyslexia plagued him as a student, he came to view it as a gift that enabled him to become an internationally acclaimed author. His encouraging words were the nudge I needed to write my own book.

From Patty Sagert, advocate for the elderly, I was reminded of how vital it is to give a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves, regardless of age or situation.

From Miki Huntington, retired U. S. Army Lt. Colonel, whose high school counselor discouraged her from applying to UCLA, I was reminded that words do matter. Thank you for your service.

Writing about an array of nonprofits opened my eyes to the many ways we can make a difference in another’s life. But experiencing it firsthand, as I did on mission trips with Starkey Hearing Foundation and Smile Network, opened my heart to the deep satisfaction that comes from making another person’s life better.

From Mary Jo Copeland I learned we have a responsibility to embrace our gifts. Though she barely graduated from high school, Copeland raised a large family and created Sharing and Caring Hands. Her nonprofit has raised millions of dollars. It’s helped thousands of individuals who needed a hot meal, a warm bed, and a loving touch, all because she believed God had given her a gift she dared not squander.

From the Long family I learned we’re never too young or too old to make an impact. In his lifetime, Dick Long offered many examples of stepping forward to help others. Through Be the Match, his grandson, Mike Rice, donated his bone marrow to a stranger whose life depended upon it.

From Sona Mehring, founder of CaringBridge, I learned about the healing power of words. CaringBridge was my lifeline when my daughter underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2005.

From Natalie Bushaw I’ve learned there’s peace in accepting what we can and cannot control. I’ve also learned deep faith can help one to navigate intense medical challenges, as her family has for years.

As of this writing, her 17-year-old son, Logan, is fighting another grueling medical battle with the prayers and support of many CaringBridge contacts. May his recovery be swift and enduring.

Most importantly, from Father Joseph Johnson I learned that, when faced with adversity, we all have a choice. We can be bitter. Or we can be better. Offered in one of my darkest moments, his words were a life-changing gift that keeps on giving.

To my readers, I hope these lessons have also resonated with you. When life gets difficult, as it inevitably will, remember that, while we can’t always control what happens to us in life, we can always control how we respond.

~~~If you would like to read more of Caryn’s work, you can purchase a signed copy of her award-winning memoir, “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page,” filled with inspirational stories about navigating life, here.