Eat Dessert First

By Ken Hager, COO

My father used to tell us all of the time, “Life is uncertain; eat dessert first.” As kids, we really didn’t understand the meaning behind those words, but we were willing to embrace them no questions asked! Mom, however, had other ideas and said your father is talking about an idea, a principle, that you’ll understand someday.

As I approach the 40th anniversary of my high school graduation, I understand the concept completely. I was talking with a fellow graduate recently, and he was telling me they were looking to have a banner made up in honor of all those who have passed too soon. “Ken, you wouldn’t believe how long that list is and some of the names on it.” Unfortunately I would and do, as I have come to understand the concept many times over in the recent past.

Most recently, my best friend Joe DeFino passed away from ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Awareness of this disease was raised with the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014. When that challenge started, neither Joe nor I had any idea of the impact the disease would have on his life, eventually taking it. Joe was an avid outdoorsman who loved camping, hanging around a fire pit, and competing in 5K charity runs. Joe handled this disease with grace and a certain determination to get the most out of life while he still could.

For Joe, life was certain. He knew he had a very limited time to enjoy everything he loved one last time. I took him to one last Yankee game, twice to see a Grateful Dead tribute band and to local parties around the neighborhood. We went to the Jersey Shore and the restaurants along the shore. With every trip we took, I realized that, for him, this would more than likely be his last time doing something that he loved.

His friends and I arranged to continue our annual camping trip the week before Thanksgiving and to modify our activities to meet his needs. Joe went the first year with leg braces and a cane and sat around the fire pit laughing and singing along with his friends. We eliminated the Saturday afternoon hike, but otherwise, we did all the usual things, and Joe made his infamous Dutch oven peach cobbler dessert. The next year, he and his friends were determined to allow him to enjoy one last trip, and we moved from tents to cabins and took him in his hospital bed and wheelchair. It was hard to fathom how quickly he had deteriorated over a year’s time. The third year was this past November, and he was no longer capable of going no matter how hard we tried.

Joe’s passing and his limited time to enjoy the things he loved all of his life made me think often of my dad’s words, “Life is uncertain; eat dessert first.” What he was telling us was that for most people, you don’t know when your time will come.  The end can be swift and unrelenting or slow and agonizing. Don’t wait until it’s too late to make time for the people you love or the things that you love to do. Enjoy the little and the big things every day, take a moment and reflect on the good and bad things in your life and celebrate the good.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in life, in the addicting passing of time, in staring at your phones or tablets or television or other distractions. If you find yourself in a panic because you left your cell phone home and feel disconnected from the world, I submit to you that this is the time to actually reconnect to the things that matter. Take a moment to look around you and let yourself relax. Smile at a stranger, help somebody for a moment. It could be as easy as holding a door open or helping somebody carry a package or, God forbid, letting somebody get in front of you on the highway.

You will often hear me speak of finding your passion and making it a part of your life. Do something this week that you love but haven’t found time to do recently. When you reconnect with your passion, all aspects of your life including your career will be improved. The little things in life will become larger if you allow them to. Life is uncertain; eat dessert first!

Joseph DeFino passed away on June 1, 2018, and is survived by his wife, Chris, and his two sons, Zachary and Josh.