Straight from the Heart

Not so long ago, Savvy Selling's Michelle Nichols wrote movingly of her son's sudden death. Here is a little of what readers had to say

By Michelle Nichols

This collection of excerpts from your letters in response to my column, "How We Keep Score in Life", about the death of my son. Warning: It's Rated T: Tissues strongly suggested. I can't add to the beauty of my readers' words, so I'll let them speak for themselves.

Marty wrote: As I read the moving tribute to your son, something wet rolled down my cheek. You might not think that unusual for someone reading about the death of a child, but if you knew me, you would share my astonishment.

Frankie recalled when he was 29, working hard at his new company, and how he found out in the same week that he was going to be a dad -- and that he had cancer. He wrote: "Luckily I was able to survive the disease but the message is still very strong -- why work so hard to provide for your family if you don't spend the time with your family? My children would much rather have me around just to lay with them or read them a book before they go to sleep then to go on the expensive vacations or drive around in the expensive cars. It's funny how every time I asked my kids what car they want to take to the boardwalk they always pick the one that cost less."

Petra said: "Last weekend I switched off my computer and played Scrabble with my 6-year old daughter, instead of asking her to go upstairs and watch a video so I could get on with my work. I will always treasure the memory of that simple game of Scrabble. My daughter won the game and was so funny and entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed it and now look forward to the next time she asks to play. It wasn't a big, expensive day out or anything extravagant, but it was a super evening well spent and added to my life score in a big way."

Charles admitted: "I have never written anyone ever before regarding anything I've read, I'm 50 years old and it's about time. I'm not even a salesman, but needed to write and express my sorrow for your loss and to thank you for the article. In the gargantuan effort to provide for our families we often forget what really matters most. Thank you again for bringing a needed dose of perspective to me."

I heard from Susan, whose 14-year old daughter, Lucy, didn't feel well one day last year. The doctor ran some tests and found out Lucy had acute leukemia. Lucy died the next day. This column came out just before her daughter's one-year anniversary. I called Susan and we had a good cry for her, Lucy, Mark, and me.

Nicholas observed: "The balance between work and home . . . requires the courage to be intimate in our relationships, instead of hiding away at work."

Special thanks from Linda, who also had a child die, and found my column especially pertinent as she now works with highly motivated young adults -- pre-law, pre-med, pre-MBA applicants.

Shari, whose daughter Christiane died in May, 1998, opened my eyes: "In our business as photographers, we have the sacred responsibility of going to hospitals at all hours to create beautiful portraits of babies who have died. These portraits are provided by us at no cost whatsoever to the parents. The great joy of this for us is that we get to share, from our perspective as parents who have been there, some of our lessons learned and wisdom gained."

Marianne shared: "We lost a dear colleague here at my work in May. She had battled brain cancer since 1997, and each time it reappeared, she beat it with surgery and chemo. This last time, when she left for surgery, we were all confident she would return as always. Since she never complained, took her work and family seriously, and had a great sense of humor, we thought she would be with us a lot longer. Her passing hit our whole group very hard. To see a young person -- only 34, with three little boys, 6, 8, and 10 -- leave all of us behind was a tremendous blow."

Jeff reported: "I had a great childhood, and if I had a complaint it was that I didn't get enough 'Dad time.' He is a physician and spent a lot of time taking care of people. When I grew up, my dad continually warned me that I was doing the same thing he did. I just brushed it off to parental ignorance -- I'm 40 years old.

"Low and behold, in August, 2000, I laid myself off...from a failing business. During the next month, I realized that I had a 1-year-old daughter who I didn't know. I'd watched her and played with her, but even then, I wasn't present to know how truly magnificent she is.

"I decided to start my own company. I now have a successful business that supports my life the way I want to live it, with time to play with my daughters, and go on dates with my wife."

Debra wrote: "Your message is powerful -- the only thing I am selling is selling myself short, so July 20 is the turning point. Today I go home on time and get an extra three hours play time with my daughter! Thank you for the timely reminder -- you are wise, wacky, and wonderful. Keep on being all three!"

Steve reminded me: "Hopefully, your article helps everybody realize what a problem really is. As I have said before, if money can solve the situation then the situation is not a problem."

Kimberly confessed: "Your article caused me to realize that my own children need me. And when I work weekends, or try to work in the evening to catch up, and my toddlers cry for me, it's not because they are hungry or wet or tired, it's truly because they miss their Mommy.

"So, beginning tomorrow, I am going to reset my priorities. Realistically, who cares about the telephone ringing when my babies are curled up in my lap knowing I love them more than anything."

David said he came across the article while at the hospital waiting for his first grandchild to be born. Talk about perfect timing!

Karli celebrated her very good news: "Wednesday was my son Liam's last day of chemotherapy after 40 months of treatment. Our wish has come true, our boy continues to thrive, thanks to the love, support, and prayers of many people."

To all who have written, thanks and gratitude from the bottom of my heart -- and a word of advice: Don't beat yourself up for any bad parenting choices you made in the past. Rather, turn your attention to the future and change what you must so you can spend some time with your loved ones tonight and tomorrow. Then you'll sell -- and live -- with the best kind of savvy.

Michelle Nichols writes Savvy Selling for BusinessWeek Online

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.