Topmind Blogs

Nedra Chandler Life Story

January 21, 2019
By Nedra Chandler, used with permission
My husband Scott Graber died on the morning of December 17, 2018, when a speeding train came up to a rural crossing built at an uncommonly dangerous angle and crashed into him on the driver’s side. There were no cross-arms, lights, or even a stop sign there to blast through ‘automated’ human habits of attention and non-attention.
The blunt force of the impact moved his entire heart over in his chest and threw his body, various garden squash, his thermos and about $3000 in cash went flying that his dad had handed him to pay a guy near Big Timber for some special seed corn. Scott landed in the field beside the tracks — not too far from his family’s little farm where he had spent the weekend fixing a roof and fishing the Bighorn River.
My friend Liz pointed out the irony that my last post just about a week before Scott died was about ‘life bombs’ showing up in the lives of our close friends. It was the first week of December and I wrote about a conversation I had with Scott on the way home from Thanksgiving. We talked together about how life is wonderful even though the truth is, as Scott said, “we’re all a bunch of critters” on this earth, where surprise is constant, where we are never running the show as much as we like to imagine. Let’s deal with what’s real.
I went down to my basement…
This thing, this fact that Scott is not alive in this world, sent me to my basement, literally to look for things; and emotionally, to check on my foundations. I am just now barely accepting that Scott is not here loving me, being my mate, co-parenting our kids, and serving as chief engineer of tools, things with motors or computers, health insurance, and so much else.
Anyway, what I found done there was both solid and compromised. Our home was built in 1890 and the foundation is 18 inches thick — a sturdy survivor of two big earthquakes in Helena since it was built. I also went down to that wintry basement looking for my values and my sovereign Nedra self. Yeah, I re-found (is that a verb?) my core strengths. I re-noticed all the ways I lose my composure and focus and regain it again through my well-established habits of stilling my mind (my new turn of phrase for ‘meditation, thanks to Neurozone), moving my body, getting sleep and decent nutrition that I use every day. And, as my treasured professional coach, Rebecca Johns told me, “Nedra it seems the more grounded you are, the more expansive you are.” Wise words. Scott was so often my ground.
Enter a handy little liberating structure here: what are the facts? So what does it mean? Now what?
So here is that familiar cadence of always being somewhere on the constant movement between the polar opposites of dread and joy, fear and courage, life and death, or at least deaths of things like innocence, marriages, jobs, and other deaths that may occur before each of our individual last breath in the body.
Scott’s life spoke
When I walked into the hospital room in Billings some hours after the accident and saw his body, I had this simple yet profoundly-felt awareness: Scott’s life spoke.”
Those words came directly into my thoughts. It was like his 50 years of life were concentrated on that one truth I was witnessing, and that knowing seemed to fill up the space with love and loss at the same time.
And then, “My life is speaking too — here I am still alive in this body, on this planet.”
Life is speaking on the days I feel crushing loss and on days I am completely thrilled to be alive. I remember how Scott laughed at Homer Simpson, looking at one of those ‘inspirational’ posters that say Live Each Day Like It’s Your Last. Taking the news to heart, Homer panics and runs off crying, “I’m too young to die!!!”
Today I know this: our lives speak whether we are paying attention to that or not.
Live the questions now
“Live the questions now” is an often-quoted line from poet Ranier Maria Rilke.
You are no doubt already ‘living your questions’ in your own way. I want to tell you how specifically grateful I am for one of the questions I answered nearly every night of the week in 2018: Did I love Scott up and love him up specifically and on purpose today?” That question turned out to be pure gold for me, for Scott, for us. I put the other 10 daily questions I asked at the bottom of this post. Now, more Rilke:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”
Like you, like me, Scott had an energy that ‘spoke’ every time he showed up. He composed his life through his presence and the choices he made — investing his love, time, energy, and money in particular ways.
Live the questions now. The quality of the questions we ask ourselves and ask each other has everything to do with the quality of our conversations, our work, parenting, and governing – shaping our lives as individuals and our lives together with each other.
A nudge of encouragement and why
Who I am, how I live in the world, and how I serve clients are forever affected for the better by having loved and married Scott. And now, forever changed by losing him as my mate. My blog audience is a band of current and past clients and workmates — some of whom have not yet heard from me about Scott. I am telling you about Scott’s death so that you know. So that you continue to know me, and me you.
Another business reason I want to tell you is that the only way you get the coaching results you want is when you and I are honest and trusting learning partners. I had a brave client ask me how I can be present to clients right now. It’s a reasonable question. I am in the middle of new territory and I haven’t yet adapted to my new normal, but I will.
Meanwhile, I sense and hear from a few I am doing some of my best coach-partnering work right now. By working less in the near term, I am committed to keeping the quality standard high. I am also expanding from working almost exclusively with government leaders and teams into the corporate world, thanks to my talented workmates.
Here is your nudge directly from my heart to yours: fulfill your own commitments to yourself, your people, places, and your sphere of influence. Seek and know the main questions you are living with most days. When you can, choose what your life is saying. String one day together with the next and you compose this life.
Some of the questions I lived in 2018: I used an automated tracking system called Topmind — a company founded by AJ Willems, a fellow coach in the Marshall Goldsmith cohort of Lead60 coaches. Thanks to AJ, I used it all of last year and it was surprisingly effective (and fun) in keeping me focused on what matters most to me. Knowing that at the end of each day, I would get an email asking whether I fulfilled my own commitments worked on me as I made decisions throughout each day.
What I mean by “worked on me” is that more of my intentions got real as I composed my human critter life day to day.
The truth is, I haven’t gotten around to re-subscribing to the automated system this year but I did take Marshall Goldsmith’s Excel spreadsheet that he uses and generously shares, and I revised my daily questions there. Truth: I nearly immediately fell off the wagon of answering them when I didn’t get prompted by the automated email.
I offer these questions of mine remembering that not everything that matters should be measured. Still, here are the questions I wrote that landed in my inbox each day. Some have a Likert scale (1 low, 7 high), some have a narrative, and some were just yes or no.
1. “Did I do my best to take care of my own energy and health today?” (I have sublists under this one about sleep, moving, stilling my mind, and self-respecting nutrition that is specific for me here.)
2. “Did I take care of my clients whatever that needed to look like today to keep them front and center knowing my work is all about them and their success?”
3. “Did I spend my first 90 minutes at work with a singular focus on my highest-impact work for today?”
4. “Did I connect with Scott and love him up specifically and on purpose?” (I have sublists under this one for our kids and other people in particular but the measure wasn’t daily.)
5. “Did I reach out to at least two prospective clients this week with whom I may want to work in the coming year knowing that creating resonance with good-fit clients must be a consistent area of focus?”
6. “Did I take care of this week’s focus for my business systems (billing, sending needed data to my accountant, backups, continuing education, credentials, etc.)”
7. “How well did I listen today?”
8. “How present was I?”
9. “Was I friendly with what is?”  (a la E. Tolle)
10. “To what extent did I find and express some joy today?”
11. “What are 3 things I know I was grateful for today?”
A bit about me: I am the associate director of the University of Utah Stegner Center’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Program which exists to foster a culture of collaboration through helping people be more skillful in dealing with conflict. I am a mediator, professional coach, and third-party facili-trainer for the past 3 decades. Thank you for the gift of your valuable attention.
Find me and my current colleagues on the website
Nedra Chandler
Associate Director| EDR Program
Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources & Environment | S.J. Quinney College of Law
University of Utah
406-461-1621 (cell)
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-Fostering a culture of collaboration by helping people be more skillful in dealing with conflict-