The Gift of Heart Failure

I remember the day well.  My friend Dan Weiniger and I were hanging outside of the middle school awaiting the arrival of our daughters at the end of the school day.  As usual, we enjoyed each other’s company chatting about life and everything in general.

But on this day, Dan surprised me by asking, “So, Josie, do you really think there is an afterlife?”  As an author and afterlife researcher, people come up to me all the time asking about the afterlife.  But Dan, though a loyal friend and huge supporter of mine, was agnostic.

I looked back at him leaning against his car, “Yes, Dan.  I don’t think.  I know.”  Dan told me that he wanted to believe but wasn’t sure.  For the next several minutes I answered his questions about heaven and the afterlife ending with, “I’ll tell you what Dan.  If I go first, I’ll bring you a sign and if you go before me, you bring me a sign.  All I can tell you is when you die, you’ll going to be surprised. Because, yes, we die in body but not in spirit.”

He gave me a serious yet cheerful laugh and said, “OK, Josie.  You got a deal.” That day was February 18, 2014.  Below is a picture Dan took of us that day and posted on Facebook. Pictured with us is his dog Popcorn.

Daniel H Weiniger February 18, 2014 · Discussing life & afterlife with my good friend Josie Tropeano Varga — feeling great with Josie Tropeano Varga at Thomas Edison Intermediate School.Daniel H Weiniger

One year later, almost to the day (February 4, 2015), Dan suffered a massive heart attack losing 80 percent of his heart’s functions.  Basically 80 percent of his heart was dead and there was no place to by-pass to; no veins to stent.  Dan opted to have a LVAD (left-ventricular assisted device) implanted in his chest which is a mechanical pump that helps to pump blood. The surgery was a success and he was then placed on a list awaiting a heart transplant.

Sadly, Dan passed away on July 25, 2017.  The heart he so desperately needed never materialized.  The fact that a heart failed such a wonderful, kind, loving person is beyond my comprehension.  Ironically, he was all heart.

In April of this year, Dan released a book, The Gift of Heart Failure.  While he was working on the book, he called to ask if I would write his foreword and also wanted my advice.  We talked at length about his book and his reasons for writing it.  I advised him to include an introduction as well as a final thoughts section.  I explained that it was important to tell people why he was writing the book.

“Heart failure has taught me how precious life really is,” he told me.   “And what do you want people to remember when they finish your book?” I asked.  Dan quickly answered, “Be grateful for the tough times because they mean you are alive.”

In Dan’s memory, I am sharing some of his enlightening words of wisdom from the book.

Kindness:

What I learned from this is that there is more to being kind than simply just being nice, more than being a good neighbor, more than doing the right thing. All of that can be driven by ego and have self-serving adulation and recognition.  True kindness is generated by our true essence and attitude not by our ego.  It taught me, besides my mother’s insistence, I am not the center of the universe.

Kindness is born of compassion for others.  It is a deep sense of understanding and caring that comes when your heart is open and your mind is not solely focused on your universe.  It is again showing us the importance of being able to look at our situation and ourselves from an unemotional, detached angle and see more than one perspective.

Your actions may appear to be kind.  I always try to display kind behavior.  However, what this experience has taught me is your thoughts have to be kind, kindness must initiate from inside, from your heart.  Are your thoughts kind?  If not, you are not expressing true kindness and compassion, because inspired kindness flows from the soul and it treats all things and all people with gentleness and respect.

Enthusiasm:

Your enthusiasm can cause a chain reaction of good in the world.  So live your life with enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  Every great endeavor has been fueled by passion, which is the byproduct of enthusiasm. By passion, I mean zest and zeal, a fiery non-stoppable enthusiasm.  I’m talking about an inner force that relentlessly drives you forward.  Setbacks and frustration just fuel your passion to try again, and climb that mountain.  It is a burning desire that creates a commitment to obliterate one’s obstacles and live the life you imagine.

Mindfulness:

Control your thoughts and your mind.  To live more in the now we must control our thoughts and our mind.  To live in the present moment we need to develop more mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of paying attention, nonjudgmentally, to whatever arises in the present moment.  When we are mindful, we experience what life presents to us, and we are no longer resisting the flow of life. The flow of life energy, when you go with the flow, you are surfing life’s energy force. When we are mindful, we realize that we are not our thoughts; we become an observer of our thoughts without judging them.

Forgiveness:

There is always an opportunity. Mistakes offer a fork in the road. They represent a chance to choose one path or another.  Choose forgiveness, choose kindness and choose love. Use your past and a broad perspective as a light to identify the opportunity so that you can forgive yourself and others. One of the best opportunities and paths to forgiveness is to seek opportunities to help others. When we shift and focus on others a real shift takes place in us and in our lives: you can feel it. When you move pass your worries and look back at your mistakes and you are focused on helping others in this world, that is when some magical things begin to happen.

It takes a lot of strength to forgive someone who is not sorry and to accept the apology you never received. However, unforgiveness is a negative emotional mindset where you, as the offended party maintain feelings of resentment, hostility, and anger toward the person, or persons who offended you. If you do not forgive, all you see is an injustice.  This unforgiveness will take a huge toll on your physical and mental health and will destroy your relationships.

Personal Perspective:

Most of us see only the trees; we cannot or choose to not see the forest. We live our lives in small 24 hour segments, or even smaller.  The answer is personal perspective. It is not easy to step back from a present obstacle, especially a painful or emotional obstacle. However, by stepping back we can see a bigger picture, find the new angle, and look for the always-present opportunity. Yes, personal perspective is the key, and what a wonderful way to achieve wisdom.

Be a Miracle:

By making the choice to live as if everything is a miracle, every moment becomes something to appreciate and be grateful for. One of the biggest miracles I see in my life is my family, friends and the love we all share.  Love is the most amazing thing in our lives.  It is what makes us sing, dance and smile. The miracle of love also leads to what we have already discussed and that is the acts of kindness, forgiveness, thinking of others and seeing life from another person’s point of view.

Difficult times will happen. To find the light, we have to go through the darkness. Please remember while you’re in the midst of it, to try and take a deep breath and remember that the lessons you are learning from the very obstacles you are facing, will shift your view of life. You will learn what matters, who matters, how strong you are and how lucky you are to exist. That is what difficult times teach us, and they are some of the most important lessons we can ever learn.

I loved what Dan had to say about appreciating the little things in life.  “When we are faced with difficult challenges and when death stares us in the face, it is then that we often realize that our smallest joys and accomplishments are what matter most.”  As I wrote in the foreword to his wonderful book, The Gift of Heart Failure, sometimes it takes something bad to teach us something good.  Sometimes it is our greatest challenges that teach us our greatest lessons.

Dan once told me that if you wanted a miracle in your own life you had to first be a miracle in the lives of others.  I truly hope he knows as he now watches from heaven what a miracle he was and what a difference he made.  Thank you, Dan, for the gift of your friendship.

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