Monday, July 26, 2010

Reality is at times an illusion.

From Wikipedia:
Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or may be thought to be....

I hate the word 'reality'.

Reality does not seem to always exist. Reality TV, for example, is simply not real at all. Even the news is edited, not really real either. And all the shows about Hollywood and the magazines like People that we devour? Also fake. Always either trying to put a good person in a bad light, or the other way around. Entertaining, but certainly not reality.

Spin, spin, spin.

And don't even get me started on politics. Or politicians.

So, where do we find reality?

Is what we see and hear real? Can we trust what we see and hear?

The only thing that I see that is certainly real is death. And after the death has occurred, we still change what we have seen and tell stories of a death from our own perspective.

And I guess that is what reality really is. A view from our own perspective. Just our own reality. No one elses.

But we do rely on other's perspectives. And that sometimes is a problem.

Because it is simply not always real. And many times an illusion.

I guess what got me started on all of this was meeting Priscilla Presley this past weekend. She is someone we have all heard of and seen on TV and in movies. Many times, she has been made fun of. Especially lately, with garish pictures in magazines showing her in an unflattering way. Looking rather plastic and unreal somehow.

But when I saw her and saw how she really looked (tiny, petite, her face pretty, not as bad as the magazines lead us to believe and much, much younger than her age of 65) and how she acted (like a really nice person, shy and polite), I suddenly realized we had been misled. They sold us an illusion. And a bad one at that.

Here was a real person who has thoughts and feelings just like we do. Sure, she is famous and rich and lived under the shadow of a name bigger than life. But she was just as friendly as anyone I have ever known and she treated everyone as though she was thrilled to meet them. And it was not an act. I can spot a phony a mile away.

There was a man in front of me, waiting in line to meet her, who lived in Kentucky and who had been, and still was, a huge Elvis fan. He had with him a signed postcard from an Elvis concert he attended in 1971 that was signed by Elvis and a few members of his band. He told us he had waited all these years to finally meet Priscilla and have her sign it as well. He hoped she would, but understood if she could only sign the model horse that the organizers told us was the only thing she would sign and not to ask for anything else. He was so sincere and such a nice guy. He said he would simply ask her and if she said no he would not press the issue. We all hoped she would sign it.

Finally, when it was his turn to meet Priscilla, he showed her the postcard. She was stunned and happy to to see it. She ogled and awed and talked to him about his memories of that concert. Then, she asked for a special pen and signed away. All the people waiting, and there were quite a few, stood and applauded. I am sure that Priscilla wondered about that. But we were all so thrilled for him. And we all told her thanks as we went up to her. Thanks for being so kind to this man. And we meant it.

And we all realized, too, that she was very real. Not a joke as they portray her to be on TV and in the rags.

She was an illusion that turned to reality, not the other way around.

It was a good lesson. It made me stop to think about how I perceive things and to know that my mom was right when she would say to me, "Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see."

So we should all be cautious when we hear something about someone we don't know. We should not judge. We should remember that others are trying very hard to make us see things from their perspective, from their reality. And most times, it is only an illusion. Made up for some gain.

I am not sure what there is to gain by making someone else look bad. Perhaps it is to sell magazines or newspapers or whatever. Or to try to make themselves look better by putting others down.

But it is quite mean and I have to wonder what we have become as people who clamor for this misinformation, and view it as entertainment.

You know, we really have such a short time here on this planet. That is certainly a reality. And it is a real shame to waste it in this way.

I would much prefer to spend it the way Priscilla does; being real to ourselves regardless of what other's say.

And taking the time to make people happy.

The image is one thing and the human being is another...It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.
~~~Elvis Presley

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.
~~~Abraham Joshua Heschel

Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.
~~~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances.
~~~Saint Vincent de Paul

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

People can make us crazy.

I like people. I really do.

But some people just drive me crazy.

I don't understand them. It is like they enjoy making other people miserable.

Perhaps it is because they are miserable themselves.

I don't know. But they sure do make life hard sometimes.

There are a lot of very unhappy people out there. I see them in stores, on the road, at work. Everywhere. Not that I don't have my own moments, I do. But some people make a point of aiming their unhappiness right at you.

People see right through people at times. I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed someone at a check-out line in a store who doesn't acknowledge the person who is waiting on them. They don't make eye contact; they don't say thank you. They roughly grab their bag. And the cashier moves on to the next person who does the very same thing. I can imagine that it gets to be a drag after a while, being seen as a non-person. So when the cashier is less than polite to me, I try to remember that and try to treat them kindly. Usually I get kindness in return. Not always.

I think sometimes we are a society that feels hard done by. So we project outward our miserable feelings to others. Like 'why should I be nice, no one is nice to me'.

And those are the people who drive me crazy.

I even see it at work. You would think that hospice nurses are nice all of the time. Not true. Some are burned out, and for good reason. They are generally nice to the patients, as it should be. But they are not always nice to each other. And some of the administrators? I think they get enjoyment out of picking on every little thing we do wrong.

It is daunting at times.

I always have said that I like to work. I enjoy my work. It is the people I have to work for that make it hard.

Oh, well. Such is life.

The other thing that makes me crazy about people is how they complain all of the time. I mean, ALL of the time. About stupid things that are really meaningless. It is like they enjoy complaining, or talking about other's faults.

I wish I could show them what real problems are.

But I guess that is life. It cannot be avoided.

I personally like to surprise people. When my boss, who is a nice enough lady, but a real nudge, gives me a hard time, I look at her and apologize. Even when I know I did nothing wrong. It takes the wind out of her sails and she usually ends up apologizing to me for picking apart something that never even needed to be talked about in the first place. Like my charting. Or some boo-boo I made on my payroll input. She could drive me crazy if I allowed her to. But I don't. I choose to take away that power from her.

And I guess that is how I handle all the crazy people I come into contact with each and every day. I take away their power by not letting them get to me. Or by responding with kindness. Or by ignoring the ignorant driver who won't let me cut in by just imagining that they perhaps have to rush to the side of a sick child. That allows me to let them off the hook. It changes my perspective on things. It protects my own sanity.

Protecting our own sanity from the craziness of others is what we should be doing every single day. We spend way too much time wondering why people do what they do. We should instead be spending more time asking ourselves why we are doing it; why we are worrying about it, thinking about it, obsessing about it. Why we are letting it bother us so much.

We should let that go, because we will never really know, try as we may. And then we should look for ways to protect ourselves.

I love being around happy people. I love it when people acknowledge my presence. So I try to do that for others.

It doesn't always work. But it makes me feel better.

And really, that is the best we can hope for.

Nobody really cares if you're miserable, so you might as well be happy. ~Cynthia Nelms

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. ~Dalai Lama

If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years. ~Bertrand Russell

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Safety first.

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
~~~George Eliot

Sometimes, someone will ask me what attracted me to my husband. How I knew that he was the one.

My honest answer would be that he made me feel safe.

Feeling safe is something we don't think about a lot. But it is there. It is the thing that guides our lives much more than we know.

In hospice, most patients wish to die at home. Why? Because they feel safe there. And if they don't feel safe at home, they will express a wish to die at our hospice house or in the hospital.

Kids feel safe when they see mom or dad. Teens seek safety in numbers. There are safety precautions on every form of travel, in every pool we swim in, in every lake with lifeguards.

Safety is important. Feeling safe is important.

I think that many people do not feel safe. They are out there in this big old world and feel unprotected. They are afraid. They seek refuge in alcohol or maybe drugs to get rid of the feeling. That feeling of being alone, even in a roomful of people. It is sad.

I sat this weekend with a mom of 4 who was dying from breast cancer that she had been fighting for over a decade. Some of her kids only knew her as a mommy who was sick. But they all turned out great. Have great lives. Have gone to wonderful schools and graduated at the top of their class. And why?

Because she made them feel safe. Always. Even until the very end.

When you feel safe, you try more things. You feel as though you can do more because you have this safety net below you that will catch you when you fall. It is a wonderful thing to know that you will be loved if you fail, that you will be cared for no matter what. That no one will be disappointed in you for trying to do your very best.

But sometimes that safety net fails, and you will not trust it again. No matter who is holding it.

It is the kind of blunder that can ruin lives. Quite literally.

We all know someone like that.

Feeling safe doesn't mean that life will be fair, that people won't let you down, that you won't feel bad at times. Of course you will.

But having just that one sure thing in your life can make all of that seem less important somehow. You feel more centered and more confident. You get knocked down but there is always that helping hand to get you back on your feet.

I wish everyone had someone in their lives that made them feel totally safe.

The world would be a much kinder place.

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.
~~~Maya Angelou

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How much information do we really need to know.

I wish some days I could just live in a bubble. A bubble that only allowed a small amount of reality to seep in each day. A bubble where bad things did not happen constantly, and where days seemed long and peaceful and not so rushed.

I am sure we all feel that way at times.

I feel like I used to live in that bubble. When I was young. When we did not have so much information in front of us all of the time.

I know, I sound old. Just like my parents sounded to me.

We live in an information world. We can know anything we want to know almost instantly. But we also hear about things we really don't need to know, also instantly. And constantly. Over and over and over again.

Sometimes it feels like a drug. Something that we feel we need. Something we can escape into.

And I don't think that is always such a good thing.

We hear about bad things. A lot. Things that stress us out everywhere we look. Sometimes it feels like there is no escaping it.

24 hour news programs on TV. Talk radio in the car. The Internet on our phone, in our laps, in restaurants and coffee shops. No escape. Not really.

And most of it is just simply junk news. I don't really care about a lot of it. Nor do I need to know most of it.

And how many times do I need to hear about the weather? Last time I checked, I could just simply walk outside and see for myself.

Our kids are getting too much information as well. Many times before they can even really comprehend it. And I think it adds too much unneeded stress to their lives. And I think; no, I know, that stress is quite dangerous to our health.

Many people talk about eating right and exercising. But I hear very little about tuning out. About getting away from all the information garbage that we are exposed to each and every day, for hours on end.

Sometimes we go up to our secluded house in New Hampshire. I love it up there. No Internet. No TV really, except to watch a movie. No cellphone reception. We rarely get any news up there at all. And we don't miss it.

I feel great up there; no pressure, lazy days even when there is work to be done. We talk more, we interact more. One night it was so quiet, I had trouble sleeping because I kept hearing my own heart beating.

And then we return home. We rush to the computer to see what we have missed. We turn on the TV, check the cellphones for messages. We want to be sure we have not missed anything.

And, of course, we haven't.

And background noise once again fills our lives.

We tune into what we really don't need to know and tune out what is most important. Namely, each other. And ourselves.

Not good. Not good at all.

So I think we should try to unplug occasionally. To live in the little bubble of our own lives. To tune out the unnecessary noise.

I think it is a very healthy thing to do. Part of a healthy lifestyle. Just like eating right, exercising and brushing our teeth.

We need to make it a daily habit.

“Information is not knowledge.” ~~~Albert Einstein

“I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, and then it will go on overload and blow up.” ~~~Erma Bombeck

“The life of inner peace, being harmonious and without stress, is the easiest type of existence.”
~~~Norman Vincent Peale

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Looks can be deceiving.

I know a man, not well, but well enough, who might scare you if you saw him on a dark street corner. He is large and imposing, wears his hair in a pony-tail and has a beard. He is also a biker. Yet he is the kindest, gentlest man I have met by far. And he is a loving dad and husband. Also quite smart and well read. Interesting to talk to.

I know another man, the husband of a friend, who looks just about GQ perfect. Always impeccably dressed, well groomed with short hair. He works out, is tall and lean and has a wonderful job where he makes loads of money.

Yet he has an edge, is mean to his kids, is boastful and I cannot stand to be around him. He actually frightens me.

Another man I know I met in New Hampshire at a small town, local get-together. He looked like he had just been busy working on his carburetor; dirty hands and fingernails, stained work shirt, messy pants, work boots. A bit disheveled. He walked over to the piano at the Town Hall where we were gathered for a ham and bean supper. He started touching the keys, very gingerly at first, almost timid. My husband remarked that he was perhaps intrigued by the piano.

Well, he then sat down at the piano bench and started to play one of the most beautiful Mozart pieces I had ever heard. I was stunned. But the locals weren't; they had hired him to play.

I wish I could say that I never judge a book by its cover. But then I would be lying.

First impressions are made in mere seconds after we meet someone and we judge by what we see. And even words do not tell the whole story, as some folks are very good actors. Many worthy of an Academy award.

I meet so many people that I would never ever meet if I were not in the healthcare field. And I get not only to meet them, but I often get to meet their extended family and get invited into their homes, into their lives.

I drive up to many beautiful, large homes. Some are stunningly beautiful. And I think, wow. But inside tells a different story. Not always so pleasant.

Other times I drive to an address where I am almost afraid to walk down the block. And I think, uh-oh. But there I find a warm, welcoming family who love each other dearly.

It is so interesting to meet so many different people. To learn about their lives, to see past the facade. I learn so much. I am much more slow to judge now.

One time I was in the home of an older man who was actively dying. They lived in basic squalor, but they were a loving family. I was about to leave when suddenly a man appeared in the doorway, blocking my exit. He was big and bald and had an assortment of, lets just say, 'interesting' tattoos, that covered both arms, and I am sure, beyond. He was not smiling and looked at me in a way that caused my stomach to jolt, just a bit.

"What is going on with my dad?" he bellowed.

I stood there for a moment to compose myself. The rest of the family; mom, sister and cousin, stood behind me, eerily silent.

"Well," I said. "Why don't we sit down and talk about it."

We did. We sat down in the living room, with him right next to me on the couch, and I told him all about his dad and the dying process. He yelled at me a bit, vented for a while. The rest of the family sat with us, but remained silent.

Then he finally stopped yelling, looked at me in an odd way, reached over toward me, and started to cry.

Actually, he wailed.

"He is my best friend," he said, tears running down his face. "I love him so much. I hate the thought of losing him. He was always the best dad. He always had time for me and we liked to go fishing in the summer. What will I do now?"

The whole family, relieved that he did not cause a huge scene, huddled around him. They all hugged. We went in to see the dad. The son laid down in the bed beside his comatose dad and said, "Dad, I am really going to miss you."

I will admit, I was a bit scared. Apparently, he had been estranged from the family due to "anger issues." I spent some more time talking to him. He told me stories about some friends he had who were in jail, but that he never got into trouble with the law because, "I would never disappoint my dad like that."

So, I learned a great lesson that day; that looks can be quite deceiving. That life itself deceives us, and that we sometimes have to dig for the real truth about people and circumstances.

I will say also that I have little tolerance for people who make rude comments about others that they do not even know, simply based on what they see and perceive.

Good people on the inside are the ones that are the true salt of the earth. Looks matter little, it is really what is inside that counts. Money and power should mean much less than they do.

It always amazes me how much we all have in common. We all grieve. We all feel loss. We all get sad and frightened.

We all have moments of great joy and happiness, too.

We are all just simply human on the inside.

Too bad we lose sight of that so often.

“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path.”
~~Paulo Coelho

“Judge a tree from its fruit, not from its leaves”

"When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself."
~~Wayne Dyer

Friday, July 9, 2010

In search of perfection.

A patient's family member and I were talking the other day and she asked me an odd question.

"What would you say is an example of the perfect death?"

I hesitated. She looked at me as I sat there in her well-appointed dining room. She waited. But I couldn't respond.

I was too busy searching for the perfect answer.

But there was none.

I hate the word perfect. I do not think that it even exists. But many strive for it none the less.

I used to get caught up in a bit of perfection seeking myself. I can remember when my daughter first started at her parochial school. She had a lovely uniform with pleats. Do you know that I spent hours ironing those uniforms, making sure the pleats were "just perfect."

What a waste of time. And did it make any difference? No. Absolutely not.

After that fit of insanity, I finally came to my senses. I now have even been known to pull them directly out of the dirty laundry hamper, fluff them in the dryer, and off to school she goes. No fuss. No muss. And guess what? The world didn't end. Things were just the same as when I painstakingly tried to make them perfect.

I am not sure what caused me to try to create that bit of perfection. It could be that I saw her going off to school in a perfect way as a sort of protection against the unknown. I may have felt that I had some control. And perhaps that is what drives us to seek perfection in the first place. Control.

But we really have none.

And who defines what perfect is anyway? Many times I will hear someone say, "What a perfect day," meaning; a beautiful, warm and sunny day. But to the person standing next to them, a perfect day may be a cloudy one, with a hint of rain in the air. To yet another, a snow day that stops the world.

Everyone seeks perfection at times, I know. We want the perfect party for our kids, the perfect wedding, the perfect vacation. But I often think that when we wish for that or search for that, we only set ourselves up to be disappointed. Because nothing is ever perfect in our eyes, even when it may appear so to others.

I myself, have given up on perfection. Since I became a hospice nurse, it really changed my viewpoint. Life is way too short to be worried about something we have no control over. To make ourselves that crazy and miserable over details that really do not matter is simply not worth it.

Now, I am in the "good enough" category. As long as I feel it is good enough, I am happy. And I no longer admire those who seek perfection. In their quest to control everything, they make too many miserable along the way.

When I was younger, I found a poem that I loved and have kept for decades that talked about perfection. I am not sure where I found it or who even wrote it, but here it is:

Friend, don't be a perfectionist. Perfectionism is a curse and a strain, for you tremble lest you miss the bull's eye.

You are perfect if you just let be.

Friend, don't be afraid of mistakes. Mistakes are not sins. Mistakes are a way of doing something different, perhaps creatively new.

Friend, don't be sorry for your mistakes. Be proud of them. You had the courage to give something of yourself.

It takes years to be centered. It takes more years to understand and be now.

Until then, beware of both extremes; perfectionism, as well as instant cure, instant joy and instant sensory awareness.

Remember this;
I am blessed with life.
I am blessed with a full and useful life.
I am alive.
I am.

And that person who asked me about the perfect death? I told her that each death is unique and perfect in its own way. It wasn't the perfect answer, but I felt that it was true.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The little voice inside our head.

No, I am not talking about God, crazy people, our conscious or our parents. (Although our parent's voices seem to eerily creep into our heads frequently)

What I am talking about is that little voice inside our head that tells us that others may be talking about us. Judging us. Gossiping.

Wouldn't we all like to be a fly on the wall at times? To hear what other's say about us behind our backs?

And wouldn't they be shocked to hear what we have to say. Even about those closest to us.

We all do it. Most times it is not meant to be malicious. Many times it seems to me that we are all trying to judge our own opinions with what other's think. So we talk about things and people to get other's reactions. To see if we are all on the same page. If we have common ground.

But is that a good place to be? A good way to connect? I am not sure.

Sometimes it gets mean. And hurtful. Of course it is not meant to be heard by the person being talked about. Most people would be mortified to know that the target overhead the conversation.

And that leads me to wonder why then. Why people do it in the first place.

I know, I ask myself that very same question. And I am not always sure that I know the answer. However, I am constantly telling my daughter, who is 11, not to talk about people behind their backs.

Her response? "Mom, everyone does it."

And indeed she is right.

They do.

I have not met one person in my lifetime, including myself, who has not talked about another person in a thoughtless way at least once. Except my Grandmother, but she was in her 90's when I finally paid attention to what she was saying. And when I tuned in, it was always nice talk about things or flowers or poetry or art. She seemed to find good in everything and everyone. Maybe age does bring wisdom. Or maybe she had her fill of it all and decided that it was not worth it anymore.

Who knows, really.

When my dad was alive and in his late 70's, early 80's, after my mom passed away, he went to live in an Adult Community, an Assisted Living Center. It was anything but adult. The gossip. The nonsense. Everyone was kind of mean. It was like 7th grade all over again.

I see it still when I go to visit patients there. I just don't get it.

Even my dad jumped in. He would tell me stories about other residents. He would say that everyone was "old" or even "ugly". He talked about the staff as well. Perhaps he was bored, or angry at life. But it was quite disturbing to me.

He was the one that would always reprimand me when he overheard me talking about others. That was back when I would have those marathon conversations on the phone in my teens. He would tell me that it wasn't nice. To stop it. That it was a really bad thing to do.

When I complained and cried about other's talking about me, my mom would say, "Well, if they are talking about you then they are leaving someone else alone." I hated that advice. I would have preferred to have been the one left alone.

And I still do.

I am not sure why we have this little voice in our head that makes us a wee bit paranoid about what others are thinking. Or saying. And why sometimes thoughts that should clearly remain in our heads without a voice, come out of our mouths too loudly. Sometimes with much regret.

Do we really have to say that someone has gained weight? Or looks bad. Or seems different. Or bought something new yet again. Why state the obvious? Why are we always judging? Do we need to say these things to feel better about ourselves?

Why can't we just be happy for people? If they have a good life and seem content, why do they become fodder for gossip? Why tear them down? Jealousy? Anger?

And if they do have a bad run of luck or a fall from grace, where is our compassion?

I am not sure.

I do know that I try not to talk about people unless I can find something good to say. But I am not very good at always following that rule, try as I may.

And I always feel terrible afterwards. It is just not worth it. It makes me feel very bad about myself, never better.

So I guess that I have to come to terms with the fact that people will and do talk about me behind my back. And that I will talk about them as well.

And that little voice inside of my head that tells me not to worry about it? I ignore it. I still worry. And I know many others do as well.

I am not sure that I have any answers to this. I do know that some say to just 'toughen up'. But I am not sure that we can ever really do that. Many people just put on a fake bravado. Tough on the outside, weeping on the inside.

The only thing that I do know for sure is how it makes me feel. And it makes me feel bad. And sad. It does not make me angry, unless the gossip is directed at my daughter or my husband. Then the claws come out a bit.

And what I usually do is just retreat. Get away from people for a while. Heal my wounds a bit. Surround myself with my loved ones who accept me regardless of my faults or my weight or whatever.

I guess that is the best that we can do.


What is told in the ear of a man is often heard 100 miles away. ~Chinese Proverb

“If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.” ~Albert Einstein

“A gossip is one who talks to you about others; a bore is one who talks to you about himself; and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself” ~Lisa Kirk

The biggest liar in the world is They Say. ~Douglas Malloch