Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Let your heart be light.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.
First she surrendered her green,
then the orange, yellow, and red
finally she let go of her brown.
Shedding her last leaf
she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
Leaning against the winter sky
she began her vigil of trust.

Shedding her last leaf
she watched its journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
wearing the color of emptiness,
her branches wondering;
How do you give shade with so much gone?

And then,
the sacrament of waiting began.
The sunrise and sunset watched with tenderness.
Clothing her with silhouettes
they kept her hope alive.
They helped her understand that
her vulnerability,
her dependence and need,
her emptiness,
her readiness to receive
were giving her a new kind of beauty.

Every morning and every evening they stood in silence
and celebrated together
the sacrament of waiting.

~~ Macrina Wiederkehr

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where's the real stuff in life... to cling to?

It's so important, to make someone happy.

Make just one someone happy;

Make just one heart the heart..... you sing to.

One smile that cheers you,

One face that lights when it nears you,

One girl you're ev'rything to.

Fame, if you win it,

Comes and goes in a minute.

Where's the real stuff in life to cling to?

Love is the answer,

Someone to love is the answer.

Once you've found her, build your world around her.

Make someone happy,

Make just one someone happy,

And you will be happy, too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

OMG...shut up already.

The other day I was in the elevator at a major Boston hospital heading to the 16th floor.  The elevator was full of people; visitors carrying balloons, nurses, doctors, a social worker, me and an EKG tech with her cart. We were all jammed in. On floor 3, the doors opened and two older ladies stepped into the already over-crowded elevator, oblivious to everyone around them. Once they pushed in, they continued to have a very loud and very lively conversation about a recently hospitalized friend.

This went on for several floors. They did not move nor quiet down at all  when we stopped at different floors; people had to squeeze past them to get out. They just continued their animated and, what should have been a very private conversation, as though no one else existed.

Finally they departed the elevator once we reached the eighth floor. When the doors finally closed, we all just looked at each other and smiled. One brave women said to all of us, "Oh. My. God. Shut up already!" We all broke out into laughter and continued our now quiet ride lost in our own thoughts.

When I got off on the 16th floor, I hurried to the nurse's station to start a chart review for a patient referred to our hospice service. Once seated, I became aware of a conversation between two nurses. They were talking about their mothers. On and on they went, complaining about one thing and then another.  I could hear them from where I sat, about 20 feet away.  I am sure that many patients heard them as well. Part of me wanted to scream, "OMG, shut up already." But I sat silent and just did my work.  Later, I went to talk with the patient and family about hospice; a very painful subject for them. The patient's room was near to where the nurses were having their spirited conversation. Once in the room, and even with the door shut, I could still hear them laughing and talking loudly. I am sure the patient and her family could hear them as well.  It was not only unprofessional, it was down right rude.

This scene plays out thousands of times every single hour in every corner of the world.  People having loud conversations about private matters for all to hear no matter the setting. They do it into their cellphones, face to face and into little cameras perched atop computers oblivious to anyone around them.

They do it in elevators, public restrooms, hallways, trains, buses, stores and restaurants. They feel entitled to have these conversations regardless of who can hear them or who they are interrupting or annoying. They become angry if you tell them to be quiet during public performances like the ballet, the theater or the movies.

I just don't get this new kind of brashness.  When did it start?  And is it me, or is it becoming worse?

I cannot stand it anymore. I mean, I cannot go anywhere it seems without people talking out loud about very private matters. Without people acting as though this is perfectly normal and that they are entitled to do what they want, where they want and when they want.

So when did this all become the new norm?  With the proliferation of cellphone use? With the idea that we can be reached anywhere, anytime, anyplace? Or did it start decades ago when TV talk show hosts started talking about private matters to a national audience. Should I be blaming Phil Donahue? Or perhaps Oprah?

I am not sure. I can remember, and perhaps I am dating myself, but I recall people going into a private phone booth and shutting the doors so no one could hear their conversation when in public. I recall people whispering to one another.  I recall being quiet at the library. I recall people not wanting everyone to hear everything they were saying.  I recall being quiet during performances. 

So when did all of that change.  And why?  Will it ever end?  And, more importantly, is the worse yet to come.

I don't know. But what I do know is that I am jumping onto the "OMG... Just Shut Up" bandwagon.  I won't say it out loud all of the time, of course I won't. I don't want to be rude. But I will be thinking it. And I will remind people that perhaps they should take their conversation elsewhere when I feel it is appropriate. Like those nurses. I should have said something.

I also want to scream it at the TV news anchors and the political pundits as well.  We just don't want to hear every personal private issue of everyone on the planet.

Or do we?

Perhaps that is why reality TV is so popular.  Who knows.

Anyway, I think it time we start to call people out on their bad behavior in public. Start asking people to just stop. Tell them they are invading our privacy by forcing us to hear private, intimate details of their lives that we just don't care to hear about. And stopping ourselves from doing the same.

We object to smokers and ask them to step outside. I think it is high time we start requiring the blabbers to do the same.

 I think people talk too much anyway. Sometimes people are talking to me and in my mind I'm just like "shut up, shut up, shut up...blah blah blah blah blaaaaah.~~~Ellen DeGeneres

Never miss a chance to shut up ~~~Will Rogers

It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.~~~Maurice Switzer

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Embrace the tradition, even if you don't feel thankful this year.

Well, it is almost Thanksgiving. And I know a lot of people who have really nothing to feel thankful about this year. I think about them, and it makes me sad. Some have lost a loved one. Some have been diagnosed with cancer. Some have lost their job. One family has lost a child. I know that not one of them is looking forward to the holidays.

And I don't blame them.  The holidays are tough enough without those awful things.

So what can they do?  What can any of us do?

The only thing we can do.  Get through the day as best we can. Some will bow out this year and just stay home for a quiet meal.  Others will still attend family get togethers steeling themselves for the inevitable question, "So, how are you doing?'  Most dread that question.  It is funny, most people only ask that question to folks they know have had a rough year.  If you have won a million dollars in the lottery, no one really wants to know about that.  And many people, once you start to tell them your woes, chime in with their own, as though it is some sort of contest to see who is worse off. No wonder most clam up. I don't blame them.

So, what is the thing to do? Drop out for the year?  Still participate but sit quietly and leave early?  Get drunk?

I guess the best thing to do is what feels right.  For you.  Not for your mother or sister or friends. So what if they will be disappointed. They will surely get over it. But don't expect them to understand. They won't.

Everyone experiences their own reality. Some can just shrug things off and pretend that there is nothing wrong.  They seem to be enjoying themselves. Others sit and act morose the whole time.  And others will simply disengage. And it is all alright. Allow yourself to indulge in your own whims and tell others that this is how you best cope with the bad events of the year. Ask them to forgive your selfishness, but explain this is how you are protecting your heart. Perhaps they will best understand if you put it that way.

 We all want happy holidays.  We want them for ourselves, our loved ones, our kids.  We have a picture in our minds of how they should look and feel. Of how everyone should act. But they rarely turn out that way and many times we find ourselves sadly disappointed.  So, especially if you have had a bad year, allow yourself to expect less. Embrace the tradition, but let go of the expectations. Or create a new tradition. One that allows you to include a relative that is no longer here. Or one that celebrates new beginnings. Let go of the expectations of others and create something that has your own unique mark.

The holidays are fraught with so much emotion.  So many memories. So much weight on our shoulders. So much work and preparation. Much of it can be joyful, but it doesn't come easy. And there is oftentimes a lot of sadness.  Sadness for things that have passed and sadness for things that will never be again.

So, if you feel sad, embrace the sadness. Don't try to pretend it doesn't exist. And if people do ask the inevitable question, "How are you doing," love yourself enough to answer honestly. Don't get angry, it is a dumb question, especially if you have lost a loved one.  But take a deep breath and say that "This has not been the best year and to celebrate a holiday without a loved one doesn't really need an explanation, now does it."

And let it go at that.
Grief can't be shared. Everyone carries it alone, his own burden, his own way. ~~~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness. ~~~Erich Fromm

I still miss those I loved who are no longer with me but I find I am grateful for having loved them. The gratitude has finally conquered the loss. ~~~Rita Mae Brown

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Moving forward.

"When there is no place to go, I guess we still have to move forward."

A patient with end stage ovarian cancer said that to me yesterday as I was organizing her discharge home onto our hospice service.  She is young and pretty and kind and smart, and she is right. Moving forward is her only option.  And ours, too.

Sometimes we don't want to move forward.  We like things the way the are. The status quo. We want to stay put.

We may have a good thing going right now.  A great job, neighborhood, family.  And we love it. Life feels good and we want it to stay like that.  But then something alters it. A death in the family.  A friend who moves, kids who grow up and change. And even though we see the change and know that we need to keep moving along with the change, it is hard.  And some of us dig our heels in deep and try to remain with things just as they were, ignoring the changes all around us.

Some would call that denial.  And that may be true. But life keeps going forward even if we don't want it to, denial or not.  And I think that is difficult for so many of us to embrace.

Facing death is certainly difficult. But we die a thousand tiny deaths all of the time. And we mourn them without realizing it.

Holidays without loved ones who shared those good times with us for decades. Kids who grow up and leave and don't want to do the things we  always did when they were younger. Friends who get divorced or move out of town or simply vanish. Neighborhoods with for sale signs, new teachers at school, co-workers who retire.

All of these are life altering in their own way. We think that they are not that important, but they are.   And what many of us do is to hold tight and pretend that things are the same without thinking about it much.  We say, oh well, these things happen. We try to pretend all is well, even though we know deep down they are not.

And we don't really move forward. We stay stuck in the past, or try to hold onto a  present that no longer exists.  We try to make things the same.  And they are not.

"We will try to keep things as normal as we can for the kids." This is what my patient's husband said to me when we talked about him bringing his wife home on hospice.  And by that he meant that they would keep schedules the same, have them go for playdates and keep their routine as close to "normal" as it had been when mom was in charge.

But his wife, who was lying in the bed listening, did not agree.

"Life is changing for them, whether you want to believe it or not. I don't want them in their normal routine, there is nothing normal about what is happening.  I want to be with them as much as I can. Do special things with them. They have to move forward and I want to point them in the right direction. We will move forward for as long as we can together, and then you will all move forward without me.  It will be hard, but that is the best we can do."

As she said this, her stoic husband slowly sat down on the chair next to her bed, covered his face with his hands and wept. He said he didn't want to move forward. Couldn't face a life without her.  He lamented how mind-blowing this all was and that he thought if they just kept things as "normal as possible" then they could just stay put. 

I think we all want to think like that. But it simply cannot be done.

Life moves forward even when we don't want it to. Changes happen each and every day. We really have no control, although we think we do and hold on like hell. And short of staying in bed with the covers on over our heads, we have to eventually deal with them.

And that is the problem. We don't know how to do that.  We don't always know how best to move forward, especially when we don't want to.

I pray for the best for this family. The one thing that they will have is a lot of support.  The wife is wise and gets it.  Most people refuse to think this way. And that takes it toll after all is said and done. So, these kids are lucky in that sense.

But most of us don't get it, or don't want to.  Our lives feel off, but we are not sure why.  And the reason may be that we are just not allowing ourselves and those around us to move forward. We may be grudingly holding on to a life that has simply moved beyond us, even though we are holding fast. And that in itself can make us sick or depressed or anxious.

So, what is the trick.? How do we move forward?  How will this family move forward? Wish that I knew for sure.  But if you asked my patient, she would tell you, just like she told me and her husband, that to move forward you simply have to just let go, just be. Accept the changes and as much as you hate them, find something that feels good and head there one step at a time.

Wise words and a good lesson for all. Death is a great teacher. If only we would listen while we all still have so much time.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~Anatole France

If you're in a bad situation, don't worry it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry it'll change. ~John A. Simone, Sr. 

Our only security is our ability to change. ~John Lilly

Friday, September 23, 2011

How to (really) deal with stress.

Stress. We all suffer from stress at one time or another. There are books and medications and web-sites and even Dr. Phil on tv and all of this is meant to help us cope better with the stress of our lives. And how has it really helped us?  Well, we are more stressed than ever before.

We are stressed by just about every turn in life. Our jobs. Our kid's performance in school.  Our financial portfolio. The mess in our house. The endless to do list.

We don't have enough money. We aren't thin enough. We feel bad about our co-workers or boss. A loved one is sick. We have been diagnosed with something awful. We lost our job. Our dog died.  We cannot pay our bills.

The list goes on and on. And you cannot really rate stress. You cannot say that one stress is worse than another. It is all in the eyes of the beholder. And it all feels the same. Stress is, well, stress.

And we all feel it. No one is immune. Sometimes it is like a low electrical current that is just something we live with day to day.  Or maybe we have calm days and then explosive days.  Or sometimes we are under a cloud so thick we feel like we cannot breath. And we shut down. We wear our responsibilities like a noose around our necks. And it is hard to breath.

Stress is universal. I am not sure we could be living human beings without it. And many have pounced on this fact and there are books and CDs and professional counselors and gym memberships and massage therapy and anti-stress creams and what not all designed to eliminate the stress of our lives. Somewhere, someone is making a fortune from our stress. Mainly the pharmaceutical giants.

But we stay stressed anyway.

So, what is the answer? I wish I knew. I feel stressed at times as well. And I have tried all the things they say to do; walking, deep breathing, writing things down, yoga, putting things into perspective.  I have really done it all. And you know what works best?


But in the morning, there it is. Stress. Rearing it's ugly head once again.

To be honest, I have learned a lot about coping with stress from the people I work with who have a lot of it. My patients. They make most of my stress go away. Many times my stress just disappears because I am  just happy I am not them. I am happy that I have a healthy child. That I am still healthy. That my husband is still healthy. That I can still go and do ordinary things.

And therein lies the answer to stress.

Embracing the ordinary. Embracing yourself.

All these books and such that say to do this or that to control the stress of your lives is just, well, bullshit. You have to go into survival mode. You have to embrace what is truly important to you, what is your true essence. Then you have to build a wall to protect it, because everywhere you turn someone is trying to rip it away.

Becoming real is the best protection.  Facades in your life that you are trying to hold up becomes exhausting.  Why can't we be just who we are?

I think that is why people who are really sick and dying have little stress.  They have fear, but not stress. Why? All that has been stripped away from them.  They have discovered what was  important all along. And some people, if they get better, live by this new rule. But others don't and they return to their regular lives and everyday stress.

I think it is because most people are afraid of change.  They would rather live their stressed out lives than to face the fear of changing it. I understand that. But it is a shame. Because stress makes your life shorter.  It makes you sick, literally. It makes those around you want to run. So there you are, stressed, sick and alone.  Not a pretty picture at all.

So, what to do? Well, you could do like most people, just simply live with it.  Muster on. Perhaps take a slew of drugs to control your high blood pressure, your depression, your anxiety, your stomach ailments and your headaches. You can lose yourself each night to crappy TV. You can sleep a lot. You can drink. Or you can be one of those crazed people who never sit still because sitting still makes you think and thinking makes you even more stressed.

Or you can do this; make a list of the things that describe the true essence of who you are.  Not your family or your kids, just you. Who are you?  What makes you tick?  What makes your heart sing?  Figure that out and write it down. Now write down your real life on a list next to it.  All the external things that keep you apart from your true essence. Then make a choice. Decide how you can return to the real you. Or at least part of the real you. Even a little you is better than none.

And that is it. Start living for yourself. Stop trying to impress others.  No one is really keeping score, and if they are, so what. Start being real and tell others what you really think.  (Well, in a nice way.)  Start by saying no to the things you don't want to do and occasionally say yes to the things you need to do.

Fix yourself up. Feel good about how you look on the outside. Self image is really important. It arms you. It protects you a bit.

And protect your body, the inside, while you are dealing with all the turmoil in your life.  Take a vitamin pill daily.  Drink water. Get some sleep. Stretch. Walk. Take deep breaths.  I call them stress breaks.  They don't eliminate stress, but they help you cope. And they are good for your heart. And if you mess up your heart you are in big trouble.

And go out into nature. Most people do not do this. Not really. Remember when you were a kid and you delighted in playing outside?  Do you really think because we are adults we don't need that anymore?

So start liking yourself again. You are all you have. Take care of that and everything else may become a bit easier. And a bit easier really does make you smile. And smiling makes your heart sing. And isn't that the essence of life anyway?

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
 ~e.e. cummings, 1955

Before you put on a frown, make absolutely sure there are no smiles available.
~Jim Beggs

Everything great in the world is done by neurotics; they alone founded our religions and created our masterpieces.
~Marcel Proust

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
~Mark Twain

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A nurse's nightmare.


You see us at MD offices, on hospital floors, in your home. We can be chatty and kind, intense and focused, sometimes chided for being abrupt like a nurse Ratched. We are moms and sisters and aunts and grandmothers. We seem like nice people. Many are amazed that we can do what we do every day.  And we always seem nonplussed by it all. Like we are going off for just another day of work and coming home and getting on with our daily chores and lives.

It looks that way, it does.

But you cannot always tell a book by its cover.

We don't talk much about our days, especially those of us who work with the critically ill and dying.  And why would we?  Who wants to hear about that?  We don't even like to hear about that.

We bury it way down, or at least try to. But occasionally, it comes back up. We feel stressed and sad. Sometimes despair creeps in.  Life seems unfair and we are powerless to help. It can all become too much to bear.

A nine year old that dies. A mother with two kids, 44 years old, sent home on hospice to die. A woman who needed emergency heart surgery dead of a simple complication. A man who was cut off on the highway while riding his motorcycle (with a helmet) dead of a head injury, extubated with his 15 year old son standing next to his bed.  An ALS patient who cannot breath at 3pm on a beautiful Monday afternoon.  A man who came in with a cough, leaving with a death sentence of small cell lung cancer after a routine CAT scan.

I could fill pages with the patients I have seen.  And this abbreviated list was compiled in just my prior working week. 

I am not complaining or looking for any sympathy.  I don't need or deserve it. My patients and their families do however. 

I am not an angel, special or a saint. I have been called all, as so many others in the medical field have been called. But we don't see it that way. We try to be helpful, compassionate and competent. We try to make people healthy and well; and when that fails we try to make them comfortable. It is all we can do. Many times, it falls short of the mark.  Feels like it is never enough. And many times it isn't.

It would seem as though this is the stuff of nightmares; of what could keep me up at night fretting about the tragedy of life and our own unknown futures. But it isn't. This is not what my nightmares are made of.

So what is it? I will tell you. It is seeing healthy people blindly leading their lives who just don't get it. It is watching people continue to smoke knowing that it will shorten their lives eventually and reduce the quality of it dramatically. It is watching someone not paying enough attention to their kids or being cruel to them under the umbrella of  "discipline."  It is hearing people talk about the petty nonsense of their lives looking for sympathy and being angry when it doesn't come their way, lamenting that "no one understands me." It is dealing with people who have never seen tragedy in their lives and who are selfish and never lend a hand to anyone else.

I know that sounds a bit angry, and perhaps it is.  And perhaps I have been guilty of some of it myself.  But the truth is, most of us don't really want to get it. We like protecting ourselves with our day to day lives and our trivial complaints, it is safe there. We hope we never have to deal with tragedy. We hope to be blessed with the mundane.

And that is why we nurses and doctors don't talk about our days. No one wants to hear about the bad we see. If they don't hear it, they don't have to acknowledge that it exists. They don't have to learn from it.  They don't have to feel it.

I can certainly understand that. But it is a shame because death has so much to teach us about life.

We don't have to think about death or disease to know about life. We can go through each and every day without giving it a thought until it is presented to us. But what we miss by thinking that way and shielding ourselves is huge.

Honestly, the happiest people I know are those who stop trying to harden themselves to the truths of life.  The happiest people I know are those who have softened themselves and let life and love in, with all of it's scary, messy feelings.

Being strong enough to let down your guard and actually love someone without abandon, that is true freedom.  And freedom is happiness.  But most people don't do this until they face a sure end, when they finally feel they have nothing left to lose. But what they failed to realize, as most of us do, is that they never had anything to lose to begin with. Not really. And by the time most come to this conclusion, it is too late. And they die with much regret, leaving regret in their wake for future generations, the ones they had sought to protect. 

Not living life fully, that is my nightmare. It is not the patients I have seen and tried to help. They were my teachers. I am forever in their debt.  I don't want their lessons to go unheard. That would be the true tragedy. The scariest nightmare of all.

Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.
~~~Bertolt Brecht

Until you divest yourself of the notion that you are a collection of needs, an empty vessel that someone else must fill up, there will be no safe place to harbor yourself, no safe shore to reach. As long as you think mostly of getting, you will have nothing real to give.
~~~Merle Shain

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
~~~Steve Jobs

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Our Push Button Society.

The other day an interesting thing happened. We had a storm pass through from Hurricane Irene and the power went out.  This is a common occurrence in our town when a storm passes through and we are usually inconvenienced by darkness for perhaps an hour or more.

But not this time. This was a major storm and we, like so many others, lost power for several days.

Nothing that we use on a day to day basis worked anymore. I could not simply push a button and use my lights, my microwave, my stove, my air conditioner, my ipod or my computer. I couldn't use my blow dryer.  I didn't have hot water.  I could not open the garage door by pushing the little bar on the remote in my car. Woe is me, right?

Well, as I was begrudgingly lifting the garage door manually to take my daughter to school, it suddenly felt  familiar.  We never had a garage door opener growing up, we always had to get out of the car to open it. And I never felt it was a big deal. It was just part of our lives then. But now it seemed like an inconvenience for me to have to do it because I had to actually get out of the car and walk over and manually perform a function I normally could just push a button to achieve.

And that is just it. We have become a push button society. We like to push a button and make things work. We don't ever want to have to get up to change a channel, open a garage door, go to the library and thumb through books to do any research or write things by hand. We never want to actually wash dishes or take a towel to dry them. We have drive through's and computers and instant heat. In the summer we have cool air blowing through our homes automatically. Our clothes get dried easily. We can heat up a meal in minutes. Why, we even have robotic vacuum cleaners.

We may think that all these conveniences are just dandy and make our life so much easier than our ancestors who had to cut wood or shovel coal for heat, who hung laundry out to dry, sometimes after washing it by hand; who washed and dried dishes after each meal and who cooked things slowly, sometimes all day long for just one glorious meal.

We may laugh at the way they hand shoveled snow all day, or raked a lawn or swept debris with a broom. We snicker at the thought of how they chopped wood or canned foods, made homemade bread or wrote long letters to loved ones.  We don't have to do any of those things anymore. We don't even have to read a book made out of paper. We can download it instantly and read it on a screen. We can send email or text. We are a technologically advanced society.

But we are bored while we sit on the couch scrolling through the 200 channels we get on our large screen TV's all the while complaining that there is nothing to watch. If we want information, we google it instantly while sitting at our computers or smartphones no matter where we are and we complain that the information is taking too long to download..  If we want music, we put ear buds into our ears, push a button and settle in. No more manually placing records on a turnstile and having the sweet melody fill up a room.

And are we really happier for it? Does it really make our lives so much easier, so much better? Do we really have so much more time now?

I don't think so. And we certainly are not healthier for it. We are fatter and sicker than ever before.

We never used to have an obesity problem in the United States.  We moved more. We walked. We rode bikes.  TV was less of a distraction because we had fewer choices.

Now we sit more.  We drive everywhere. We join gyms to exercise all the while having someone else clean our homes and do our yard work.   

And don't even get me started on how isolated we have become looking at our little screens all day long.

So, while it really was an inconvenience to not have power for 4 days and a reminder to be thankful for all the things we do take for granted, like hot showers and lights, it also reminded me that all the conveniences we have come to rely upon are really not that essential to our well being.  Perhaps just the opposite. And that doing things ourselves, by using our own brawn and our own effort, is a very healthy, satisfying experience that we need to think about returning to.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Toughen up and start liking yourself.

Life is tough. I hear that all of the time. And sometimes it is. But most times it is not life that is so tough, it that we have become so weak.

And why is that?  From what I observe, it is because most of us do not really like ourselves that much. We compare ourselves to others. We take to heart a meaningless, thoughtless comment made by someone in our past. We allow small things we did in the past to haunt us, years later, after everyone else has forgotten.  We beat ourselves up on a daily basis.  We are just never good enough. No wonder everything seems so hard.  We have beaten ourselves down and many have little left to give after that.

And the answer cannot be found in a therapy session or a pill. We need to toughen up. We need to be tough enough to like ourselves regardless of what someone else has or says or does.

Liking ourselves is hard work. It really is.  But I think that not loving ourselves enough is the basis for much of our sadness with life.

When is the last time you really gave yourself a break? When you said, I really like myself. When you forgave yourself for doing something foolish in the past. When you looked in the mirror and didn't only see the flaws, the weight gain, the wrinkles, the bad hair.  When you smiled.

I can remember years ago when my daughter was about 3. I took her for a haircut at the salon I go to on Newbury Street in Boston.  The stylist washed and cut her blonde hair and gave her a very stylish blow-dry. She looked beautiful. My daughter could not take her eyes off of herself. She preened in that mirror.  Everyone complimented her. She beamed.

But she does not do that anymore, even at age 12. It is sad to see her criticize herself, to not preen over herself anymore, to have outgrown some of  that wonder about herself. Perhaps that is part of growing up.  But I think it stinks. And leads to too much misery, self doubt and self loathing.

And that, in my opinion, is a real problem. And we need to stop it. We do. Because it is simply just bullshit.

So start having a love affair with yourself.  Muster up the strength somehow and just do it.

Today, just for one day, do not criticize yourself.  Think of something you really like about yourself. Make a "me" space and put something there you like to see. Something that sings to you, and only to you.

Stop trying to impress others and just impress yourself.  When you walk into a room, do  not worry if they will like you, wonder insead if you will like them, if they are worthy of your time.

If someone says something negative to you, hug yourself.  They are mean and they hurt your feelings and it is okay to sooth yourself or even to get mad----at them. Don't turn your anger onto yourself. Protect yourself with love for yourself.

Make the most of your looks. Quit beating yourself up over the weight you gained or the wrinkles you see. That is just the way our bodies age. They gain weight and they wrinkle. But that doesn't mean you aren't beautiful. That doesn't mean you should feel diminished. That doesn't mean you shouldn't love yourself.

Show your love for yourself in small ways. Take better care of yourself. Make small changes that add up, like walking more or having a glass of water instead of soda. Take a multivitamin every day. Buy yourself some flowers at the grocery store. Get a book about something that you enjoy at the library. And quit telling yourself that you don't have the time. Set a timer for 5 minutes and see what you can do in that time. You will be surprised.  Let go of the all or nothing thinking. You owe yourself just even 5 minutes of something that makes your heart sing. The other stuff can wait.

The truth is this; You, just YOU, are really all you have and all you will ever have. Sure, you can surround yourself with family and friends and pets and co-workers and that is lovely; but in the end it is just you and yourself . So don't waste your life not loving yourself. Be a good companion to yourself.  Keep yourself always in good company wherever you may go.

You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn't worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
~~~Louise L. Hay

There is only one you for all time. Fearlessly be yourself.
~~~Anthony Rapp

Never explain--your friends do not need it, and your enemies will not believe you anyway.
~~~Elbert Hubbard

Sunday, August 7, 2011

When the life you live isn't the life you want.

Sometimes life really stinks. It is unfair, unjust, cruel and demanding. There are few smiles, warm feelings, nice people. There is too much suffering, too much illness, too much death.  The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the people in-between aren't moving anywhere fast.  Sometimes you just want to run away.

The problem is, you can't.

You have a job, a house, some kids, a spouse, a dog. They all depend on you. And you depend on them.  They have jobs, friends and schools they go to. Family may live nearby. It all seems like it should seem nice, but you feel stuck. This isn't what you want even though everyone tells you how lucky you are.

You see friends and family members get divorced, lose close friends, lose jobs, become ill and even die.  You see their children in trouble. You hear their woes each time you talk with them and you are sympathetic, but there is nothing you can do to make it better. You suppose you should go home and count your blessings and appreciate things more.

But you don't.  Because you can't.

I think we all get to this place at one time or another in our lives. Or perhaps we have been this way for so long we don't remember feeling any other way.  We are just not happy. We are disappointed. We are mad. And we wonder, how did we get here in the first place?

We all have had big dreams at some point in our lives. Perhaps they started in grade school or in high school or college. We saw that there was so much more out there than we ever thought possible. And perhaps some of us went on to pursue our dream and made it big. But many who had big dreams had baggage that perhaps held them back.  Naysayers. People saying, "You can never achieve that, don't even try."  So they didn't. Or maybe they just held themselves back or started on their way to a life they thought they wanted but then out grew.

And now they find themselves feeling sad and stuck.

Many people try to find solace in a myriad of ways.  Some may actually up and leave.  Others may become so very empty that they have nothing to give and go through each day like a robot with little feeling.  Still others try to find the answers in exercise, drugs, alcohol, shopping, travel or religion. But they all still find themselves back in the same place after all is said and done. And nothing seems better. Nothing at all.

I wish I had the answer.  Of course I don't. I sometimes feel stuck myself. But I will tell you what gets me through each day and puts a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

It is death.

I know, that sounds so silly. But it is true.  Death has opened my eyes to life. I have seen so much death, so much sadness, so much misery.  Nothing really scares me anymore.  So every day that I am breathing and not in physical pain is a good day to try something new.  To get unstuck. To be happy.

We are all going to die.  Each and every one of us.  And everyone we know as well.  You may say that that is depressing.  But it isn't. It is life affirming. Death sits on our shoulder and speaks to us.  But we hardly ever listen.

It says that the days are already counted. That you need to keep moving forward.  It pushes you. But of course, you resist.  Change is scary. Taking risks?  Even worse. Easier just to do nothing. Just hold tight and wait.

But wait for what?  Another miserable day? Saving up for that long thought of dream that probably never will come to fruition? Telling yourself that now is not the right time? So, when exactly is the right time. Death would tell you that the time is now.

I see so many people who thought they had time to change the direction and focus of their life. I also have seen some who were right smack in the middle of a great thing and said that they had no regrets. But those patients are few and far between.  Most did have regrets and wondered why they never really lived the life they should have, could have; but now, most certainly won't.

So, next time you are feeling bad about your life, make a plan to escape.  A real plan. Then figure out a way to make it happen. It doesn't have to involve moving or winning the lottery or a magic spell.  Sometimes it just means pushing aside your fears and getting out of your own way. And starting small with changes that matter.

You may not get everything you have ever dreamed of, but perhaps you can take some of the sharp edges off of your life and start to reshape it into what you had one day dreamed it could be. So be brave and go. Push yourself. You really have nothing to lose.

Just ask my patients.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
~~~Mark Twain

The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.
~~~Paul Valery

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.
~~~Maria Robinson

People spend a lifetime searching for happiness; looking for peace. They chase idle dreams, addictions, religions, even other people, hoping to fill the emptiness that plagues them. The irony is the only place they ever needed to search was within.
 ~~~Romana L. Anderson

Death whispers to me and says,"live." And so I do.
~~~J. Nelson

Monday, August 1, 2011

Be nice.

Ever had one of those days?  You know, the kind of day when no one seems to be in a good mood?

The clerk at the store was surly.  Your kids grumbled at you in the morning. The guy driving behind you honked and gave you the finger. Your friends seem to be complaining all of the time and the news you hear on TV just seems to be exceedingly bad.

So what is the best remedy for all of this madness?

Just be nice.

I know it is hard. You don't want to be nice.  People don't deserve it. It takes effort. People don't respond in kind.

But it is so worth it.  Because nice matters. It really does.

Nice is rather boring, I know.  All the new "celebrities" popping up on TV tell us that nice is for losers, because they are anything but. Many of the new TV shows that our kids are growing up on celebrate a culture of mean. The popular shows showcase the sarcastic, the wise-cracking and the foul mouthed.  We do live in a rather mean culture. And our kids are growing up thinking this is the norm.

Sad, but true.

So, we have to step up. We need to be the model of nice, not just for our kids, but for everyone that we encounter.

Many of us isolate ourselves with a wall of anger or indifference. We think that we are somehow protected that way.  But I think that just leads to loneliness.  And sadness. And often even despair.

So instead, protect yourself by being nice. Smile at people. Hold the door. Act respectful when someone has a different point of view.  Ask people how they are and actually listen when they respond. Hug your kids and tell them you love them when they growl and roll their eyes at you. Speak softly instead of yelling.

Being nice to people disarms them. Makes them pause. I know it never fails to impress me.

So, go ahead, try it.  Take one 24 hour day and make nice.  See how it makes other's feel. But more importantly, see how it makes you feel.

You may not be able to change the world, but you can change your world. And isn't that really all that matters anyway?

Don't be yourself - be someone a little nicer.  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

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

Don't wait for people to be friendly, show them how. ~Author Unknown

A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses. ~Chinese Proverb

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tuning out.

Have you ever watched a dog running away and hear the owner calling wildly while the dog just seems to ignore him or her? The dog just seems to be tuning them out and running free without a care in the world..

Gosh I wish that I could sometimes do the same thing.

So much bad news lately. Over and over we hear about a 2 year old probably murdered by her now freed mom. We hear about a boy snatched and murdered in a cloistered community in New York City.  We hear about how the politicians that are supposed to be helping us are doing anything but. And we hear about bad weather patterns, crop failures, unemployment and a constant stream of sad stories from the seemingly never-ending war on terror.

We know more about Casey Anthony's tattoo than we need to know. Why, we know more about her than most of the people who live nearby in our own neighborhood.  It is maddening and crazy.

TMI.  Too much information. Enough already. I want to be like the dog running free who just doesn't listen anymore. Don't you?

We have always had bad news.  It just wasn't broadcast 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week, non-stop on 300 channels.

No wonder we are all stressed out. Hearing things over and over again like this makes it seem personal to us. That it needs to be our personal concern somehow. But it doesn't and it shouldn't.

Boundaries and limits. How many times have we heard that by setting certain boundaries and limits we can lead a less stressful life? But the news media knows no boundary and knows no limit.  They fill us in on every single detail of things that they shouldn't even know and fill our heads with details that are none of our business. They talk about things that should never be spoken about in public. They speculate. They do things to sensationalize their story, even if that means lying, cheating or fabricating.

So, I think it is high time we set our own limits and boundaries and simply tune them out.

It is late July now, the dog days of summer. Time to relax, chill out, take in a sunset on a beach or a walk through the mountains. Time to sit outside after working all day to a calm breeze, some light chit-chat or perhaps some gardening. Walking the dog seems a pleasure now.  A bike ride feels lovely. These are the things that we should be enjoying now. Tuning into ourselves, our family and the absolute wonder of a summer night.

I am not saying that we shouldn't be interested in the nation, the world or our fellow citizens. We should.  But we can know what is going on without stepping into the mud.  Because that just simply weighs us down and makes us feel awful.

So, tune out. Turn off the news. Go outside. Don't be tempted by the tabloids, the internet or magazine headlines that tell you what they say you need to know.  You don't need to know it. You simply don't.

So, be like the dog running free. At least occasionally. By doing so you may find that you can finally tune into yourself.  And that is all the news you need to know anyway.

Television has a real problem.  They have no page two.  Consequently every big story gets the same play and comes across to the viewer as a really big, scary one. 
~Art Buchwald, 1969

Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine. 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.  A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all's right with the world. 
~Ada Louise Huxtable

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Everyday losses.

I watched my daughter "graduate" from 6th grade today. It was a great day and everyone was certainly happy that another school year ended and that summer is here at last. But there were also some sad faces in the crowd. Some kids will not be returning to the school next year; some teachers, too. And though people may have given it only a moment's thought, it was a loss that they felt inside.

We all have experienced loss. I certainly see the biggest loss when I work. Death is a huge loss, we all know that. But we have rituals and support groups and the outpouring of sympathy and concern to help deal with it. And we can cry openly about it and everyone understands. It is expected that we will grieve. It would seem odd if we didn't.

But what about the everyday losses that we endure? How do we deal with those.

The truth is that we don't. Not really. They seem too insignificant to matter to anyone. So we bury them. But I think that they don't really ever just go away. And I think that they affect us more than we realize.

It would seem silly to mourn a cancelled tv show that we really enjoyed. Or the death of a celebrity we admired our whole lives. Or a co-worker leaving. Or a friend moving to another street or town.

How about that bracelet you misplaced that was given to you by a favorite aunt. Or that tree you loved that was felled by a recent storm. Maybe you are even sad about a book series that ended and will never be written again.

The list goes on and on and we experience them each and every day and probably think well, that is just the way it goes and we leave it at that.
Or at least we think we do.

But then we may be a bit off for a few days. Or feel sad and we just don't know why. And the reason could be because we have experienced a loss that affected us, even though it seems silly to admit it or even say it out loud. But each loss is important no matter how small it may seem. And sometimes a lot of little losses can add up and become overwhelming.

So think about your everyday losses and embrace them. Feel them. Allow yourself to mourn them. A loss is a loss is a loss is a loss. Big or small, it really doesn't matter if it makes you feel bad.

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things. ~~~Bruce Barton

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ~~~Kahlil Gibran

Monday, June 13, 2011

Can We Reverse Aging By Changing How We Think? - Newsweek

Can We Reverse Aging By Changing How We Think? - Newsweek

I was just thinking about this today. This is an interesting study. Makes one much do I allow my age to define me, instead of just being who I want to be? Food for thought.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lighten Up.

My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.
~~~Michel de Montaigne

I think we take ourselves way too seriously. It drives me crazy. We worry and fuss over such little details that, in the end, really do not matter at all, not one stinking iota. It's crazy, isn't it?

But yet, we all do it. I guess the bigger question is, why?

Perhaps we think we will miss out on something. That there is a better choice out there to be made, that someone else may snag the prize, that we will be left with regret. But that rarely happens. Or maybe we worry too much about what others think. That they are judging us by our choices.

Think about something you took way too seriously, that stressed you out, but is only a faint memory now. Like perhaps, choosing a preschool for your 3 year old, or worrying about the wedding gown you chose, or what you weighed 10 years ago. Or the math test your 4th grader tanked. How about the colleague that you thought about at night. You know, the one that made you nuts. The one that is no longer even living in the same state.

I can attest that those were some of my own "heavier moments," and in the end, I should have lightened up because they meant nothing. My daughter played in preschool and had fun. She excels in school. My yellowing gown is hanging in a closet and I am still happily married. And I cannot even remember the work colleague's name. But they all seemed so important at the time. I took them way too seriously.

You would think that time and experience are good teachers, and that as we age we get wiser and stop all that nonsense. Not true. I work with the elderly and some of them are still stressing. Now it is all about their kids and grandkids and what Joan down the hall at the Assisted Living is doing on that committee. I tell you, it just never ends.

Unless we make a firm decision to stop it. To draw a line in the sand.

Many of my patients say they never really understood what was important until they got sick. Then they got it. But facing death should not be the reason to let go of the worry and the fuss. Life itself should be the reason. A lighter, fun life.

Joy. Happiness. Laughter. Remember those?

We cannot control everything and so I believe we focus on things we can control, usually minutia, but seemingly important to us. However, we really need to step back for a moment and stop all the crazy thinking. It doesn't help anyway and only stresses us all out. And many times, actually most times, things turn out fine regardless of all the fuss and worry. And too many times, all that fuss and worry created a new problem that wasn't even there to begin with.

Life is a journey with no map and no GPS. Many obstacles will be placed in our path as we move forward, no matter how much we try to prevent them. It is all beyond our control anyway. It really is. Best sometimes just to let go and enjoy the ride.

And what are we teaching our kids? Do we even let them have a light moment? Everything is so weighed down and so serious. What ever happened to a carefree childhood? No wonder depression and suicides are way up for kids and especially teens.

You know, Johnny is not going to have a slimmer shot at Harvard if you don't pick the perfect preschool. Your daughter will not flunk out if she misses a day of school so that you can play hooky together and have some much needed fun. Grades in 4th grade are not that important, not really. That work colleague is an ass, and will always be an ass, but there is nothing you can really do about it. So, let it go. Just let go.

We really do need to lighten up. Slack off a bit. Let a little bit more of life in. Not take everything so seriously.

It all ends anyway, this life we try to control. We hang on too tight. But if we loosen our grip, we might actually have some fun along the way.

Heavy thoughts bring on physical maladies; when the soul is oppressed so is the body. ~Martin Luther

Rule number one is, don't sweat the small stuff. Rule number two is, it's all small stuff. ~Robert Eliot

Wanna fly? You got to give up the shit that weights you down. ~Toni Morrison

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.-- L. M. Montgomery

Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars... and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers - for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are. ~Osho

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Abraham Maslow's 8 Ways to Self-Actualize

1. Experience things fully, vividly, selflessly. Throw yourself into the experiencing of something: concentrate on it fully, let it totally absorb you.

2. Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth): Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.

3. Let the self emerge. Try to shut out the external clues as to what you should think, feel, say, and so on, and let your experience enable you to say what you truly feel.

4. When in doubt, be honest. If you look into yourself and are honest, you will also take responsibility. Taking responsibility is self-actualizing.

5. Listen to your own tastes. Be prepared to be unpopular.

6. Use your intelligence, work to do well the things you want to do, no matter how insignificant they seem to be.

7. Make peak experiencing more likely: get rid of illusions and false notions. Learn what you are good at and what your potentialities are not.

8. Find out who you are, what you are, what you like and don't like, what is good and what is bad for you, where you are going, what your mission is. Opening yourself up to yourself in this way means identifying defenses - and then finding the courage to give them up.

~~~ Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Love yourself first.

Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers. ~Veronica A. Shoffstall

Do you remember the first thing that entered into your mind today when you first woke up? How about when you were showering or making coffee or driving to an activity or work. What were you thinking about. Do you even remember?

I will bet that you were either criticizing yourself or thinking about something that needed to be done for someone else.

We all do it. And we do it way too often.

What we hardly ever do when we wake up is to start our day by loving ourselves. We don't say "good morning" to ourselves and plan our day to please ourselves. That would seem way too narcissistic and self-centered, right? And who has time for that anyway.

And we may actually think we are doing things for ourselves. We may exercise, but, if we were honest, we would recognize that we are doing it because our inner critic thinks we are perhaps a bit too fat. And that is not really self love. Or we may dress a certain way or try to look a certain way, and it may seem as though we are trying to please ourselves, but most times we do that for others, not ourselves. And most times we feel as though we never measure up anyway, no matter what we do.

The list goes on and on.

And when we do finally get around to doing something just for ourselves, we feel bad. Selfish and guilty.

We need to stop all that. Yes, we really do.

I see so many people at the end of a life; their life. The only one they get. But most did not really live too many days of that life just for themselves. They did not always take the time to love themselves enough. And many really regret that. They really do.

I am not saying that you should become self centered and never care for anyone. I am saying that you need to love yourself first to be better equipped to love others more. And in doing so, it will bring more love and happiness into your own life.

It is not easy to do, to love ourselves. So we instead do other things. We numb ourselves. We eat too much. We spend too much. We watch too much dumb TV to escape ourselves. And we justify doing this because we think that we "deserve it." But we never really feel better, do we. It is really more like we are punishing ourselves, not rewarding ourselves. And certainly not loving ourselves.

So tomorrow when you wake up, start thinking first of yourself. Feel what you feel. Love yourself enough to feed yourself good food and take deep breaths and relax, even for just a few moments. Tell someone "no" when you really do not want to do something. (No is actually a complete sentence.) Do things that 'feel' good instead of always 'doing' good. Think of something that you just "don't have the time for," like walking, knitting, ice skating, reading, swimming or whatever you enjoy but have not done and find at least 30 minutes this week to do them. Find me time. Schedule me time. Be a good example to others what self love looks like. Teach your kids this. It will be the most important thing you teach them. Model by doing. Stop being a martyr. Start loving yourself.

You get one shot at this. One life that really only belongs to you. You do. I wish I could scream this from my rooftop, that is how important it is.

Days, weeks, years, decades go by and you look back and you wonder, where did I go. What happened to me? What was I so afraid of?

So, love yourself first. Have a love affair with yourself. Don't wait. You are worth it. You really are.

It's not your job to like me - it's mine~~~Byron Katie

To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don't wait until you die. If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now.
~~~Alan Cohen

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Two words that can simplify your life.

I recently learned two words that can simplify any life from a very wise, wonderful patient that I had the privilege to care for. She was in her late 70's and lived a very colorful, very happy life. She was well educated, well traveled, well read and well loved.

Her home in Cambridge was lovely, but also quietly simple. It felt calm just being there. The walls were quite bare, except for one wall that had, in large, scripted handwriting, two words: Consume less.

She told me that they embodied her philosophy of life. And how these two words could help anyone if they just followed its simple wisdom.

It rang true.

Think about it. These two words are powerful. And these two words could solve most of life's problems.

Want to save more money? Lose weight? Cut down on all the hard working hours you are forced to put in to make ends meet? Do you want to spend more time on meaningful things like family and friends? Want to help the earth? Want to teach your kids valuable lessons?

Well, consume less. That is the answer to all of the above questions.

But could it really be that simple?

Yes, it really could. But it doesn't mean that it is easy to do.

The trouble is, we are a nation of consumers. We like stuff. We like things super-sized. We waste a lot. We judge each other not by the compassion that we show or the love that we give, but by how much we have. How much we can consume. How much we spend. Bigger is better. The one with more toys wins.

And none of us are better off for it, not really.

We think we need so many things. We think we will be happier. But if you really stopped and took an inventory of what you already have, you would find that you have way more than you could ever possibly need or use. And if we were really seeking truth, we would come to realize we really don't even use half of what we already own. And I am not sure that just acquiring more is the key to greater happiness. I know that I have not seen it. Most times, it seems that it makes us all just a bit more anxious. And happiness eludes us still.

And don't even talk to me about all the extra calories we don't need to consume.

I know it sounds simplistic to think that just two words, consume less, could have such a powerful effect on our lives; however, I really think it is true.

But who am I to say.

So try it sometime. Experiment with it. Next time you are tempted to buy that 'whatever' you certainly don't need or to eat that 'whatever' you shouldn't really eat, say it to yourself. "Consume less." See if it works.

It might just be the best thing you never did.

You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need. ~Vernon Howard

Everything we possess that is not necessary for life or happiness becomes a burden, and scarcely a day passes that we do not add to it. ~Robert Brault

We don't need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.
~Donald Horban

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
~Lin Yutang

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Some random things I want to tell my daughter before I die.

I am the Mother of one daughter, Catherine. She was born on March the 9th, 1999, after many years of infertility, miscarriages, and dashed hopes and dreams. It was clearly the best day of my life.

But I am a mother just like you. I have other things I do with my day. I am busy running errands. I am preoccupied with other things and I am certainly not perfect. I try to be a good mom, but I know that sometimes I fall short of the mark.

One of the ways that I fill my life, besides being a mom, is by being a hospice nurse. I did not actively seek out this job, it sort of found me. I have been a nurse, in one form or another, for 30 years now. I had never worked in the hospice field before. But it had touched my life. My own Mother had hospice in 1997 when she died. So did my young cousin, who died too young in 2001.

So I became a hospice nurse. Most of my patients are seniors. The ending of their lives has touched me for sure, although they seem to follow the normal course of the universe. I was saddened, but felt that I was helping them and their families cope and I could go home and continue my life without too much distress. Things were ok. Then one day, I received the name of a patient to see at a large teaching hospital in Boston. When I looked at the chart, I saw myself reflected back. A woman, age 44 at the time. A wife and the mother of a 4-year-old daughter. She had struggled for years with infertility and this child was a gift. She was diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy, but refused treatment as not to harm her child. She fought hard against the disease. But in the end, it had won.

I went to see her with a feeling of dread. This is one of my worse fears, to leave my daughter. As I entered the room, I could sense her full presence. Her daughter was playing in the room, talking to her, like any normal child would. Her mother did not respond verbally, but I definitely sensed a charge in the room, a warmth. I cannot describe it, but it was there. When the patient’s sister came to take the child to lunch, all that energy left with her.

I sat there with the patient, she was comatose. I told her what a beautiful daughter she had and how proud she must be of her. It was hard for me to be there, I wanted to run away. I held back my tears until I got to my car, then I couldn’t stop crying. I cry now, years after her death, as I write this.

I had to see her many more times, as we see patients who are hospitalized every day. Each day was difficult for me, but I had to remember that I am the one having the good day. There is no reason for me to feel sorry for myself. All my energy needs to be directed to the patient and the family.

I brought the patient’s daughter some princess stickers at one visit. She proceeded to place them all over her “sleeping” mother. The mother looked ethereal lying there. She still had all her wonderful, beautiful red hair. The floor nurses had lovingly brushed it. She did not look as though she were ill. She did indeed look as though she were only sleeping.

The patient died a few days later. I read about it in the paper and heard it in report. A sad day, indeed.

Months, years have passed since then. But I still, to this day, think about her. She has, without knowing, made me a better wife, mother and nurse. I thank her.

I have now seen many young mothers who are dying and many who have died, leaving children behind, motherless and alone. It still saddens me, but it has not impacted me quite the way that first young mother did

I still think about how it felt the first time I looked into the face of my own mortality. What if that were me? What would I want my daughter to know?

Surely, we all think we will be here until we are 100, having grown children and grandchildren to love and make cherished memories with. But the truth is, we may not. And we are all going to die. Many times without saying the things we always thought we would have more time to say.

So I decided to write down at least a few things I wanted my daughter to know. Ten turned into thirty, thirty into many more. I write it not only for my own daughter, but also for the daughter of my patient and all daughters that need a hug. And a mom.

Catherine, this is for you.

(From your mother.)

Love you always.

1. I will always be your best friend. Even when you hate me, even when you feel suffocated by me, I will be here.

2. Respect your father, even if I don’t always provide the best example.

3. Blue hair, tattoos and multiple piercings are, quite frankly, ugly. You may want show your independence that way, but I think that you know deep down, it is not the most attractive look. And I will love you no matter how you look anyway.

4. The world does judge you by your appearance. I know it is unfair, but it is the truth.

5. Girls can be really mean. They will hurt your feelings, betray you and make you cry. Have girl friends anyway. Stick with your true friends, don’t worry if they are popular or not.

6. Mean people suck, they really do. Try to avoid them. Stay away from malcontents, too. They take the oxygen out of the room.

7. Please talk to me about things. I know this sounds like a cliché, but not only was I young once, I still feel the same way now that I did then. I just have a different perspective on it.

8. I know that sometimes I will embarrass you. Sometimes I embarrass myself. And sometimes you embarrass me, too.

9. You will never go far unless you are willing to work hard and do your best. I know it sounds like I just read a bumper sticker, but it is really the only formula for success that works.

10. Make sure that you read the washing instructions in your clothes and that you separate the whites from the darks. I always do a separate load of pinks, as well. They are neither white nor dark.

11. Don’t have a loud cell phone conversation in a public place. No one, I repeat, NO ONE wants to hear your private conversation.

12. Read books. Everything you could ever want to know is written in some book. Your bedside table should always be filled with books you are reading. Go to the library often.

13. Make sure you have fun everyday. Make time for it. It is that important.

14. Smile at people. Acknowledge their presence. It solidifies yours.

15. If you don’t have change for the homeless person on the street, tell them that. Don’t just walk by and ignore them. It is rude.

16. Learn, hopefully from me, good manners. Use them even when you are going through the drive-thru window at the fast food joint.

17. Always thank people.

18. Pray. And when there is no response, keep praying.

19. Accept the fact that you are going to make mistakes in life. It is how we learn.

20. Accept the fact that I have and will continue to make mistakes as well.

21. You know the line, “Beauty is more than skin deep?” It is not true. Either you are beautiful or you are not. Most people are quite attractive and should make the best of what they have got. That is why we have the Bloomingdale’s cosmetic department.

22. I think you are the most beautiful girl in the world. I know that you will never believe that, but it is true.

23. Learn to cook. Know a few recipes that will become your signature dishes.

24. Learn to speak French. At least a few good phrases, and pronounce them properly.

25. Travel and see the world. Dorothy was wrong; everything is not in your own back yard.

26. Be tolerant of other’s views. Allow them to express themselves in non-violent ways. But make sure that you maintain your own thoughts and your own feelings.

27. People die. Wear your seatbelt at all times. Wear your helmet when cycling. Do not speed. Do not become distracted when you are driving. Do not drive drunk and do not get into a car with a drunk driver. Look around as you walk at night. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Talk to strangers, but do not get into a car with them or arrange to meet them from a chat room conversation.

28. Be patient with the old.

29. Be kind, be kind and then be kind some more.

30. When you date, please do not try to get back at me by dating someone that I would hate. Date someone you like. That is all that matters.

31. Stay away from boys/men who berate you, hit you or are aggressive toward you. Run away as fast as you can.

32. There is no such thing as a normal family.

33. When you plan your wedding, include the groom’s mother in the planning. She is going to become a very, very important person in your life, whether you want to believe it or not.

34. Marry a man who treats his mother with genuine respect.

35. Run from a man who puts his mother’s feelings before yours.

36. Have a really good financial plan and stick to it. You have to save some money. Period.

37. Make sure to own a dog. They provide unconditional love and true comfort. They are always happy to see you and always want to play.

38. Have lots of framed pictures of your family, friends, pets and travels all over your home.

39. Get a pap smear done every year after you turn 18. Do a self-breast exam every month. Make sure that your gynecologist is a female. Men may be good doctors, but they really don’t know what it feels like to be a woman, no matter what medical school they went to. And get a second opinion always.

40. Please continue to let me hug you, even when you get older. It gives me such joy. I promise not to do it in public.

41. On a rainy Saturday, lie in bed with me and watch a movie. Or lie in bed with your own daughter or son and watch a movie together in my memory. (Remember the popcorn and soda.)

42. Please stop rolling your eyes at me.

43. Every day is a gift. Do not forget that.

44. Keep a quarter in your car at all times for a phone call. Cell phones don’t always work.

45. Education is important. Make sure you do your best in school. I wish I had paid less attention to the boys and more attention to my grades. Or at least equal amounts of both.

46. I was a cheerleader in high school and it was fun. Make sure that you are part of something at school. It doesn’t matter what.

47. Know the proper utensils to use.

48. Know how to do minor repairs. There are many books at the library to read or you can ask someone. Have your own toolbox, even after you are married.

49. Put stuff back where it belongs and you will always be able to find it.

50. Always use a napkin.

51. Do not use green or blue eye shadow. I don’t care what the “experts” say, it looks ridiculous.

52. Every day is a new day. Move Forward. Try something new.

53. Treat yourself special. Do not depend on others to do this. You will always be disappointed.

54. Everyone has bad days. Don’t feel alone.

55. Keep up with current issues in the world.

56. Don’t litter, ever.

57. Listen to music. But don’t have one of those ipods in your ears all the time, especially if someone is trying to talk to you. It is rude.

58. Have fresh flowers in your home. Treat yourself to a fresh bouquet every week.

59. Enjoy “things,” but don’t let them define who you are.

60. Just because something is more expensive, it doesn’t necessarily make it better. Conversely, you get what you pay for. You will have to figure that one out for yourself.

61. Listen when people are talking to you. Don’t think about what you are going to say next, just listen. The best gift we can bestow on others is our presence.

62. Call me on Mother’s Day and my birthday.

63. Dad, too.

64. Don’t do things just because everyone else is. I know you need to feel as though you fit in, but try to hold tight to some things that are true only to yourself.

65. Rituals and traditions are can be wonderfully comforting. Just don’t let them become oppressive. Create your own traditions and don’t feel compelled to do things because “Mom did them every year.” My feelings will not be hurt.

66. I am your Mom. Help me become a better one by telling me what you need from me (or don’t need). Although it seems so at times, I am not a mind reader.

67. After you marry; ok, no pressure; if you marry, continue to surround yourself with women friends. Too often, these friends get pushed aside. Don’t do it. Maintain them, cherish them. They stabilize the pressure in our lives, like a jet cabin does at 33,000 feet. If the cabin pressure in a jet didn’t do that, we couldn’t breathe. Think of your friends the same way.

68. Never forget, no matter how old you are, how holidays and birthdays delighted you. Celebrate grandly.

69. Be mindful of what you say. Sticks and stones may not break bones, but words can break a heart.

70. When your heart gets broken, there really is no quick fix. It will hurt. The only known cures are a good, long cry, a hot bath and a lot of chocolate. And the passage of time.

71. Take care of your teeth by brushing and flossing two times a day. Teeth are important. And go to the dentist every six months.

72. Know that I will worry about you until I take my last breath, and maybe well beyond that.

73. Buy yourself beautiful lingerie. Just for you. It’s a nice thing to do for yourself.

74. When you have children, tell them you love them every day. Hug them frequently. Let them sit in their jammies on a Saturday and watch cartoons for hours. Join them. Do not fill their lives with too many activities. Kids these days are over scheduled.

75. Find a great hair stylist and stick with them. Yes, a bad hair day can make you feel awful.

76. Pick up your home a little every day and it will never become a huge mess.

77. Do not be petty. It is a waste of time and energy.

78. Take care of your health. Walk every day, as much as you can. Breath deeply. Release stress.

79. Remember this; there is no magic solution to losing weight. The ONLY thing that works is eating less and exercising more. Period.

80. People will disappoint you. It is a fact. Get over it. Do not dwell on it.

81. People do things because of how it makes them feel on the inside. It is never really about you. Remember that.

82. Someday, when you are missing me, think about all of the fun times we have had. Smile. Remember how much I loved you and what I said to you every night at bedtime; “I love you more than the sun and the moon and the stars in the sky.”

If you smile when you think about me, I will know I have done something right.

Some of my Favorite Quotes:

“Life’s a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death.” ~~~Mame

“Three things in life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
~~~Henry James

“Enough is as good as a feast.”
~~~Mary Poppins

Never think you’re not good enough yourself. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.”
~~~ Anthony Trollope

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger then death.”
~~~Robert Fulghum