Friday’s Focus—Hyacinths in Bloom

The sounds of the neighborhood waking up with its barking dogs and chirping birds and the ticking of the living room clock keep me company on this rainy morning as I write this. I noticed yesterday that the Hyacinths are starting to come up. They always reminded me of Spring, Easter, and my mom. They were one of her favorite flowers and I always brought her some for Easter. Seeing them start to bloom is bittersweet. It reminds me that it’s been nearly 3 months since she passed away. I don’t know where the time has gone and though I’ve been making peace with her passing there are still some days that are harder than others and I’ve found that a stranger’s condolences and a momentary kindness can still bring me to tears.

The medical bills are arriving and with each one, I’ve needed to make a phone call to verify submission to insurance or to get some clarity on the services charged but not explained. Conversions begin business as usual: name, date of birth, account number, relationship to patient; rote questions coming over the phone from a faceless office worker probably counting the days to Friday like I do.

To help explain why I’m calling about a bill 2 months overdue and that it’s not a shirking of responsibility on our part, I explain that it’s just been forwarded to me from the facilities and that my mom had passed away in December. Suddenly, the numb drone becomes a human being and with a soft intake of breath comes, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Please accept my condolences.” It’s a kind sentiment that’s appreciated and something that still makes me twitch when I hear it, but it’s the personal stories that follow are what brings the feelings of loss fresh all over again.

I can’t begin to say how much it annoys me to have to make these calls to follow-up with doctor offices and agencies, but by the end of the calls, my attitude has completely changed. What starts as a business as usual call ends up with me tearing up listening to sage advice and deep personal experiences that the other person has gone through with the loss of their mother or other loved one.

One woman, now in her late fifties, lost her mother when she was 14. She told me about how she still misses her and the memories they never got a chance to make. She shared with me what she’s learned over time and ended the call with a blessing. I honestly felt that God takes moments and people like this to make direct connections to remind me, all of us, that we are not alone.  

None of us will ever know what can come out of our experiences and how it can help others. There are certain levelers in life that will happen regardless of age, sex, and status, and this is where the human heart comes in if we let it. Those people didn’t have to share their personal stories, but they did, and I was completely changed from each, small conversation. I cried because it was suddenly one grief acknowledging another but I also smiled at the sincerity of the connection. It’s so easy to feel alone because of a death or an illness in the family. 

It’s also easy to feel alone when sometimes the day or recent events have just been difficult, challenging, and going in directions you never imagined. Connecting with a stranger or a friend by one small conversation, one sliver of a share of memory, or genuine good wishes can make the world of difference. It won’t solve our problems or be a miracle cure but when you share your heart, that’s a healing in of itself and a moment you will never forget or regret.

I hope today’s Focus inspires you to keep your eyes open and your heart open wider. You never know what today’s conversations could bring. The birds are still chirping but the rain has stopped. I just looked out the back window and a ray of sun is shining directly on the Hyacinth buds. I think I’m going to go out back and spend some time with the flowers and remember how much she loved them.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Being the Center of Your Own Universe

It’s only natural to want the people you love to be happy. Who doesn’t want to see their family and loved ones content and taken care of? But what if that happiness comes at the expense of your own feelings, to the point where you specifically change the way you do things and go about your own life just to secure someone else’s happiness?

A few days ago, my husband and I had tentatively planned on doing a day trip for the upcoming weekend. I wasn’t really thrilled with going but I said I would because I knew it would make him happy to go to this place. I didn’t know it at the time, but he really wasn’t up to traveling, but was prepared to go because I said I wanted to. We were both willing to make the trip because we thought it was what the other person wanted.

After a bit more discussion, he looked at me and said “Do you really want to go?” I made a face and answered, “No, not really,” to which his shoulders slumped and he smiled and said, “Good, I’m so glad you said that because I’m not up to it but I thought you wanted to go so I was willing to give it a try.” We both felt such relief sharing how we honestly felt. A short while later, I said to him, “I still feel bad about not going. I know you like it there and I wanted you to be happy,” to which he responded, “Don’t worry about it. You’re not in charge of my universe.”

KABONG. Though it hasn’t been often, he’s said this to me before, and each time, when I thought about it, I realized I was doing things to ensure his happiness at the expense of mine. It’s not bad or wrong to want someone you love to be happy—it’s what you do in a healthy relationship, but, when you consistently sacrifice your own happiness and compromise your feelings to make someone else happy, it’s not good or healthy anymore for either one of you. Another person’s happiness does not nor should depend upon your actions for them. Your actions are not the center of their Universe dictating how happy or content they feel. I’ve understood this on a subtle level but this was one of those cartoonish Kabong moments that it finally sunk in.

I think a lot of that had to do with setting my mother up into an Assisted Living facility last week because she couldn’t live alone anymore. The emotions from that decision rocked everyone in my immediate family. Even though we knew it was for the best, there was (and is) still a lot of emotion involved. She is still in the adjustment period and in thinking of ways that I might be able to make it easier for her, I realized that I couldn’t do any more than what I had been. With stunning clarity, it finally became obvious just how much I was making myself the center of her Universe and yet, no matter what I did, I would not be able to solve her problems, resolve her issues, or make her any happier. That’s a role that is hers and hers alone, as it is with each one of us. I will continue to care for and look for ways to make my loved ones happy but this time, from a more decidedly healthier stand.

I’m working on becoming the center of my own Universe instead of or in addition to other people’s. Sometimes, going the distance to make sure someone is happy has roots deeper than feelings of love for the person and wanting their satisfaction. It can come from a need for a sense of approval, acceptance, or even a justification of our own existence. To discover the true underbelly of our motivations as to why we do things is a very personal road and is different for each one of us.

Today’s Focus is about bringing attention to areas in each of your lives where you may be making yourself the center of someones else’s Universe instead of your own. Look beyond the actions you take to make others happy. Don’t take away their lessons; their own path. It is not up to you to ensure someone else’s feelings or contentment no matter how you feel about them. While it’s generous and deeply loving to want to ensure someone else’s happiness, the flip side is it’s a disservice to them in that you’re taking away chances and opportunities for them to learn their lessons and walk down their path. You can hold them in empathy but you can’t use your life and your resources to make someone else happy without perhaps the biggest disservice of all—the sacrifice of your own life and energy.

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#takingitdeeper

Friday’s Focus—Our Teachers, Ourselves

Whether we recognize it or not, we have teachers all around us. They are our friends, our enemies, strangers, and our families. Every person we meet is a mirror to something inside of us and how we react to the person is an indicator of something that has a teaching moment. If there’s someone who particularly raises your hackles, that’s a hint that it’s a relationship you need to take a closer look at. Until you do, you will always come across someone with that same personality and issues. I promise.

So what do you do when it’s your own family member? What do you do when it’s your own parent? The relationship between mothers and daughters alone, is the subject of countless social studies and psychology books, and even being in it first-hand, sometimes can lead to more questions than answers on how to best navigate in that relationship!

This past week has been a flurry of phone calls and scheduling appointments looking for alternative care and living arrangements for my mother, who has been suffering from increasing confusion and cognitive impairment. The situation has escalated to a new level of alert and awareness for me and my family and we are beginning our travels down the next road. Just as sometimes it is challenging to see the changes in our own children as they grow up into their individual personalities, I think it is just as difficult for a child to watch their parent become a different person due to disease and illness. It’s the established personality of the elder being broken down into the child again, and which oftentimes is a new personality peppered with confusion, sensitivity, vulnerability, and a lot of frustration.

I think, for most people, regardless of how estranged a relationship may be, there is still some level of a bond they feel with their parents. And as families grow older and the roles shift from parent and child to parenting the parent, there are new experiences that come from parenting parents that are completely different from being a parent to your own children.

As scary as it can be, I have been consciously working at using this opportunity of seeing this new personality, this person who almost seems like a stranger from the person I once knew, as being brought face to face with yet another teacher.

Aside from patience, I’ve asked myself, what could I possibly learn from this situation, except how much I want to change the clock back so that they are their familiar selves again? The focus I’m learning is that the question should not be why is this happening but rather what can I learn from this turn in the relationship? A new teacher has shown herself to me as a different personality disguised as my elderly parent. This may be the toughest mirror yet! My husband keeps telling me to be sure to learn my lessons from this because if I don’t, it will just show up again as someone else in my life and I believe it. I’ve seen it!

This week’s Friday’s Focus is about teachers and how they can come into your life in all shapes and sizes and sometimes from the most unlikeliest places. Take a look at the people around you who are loving and friendly. They are just as much teachers as those who aggravate you, annoy you, and bring up friction. Remember that as much as one person is a teacher to you, you are as much of a teacher to someone else.

#takingitdeeper

Blogging From A to Z: Elderly

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The other day while I was waiting for my husband at the hospital to finish his tests, I realized that the entire waiting room was filled with elderly people. One by one or two by two they came through the doors as though a bus had just dropped them off. Their spouses accompanied some while others were alone. A couple appearing to be in their late 80s with matching walkers particularly fascinated me. He even had a mini-Velcroed cooler attached under the handle grips of his! Their pristine white sneakers shuffled along in unison as they searched for companion seats. I tried to picture what they were like when they were younger. My imagination ran wild with stories of what they must have seen and heard and experienced in their lifetime. These people lived through some of the most significant historical events in the twentieth century this world has ever seen. To me, they were living history right here waiting to be called in for their endoscopies and colonoscopies.

The elderly are our living ancestors. It seems we stopped paying real attention to and honoring our elders once businesses realized they could make more money by focusing on the new generation then on the old. The elderly have become something we tolerate and have to take care of, rather than endeared and welcomed into the family fold. They may have ceased to be productive members of our working society but they have not ceased to still be members of our society. Their worth should not be determined by how much they contribute but instead, be regarded with respect and how much they have already contributed.

These are the people that helped shape our nation into what it is. They weren’t always 70, 80, 90 years old. Once they were like you and me—they were actively employed, bought first-homes, raised families, fought for our nation, and had weekend summer barbecues. They were us and one day we will be them.

The baby-boomer generation has approached the Medicare age with a better understanding of how we grow older and the need to keep our bodies and minds more active, giving the stigma surrounding aging a much needed identity crisis and revamping. The changes are coming but not for the elders we have right now sitting with their son/daughter in the doctor’s office, caught in between business meetings, answering texts and emails from their Blackberry. They are still the lost ones in our society at the mercy of the “sandwich generation”, who splits their attention and focus conferring with caregivers in between office meetings and a quick drop off of the kids at soccer practice.