#295 of 365 Ways to live Easier, Happier, & More Productive

If you are thinking about someone – phone them; say hello and let them know you’re thinking about them or leave a message.

Sharing a daily life lesson, tip, or hack; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#295

Phone a friend

This suggestion works nicely if you are playing a television game for a million dollars but it’s also important if you are interested in maintaining friendships. With our evolving habit of texting conversations – some of us have all but eliminated vocal interacting. Why not phone a friend?

Think of someone you haven’t spoken with in a while. What has prevented you from chatting? I occasionally hear that a friend hasn’t called because “I didn’t know if you were busy”. Frankly – that’s why voicemail was invented, wasn’t it? If I am busy, I will let the call go to message but I’ll know that you were thinking about me.

I’m miffed when someone says “I’ve been thinking about you forever…” but I have no way of knowing it because there’s been NO communication to that extent. If you are thinking about someone – phone them; say hello and let them know you’re thinking about them or leave a message. It’s simple really.

I realize that we all have busy lives and it takes time to maintain friendships. I find that most of us don’t need extended conversations and deep, meaningful interactions to sustain an existing friendship but we do need contact – real – live – connection. So, think of someone you haven’t heard from in a while and …

Phone a friend.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

 

6 THINGS EVERY WIFE CRAVES

When you take an interest in the things I think about also, my desire for you grows.

“A happy wife is a happy life” – Gavin Rossdale

…As the saying goes. After years of listening to wives talk about what would make them happy and what their partner can do to improve the relationship, I’ve assembled this simple list of free and easy items.

Spend time with me

When you spend time with me, I feel loved. Put your laptop, phone, and remote control down for an hour and ask about my day. Generic questions like “how was your day” are too broad. I want you to ask about ME… what did I think and feel today? Take a walk with me or cook with me while we chat. I want to spend time with you!

Help Me

When you help me, I feel supported. If we both work outside the house then it’s important to equally share the responsibilities of raising the children, keeping our home, and paying the bills.  If being at home is my job, then understand that it is a 24/7/365 job and I probably need a break and/or some time off!! Help me make that happen. The more help I get, the more time and energy I have.

Listen to me

When you listen to me I feel respected. Please don’t interrupt me when I talk. I may have to use more words than is comfortable to convey my thoughts but I want to know that they matter to you. When I say something, or ask a question it isn’t “because I’m nosy or stupid” – it’s because I am curious or wanting to learn. I don’t wake up in the morning with an intention of being bitchy. If I am… ask me “what’s going on” and listen to the answer without getting defensive. Also… you don’t have to ‘fix’ everything. Sometimes its enough to just let me vent.

Have My Back

When you have my back, I feel protected. Back me up with the kids and your family. Take my side or at the very least, say nothing until we are alone and you can tell me how you feel and what you think. If I am wrong, tell me privately. If I am afraid, hold me. If I am annoyed, just listen. I want us to be on the same team!

Make Love WITH me

When you make love with me, I feel sexy. Women get turned on by loving looks, gentle kisses, and patient cuddles. I need to know that you want to hug me even if it doesn’t lead to sex. Rubbing my shoulders and holding my hand goes much further than grabbing my breasts and fondling my crotch. While a quickie once in a while is fun, letting that be the rule of thumb so you can go to sleep, is not.

Talk to Me

When you talk to me, I feel valued. We don’t have to talk about emotional stuff to have productive and worthwhile conversations. I like to hear about your job and your friends but I also want to know what you think about; politics, spirituality, books, etcetera. SHARE yourself with me and let me share back. When you take an interest in the things I think about also, my desire for you grows.

Women who feel valued, sexy, protected, respected, supported, and loved are going to reciprocate in kind; forging a relationship that is resilient to outside forces and influences.

 

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10 HABITS THAT RUIN RELATIONSHIPS

Failure to think of yourself as one part of a whole may lead to your partner feeling as if they don’t matter.

“We become what we repeatedly do.” ― Sean Covey

1. INTERRUPTING: interrupting your partner demonstrates that you are NOT listening. 

How can you listen well if you aren’t letting your partner finish their thought? Wait for them to finish speaking – take a deep breath – and then respond.

2. TIT FOR TAT: You do it so, why can’t I?

Two wrongs don’t make a right, do they? When your partner is attempting to discuss something that is troublesome and we point out that they do it too, we are triggering a spiral escalator that often ends up in a place no one wanted to go. If you partner is attempting to address something that is problematic for them, hear it through – resolve it – and then bring up your own issue. Remember, one thing at a time.

3. LACK OF APPRECIATION: Who cares?

Over time, we typically learn to ‘expect’ and fail to acknowledge the effort that people put into daily living. Does your husband always have his check deposited into a joint account to pay bills? Be appreciative! Does your wife transport the kids from one activity to another day after day? Be grateful! Gratitude is free! And there are hundreds of ways to express it so make it a daily habit to find something that you can appreciate in your significant other.

4. TOO MANY ASSUMPTIONS: Don’t be a mind reader.

Over time we learn to make assumptions based on prior history. If Tim always like his mother’s meatloaf, it doesn’t mean that he wants it every Sunday. If Mary didn’t want flowers when you were on a tight budget, it doesn’t mean she wouldn’t like them occasionally now that things are better financially.  We tend to generalize our knowledge without checking in with our partner to validate what we think is true. Even if there is no doubt in your mind – from time to time it is important to ASK and VERIFY.

5. “YOU….” STATEMENTS. Playing the blame game.

Whenever anyone hears a sentence that begins with ‘YOU’… they are going to call up defenses. We tend to start sentences with “you… “instead of sharing what is happening for us by using “I” statements.  Expressing oneself by accusing another person for what is wrong or frustrating is rarely a solid communication skill. Change “why don’t you ever help?” to “It’s important to me that we share the responsibility”.

6. FORGETTING THAT YOU ARE A “WE”; Failure to consider your partner

Too many times I hear partners in crisis mode talk from the perspective of ME instead of WE. It is ‘my’ child instead of ‘our’ child, or ‘my house’ instead of ‘our house’.  Failure to think of yourself as one part of a whole may lead to your partner feeling as if they don’t matter.

7. FAILURE TO PRIORITIZE TIME TOGETHER: How do you spend your time?

Yes, our lives are busy. Raising a family, working, and taking care of a home are all time-consuming activities but when you make a commitment to share your life with one another, it means dedicating at least some attention to growing that relationship. Think of your relationship as a plant – if you don’t’ water it a little every week – it WILL die.

8. CRITICISM: Focus on mistakes.

Constructive criticism can be helpful but frequently pointing out mistakes will erode even the most fortified self-esteem over time. “That shirt is too wrinkled.”, “How could you forget to pay that bill?”, “Seriously, you’re doing that now?” If you must point out something erroneous – use love and compassion. “Sweetheart, can I iron your shirt for you?”, “Don’t worry babe, I’ll sit down and go through the bills to make sure everything is on time.”, “Honey, can we do that later?”

9. COMPLACENCY: Failure to compliment.

Think about how easily we hand out compliments when we first meet someone… “You look nice.”, “I love your beard”, “You work so hard.”, etcetera. Let’s face it… we all enjoy compliments and whomever is dishing them out the most consistently will get our attention. Make sure it is YOU.

10. DISTRACTION: Failure to be attentive.

Even if you are home a lot, don’t say much, and share household duties it’s possible to starve your relationship from true emotional connection. We are constantly connected to the world via the internet on our phones, tablets, laptops, and the television. When we can’t disconnect our attention from the outside world and direct it specifically to the people we love, we are failing to nurture the emotional vibe that keeps us wanting to be with one another. It doesn’t have to be dramatic to be effective; hold hands while you watch a TV showed of shared interest, look at one another while you describe your day, have a dedicated ‘no phone zone’ like your family room or bedroom.

This is by no means, an exhaustive list but eliminating these ten habits will most definitely provide a healthier environment for a positive and supportive relationship.

 

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It Wasn’t Me – Or Was It?

The problem is that unless we OWN our actions, reactions, and behavior – we are giving someone else our power.

 

“The moment you accept responsibility for EVERYTHING in your life is the moment you can change ANYTHING in your life.” ~ Hal Elrod

In the last couple of posts I’ve made the comment to “own” you stuff… your thoughts, your actions, your reactions. What does it mean really to ‘own’? I find that just saying it may not be enough, I find that we often need reminded what it is to ‘own’ because we don’t necessarily live in a culture where taking personal responsibility is front and center. We easily fall into patterns of ‘blame’.

At the turn of the century, the Jamaican reggae singer ‘Shaggy’ came out with a song entitled “It wasn’t me”… he was being given advice to deny his responsibility even though he had been caught red handed. Even the music we listen to seeks to reinforce methods of circumventing personal responsibility. We watch crime shows and movies that demonstrate how to ‘Get Away with Murder’ and we see Oliva Pope ‘fix’ problems that high level officials don’t want to be associated with. While I realize that those are fictitious stories on broadcast television, they seep into our subconscious and weep on patterns of blame whenever there is a chance.

“I can’t be happy because he….”, or “if she would change, everything would be ok.”… I hear people saying these things weekly. My response is always – “what about you?” “What is YOUR role in this?” Relationships are BETWEEN people and so every soul in the interaction has some level of responsibility in the dialogue; some level of input in the collaboration. Relationships by definition, are never one sided. Consequently – even if the only contribution is a RE-action… every person is engaged.

What would it look like if we all took responsibility for only OUR own behaviors?

What would it look like if we all stopped and reflected on what ‘I’ could do better or more effectively?

First and foremost… we have to be aware of what we are bringing to the table. What is it that ‘I’ am contributing to this interplay?

  • Am I being antagonistic?
  • Am I being supportive?
  • Am I being defensive?
  • Am I listening well?
  • Am I validating?
  • Am I being clear?
  • Am I saying what I mean?
  • Am I contributing positively?
  • Am I keeping score? Playing tit for tat?
  • Do I maintain my composure? My tone? My voice?
  • Have I kept my promises or vows?

YOU must be so self-aware that you know – and can admit – your role in any interaction or collaboration.

You must be so self-aware that you can recognize when you are deflecting (changing the direction or focus) – “oh yeah? Well when you ….” Or when you are defensive… “well, I did that because….” And when you aren’t listening – by interrupting. People who interrupt are NOT listening well.

I use these examples because they are usually easier to comprehend when it comes to relationships… we can each see ourselves in an interaction with another and notice when we contribute to the exchange.

In addition, we are also responsible for our own LIVES… no – we don’t control many of the things that happen but we DO control and need to take responsibility for the way that we respond to our lives. We need to OWN the decisions we make in response to our lives. Each of our actions generates a consequence which, ultimately means that we must own part of the consequence.

Ben and Sally went out for her birthday. Ben bought Sally a bunch of ‘shots’ and Sally got drunk. Sally tells her friend – “Ben got me drunk last night”. Ummm… not really. Unless Ben poured the shots down Sally’s throat… SALLY got herself drunk.

Our decisions, our actions, our behavior – determine how we are viewed in the world… they determine how we think of ourselves and they each become a part of our history… things that stay with us, literally forever. Every action becomes a memory that is imprinted on our soul. So… no wonder we may not ‘want’ to take responsibility. No wonder that we may not want to ‘own’ something that has already happened – something that we don’t necessarily want to be there forever…

The problem is that unless we OWN our actions, reactions, and behavior – we are giving someone else our power. If I am a wife blaming my husband for his addictions or blaming the problems in our marriage on his demeanor… I am denying that I have the power for my own decisions… for my own change. I am denying that I have any control over my own life.

What do we need to take responsibility for? We need to take responsibility for our own life… for what happens in it. Did you just get fired? Why? Look at the questions I asked earlier … go through them one by one… could you have done a better job? Could you have been more communicative? Could you have put in more effort? If so… just acknowledge it. Yes –  your boss may have been a dick. The working conditions may have sucked but at the end of the day – it was more than likely the way YOU reacted to it… the way you responded that made the decision.

If my husband is unfaithful, I can blame him for not keeping a promise but I am the one who needs to take responsibility for how I RE-act. Will I be vindictive? Seek to hurt him the way that I am hurt? Will I go deep into the uglies? Some of that will – of course – simply be a human reaction but if I go there – no matter my reaction – no one is putting a gun to my head and telling me how to behave. ANY reaction is one that I will have to OWN. I will have to remember that when I look in the mirror – it will be there with me.

Be aware – constantly aware – of what you are willing to carry with you – for the rest of your life.

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Epilogue

I feel fortified and open to the next set of lessons although I hate the idea of them coming.

Continued from Commitment

“A hard life is not a punishment, but rather an opportunity.” ― Brian L. Weiss

Harlan and I continue to love one another. In the eight years since we were in Vieques, we have shared incredible joys, learned more valuable lessons, and built modestly successful businesses; and we’ve done it together. We’ve been partners, lovers, and friends.

I finished grad school and opened a private counseling practice. It’s now funny to think that I started with one client – just one person sitting on my proverbial couch – and then two… and today I often have a waiting list of people who need to get in that week. I love what I do and find that I am happy to go to work most days. I work in the same building where the Print Shop is located and so Harlan and I get to see one another sporadically throughout the day – creating moments that we fill with a hug or a brief injection of love and appreciation although he is better at that than I am. When I get focused, I often have tunnel vision.

I do not believe that Harlan’s presence in my life is a coincidence. As we grew in our discoveries of one another we realized that throughout much of our adult life we had been dancing together in the Universe. His brother got married at the church where we (ex-Hubby and I) were members in the early nineties. He worked in the building across the street from the first house ex-Hubby and I owned together, although not at the same time. He and his ex-wife traveled across the country the same year that I traveled with my family – visiting many of the same national parks – only two months apart. And, when I road tripped with my mom and the kids, we stayed overnight in the town where he owned a business in New England. There were too many incidents to believe that it is all coincidence or happenstance. We were waiting for one another – for the time when our souls could come reunite and continue whatever journey had previously been started.

Harlan has become a bold presence in the life of my son and daughters, helping them to see a different perspective of masculine energy. They have grown to love and respect him not only as my partner but as a personal friend. In fact, they have all grown into incredible people. I don’t go one day without being in wonder at one of them; their work ethic, their commitment to success, their compassion, and their fearlessness. They inspire me to be a better person and they challenge me to learn the art of ‘letting go’. I could not be more proud. Frank got married a few years ago and I adopted another daughter as a result. Almost daily I count my blessings that he chose a woman I could so easily love. She embodies the spirit of our family and bolsters him in the way that a mother hopes for her son. Their partnering is a wonderful example for the girls.

I’ve continued to grow in my faith, my ability to be introspective, and in my esteem. I am stronger today than ever before and yet I don’t feel it is over. Indeed – it may be only beginning again. I think that perhaps we are allowed growth plateaus – times in our life that feel like we are coasting… nothing much happens – it feels comfortable and easy. And then, the learning begins anew.

When Emily left for college, Harlan and I were finally able to live together. We bought a home and moved into a perfectly downsized house that would allow us to comfortably grow old together. Late last year, just as we were settling into the long-awaited period of ‘empty-nesting’, Harlan began to feel sick. After months of frustrating and grueling testing and doctors’ visits, he was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer. We sat together in the small windowless office of our first oncology appointment and listened as the doctor said: “at some point, we will be discussing comfort care”. The prognosis was approximate – an average, they said – of two years.

 

This is where I must leave the story – the irony of his illness is not lost on us. In fact, we are each deeply challenged by it. We have taught one another so much… I have learned more about myself in the last eight years than perhaps in all the time prior and Harlan too. We know we came together to learn. This cancer is impacting both of us significantly. Obviously, Harlan is the body that is suffering from the disease – and the treatments. We both are afflicted with emotional challenges; not only the ones existing in the present but also the ones that have come washing over us from the past. We have noticed triggers we both thought were rusted and locked; renewing themselves with old – unwanted energy.

We arguably are doing the best that we can. Every day we confront the current hurdle and attempt to jump. Most of the time we make it. My imperfection is highlighted almost constantly and I have become accustomed to facing the fact that I am only human – although I don’t like it. The ugliness of cancer doesn’t always bring out the best in us and at other times it highlights everything good. The dichotomy of it can be exhausting.

 

I’m not sure where the words or energy for this story actually came from. It’s only been ninety days. They flowed easily each day as I sat with my laptop and opened the evolving word document. I can only imagine that they are a gift from God. That the Universe has allowed me to see myself in entirety so that I can use the accumulated knowledge now in perhaps the most difficult challenge yet. I feel fortified and open to the next set of lessons although I hate the idea of them coming. Perhaps there is another story unfolding.

 

I do believe that this amazing life – with all of the pain, lessons, joy, and exhilaration is worth living. Even though I get intensely tired from time to time, I am eager to walk the path that will lead me into pure love, into peace. I remind myself of that destination and it motivates me to take the next step. The existential veil that lies atop each experience does not go unnoticed and I am deeply grateful for each day as it draws to a close; regardless of its impact.

Thank you for walking with me as I dared greatly.

Fitting IN

We stood in the shade – on purpose – while we observed the incredible absence of human intervention and appreciated the exquisite beauty.

Continued from Growing & Going Deeper

“The best feeling in the whole world is watching things finally fall into place after watching them fall apart for so long.” ~unknown

Our work on the shop progressed with buckets of sweat and dozens of late nights. We worked side by side, each of us with our tool belts on, attempting to decipher who would be the chief over which project. He was better with the construction pieces and I headed up the painting and design elements. We realized that we worked together well – managing to iron out the kinks when they arose. Some of our first major disagreements happened over that project but for the most part we calmly and (most importantly) respectfully – broke them apart to understand where our communication had lapsed.

So many things were different for me in this relationship – we both came into it aware. We were self-aware, which I find to be a full one-third of the challenge when attempting to address problems. We both had a good idea of the baggage we had accumulated as a result of our prior relationships and the distorted ways of thinking that were generated in various parts of our childhoods. We were pretty typical in that there were some combination and degree of control issues, abandonment, trust, self-perception, self-esteem, self-worth… the same kinds of things that are common in adulthood throughout our culture – varying only by extent and juxtaposition. For the most part, we were conscious of how those elements played out as we interacted – how the defense mechanisms were triggered – and how we consequently reacted.

Knowledge is great but we both had developed some habits that were harder to break. I was quick to shut down – to withdraw and go silent. That had been the best way for me to cope for a lot of years but now, it wasn’t effective. When I used that technique, it spurred a different reaction in him. We had a lot to learn about this dance that we did – it was early in our relationship and our starry eyes often provided cover for the growth that was ready to sprout. It was a wonderful beginning and we both felt it.

My brother was getting married and the construction was not yet complete. We really needed to open for business when we returned from the Caribbean and so we handed the project over to an extremely reliable and trustworthy contractor (extended family member). The five of us (all three girls, Harlan, and me) boarded a plane and made our way with taxies, boats, and rental cars – eventually arriving at a three bedroom house we rented on the island of Vieques – just off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. It was one of the first times that Harlan and I openly shared a room within open sight of my daughters.

I had talked to them about it when I booked the house. They knew he stayed over from time to time and they knew we traveled together but it was still a bit awkward having a full-on relationship with a man who wasn’t their dad. They thought I was weird and gross for ‘wanting’ to sleep in the same bed as him but it was a turning point for us and the environment was supportive of the change. Our house was part of a larger complex but small enough to feel intimate and it sat right on the beach – overlooking the ocean with the British Virgin Islands off into the distance.

Vieques used to be occupied in large part, by the US military and so there is a major portion of the island that is still raw and undeveloped. It is accessible by jeep and there are some incredible, unspoiled beaches if you are willing to drive slowly and patiently across tough terrain to get to them. We rented a jeep and explored the island for a few days before other family members arrived. It was almost like a honeymoon – well, maybe not a honeymoon considering the girls were there and I still cooked dinner most nights… but it was a getaway.

Our time on the island felt like a family vacation. Harlan got along amazingly with the girls even though they were hesitant about his presence there from the beginning. He had a special way of being supportive when they needed it but allowing me to be the parent. He never tried to be that to them, recognizing that they had a father. He did want to offer confirmation or affirmation when it was called for – he went to swim meets and concerts, was open to talking with them but rarely… expressed criticism or attempted to discipline. It was as if he knew their limitations and demonstrated respect for them.

One afternoon, while we were all enjoying some beach time and the older girls, were getting surfing lessons from a couple of other teen boys – a great pick up play – I noticed some quick movements in the water and then saw Harlan holding Emily in his arms. It seems that she got hit by a wave and went under – apparently in a way or for long enough that it was cause for concern so he scooped her up; bringing her into the safety of strong arms and fresh air. Since then, it has been a ‘remember when you saved my life?’ moment memory.

This man protected my child. Any parent out there knows the depth of feeling… is it gratitude, appreciation, satisfaction, or acclaim?? When someone ‘cares’ for your child. When they put the needs of your child above their own – it’s as if they are on your team – automatically – partnering with you. I saw that in Harlan that week. He looked out for my girls in a way that allowed me to know that he had their best interest at heart. He had demonstrated that before – when he let them know that they had to be happy with my choice in him – but this week he cemented it for me. I was madly in love with this man.

We ducked out of festivities one afternoon, leaving the girls in the care of the family who had finally arrived in preparation for wedding festivities and drove out to one of the secluded beaches. We kept driving until we found one that was deserted. We wanted a bit of alone time. We didn’t have our suits or towels for that matter as we had been at a barbecue – a ‘get to know one another’ for both of the families that were there. We pulled up to this Caribbean cove of white sand and aquamarine water. There were clusters of palm trees in each direction and a soft breeze that seemed stimulated by the waves crashing on the beach. It was warm and the sun was intense.

We stood in the shade – on purpose – while we observed the incredible absence of human intervention and appreciated the exquisite beauty. Harlan stepped out onto the beach as I looked around to make sure that no other human being was in sight. I took a deep breath and stripped off the limited amount of clothing that I could tolerate in this island heat, leaving every stitch in a pile and ran across the sand, buck naked, right past Harlan as fast as I could into the safety and protection of the crystal blue water.

Remembering Ruthie

She practiced appreciation in a way that we all can learn from.

In loving memory of Ruth Elaine Rought 11/30/1949 – 12/13/2016

He who praises another enriches himself far more than he does the one praised. To praise is an investment in happiness. The poorest human being has something to give that the richest could not buy”. ~ George M. Adams

Today, I am thinking about death and its impact on the living. The day before last, an angel was born of an earthly soul who was my Aunt. My mother’s youngest sister, a vibrant, sassy, stubborn, and gracious woman who was just eleven years my senior. One of my distinct memories of her was when she was pregnant with her first child, I would have been ten I think… she was standing in front of a large laundry basket that was in front of the television and she was ‘allowing me a treat’ to be in the room while ‘Love is a Many Splendid Thing’ – a popular soap opera from the late sixties / early seventies was airing. Back then, things were aired live and you had to watch it – or miss it, there was no in between. Consequently, I was abiding by the instructions of ‘be seen – not heard’.

Ruth drank coffee and smoked cigarettes most every day of her life and my memory of that day includes those smells. I idolized her. She was the big sister that inhabited my fantasies when I was lonely. We were blood sisters. A couple of years earlier, before she was married, she and her friend Tony included me in a ‘swapping of blood’ that we obtained via pinprick. While that may seem gross and quite unhealthy in today’s world, back then, it was a ‘rite of passage’ for me, meaning that I could be in the room while they talked about high school and boys. I, of course – now that I was a blood sister – was sworn to secrecy.

I recall times when she was babysitting us and she would settle us into a booth at a diner located across the street from a gas station where this special guy worked. She would go hang out with him, leaving our waitress with orders to feed us as much as and for as long as we wanted or at least until she returned. We couldn’t see her but we believed that she could see us and she warned us that everyone was watching so we behaved ourselves and waited patiently for her to finish her flirting. Sometimes, she was an ‘overnight’ babysitter and I remember one summer when she stayed with us for a week where she would let us get fudgesicles from the corner market. She would eat two and I wanted to grow up so that I could too.

She and Barry (the boyfriend from the Gas station) eventually got married and Ally and I were her flower girls. I thought she was the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. Her waist was Gone With The Wind small and I envied her petite frame and exotic look most of my life. Uncle Barry was a human teddy bear with a small round belly and a soft smile that enticed you to crawl up into his lap at a moment’s notice. Some of my fondest memories come from the weeks that I would stay with them in the summer. By the time she had several children, I was the perfect babysitter and it was time for karmic balance. My weeks with her entailed changing diapers and folding clothes while she did the other half of the daily chores, some of which included chatting with friends on the extremely long corded telephone while I ran around the yard chasing a bare naked two-year-old.

Ruth and Barry were young lovers and self-proclaimed soul mates. She loved love. She was passionate about him, about her children, family, and her beliefs. She would argue a point – if she believed it – until you were torn and tattered; not to tell you, you were wrong but to be sure you had heard that she thought she was right. I may have learned some of my talent as a result of that exposure. She taught me that I didn’t need a bra until I could hold a pencil under my breast and proceeded to demonstrate her point. By her standard, I was forty when a bra was finally necessary.

I moved away and began my own adult life but each time that I went back to ‘the farm’ to visit my grandparents, Ruth was there, wanting to know everything there was to know. We began to build a friendship that was based less on the big sister image and more as contemporaries. When I brought my son ‘home’ for everyone to meet, her daughter Renee took great interest in him – wanting to help me – picking up where her mom and I had left off.

Ruth moved to Cincinnati where my Dad and Stepmom lived with my little brothers – mom’s sister but family nonetheless. When I would go to visit, we ALL got together and my brothers grew to call her Great-ex-Aunt-Ruthie. She and my step-mom even developed a semblance of a friendship – you couldn’t resist the energy that Ruth extended.

Sadly, in 1990 her husband suddenly and without warning or cause, passed away. I will never forget the phone call. I imagine I was on her list because she had become a member of the ‘widow’ club and she needed console from someone else there. We commiserated together on the woes of widowhood, the pain, and the emptiness. I had remarried by then but she struggled to move away from the depth of heartbreak. For a time she lived life hard, I think to escape the anguish that overshadowed her spirit. She floundered for a while and then headed home to the comfort of what she knew and where she belonged. She returned to the home place and found comfort in being near her parents.

She met a guy – loved – and lost again. Not by death this time but it was equally difficult because the disappointment was deep and razor sharp. She wasn’t ready to cope with being alone and in the midst of that ache, she lost her parents and sister. Her adult life was also – filled with loss.

Her spirit was immensely strong though and she persevered. While I was settling my grandparent’ estate (she lived next door) we would often talk and she believed in positivity. She worked diligently to build upon and emit optimistic perspectives. Everything she knew was being challenged but she persisted and pushed. The stubborn stance that had proven maladaptive in historical moments now provided her courage and tenacity. She fought with a daily dose of affirmation and gratitude. Indeed, she became one of the most gracious women I’ve known – always offering words of praise and encouragement; expressions of hope and confidence.

A year ago, last summer I picked up the phone when she called to say hello. It was a foreboding conversation and I didn’t understand. She was emotional, loving, and supportive – asking for an update on my kids, work, Harlan… there was something in that phone call that sounded like she was saying goodbye but I didn’t question it until later.

Within a couple of days, her daughter Renee called to tell me that Ruth had been hospitalized and she was headed up to the farm. Long story short… Ruth had small cell lung cancer. After stabilizing her and understanding the diagnosis and prognosis better, the decision was made to move her to North Carolina so that she was close to premier medical facilities and family. She underwent treatment and responded well. She used the accumulated emotional resources she had acquired to adjust to this new space, a ‘new normal’ and adapted in an environment extraordinarily different from the rest of her life. It was a new world for her and yet, she captured the hearts of people everywhere she went because gratitude and love oozed from her no matter her condition or position.

November 30th, 2016 was her 67th birthday. I called several times but she didn’t pick up. Finally, I texted Renee and asked if they were together – figuring they might be having a birthday lunch. “I will be in 30 minutes”, Renee replied. “Great – please tell your mom Happy Birthday from me,” I said. “Give her a big hug”.

Through the years, Renee and I had become tremendously close, developing a relationship much more like sisters than cousins – carrying on the tradition of her mother and me– handing down the baton through the generations… “Will do” she texted me back.

I thought I’d try one more time though and with the next phone call, Ruth answered and listened patiently as I sang her my rendition of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song…. “Oh thank you honey, it’s a wonderful day,” she says.

She was full – overflowing really – with exuberance and gratitude for the blessings she had already received and was eagerly awaiting lunch and a short shopping expedition with Renee. She listed several people who had already called, remarking that even RZ had wished her a happy birthday and she was so very pleased. She exhibited, vocally at least, intense satisfaction with how her day started and sounded full of boundless appreciation for my short call, for all of the people who had remembered her.

The next day, for no apparent reason, she fell, collapsed. Over the subsequent twelve days, her body deteriorated to the point that it was no longer supporting her life on its own. Her decision to be removed from life support was honored and she passed peacefully into the space that is not here, into the space where her lover, her parents, and her sister had gone before her. God, how we will miss her.

I have thought about death today. I’ve thought about how much death hurts the living. No matter our beliefs, the idea that someone we love is no longer available to touch or to hear or to listen… it’s a sad thing. We weep for ourselves, for what we want and can’t have. I want to console Renee, Chris, and Julie but there is no consolation for losing your mother. None. I want to say something that is smart, funny, sassy, or profound to eliminate their pain but it doesn’t work; there is nothing to say.

I’ve been writing about life lessons, reasons for living, and what is it – HERE, right now – that I can learn to further my own life’s work. I know that I want to learn gratitude the way that Ruth used it. I want to be grateful – openly grateful – not just in my mind or in my prayer – but with my voice – All. The. Time. Like Ruth. No… she wasn’t perfect and she did occasionally allow her humanness and sorrow to sprout through the cracks but she learned to weed and to let gratitude grow. She practiced appreciation in a way that we all can learn from.

Perhaps Ruth was part of my family so that I could learn more about gratitude – I know about gratitude, I practice gratitude but not like that. I like how she did it. As I look at her life in the way that it crossed and impacted mine, I realize that I can learn from her. Ruth I am grateful for you. I appreciate you. I hope to experience another lifetime with your soul as it was always a gift to me in this one.

HUGS