A Tale of Two Sisters: Choose Your Own Ending

This week marked my sister’s birthday. It’s the 22nd one she’s had since she stopped talking to me. In an earlier post I wrote about how I wasn’t sure if I’d recognize her or if she’d know me. I’m sorry if you can relate to that because you’re estranged from a sibling. It pretty much sucks.

But this week I had a realization. I don’t have to be miserable every time I think about my sister. I can choose to remember a good memory and to replace the pain with that memory when I think of her. Truth be told, I don’t think of her that often but on weeks like this one, it happens and it’s a bummer. Not any more.

You feel what you feel in life but you can choose your reaction to it. That’s what I always taught my daughters. You can’t control everything but you can control how you react to everything. (or most things). So this year when my sister creeps into my brain I’m going to remember this.

We were young, maybe 14 and 9. We were watching the “Beverly Hillbillies” on TV and the daughter in the show, Ellie May, was playing with a bra. She didn’t recognize it as clearly, “hillbillies” had no use for undergarments of that nature. (Wow, was that show offensive or what? Good thing the PC police weren’t around then.) So, the character used it as a slingshot. Well, that was simply hilarious to us and we started to giggle and then to guffaw loudly enough to bring my father into the room. “What’s so funny?” he wanted to know.

Neither of us could say the word “bra” to my father. My sister probably was wearing one and definitely couldn’t say the word. This was a girl who had to recite Shakespeare for school and wouldn’t say “Damn” so she walked around the house saying, “Out, blank spot.” She was clearly not saying “bra.”  I said nothing but Dad was waiting for an answer. My sister sensed my discomfort and gave him a satisfactory answer. “She has a funny accent,” my sister explained. My dad left the room. We looked at each other and started laughing all over again. We shared a secret and a giggle. Very rare indeed. The fact that this is one of the only good stories I can tell about a nice moment with my sister is in itself pretty telling about our relationship growing up.

But, here’s the message of this post. If you are hurting from the actions of other people be they family, coworkers or anyone else in your life, remember this — you can’t change them but you choose how you react to them.

Happy birthday to my sister. I hope you are enjoying a good laugh, albeit not with me. I am smiling at a memory of us, that’s what I choose this year.

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I Understand if You Hate Me

In a previous post I mentioned we live near the beach. Yes, it’s a good as you might imagine. We don’t live here all the time. Here’s how we got here. Many years back we started coming to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to camp on the beach. We loved it here. There is something about the salt water environment that speaks directly to the soul. So, we camped and after our kids were born, we camped with kids and after we got older and more spoiled, we rented beach cottages for a week and lived like kings and queens compared to camping.

So, year after year we’d come for one precious week of sun and fun and family togetherness. Then we got a brilliant idea. Why not make a lot of money  ruin the whole vacation paradise by opening a seasonal business here? So we opened an Italian Ice (water ice for those readers from the Phila. area) and ice cream shop, open from May to September. The whole family worked, even our two youngest who were about 11 and 12. Did we see the beach much anymore? Not so much. But we loved the experience and stayed in business for many years. Our kids learned myriad lessons about responsibility, dealing with the public, running a business and getting along in the world. We know working in our store had a big part in  forming the wonderful beings they now are.

After our kids grew up and couldn’t continue working all summer in the store we sold it. That presented a dilemma. Could we justify living here all summer when we didn’t have a business here? We had another business which could travel with us so we could work while we were here but could we really be people who live at the beach just for… FUN?

Spoiler alert. Yes.

We come every summer to live here. Our kids come for about a month. We all work other jobs but manage to make time to be who we once were… a family communing in paradise. We are endlessly grateful for being here. We share it with friends who are always invited to come and stay with us and many do. We have no idea what we did to deserve this lovely life but we’re pretty happy about it.

Our dysfunctional siblings have never been happy about it. It may be part of the reason why they are so dysfunctional I had to write my book about them! They have long referred to our annual move as our “extended vacation,” despite the fact that for ten years it was work and not vacation and despite the fact they’ve been invited many times to stay with us. (Given they don’t really work, their whole lives are extended vacation but I’ll overlook that for now. And, yes, before the whole family fell apart, they did come to enjoy a free beach vacation more than once.) I understand their reaction because: 1. They don’t care about us and 2. They’re jealous, not necessarily about where we live but about how happy we are wherever we are. So, they’ve repeatedly tried to hurt us in order to act out their frustrations about their lives. I get it, I really do. I understand envying my life; it’s pretty good.

What can you do if parts of your life are worth envying? (Because even my good life isn’t completely perfect, after all.) Be grateful and do what you can to continually earn what it is you have. But what about the people who resent your good life? What can you do to reach out to them? I’m not sure about the answer to that one. Haters gonna hate, I suppose. I just try not to be one of them. Envy is tough. We’ve all experienced it. We look at people who have what we don’t have or achieve what we’ve failed to achieve and maybe we’re even happy for them but we’re envious too. I know I’d envy another writer’s success with perhaps a huge book advance or a best seller on Amazon or even a blog with 10,000 followers. I don’t think it makes us bad people to envy. Maybe envy can even motivate us to work harder. What makes us bad people is acting out of envy in an attempt to hurt the ones we are envious of. I think this is a very important topic for parents to discuss with children. Explain to them, yes, you will feel envious of others but that is not a bad thing. What matters is how you react to that jealousy. You feel what you feel but you get to choose your reaction to the emotion and that is where you have power.

What do you do to fight the green-eyed monster when it strikes you? Is there anyone you envy? Have you ever told anyone you envy them? I never have but I think maybe I should.

Meanwhile, here’s your moment worth envy. I suggest you take a one-minute mental vacation imagining yourself here. It could help!

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10 Ways to Leave This World More Peacefully

In my previous post I suggested (gently and with music) people take time out of their lives to talk about death. Why? Because it’s the one thing we all have in common and yet, we’re doing it pretty poorly. We don’t talk about death because we’re afraid it might happen. Newsflash: It’s going to happen. We are all going to go sometime. If you talk about it you’re going to die, and if you don’t talk about it, you’re going to die. But if you discuss it your death could be easier for you and for everyone you love who cares about you.

Think this isn’t going to be a problem in your family? Think again. It’s a problem in way more families than you think. Even in the ones who least expect it. Death brings out the worst in people. While the battles are often motivated by money, greed isn’t the only motivator. We love our parents and we want to hold onto them so some folks go to battle over sentimental items or power. We battle trying to prove “Mom always loved me best.” Or, “I really was the best child Dad raised.” We battle over who gets the pin Grandma wore to her wedding or who gets to keep the watch Dad got when he retired. (Yeah, that used to happen!) If you doubt my suggestion about how big a problem these battles are, Google Family Inheritance Battles and How to Avoid Them. Heads up, though. You’ll get 13,100,000 hits. More than 13 million suggestions for staving off what might be ahead.

I don’t have 13 million suggestions, just 10, but if you follow any of them, you’re likely to avoid having to read through the 13 million suggestions later.

1. Talk about your death with your adult children and talk the death of your parents with your parents. Discuss what you believe about the end of life and how it should be handled. Ask them what they believe. Air this topic out, don’t shroud it in darkness. Letting light in by simply bringing up the topic over  family dinner will make it way more palatable.

2. If someone “Pooh Poohs” you and says, “Let’s change the subject, this is too depressing or too morbid,” simply respond gently. “I don’t think it’s morbid at all. It’s just a reality we all have to face and won’t it be a lot easier if we face it together?” Because the truth is, it will be easier to handle end of life together.

3. Have a will. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to a more peaceful transition. If you are reading this blog, you’re probably an adult. If you don’t have a will, you have no way of knowing what will happen to the things you care about after you die. In some states if you die without a will the things you own and the money you have may go to your state. No one wants that! (Except maybe your governor) Writing a will may be done best with an attorney but if that doesn’t work for you don’t worry. There are will templates on the Internet. There are free options and a few you have to pay to download. Look at a few, choose one you like and fill it in as needed. State who gets what after you die and don’t leave anything to chance. Then make a few copies and sign each in front of two witnesses. Keep a copy for your records, maybe even two copies, and give the others to a few key people you trust.

4. Talk about love. Ultimately most of the family battles over money are really over love. If you air your feelings openly while you’re alive, if you resolve conflicts while you’re alive, you won’t have your heirs battling over your grave.

5. Be open about the reality of your plans. If you do have a will, let your family know what you’ve included in it. It’s best if you don’t use your will to deliver any sort of message you should have delivered while you were still breathing.

6. There’s a saying, “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me.” It’s so true in terms of family battles. You might think you have the perfect family and so you don’t have to worry about anyone fighting over anything. I’m happy for you if you feel that way and I hope for your sake you’re right. But, you know what? You’re probably wrong. Even in families where everyone feels close it’s hard to predict who will start fighting when a loved one is sick and/or dying and everyone is stressed out. So, if you do have a loving family, protect it by doing what needs to be done in advance to avoid battles later… even if you’re sure your family is immune to such rifts. They’re not. No family is.

7. Pick a point person, give someone what’s known as “Power of Attorney.” What that means is that you are allowing someone to act with your full range of power over your money and your life, acting as your agent as if they were you. You choose this person to make decisions for you if and when you can’t make them anymore. Choose someone you trust with your life, because they literally will be running your life. Don’t choose two people because they would then have to agree on every point and that will be very difficult for any two people to do. You can choose one person and a back up person but not two to serve together. Power of Attorney is only put into place while you are alive and can’t function. Once you are dead the executor of your will takes over in decision-making capacity. And, yes, the same person can serve in both ways if you want that. You can also break up Power of Attorney and choose one person to make financial decisions and one person to make health decisions if you prefer.

8. Consider how you want to die. Do you want to be kept alive at all costs? Do you want to be hooked up to machines which may breathe for you and/or feed you? Do you want to be kept alive beyond the time you can fully function? Do you want heroic measures done to save you despite how infirm you may be? Okay, these are ghastly things to think about. I get that. But you know what’s more ghastly? It’s forcing your loved ones to make these choices for you without knowing for sure what you would have preferred because you never said so.

9. Let superstitions go. Cannot stress strongly enough what a waste of time these distractions are. You can’t “luck” your way out of dying.

10. Seek help. If you can at all afford to do so, check with an attorney in drawing up these legal papers. It may cost a bit but that money might be very well spent if it helps your family avoid problems later.

I hope you take this matter seriously and yet not think of it as too sad. Death is just a part of life and it doesn’t have to be disastrous. If you have any suggestions to add you think might help folks going through some difficulties with this, please comment here and share. And feel free to send this post along to everyone you’ve ever met in your life, especially if you’re related to them!

Be the beacon of light that helps your family find its way to peace. They’ll thank you for it . (Okay, they probably won’t but you’ll know you did the right thing!)IMG_2860

5 Simply But Carefully Stated Sentiments for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a holiday you’d think pretty much everyone could embrace enthusiastically. I mean everyone has one, right? But for some people, Mother’s Day is one of the scariest days of the year. It’s taboo to talk about and so few do, but alas, some people have challenging mothers (Seriously hoping my daughters aren’t currently shaking their heads but if you are, read on.).  For years I watched my husband painstakingly choose Mother’s Day cards because it was virtually impossible to find one that didn’t call out, “You’re the best human on the planet! You made me the unbelievably successful and happy person I am today.”

But what if your mother isn’t the best human on the planet? Maybe she had her reasons, maybe she was dealt a difficult hand, maybe life just didn’t play out the way she envisioned. Maybe she isn’t Cruella De Ville or Joan Crawford but she’s also not June Cleaver or or Carol Brady or even Clare Dunphy. Whatever the story behind your difficulty with your mom, what if you just can’t bring yourself to get a card that has too much BS to be delivered? And, if your mother won’t understand sarcasm or irony, you’d be wasting your time to send her, “Have a wonderful day. I hope it’s filled with all the happiness you’ve brought to me since childhood.”

But, since you are still hanging around with your mother and you’re not ready to cut the cord entirely, you do need a card. I can help. Here are 5 things you can  write comfortably on a blank card while still maintaining your integrity. Choose one with a lovely flower or sunrise (sunset seems like the wrong message) and you are good to go on the upcoming scary holiday.

1. Thanks so much, Mom. I owe you my life.

(Because, you do, despite how it might have played out!)

2. Thinking of you today.

(Again, because you probably are, without mentioning in what context.)

3. There’s so much beauty in the world. I hope you can take some time to enjoy it.

(Totally lovely but completely skirting the icky family issues.)

4. Wishing you a very special day.

(Not saying why or in what way it should be special.)

5. Happy Mother’s Day.

(Perhaps the most simply stated of all and also totally appropriate.)

Then you need a strong closer. You can pick one of these and sign your name (first name only as, again, irony and sarcasm aren’t appropriate today) with any one of these warm closings, artfully avoiding the word love. Warmly, As always, Take care, Cheers (don’t use this one if alcohol factors in), Good wishes, Thinking of you, Most sincerely, Peace be with you, Peace and blessings, Rock on, or Truly.

Good luck. And cheer up. It’s only another month or so until Father’s Day. Maybe that one’s easier.

Peace out,

Debby

PS. Feel free to use this lovely flower if you choose to make your own card. Print it out and move on with your life!

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Is Reality That Interesting?

They say write what you know but should you write what you live? People ask me why I wrote my book as a memoir and not as a novel. “Why,” they inquire mostly politely, “did you tell the truth and not tell it as a story?” They go on to add it would have been a really compelling novel and then it wouldn’t have hurt anyone’s feelings.

For inquiring minds, here’s why. I think what makes a good true-life story is that it’s reality. Yes, I could have written my tale as a fairy tale of sorts with ugly sisters and wicked mothers but I don’t see that as nearly as gripping or as valuable as reading a fascinating story you know to be true. If I had made up the characters in my story, similar to August: Osage County, for example, they might be compelling to read about but then the reader could dismiss  them as unbelievable simply because they were fictional characters.

Reality well-written is and should be the most fascinating of all genres. Our true stories are what make us who we are and as humans many of us are on a perpetual journey to understand that. Reading about the journeys others are on helps each of us to process our own trip.

So, that’s why I chose reality. I wrote what I knew, what I lived and what I believed to be story worth reading and worth sharing. What do you think? Reality or fiction for your life story?

Why This Should Be Your Book Club’s Next Great Choice

Here are five reasons why I highly (and yet modestly) recommend and respectfully suggest you consider Tales From The Family Crypt for your book club:

1. It’s a good read. I suspect the number one question you consider when choosing a book club book is, “Is it good?” Yes, I promise you this is a good story. You don’t have to take my word for it. Check out my 5-star reviews on Amazon.

2. It’s easy to read. You know how there’s always at least one club member who has to explain why he/she didn’t quite finish the book in time because she/he ran out of time?  And sometimes those people even have to skip the meeting because they’re embarrassed to say they didn’t have time to finish? (Admit it, sometimes it’s you.) That won’t happen. Tales From The Family Crypt is an extremely fast read. It can be read cover to cover in a few hours. I’ve been told it’s very hard to put down, though, so maybe don’t start it late at night.

3. Discussion everyone can relate to. Some books lend themselves to lively discussion. Family issues? Who can’t relate to those? Your book club members will enjoy debating and discussing the actions of the characters in the book (Yes, they’re real people but believe me, they are characters more bizarre than any in fiction.). But allow lots of time because those chats will lead to sharing of stories about members’ families. You may need to schedule more than one great session to take it all in.

4. Cost is very low. This week I’m being featured on a popular blog as a writer who has received 5-star reviews. To show my appreciation, I’ve lowered the price of the ebook to $1.99 for the next few weeks. The paperback is also affordable @ $9.99 (which Amazon sometimes inexplicably lowers to $8.99, just fine by me. I don’t set the paperback price.) Plus, if you are the person who chooses my book for your group, I’ll be happy to gift the ebook to you or to mail you a paperback so your copy will be free! And, it’s available free through Kindle Unlimited and as part of the Kindle Lending Library.

5. Author visit? Yes please. I’m happy to attend your book club meeting via Skype if you think that might be fun. You know how when you’re reading a book you just want to embrace or perhaps yell at the author? Now you can. So, I hope you’ll check out the book and speak to your book club about it. If you have any questions or comments about why you think this would or would not be a good choice for your club, I’d love it if you’d let me know in the comments here.