Wayne Dyer: The Power of Peace, Love, Happiness, and Belief

There are a great many self-help gurus out there. Some are famous and some are people we encounter in our personal lives who compel us in some way. For me, Wayne Dyer has always been at the top of my list. His gentle manner and his calm way of delivering information about how to be happier has always just made me feel better.

I can remember the first day I saw him more than 20 years ago. A friend of mine was featured on the Oprah show, having written a book about happiness. Also on the show was Wayne Dyer. While I loved seeing my friend on the show and found him very engaging, I couldn’t help but be drawn to Wayne Dyer. He appeared to have an inner calm that was genuine and infectious. He spoke about happiness as something we can all achieve if we can quiet ourselves enough to let in that which lifts us up while not focusing on that which drags us down. He encouraged people to see that their happiness depends on the kindness and love they show to others. He said working on being a good soul was the key to enjoying life and finding peace. (My words, he was way more articulate.) While we were doing the work of being happier, he said, we also had to allow for a modicum of faith. For example, I worry a great deal about my children (despite the fact they are adults now). Dyer said something which has stuck with me for years. When my mind runs wild with worry I repeat it to myself. “Everything in the universe has a purpose. Indeed, the invisible intelligence that flows through everything in a purposeful fashion is also flowing through you.”
He said parents must believe the center of the universe runs through their children too. Parents who have faith that each child has that universe within can stop worrying so much about their kids because children who are raised with parental love and faith will make good choices. They will be kind people with good souls and nothing is more important than that. I strive for that and overall, it has proven true with my children. I worry about them but in time they tend to work things out in beautiful ways. And my worry  fixes nothing anyway. Faith. Having faith in the power of love was Dyer’s mantra throughout his life which, sadly, ended yesterday.   He was 75.

I read a story about Dyer that also stuck with me through the years. Richard Carlson was the author of the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” books. (On another day I’ll write a post about him as well as another person who inspired me with his true nature.) Carlson had written a popular book about happiness and at some point one of his books was about to be published in another country/language. His publisher told him to get an endorsement quote from Dyer, as he had on a previous book. But Carlson failed to get the endorsement and told the publisher he was unable to get it and the book would have to be printed without it. The publisher, without anyone’s permission, published the book with the Dyer endorsement from Carlson’s earlier book on the cover. Carlson was furious and embarrassed and reached out to Dyer to apologize and assure him he’d stop further publication of the book. Weeks later Carlson got a letter from Dyer. It said, “Richard, there are two rules for living in harmony. 1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 2. It’s all small stuff. Let the quote stand. Love, Wayne.”

Carlson was blown away by the “small stuff” concept and asked Dyer if he could develop it further. Dyer gave his permission and blessing. Carlson wrote a series of very popular “Small Stuff” books as a result. Millions of people found the series inspiring and helpful. I love that story. Two lovely men, both of whom found ways to live a life of love and fulfillment in helping others. Alas, Carlson died young but oh what a life of accomplishment and love, much like Dyer’s. We should all aspire to being more like these men: kind, caring, giving and talented enough to help others with our gifts.

There is another quote of Dyer’s that speaks to me. “Don’t die with the music within you.” He most certainly didn’t. His family says he didn’t fear death. He taught we should all think of ourselves as souls with bodies, not bodies with souls. And, beautiful thoughts build beautiful souls, he said.

His certainly did. I encourage you to read some Dyer books or at the very least, take five minutes today and research some of his quotes. I promise you five minutes of being uplifted, feeling a little bit more peaceful, and seeing your day brighten.

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I leave you with this last Dyer quote: When you dance,
your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor…
it’s to enjoy every step of the way.

Dance today… and tomorrow.. and every day you can…

The Day A Father Dies: A Love Story

I have been encouraging people to share stories about losing their parents because those are among the hardest days to live through and yet they come to almost everyone. I recently shared the story of my mother’s death and now it’s my dad’s turn.

One Friday night my family went to my father’s house for our weekly dinner. As Dad walked up the steps into his kitchen, carrying the plate of barbecued chicken he had just prepared outside in the backyard, I heard a deep wheezing in his chest. “Dad,” I said, “you don’t sound good. Do you feel okay? Do you have a cold?”

“Nah,” he answered,”I mowed the lawn today and must’ve breathed in some grass.”

“Did you stop mowing and sit down when you started feeling bad?” I asked.

“No, I had to finish mowing.”

Seven weeks later, he was dead from the massive cancerous lung tumors.

Since I insisted he see a doctor after I heard that wheezing, he went the next day and they told him he had a collapsed lung from stage 4 lung cancer. (Yes, you read that right, collapsed lung and yes, he finished mowing the lawn and then barbecued dinner!) I was grateful for the gift of knowing in advance that he was going to die so we were able to spend that 7 weeks together, as a family, helping him enjoy his last days on Earth. They were simultaneously the saddest and most loving days of my life in many ways. I wrote an entire chapter about it in my book, how he moved in with us and we all faced death together.

His last 24 hours or so were a poignant story in themselves. Friday night we watched the movie, “Avalon,” which takes place and was filmed in Baltimore, my dad’s childhood home. He enjoyed pointing out real places he recognized. The next day my aunt, his sister, came to visit. They talked about the movie. And when I say “talked,” what I mean is my aunt asked how was the movie and my dad said, “Okay.” That is what is considered a conversation in my father’s family. People of few words. After my aunt’s visit, Dad was tired and got into bed. While he wasn’t exactly sleeping, he wasn’t fully awake. I sat by the side of the bed, keeping him company. My husband and my three daughters (6, 8 and 10 at the time) came into the room from time to time. I held his hand. He said “I’m worried.”

That was shocking as my father had never expressed worry before. Hearing that was almost more upsetting than knowing he was dying.

“What are you worried about, Dad?” I asked.

“I’m worried about moving to Philadelphia.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” I assured him. “Everything works out great for all of us.” I knew this because that move had taken place 40 years ago and everything is still just fine. I found it fascinating, but not surprising, that in the fleeting moments of life the biggest events pass through your mind. It was a big deal when the factory my dad worked in moved to another state and he had to uproot our family to keep his job. While I never heard him voice that worry or any other (remember, he was a man of very few words), I guess it weighed heavily on him.  Taking good care of his family was his reason for living and he did it masterfully. As he was dying his family was still his #1 priority. What a guy.

Next he said, “It’s a big job.” Didn’t say what he meant. I could only guess. Was it dying? Yes, that is a big job.

At one point, he sat up and appearing to be fully awake he called out, “Why can’t they teach others what they know?”

“Who, Dad?”

But I don’t know to whom or about whom he was speaking because those were also his last words. Soon after that I left the room to make coffee. I was out of the room for only five minutes or less when my 8-year-old daughter came into the kitchen and said, “Grandpop is very quiet.” Yes, he was, and also very peaceful, something he had not been during the previous 7 weeks of struggling to breathe. My husband and I knew what this serenity meant. We walked back into the room to kiss him goodbye and bid him farewell.

My dad was not known for being profound. He never asked “Why” about anything.  That question, “Why can’t they teach others what they know?”  was not something my father would ever have asked. He took life as it presented itself to him every day. He didn’t look into the deeper meaning of anything. He could’ve coined the phrase, “It is what it is.” Why this deep, probing question in his last moments? My theory is that he was speaking to someone only he could see with some knowledge that came to him just before death. I like to think he was conversing with friends or loved ones who had died before him who just told him about great things ahead for the dead and he wanted to know why they couldn’t just tell that to everyone.  Am I right, wrong, crazy? Maybe. We’ll never know, will we?

The day your parent dies is one of the hardest days you’ll survive. But it can be beautiful. Sad doesn’t have to mean lacking in beauty. That’s what I learned on the day my father died. I feel differently about death since that day. I believe my father saw something on the mysterious path ahead that appeared beautiful. Like he had done my whole life, he tried as best he could to teach me to ease my way and to leave me a guidepost.

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Have you learned anything from experiencing the death of a loved one?

The Day A Parent Dies

About a million years ago when I was taking Lamaze classes in anticipation of giving birth to my first child, the teacher said, “Be prepared to tell your labor story…. over and over and over. You won’t be able to stop yourself.” I wondered aloud why anyone (let alone everyone as she indicated) would feel the need to do that. She explained that giving birth is among the biggest transitions of your life and as such it will have a profound effect on you. As a result, you will be compelled emotionally to process it, even if the compulsion is somewhat subconscious. The way humans process, she said is by word and often by spoken word, almost as if our minds need to hear us speak the thoughts in order to fully understand them. I doubted she was right about all that but weeks later and even years later I found myself telling people about my 33-hour labor and how my OB/Gyn went to the cafeteria and bought dinner for my husband.

So, if big transitions require the telling and retelling of the story, I think the death of a parent certainly fits that bill. Yet, we don’t. While some may revel in revealing the details of the day a child was born, we don’t love talking about the other end of life. But I hope that will change. I think talking about when parents die is one of the best ways to cope with that huge transition. Nothing is ever the same after a parent dies. Your life is irrevocably altered. It’s worth pondering. So I invite you to tell your story, if you have one. If you’ve suffered the loss of a parent, please feel free to share here. My goal is to help others cope with what we’re all told is a natural part of life — seeing a parent die — and yet I can tell you it hurts. It’s a profound loss and it merits processing.

Here’s the story of the day my mother died. I’m following that up with my “takeaways,”– things I learned since which I wish I knew then. If you share a story here, please also share anything you learned from the experience that you think could help others cope.

“Come right now, Mom had a heart attack and she’s been in intensive care since Tuesday,” my father pleaded. My husband and I were on a camping trip in Florida. There were no cell phones then. I called on Thursday because the next day we were supposed to drive to Miami where my parents were vacationing. We got to the hospital quickly; she was still alive. She lingered in a semi-conscious state for several excruciating days. They had told us she would not recover from this, her fifth heart attack, so we weren’t hopeful, just waiting. We stayed at the hospital around the clock. Per the hospital protocol in those days, we could visit her just four times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Her mouth was taped around a breathing tube so she couldn’t speak but she was awake and could look at me and hold my hand. It was heartbreaking. She was 63, I was 24. On the fifth day after her heart attack we were sitting in the waiting  room in between the visiting times. The nurse walked in and said, “She’s gone. You can come in and say goodbye.” My father went in. I didn’t want to see my dead mother so I stayed in the waiting room thinking about how she was all alone when she died. To this day the thought of that breaks my heart.

What I learned/What I wish I had known:

  1. What I thought was appropriate to say to my mom during those days prior to her death was,”You’ll be okay, Mom, you’re going to be okay.” What I should have said was, “I love you, I will love you forever, you’ve been a wonderful mother. Thank you for my life. Goodbye.” Maybe not in those exact words but you get the idea. My mother had the right to know what was happening to her and I should not have been a part of the conspiracy (one which still exists today, alas) to keep a dying person from knowing what’s happening in order to avoid upsetting them.
  2. I thought that because I was 24 I was a grownup and that an adult was supposed to cope with grief by showing strength and resiliency. Now I know that at 24 or 64, when a parent dies, you are still a child. You don’t grow out of being someone’s child. That death will hurt and you need to take the time to grieve it without being concerned about looking weak. It also doesn’t matter much about the quality of your relationship with that parent. Whether it was perfect or deeply flawed, that loss will hurt. My relationship was in the middle somewhere. I loved my mom but we didn’t wholly understand each other or agree about some things but I think we hadn’t yet had the time to develop a more peer-like relationship because I was so young when she died. Part of what I had to grieve was giving up the thought that we’d ever have that chance.
  3. You are your parent’s advocate. If you see something you don’t feel right about, speak up. I should have insisted on spending more time with my mom at the end. I should have insisted they come and get us when they saw she was nearing the moment of death. I should have at least insisted they tell her she was dying and take that damn tube out long enough for her to speak last words or kiss us goodbye. She was going to die anyway, removing that tube wouldn’t have made anything worse.
  4. I thought it inappropriate to laugh or feel joy or enjoy anything for a while after she died. That’s nonsense. My mother would have wanted me to be happy whenever and however I could.

So, that’s my story. I hope you’ll tell yours if, alas, you’ve lost a parent. I expect some stories will be sad, some will be beautiful, some will have sorrow, some will have joy, but all will help others to cope with this loss. One final thought: Everyone’s parents die, but the relationship lives forever. I still feel the presence of both of my parents, despite the fact neither is alive. I was running this morning, deciding whether this post wherein I’d ask people to share stories about their parents’ deaths, was a good idea.  I looked down at the ground and saw these, side by side.

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I don’t know what you see when you look at that photo. Maybe you see two rocks. What I saw at that moment was two heart-shaped rocks, one big, like a parent’s, and one small, like a child’s. I came home to write this post, thinking it was what my parents wanted me to do. I still hear from them from time to time. 🙂

I look forward to reading your stories.

Differences Between An Aging Parent and A Dying Parent: 5 Steps to The Talk

Because the first thing to know is they’re not the same. Your parent may be up in years, that is an aging parent (And really aren’t we all that?). A dying parent is one who has been given that prognosis of limited time. It’s important to differentiate because talking to an aging parent is not the same as talking to a dying parent when it comes to discussing wishes and, later life, and end of life desires. The similarity is that the talks are always done with caring and compassion and usually (but not always), with love.

This post is about talking with an aging parent– one who is perhaps showing signs of slowing down but is not yet ill.

  1. Open a dialogue now. This is the time to do it, while your parent is well and reasonably happy, with some clarity of mind. If you haven’t had a closeness or intimacy with your parent up to this point in your life, don’t give up. While you both have breath, you both have opportunity for personal growth. You can begin by talking about little things that matter to you. Maybe increase the frequency of your phone calls if your relationship to this point is mostly via the phone. If you do visit, perhaps do so a bit more. Putting more time into the relationship is a good way to change the nature of it. All talks come easier with enhanced closeness.
  2. Speaking of time, plan wisely. If you want to have good talks, pick a good time. If you know your dad watches golf on Sunday and his attention is glued to the TV, don’t choose then to open your heart. You may want to go out somewhere where you can truly connect. Coffee shops are perfect venues for intimacy. Bars? Maybe not so much but if it works for you… . It doesn’t matter where you are, anyplace can lend itself to warm connections. Even your own backyard if you like.IMG_0914
  3. Share  your own life. If you want to talk about writing a will, for example, tell your parent how you handled writing yours. This is a time for you to be your parent’s adult child, a partner of sorts, someone speaking to a contemporary. Don’t condescend, don’t take the role of dependent child. Talk to your parent as you’d talk to a friend you respect.
  4. Be sure to tell your parent why you are broaching any sensitive subject. You want to protect his or her future and to make sure he or she is able to live comfortably as long as possible.
  5. Don’t jump in head first to the “big” talks about death and dying. Your aging parent isn’t necessarily dying anytime soon. The goal here is to find out what he or she wants going forward. The fact is that with aging come some very natural changes in the body’s ability to function. What you want is to find out how your parent wants to live as those changes happen. Just express that and most importantly, listen.

Do Great Expectations = Great Disappointment in Families?

Recently a friend and I were talking about our lives in terms of what we thought they’d be like when we were younger and what our lives turned out to be. We discussed whether life had for the most part exceeded or failed to meet our expectations. We’re both pretty happy people and we came to an interesting realization. Neither of us had much in the way of expectations when we were younger and really don’t today either. As a result, we’re both pretty happy with the way things are going.

“Low expectations,” my friend exclaimed, “that’s the key to happiness.” We laughed but in considering it later, I realized he may be on to something. Especially when it comes to family. We all have expectations about family relationships, I think. We’re pretty much wired that way from the time we are young. We expect our parents to love us and to take care of us when we are children. We expect our siblings to love us and be our playmates when we’re kids together. Then we take those expectations into adulthood and maybe that’s where we go wrong. If we have high hopes and great expectations and our family members don’t meet our lofty goals, we come crashing down amidst the disappointment. From there the disappointment could lead to anger, to adult sibling rivalry, to fighting for parental approval and any hope for a healthy adult sibling relationship falls apart.

Perhaps the key to happiness here is to lower our expectations of family. Maybe we have to treat family members more like we treat our friends. With our friends we don’t just expect them to treat us fairly and with respect. We understand our friends owe us nothing unless we earn it. We accept the fact that good friendships are the product of work, of give and take, of treating people with respect. We don’t just expect our friends to be good partners, we know we have to work for that, to be good partners in order to have them. We understand inherently that we teach our friends how to treat us by how we treat them.

But maybe with family, we often just believe things will be good because they should be. Unfortunately, what I’m hearing from people who read this blog is that philosophy isn’t working so well. Too many of us are disappointed in our sibling relationships. The family waters are tougher to navigate than those of friendship. I’m seeking to understand why that is. Why do I and so many people I’ve connected with find loving friendships but fail to develop loving sibling relationships? Why are we so lost in the weeds in these waters?

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Are our expectations too great or is it something else entirely?

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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How To Write A Parent’s Eulogy

Some of the best advice I was given when my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer was to write his eulogy while he was alive. Horrified at first, I took a breath and thought about it. Why was I so upset by this advice? My initial reaction was superstitious — I thought writing about his death while he was alive was in some way wishing him dead or hastening his death. Then I came to my senses and realized I could no more hasten his death than slow it down. In fact I was powerless over his demise. The one thing I could do, though, was to send him off with honor and dignity and love.

The person who suggested eulogy writing in advance made a great point. Immediately after my father’s death I was likely going to be much too upset to do justice to writing his story. That was absolutely true. I would not have been able to write what I wanted to say if I waited until he died.

So I wrote the eulogy my father deserved to have delivered. What makes a good eulogy? Here’s my advice in list form:

1. Consider the small things that made your parent’s life compelling. Tell a story or two about your parent that most of the attendees to the funeral don’t know. Don’t just talk about what he or she did for a living; describe what made his or her life matter.

2. Share a personal memory. Did your mom teach you how to hit a baseball or how to cook or how to change the washer in a faucet? Did your dad teach you how to drive, thereby risking his own life? Did he go to every store in town to buy you the Barbie doll  you most wanted for your 7th birthday only to come home with three because he didn’t know there would be more than one to pick from?

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Share something only you shared with your parent. That will give people an insight into the person they came to honor in a way only you can provide.

3. Describe some family history. People come to a funeral to show respect. It’s always interesting and respectful to give a nod to those who came before in your family. Where did his or her parents hail from? What was your parent’s childhood like? Family tree information is fascinating background.

4. Don’t dwell on the saddest parts. Your parent’s death may have come too soon or been really awful for the family or for you but your parent’s life is so much more than his or her death. This passing hurts you now but with time you will be able to remember your parent and feel good in that memory. Imagine one of the memories you know will make you smile in the future and focus on describing that time.

5. Speak from the heart but read the eulogy, don’t wing it. Write exactly what you want to say. Don’t worry about being articulate or using just the right words. Say what you feel and write it down. Then read it aloud several times before the service. You will likely be nervous and perhaps overcome with emotion but practicing what you will say will help. If you cry, so be it. Everyone will understand. Take your time. Read slowly and don’t look up if you think that might throw you off.

6. Don’t worry about what the audience will think. Speak about your parent in a way he or she would appreciate. At a funeral I attended recently, the family members spoke about the loved one’s sense of humor. They said things that would have made him laugh. Some attendees laughed along with the family. Some were aghast at “joking” at a funeral. But the family knew the most important attendee would have loved it. That’s what matters.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting… DEATH. Five Things You Should Know.

You’re probably heard of the “What To Expect” series of books that are pretty much the bibles on expecting a baby. The first in the series is a book considered to be one of the most influential books of the last 25 years and deservedly so as pregnancy was formerly a much not-talked-about topic. It was time to bring pregnancy out of the closet. (It was also time to do away with the godawful maternity clothes that came in one size — TENT — and in one style –BIG BOW BABY. Thankfully, that happened too in the last 25 years.) The books offered information on a topic very few people had ever been willing to discuss.

Well, I’m about to launch a similar and yet opposite end of the spectrum series. I’m considering calling it, as above, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting…DEATH.” (Can they sue me for that?)

My point is it’s time to bring death out of the darkness into the light. Those closets in which we shun the topics we don’t want discussed in polite society are way too dark. Death is not something you can avoid by simply not discussing it.

I know you can’t bear thinking about losing the ones you love. The deaths I’m suggesting we talk about are the ones we start fearing when we are very young — the deaths of our parents. If things progress naturally in our lives we will live to see our parents die. It’s sad and I’m not suggesting otherwise. I’m suggesting we can make the transitional time less sad and maybe even a bit beautiful if we know what’s ahead. Here are five things you should know about what happens once a parent’s prognosis is determined to be terminal.

1. It doesn’t have to be all bad. We knew my dad was dying of lung cancer for only a short time before he died. But since we did have a heads up we were able to make his last weeks include some fun times. We did things he could still do and enjoy. Little things meant a lot. We played cards and pored over his coin collection. We watched movies. We cooked. We enjoyed simple day to day life in the days leading up to death. What could be better?

2. It doesn’t have to be painful. I worried about how much  physical pain my loved ones would suffer. Turns out one of the best advances in medical science is that many dying patients don’t have to be in pain. Depending on their condition, they can be medicated so the pain isn’t so intense. Pain management isn’t perfect, as it does in some cases render the patient pretty out of things but it can be very helpful at the end.

3. It doesn’t have to be a forbidden topic for the person who is dying. You may think not telling your aging parent he or she is dying is a good idea. It’s not. They are adults, they have a right to know what’s ahead. They have a right to speak up and voice their own choice about their death or dying process. In fact, you don’t have the right to keep this most important piece of news from them. If you’re worried they might be upset, you’re right. But isn’t being upset about your impending death a natural reaction they have a right to have?

4. It doesn’t  have to be your responsibility to make every decision. There will be choices to be made. Choices about where to die, choices about how to die and even in some cases when to die. (Life support machines or not?) You can get help. You can speak to people who are experts in this field like doctors, lawyers or hospice personnel. Then you can talk to family members and to the dying person. Yes, you will need a point person, a Power of Attorney person who makes the ultimate decisions. But if it is you, you don’t have to decide alone. Get help. Ask for help, ask for advice. And know this too — you are stronger than you think. You can handle losing your parent, you have to survive it, your life will go on and it can be good again. You can be happy again, the sadness will pass.

5. It doesn’t matter if you are there at the moment of death. I’ve spoken to many people who regret missing the last breath their parents took. It’s a wasted regret. Be there for as many breaths as you can while your parent is still breathing. He or she will cherish those memories. They will know the legacy of love they leave behind. What matters is  how you treat your parents while they are alive. If you somehow don’t get there at the very end, but you were there for other times throughout their lives, that’s what counts. In fact some parents manage to control their moment of death specifically so that you won’t be there. I was with my father for every minute of his last 24 hours except for about the five minutes it took me to walk from his room to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. While I was waiting for the pot to drip through, he died. Was that a coincidence? I think not. I believe he wanted to spare me the pain of watching him take that last breath. We come into this world solo, maybe it’s okay we leave solo. It’s what happens in between that first breath and last that matters.

Consider reading the book “Being Mortal,” by Atul Gawande. It will help clarify for you issues about end of life care. It could spur a good discussion in your family. It’s a start.

Finally, if we’re lucky our parents are going to live long lives and walk toward that light knowing they lived good lives and will be remembered with love. It’s our job to help make that happen. Let’s start by shining a light on the road ahead so we are all prepared for what’s coming.

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Surviving A Family Vacation

I live in a lovely place where huge family groups come to vacation. When I say huge family groups, I don’t just mean a lot of groups. I mean the groups are each huge. Folks rent enormous vacation rental homes, some accommodate 25 people under one roof. They actually choose to spend a week with all of those people, most of whom are relatives.

As you may know from reading this blog or my book, I wouldn’t be likely to need a huge house to accommodate my extended family since most of them don’t actually speak to us. Even before the “falling out,” though, I can’t imagine going on vacation with most of the people I’m related to, unless I was being punished for some super bad behavior. So you can imagine my sheer puzzlement (or shock) at seeing hordes of family members who actually choose to be together for the week.

Since I’m a people watcher I’ve learned a great deal from observing these groups in their unnatural habitat — a big house with 20+ relatives. I also see them on the beach, playing mini golf, at the supermarket, and other places people can truly drive each other crazy. If you have such a trip coming up this summer, take heed in these tips for getting out alive at the end of the week.

1. Don’t go. Unless you want to. People who are forced to go rarely have any fun at all. They are the ones rolling their eyes and complaining constantly. They are stirring up trouble all week. If you are going on this trip to please someone else in the family, I promise you that you won’t be the only one who is miserable. Make an excuse, say you can’t get time off from work but do yourself and everyone else a favor. If you don’t really want to go, please stay home.

2. If you do go, be cognizant of the fact that people on vacation have left their minds at home. Lower your expectations for reasonable behavior. They will make dumb choices, they will do things they would never do at home, they will embarrass you in public. Be prepared to see them in different ways than you see them at home when they’re not on vacation.

3. Go outside. A lot. Spending too much time together can be dangerous and deadly. Take a break. Politely announce, “I’m going for a walk,” or “Meditation Time” and get out of the house for a while. Ten minute breaks could work wonders for your nerves

4. Let some of your rules go. If you believe things have to work a certain way, like dinner must be at 6 and everyone must show up on time and eat after saying Grace for 10 minutes, you are destined to be disappointed. Not everyone functions the way you do. Let it go. Let it be. Let them live the way they want for once. You’re not there to teach them, you’re there to have some freaking fun so do it! Also, on that point, remember this: they don’t necessarily raise kids the way you do or you think they should. Really, really, let that go. Don’t try to show them the right way to raise kids even though we all know you’re better at it.

5. About kids, yours and/or theirs….Don’t punish children on the beach, in the park or in any public place. Don’t yell at them either. The whole world is watching, they have nothing else to do while they’re off from work. So, lighten up on the kids. Definitely do not do what I saw one parent do — call out “Mandatory reading time!” Then she took two perfectly happy kids away from building sandcastles and made them sit up on the beach for 45 minutes reading a book. I’m a former teacher. I think reading is a fantastic way to spend time, but reading on the beach because you are forced to is not a way to instill a love of literature in children.

6. For god’s sake find a good way to make a group decision. Just take one vote and majority rules. I can’t tell you how many people stand in groups in the supermarket trying to decide between cereals. For the love of all things holy, just grab the Corn Flakes and go! It’s cereal, people, it’s not war and peace.

7. Which leads me to the next point. There will be leaders and followers in your group. Someone has to step up and take responsibility for decisions in order to break ties. Let the leader or leaders do their job and be happy to be a follower. Too many leaders is a recipe for disaster but too much democracy leads to anarchy. One or two leaders should be chosen on Day 1 and everyone else should just let them make their magic happen. When things don’t go your way simply find a kindred spirit in the group and roll your eyes gently so he or she will know no one is doing things the way they should be. Have a buddy system so you can telegraph your disappointment to each other without actually yelling at anyone.

8. Which leads again to the next point. Develop a “Who cares?” attitude for the week. Didn’t get the restaurant or meal you wanted? Who cares? No one else wants to see the movie of your choice? Who cares? Are you going to let that ruin your vacation? Don’t be too set in your ways and desires. Remember, this is your time away from aggravation so just refuse to let it seep into your fun times. Appreciate the sights around you or the natural beauty of where you are. Nothing else should matter.

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9. Remember who these people are. If Uncle Harry annoys you at home, the likelihood is he will be astronomically obnoxious on vacation. If you are imagining you’ll like him better in larger doses, you’re insane. You’ll like him a lot less, so just know that going in and try to steer clear as much as possible.

10. Keep in mind, these are the people who help shape you. They love you and you love them. (some of them at least) And, if all else fails, keep in mind it’s only a week. Next week you’ll be back at work, safe and sound.

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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