Advice, Memoir, Relationships

The Gratitude Letter

To many of my friends and family, my husband Doug is known as Mr. Happy.

He has a degree from University of Pennsylvania in Applied Positive Psychology.

 

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He has fun finding new ways to apply the principles of positive psychology in his consulting work and even in our family.

Since it’s November, the month we celebrate gratitude, it’s the perfect time to share an experience I had with a positive psychology “intervention” called The Gratitude Letter.

thank-you-515514_1920Basically, you choose someone who has made a positive difference in your life and you write him or her a letter explaining a specific thing they did that made a difference and how it affected you. Then, you visit that person, read them the letter, and give them the letter before you leave.

I chose to write my letter to my brother, Kelly, who had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and given only weeks to live.

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I confess it was a little awkward. I explained the rules of the game and made him sit quietly and listen to me while I read the letter aloud to him.

Let’s just say sitting quietly and listening wasn’t his greatest strength in life… but he did it. He gave me a few minutes of his complete, undivided attention.

In the letter, I wrote about our mutual dislike for each other as teenagers. My mother said that during those years, “the tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife.”

I remember that tension well. So did he.

After high school graduation, he went off for a job in Wyoming and I went off to college.

architecture-3124331_1920One day, I went to the mailbox in my college dorm and found a letter from him.

I stared at the envelope for the longest time trying to imagine what he would write in a letter to me.

I took it to my room, opened it carefully with equal doses of curiosity and wariness.

I was shocked to read a very kind, warm letter from him. He said he loved me and missed me. He asked me how I liked college. He told me about his job, his life, his friends.

Did you catch that part where he said he loved me and missed me?

I just sat on my bed and cried. I couldn’t believe that after all those years of barely speaking to each other, he took the time to write me a letter and to tell me he loved and missed me.

The next time we were both home for the weekend, he drove me to Terry’s Drive-in on Main Street of our hometown and bought me a Coke, took me for a ride, and wanted to know everything about my life.

That letter and the Coke run to Terry’s changed everything between us. It was like all the years of anger just slipped gently away and we became best friends like we were before junior high and high school transformed us into uptight angsty teenagers.

I told him I was grateful he had the courage to write me that letter and for all the healing that took place after that.

He smiled and said he had forgotten about writing me the letter. He couldn’t remember what initiated the change in our relationship.

To me, it was crystal clear. He initiated the change and I was forever grateful.

He said, “If you had a tear reading the letter, I can only imagine the tears I had writing it.”

It was a sweet moment and I was glad I did it.

I’m especially glad now since he died a few days later.

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In this month of Thanksgiving, who could you thank?

Give it some thought and make it a goal to write, deliver and read a gratitude letter to someone who made a difference in your life.

It might surprise you what a difference it will make in your life now.

I’d love to know how it goes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family

He’s as free as a bird now…

In mid-July, my older brother, Kelly, ended up in ICU. A few weeks later, he left with a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis and days/weeks to live.

As we reeled from this news, just a few months after my mom’s unexpected death, Kelly said, “Here’s how this is going to go down.”

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Kelly giving my daughter Annie some of his old fishing gear

Then he told us all how he wanted to spend the last few weeks of his life.

“First, there will be a no-sadness, no-mourning zone around me. I’ve had a good life. I have a lot of good memories. We’re going to reminisce, laugh and remember the good times. We’re not going to cry and be sad. My goal will be to make everyone around me laugh and smile until I roll out of here.”

And, that’s exactly what he did.

He wanted me to help him get his affairs in order, write his obituary, stay positive, and make him my mom’s favorite family meal — cheesy meatloaf, baked potatoes, and salad. 

My brother Mark asked him if he was afraid. He calmly said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m pretty sure about where I’m going. I’m just a little nervous about what it’s going to take to get from here to there.”

Luckily for him, it didn’t take much.

He lived about three weeks after coming home from the hospital, and then died peacefully in his sleep.

So, in that three weeks, he entertained us with his endless stories, jokes and funny memories.

He also had time to tell us exactly what he wanted in terms of his end-of-life services.

He wanted an outdoor celebration of a life well-lived, not a solemn, sad funeral in a church.

He wanted a catered lunch in the canyon, a live rock ’n roll band playing Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and everyone sharing happy stories and good memories.

 

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I’m as free as a bird now…

He also wanted us to share his real life story, not the  varnished, polished, perfected, version of his life.

He wanted people to know his life wasn’t easy, but that he “played the hand he was dealt.”

He was dealt a pretty tough hand, including a leg amputation that left him disabled and wheelchair bound for the last 12 years.

For an avid fisherman, hunter, outdoorsman and builder, learning he would spend the rest of his life confined to a wheelchair was a devastating blow.

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Even with that crushing news, however, he never complained.

In the beginning, he cycled through his share of sadness, grief, and shock, and even had a significant heart attack not long after the amputation, but he took it all with remarkable courage, optimism, and characteristically good humor, even to the point of always sporting one red converse high-top sneaker as he signature shoe style.

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He epitomized the life Hunter Thompson described when he said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, worn out, and loudly proclaiming… Wow! What a ride!”

That was Kelly.

Life is definitely not the same without him. It is quieter, less fun, and a lot more lonely.

Kelly and I were Irish twins — just 10-months apart. We spent our lives explaining that even though we were in the same grade all through school and just happened to look very much alike, we were not twins.

And after all those years of saying, “No, we’re not twins,” I have an inkling of what it must be like for one twin to lose another and to feel like a twinless twin, like you’ve lost a part of yourself.

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While my religious beliefs assure me that he is in paradise, resting from his troubles, cares and sorrows,  I don’t think he’ll rest for too long. In fact, I’m sure the heavenly angels weren’t quite ready for him when he skidded into heaven and started reporting on the wild, rambunctious ride that was his life.

I bet they haven’t had a quiet, dull moment since he got there. 

And, lucky for them, because we sure miss him down here …

 

 

Community, Memoir

Mourning the loss of local newspapers

I have a new cause.

I want to revive small town newspapers.

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I know that’s beyond my capacity, and that hometown papers are quaint relics now,  but I wish I could wave a magic wand (or hit an old typewriter key) and restore them in all the small towns across America.

The demise of these papers has left a void that large newspapers (also sadly failing) and social media can’t fill.

Social media doesn’t create or sustain a sense of community like a town newspaper.

Scrolling through a Facebook feed and seeing an occasional, brief newsy post does not come close to holding a newspaper in your hands and reading about everything happening in town.

Now, keep in mind, I majored in journalism back in journalism’s heydays, right after Nixon and Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein. Back then, strong, robust, independent newspapers were the norm.

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Every town had its own newspaper. Seems quaint now — like back in the “olden days.”

If you can imagine it, we even learned about things like “objectivity” in journalism classes.

It was drilled into our heads that reporters should tell both sides of a story.

We learned the difference between news stories and opinion pieces.

Yes, it was a different world then.

While a student, I spent a summer as the editor of The Springville Herald, my hometown newspaper. Then, I became the editor of the university’s student newspaper — The Utah Statesman.  

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Yes, that’s Geraldo Rivera back in the 70s, teaching us about journalism as the institution of social change.
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This is how The Statesman looked back in the 70s. 

I loved the newspaper world — all of it.  I loved the concept of gathering news, trying to present it fairly, and making the university or the town seem smaller, more intimate, more unified by keeping people informed about what was going on where they lived and worked.

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After college, I worked in the press department for U.S. Senator Jake Garn from Utah. One of my favorite parts of the job was traveling around the State of Utah, visiting small-town newspaper editors. It gave me a sense of not just what was happening, but what mattered to people in different parts of the state.

It was always abundantly clear by these visits and by reading the different papers that what people cared about in Beaver, Utah was different than what mattered to people in Tremonton. Each different newspaper captured the essence of its people, its geography,  challenges, and unique personality.

After I quit working on the Hill, my mom always gifted me an annual subscription to The Springville Herald. I loved when it showed up in my mailbox.

I loved knowing about everything happening in my hometown —  who was celebrating a first birthday, who was getting married, the issues before the town council, who won the local golf tournament or football championship, which couples were celebrating big anniversaries, and who was running for office.

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This is a photo from The Springville Herald of the football team — Snow Dairy — that my dad sponsored and coached. My dad is in the upper left corner. My brother, Kelly, is #62 in front of him.

Since my mom passed away a few months ago, I keep running into old family friends who didn’t know she died. They all say, “I miss The Springville Herald. That paper always kept me updated on things like that.”

I miss The Springville Herald too — and all the other newspapers that have folded. I miss the local flair, the feature stories that capture the flavor of a town and its people.

When I worked at The Springville Herald, I wrote a feature story about a local character named Ivan Tryfonas. I called him “the town crier” because he roamed the town keeping everyone informed about what was happening.

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“At a glance,” I wrote, “Ivan looks as though he could fill a doorway with ease and take on the biggest of athletes without hassle. But, Ivan uses his strength to work for the betterment of the community.”

His size and omnipresence on Main Street often made him an intimidating figure in town. But, the article personalized him, and helped people see the gentle side of someone they may have feared.

I heard he couldn’t stop smiling after that article was published. He died five years later of a heart attack. I’m glad I captured his one-of-a-kind presence in our hometown.

Personalizing a man like Ivan is just one of the benefits of a local newspaper. I always liked reading about the new businesses, art exhibits, and plays in town. All of that often seems to go unnoticed now. A banner across Main Street hardly does the same thing as the full story and photos in a newspaper.

Some towns have tried to make up for the loss of newspapers by putting a few local stories in a newsletter that’s tucked in with the city bill. But, that hardly serves the same purpose, and is of no worth at all to those who pay their bills online.

When we first moved to Herndon, Virginia, there were at least three newspapers — The Observer, The Connection and the Times. They made our town tucked into the sprawling Washington, D.C. suburbs seem homey and unified. It gave us a separate identity from the broader D.C. metro area. But, one by one, they all went out of business.

You can still get a taste of the value of old newspapers, by visiting newspapers.com.

You’ll be surprised at the gems you can find there. (It is primarily a genealogy site.)

I found the actual story about Ivan and a lot of stories about my family — including a story about my parents’ wedding that described my mother’s dress in great detail and even listed everyone in her wedding party. These are priceless gems.

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Yes, I’m mourning the loss of newspapers.

I know it’s unrealistic to hope for a revival of  small town newspapers, but an old journalism student from the 70s can hope and reminisce, right?

Anybody with me on this?

 

Family, Home, Memoir

Welcome to Utah

Since moving to Utah, we have noticed a few things that are uniquely Utah.

Take this…

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Just a mountain lion in the back of someone’s truck. I’m guessing a taxidermy craft project…

Or this…

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This is an invitation to the our church’s summer activities for women. Yep, hand-delivered to my porch because nearly everyone in my neighborhood is Mormon.

And this…

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American flags lining the streets for every patriotic holiday.

And one of my all-time favorites…

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This sweet lady rode her scooter to Swig for a soda on a 112 degree day in St. George. Utah is the Soda Capital of the Universe.

I am slowly getting educated on the soda culture in Utah.

I’ve seriously never seen anything like it –places like Swig,  Sodalicious and Fiiz everywhere. These are small soda shops (sometimes nothing more than a small shack) with drive-thru windows that sell sodas with flavor shots.

Seriously, I’ve seen cars lined up there at 8 in the morning. And, it’s not as simple as ordering a Diet Coke at McDonald’s.

And each shop has its own lingo. Try saying, “I’ll have a 32-ounce Big Al with extra ice” or “Give me an 16-ounce Endless Summer please.”

What you’ll be ordering with the Big Al is a Diet Coke with a shot of coconut and lime. An Endless Summer is Mountain Dew, Powerade with a shot of coconut.

Yes, Utah is Soda Land. 

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Oh, and this cute lady rode up a pretty steep hill, waited in the line at the window on her scooter, secured her drink in her lap, and then drove back down the hill and into her rehab center. (Yes, we followed her!) Then, she sat under a tree and enjoyed her drink in the shade. I told her she was my hero of the day. She said, “Hey, I can’t drive so I take my scooter and go to Swig every day!”
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My daughter Annie (right) even worked at Sodalicious, but since I didn’t know how to order, I rarely went there. Trust me, I’m learning…

And finally, there’s this…

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The scenery is so different from one end of the state to the other. We can see lush green mountains on one end of the state and red rock canyons on the other. And, it’s all uniquely beautiful.

Welcome to Utah.

Change, Community, Family

A Gradual Goodbye

I realize my blog can sometimes carry themes — depending on what I’m experiencing in life.

Loss is the theme for my recent blogs because that is what is consuming my life right now.

Of course you know, my mom died suddenly in March. And while the grief is profound, it is eased by knowing she was ready to go, and that I’ll see her again someday.

A lot of my time since her death has been spent cleaning her house and getting it ready to sell.

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It’s been exhausting and sometimes sad, but also it has been tender, therapeutic, memorable, and sweet.

As I’ve stood in each room  of that house– steaming off wallpaper or cleaning out cupboards, I’ve been swept up in a lifetime of memories.

There is a memory in every corner of that house.

It’s hard for me to believe that Doug lived in 18 different homes before graduating from high school.

I lived in the same home until I went to college and I’ve been returning to that home ever since.

Standing in the small upstairs bedroom, I remembered being in first grade and learning to read. I thought of the thrill I felt running upstairs to sit in my bedroom with a new stack of books.

I remembered going to the public library with my mom every week and gathering armloads of books and hauling them upstairs to that bedroom.

That reminded me of returning mom’s last library book just after she died.  I knew I had to get it back to the library as soon as possible! She never, ever had an overdue book.

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Cleaning out her kitchen cupboards, I thought about her love of dishes. She had her own wedding china, a great grandmother’s china, and various sets of dishes she had purchased over the years.

I remembered the “club” meetings she had with her high school friends and how she pulled out the china for some of those dinners. Then, I remembered that for one Easter, she had a brown bag picnic lunch in the house and moved all the furniture back and put quilts on the floor. I tried to imagine her 12 lady friends sitting in circles on the floor enjoying their brown bag Easter picnic.

In the kitchen, I remembered Mom’s reaction when she found a Playboy magazine in one of my brother’s dresser drawers. Oh, that was a classic Mom Moment. You can check out that story here.

While sorting through her Christmas decorations on the patio, I looked around at her sprawling back yard and remembered how many parties I held back there over the years.

I could hear her saying, “You always begged me to host your friends’ last-night-of-school parties in the backyard, and you swore you’d only have about six friends coming. And, every year, the whole school showed up!”

It’s true. I couldn’t help myself. I invited every friend I had every year. It was the perfect backyard for big parties!

That house was my mom’s “corner of the world.” She always said she just loved sitting on the porch watching the world go by.

She was a homebody if there ever was a homebody and she never understood what she called my “go-go-do-do” ways.

Nate Berkus said, “Your home should tell the story of who you are, and be a collection of what you love.”

My mom lived by those words.

Her house was a collection of everything she loved –cherished notes, her life story in a scrapbook, stories, family memorabilia, photos, photos and more photos,  flowers, and plants, books, books and more books; and more thread than I’ve ever seen in my life for her embroidery projects. She loved decorating for every holiday, especially Christmas.  I think I counted five Christmas trees!

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She had some of her favorite quotes in places where she could see them regularly.

One of her favorite quotes that has become one of my favorites was a quote from Ezra Taft Benson:
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More than anything else, cleaning out her house has been like a gradual, tender goodbye.

I have felt wrapped up in her “corner of the world” for the past couple months — folding her quilts, steaming her wedding dress, discovering the baby quilts she made for her future great grand babies, dusting off her dishes and boxing up her china, sorting out her Christmas tree ornaments and collecting her mail.

It’s been like a slow goodbye and while it’s been tiring, it’s been kind of a sweet melancholy, a last chance to feel her around me through her perfectly personal home, and all of her belongings.

The more I take out of her house, the more I realize she is gone.

And, while I don’t enjoy the goodbye, I certainly savor the way that cleaning out her house has kept her here for just a little bit longer…

 

Change, Family, Memoir

Goodbye to the Mom of All Moms

Some blogs are easy to write and some blogs are hard.

Today’s blog is the hardest one I’ve ever had to write.

I’ve started it about 10 times.

The thing is, my mom died.

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At 82 years old, she just didn’t feel well, had a weak pulse, went to the ER, and died.

Doug and I were vacationing with friends at the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

My mom and several other family members were in southern Utah to help my sister, Sallie, move to a new home for a new job. 

At the end of the day, I called to see how the day went.

Sallie said, “Well, we’re actually in the ER with mom and the doctors said things are going south fast.”

“What?”

“What is even wrong?”

She said they didn’t have a diagnosis, but eight doctors were in her hospital room trying to figure it out.

I quickly made plans to get back to Utah as soon as possible.

This involved getting off Hatteras Island, a remote strip of land in the middle of the ocean, and to an airport where there are no direct flights to Utah.

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I got to the hospital the next day — in time for a doctor to ask me for a copy of her living will and for me to tell her goodbye.

She was calm, serene and fearless as she told me she was 100 percent ready to go.

No regrets. No unfinished business. No questions about anything other than, “Are you okay with this?”

My head nodded yes while every emotion in me vigorously shouted, “No!”

That was on a Monday afternoon.

On the following Thursday, she took her last breath.

I was surprised at the word that came out of my mouth after she died.

“Congratulations,” I whispered as I kissed her cheek for the last time.

And that’s really how I felt — like she’d given life everything — left it all on the field to use sports vernacular.

There was nothing morbid or morose about it. 

In fact, the few days with her in the hospital were sweet, tender, and sacred. We talked about how lucky we were to have her as a mom.

She was the mom of all moms — loving, smart, tough, fun, hilarious, just the whole package. We couldn’t ask for more. She was everything.

As we shared stories about her life — her sayings and crazy antics — sometimes we couldn’t stop laughing.

Oh, there were tears — plenty of them because we wondered how we will live without her, but there also was so much joy because we knew she was ready.

She knew where she was going and she was looking forward to it.

She couldn’t wait to see her husband again and the son she lost when he was an infant.

She was tired of the world and she didn’t like that her body wasn’t cooperating with her anymore.

And don’t even get her started on Donald Trump.

The doctors probably still regret that while testing her mental acuity, they asked her if she knew who was President of the United States.

For months, she warned us that she thought she would die soon. We just didn’t believe her.

She told my brother he needed to go into her basement and find her funeral insurance policy.

She told her friend at the church library to get her own library key because she didn’t think she’d be back the next week.

She told her walking partner she didn’t think she’d live after my sister moved.

I think she really saw it coming. We just didn’t want to believe her.

On the day she died, I posted a picture of her on Facebook and said, “It was the honor of my life to be her daughter.”

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And, it truly was.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I hope every heavenly reunion is even sweeter than you imagined.

Uncategorized

What I Know For Sure

My daughter Annie wrote a blog about what she knows for sure.

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She was inspired by Oprah’s book “What I Know For Sure.”

And, the inspiration continues because Annie’s blog inspired me.

I loved Annie’s honesty when she wrote, “What I know for sure is that I need more time to figure out what I know for sure!”

Don’t we all?

She’s dedicated to figuring it out and sharing what she knows for sure in her health coaching blog.

So, she got me thinking today while I’m at the beach…What do I know for sure about the beach?

So, here it is…

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And one more thing I know for sure about the beach…

I’m never ready when it’s time to go home…

What do you know for sure about the beach?