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Submitted by: Dauna Easley

It was 20 degrees below zero, the coldest day of the winter around here.  Schools and many businesses were closed.  Too many cars were stranded roadside. It was the perfect day for the big project I had in mind.  For once, my Christmas decorations would be completely organized before I put them away.  The tree decorations would actually be marked “Tree Decorations” not “Christmas Village” on the outside of the tub. No longer would the lights be put away in a tangled mess. It was early January, but I refused to pack holiday things away until it was done to a new and improved standard. I was on a sort-and-pitch mission.

I paused in my giant project midday.  Tubs, tissue paper, and piles of Christmas decorations were scattered everywhere.  My living room looked as though it had been decorated by Hurricane Katrina.  But I was working the plan, and it felt good. I had that sense of satisfaction that only comes from finally tackling a huge task you have been avoiding for too long.

As I took a break, I fixed myself a cup of hot chocolate.  It tasted better than expected, so I decided to take a cup to my hubby who was watching old movies in the spare bedroom. As I entered the room with the treat, I noticed he had fallen asleep to the voice of John Wayne.  But hot chocolate doesn’t stay hot forever, so I made the decision to wake him.  He wouldn’t wake up.  Our more than thirty years together was over . . . just like that.

Two days later, even before my husband’s funeral, the pipes in the house burst and flooded our (now my) home.  No, I’m not making this up.  500x200 fireworksToo often it seems our challenges arrive in clusters which resemble the grand finale of a fireworks display. Layers of explosions overload our typical coping mechanisms and bombard us when we least expect them. Our minds are full of the task at hand at the exact moment that the most important things in our lives are imploding.

On the day of my husband’s funeral, I returned to my home with a single yellow rose plucked from the top of his casket.  There were eleven industrial-sized fans humming in my house.  Humming isn’t the right word.  Their sound replicated the decibels of jet engines.  Drywall was missing from my walls, making it possible to see into my basement from the first floor.  Two floors of carpet had been ripped away, but those tiny carpet tacks were still there, sticking straight up like sharks’ teeth from the plywood on which I walked.  In fact, a phone booth-sized dehumidifier completely blocked my hallway and made it impossible for me to enter my home from the garage.  Large Yellow RoseThat dehumidifier hadn’t been there when I left for the funeral, but the industrial fans had kept me awake for two days already. A lock box was on the front door.  I was locked out.  I stood there with my yellow rose from the casket, wondering what to do.

I had to call the contractor to get the code to even enter my home.  It was almost three months later before the repairs were completed.  Wouldn’t this scenario make great lyrics for a sad country song?  Seriously, I hope Taylor Swift is reading this.

Ready or not, I was thrust into a period of fast forward transition.  Huge changes demand reflection.  It’s an in-your-face lesson in the meaning of life.  All during the time that the police cars, ambulance, hearse, water restoration trucks, drywaller, plumber, and contractor vehicles pulled in and out of my driveway, I was trying to make sense of it.  I wasn’t cataloging Christmas decorations anymore; I was coming to grips with what was important in life.

I can’t pretend to have it all figured out yet.  I don’t even know why the lights in my house keep flickering or why a crazed robin has thrown himself against my windows hundreds of times each day for the past four plus weeks.  I haven’t figured out why it is completely impossible to get the name on some of my bills changed.  I certainly don’t know how to get assistance from the websites that list fifty frequently asked questions and think that one of them should apply to me.  On none of these websites does it have a category for “My husband died and my house flooded and I need help.” I find it quite annoying when they answer a question I didn’t ask and then say, “Don’t respond to this email because it isn’t monitored.”   I should have been that lucky in my teaching career.  Can you imagine saying to a student, “Don’t ask any questions, because I’m not monitoring them today?”  Ridiculous.Folded arms large

But there are a few things I have managed to figure out.  That old cliché happens to be true: life is about love.  But I now believe, and here comes my twist, life is mostly about making people feel valued.  Sure you can argue and say, “When we love someone, we value them.”  But do we always?  I have lost both a daughter and a husband now.  I look back and reflect on the times when I went out of my way to make my loved ones feel valued, and it makes me feel good.  But I also look back and remember all the lost opportunities to do so and regret them.  I have become hypersensitive about noticing this gift some have of making people feel valued.  When my grandson from college phones me without even being asked or reminded, I feel valued.  We just chat about minor things, but the message behind the words is always, “I value you.”  When a friend drops me a card, gives me a call or invites me to lunch, it makes my day.  When a student says, “You were my favorite teacher,” this revelation rings in my soul.

I’m trying to forgive myself more too.  During this transition period, I have made mistakes.  I tried to change phone systems, and it was a disaster.  I scalped the lawn the first time I mowed it.  I swear I heard my hubby lecturing me from the cemetery on that one. I also seemed to have stalled on getting a car repaired to sell.  The financial gain would be welcome, so why do I procrastinate?  I’m not sure.  But I’m now trying to focus more on all the things I have solved and stop beating myself up so much about the hiccups in my progress.  Why do we overlook our wins and focus so much of our attention on our goof-ups?  I’m attempting to make myself one of the people I treat with more kindness. I’m trying to value me a little more . . . one of the hardest tasks we face.

Dauna EasleyWhat have you done recently to make the people who touch your life feel valued?  Learn from me: time is short.  Maybe even more important, what are you doing to treat yourself a little more kindly?  My next goal is to bring more fun into my life.  I know this is my responsibility.  No one else is going to dump happiness on me; nor should they.  I’m not there yet.  My time still seems to be mostly focused on putting out fires and solving immediate problems.  But I have made a firm decision . . . a commitment to myself.   I AM going to be happy.  I bought myself a little plaque recently that says, “Find Your Happy.”  And I intend to get right on this. You should too.   Maybe we will see each other there.

Further Links:

Read more about seeking happiness from Gretchen Rubin or from The New York Times, or learn about ways to show people you care here and here.

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