Long distance

How are things on your endI know that most people have some long distance relationships but I feel like they have been a central theme in my life. Some of them were caused by moves I made and some were caused by moves other people made but, it all began when my parents immigrated from England when I was 5. For the rest of my life I was 3,000 miles away from my father’s side of the family. Many times I’ve been restless and felt as if I didn’t belong anywhere and I’ve wondered if that is where those feelings started.

When I got married we moved 600 miles away from our family and friends. My marriage itself was a long distance relationship because my husband was a truck driver – he was away for 4 months of our second year of marriage and, for many years, was only home on weekends. We were married for 9 years and, in hindsight, I think the marriage would probably have ended sooner if not for all the time apart! Sometimes distance is a good thing!

After my marriage ended I moved back to my home state of NJ but, to a different area about 90 miles from where my parents lived. Believe me, that’s a long way when you have to drive on the Garden State Parkway to visit – especially on summer weekends! One of my reasons for moving back was because my ex-husband had moved back and I wanted my son to be closer to him and the rest of our family. Unfortunately, my ex-husband decided to move again just a couple of months later, which created a permanent long distance relationship between him and his son.

My next serious relationship was with a man who lived about 100 miles away so, we only saw each other on weekends. I’m sure this didn’t help to strengthen what was already a troubled relationship. After being back in my home state for 12 years I moved to FL, which, of course, placed me 1,000+ miles away from family and friends. My son was 16 and heading down a very bad path in his life. The move pulled him away from bad influences and forced him to make some changes for the better. At the time, I was in a relationship with a man who spent part of every month in FL and part in NJ – another relationship negatively affected by distance!

Thankfully, my parents decided to move to FL about 4 years after me – they built a house right down the street – so we’ve been able to make up for the years we lived far apart. My father enjoyed 9 years of living here before he passed away and I’m grateful that we were able to share so many good times together.

My son decided that he wanted to go back to NJ after 6 months in FL, which created a long distance relationship between us that has lasted, with the exception of a couple of brief periods, for many years. Over the years he has lived in Denver, then NJ again, then Boston and, for the past 3 years he’s been back in NJ where he’ll probably stay. He has an erratic work schedule and sometimes works long hours to meet project deadlines so I usually leave it up to him to call me. Unfortunately, he is not good at keeping in touch so the phone calls are infrequent and the visits even more so.

Seven years ago my best friend moved 1,000 miles away to be closer to her family. This left a big void in my life, but we both put effort into keeping in touch and she manages to visit two or three times a year, which helps a lot. The good news is that she wants to move back to FL and is hoping to do that sometime this year! I’ve been blessed with good friends who live nearby but, sadly, some of the people who are closest to my heart are the ones who are furthest away.

Now I’m about to begin the most difficult long distance relationship of my life. My son’s girlfriend is pregnant and they are getting married. Although it wasn’t planned, they’ve been together more than a year and seem to have a good relationship so, in many ways this is good news – he’s almost 40 and I was beginning to think it might never happen! I always hoped I’d be a grandmother someday but, the reality is that distance will prevent me from having the type of relationship I’d like to have with my grandchild and that makes me sad. Between the physical distance and my son’s poor communication skills this is going to be a real challenge but, I know people who are in the same situation so I’m going to learn from them and do my best to be a good Nanna. I don’t like Skype, talking on the phone or flying but I’m willing to do all those things just to be part of my grandson’s life!

Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great. ~Roger de Bussy-Rabutin

August 2014

Liberty’s always ready to hit the road!

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October Musings

Opal - October birthday for herThere are many things in my life for which I’m grateful. I thank God every day for my good health, the people who care about me, my four-legged best friend Liberty and my home. Last week we were fortunate to make it through Hurricane Matthew unscathed – power was out for less than two days and the only damage my house sustained was one shingle that ended up in the yard. So why have I been so down in the dumps this week?

It’s a combination of things – the awareness that time is passing by, I’m getting older, and I still haven’t met my soul mate, the feeling that everything I’ve accomplished in my life is in the past and now I have no real purpose, and just general concerns about my future and the future of our country. I knew this was a passing mood because it does descend on me every so often. Most of the time I’m content with my life but the other day I was wondering why love has always been such a challenge for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts and someone who is reading this has also thought that, although their life is good, something is still missing. I believe there is a reason for everything and that God has a plan for each of us but that doesn’t mean I’m always able to patiently accept the unknown!

I decided I needed to talk it over with a good friend so I stopped at her house after my yoga class. I know she has experienced the challenges and disappointments of trying to find love and self-worth. She was divorced, and then spent many years as a widow. She tried online dating, fix-ups, blind dates and had no luck with them, just like me. She decided at some point to put it in God’s hands and just make the most of her life. It didn’t happen right away but, a few years after she came to that decision, she finally met the love of her life in a totally unexpected way. Actually, I came to the same decision myself several years ago but, every so often, the old doubts resurface and cause me to question “what is”.

It was good to talk with my friend because, having had many of the same experiences, she understands my feelings and offers just the right balance of reassurance, encouragement, and sympathy. She reminded me that, even when you don’t think you’re doing anything “important” you may be making an unseen impact on someone’s life. She said I have no way of knowing how much I may be helping a child when Liberty and I participate in PAWS to Read. Hmm. I just do it because I enjoy the kids and it’s fun for Liberty so I hadn’t thought about it that way but, as soon as she said it, I knew she was right. She suggested that I write two lists – one being 10 things I think are good about my life, the other being 10 things I’m not satisfied with. She remembered doing that in the past and feeling that it helped to put things in perspective for her. I know the positive in my life far outweighs the negative but I’m going to do the lists because I always like the idea of gaining new perspectives. Meanwhile, I already gained some perspective and lightened my mood just by sharing my feelings with such a caring friend. As I drove home I thanked God for the blessing of her friendship. Later on, she gave me another blessing when she sent an email saying that our conversation had helped her, too. She has been going through a significant health challenge this year and, in helping me with my concerns, she realized she needs to reassess some things in her life, too.

This morning the temperature was in the low 40’s – I’ve been waiting for a morning like this for two months! The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, Liberty was feeling very frisky and we had a lovely long walk on a wooded trail. As I walked along, saying my prayers, I could feel the last of my heavy mood lifting and blowing away on the breeze. I stopped to get a fresh baguette at the bakery then went home, toasted it and slathered it with butter and raspberry jelly. I sat in the screened porch and enjoyed the baguette, Starbucks Cafe Verona and the beautiful morning. Life is good 🙂

So, you may ask, what’s the point of this post? I guess I just wanted to share my thoughts about how I deal with down moods in the hope that it will be helpful to someone out there who might be feeling sad or alone. Some suggestions: 1) talk to a good friend whom you can trust with your feelings; 2) focus on the blessings in your life; 3) do something nice for someone; 4) adopt a dog from a shelter!

Happiness is not the absence of problems; it is the ability to deal with them.

2016-halloween

Treats? Yes?

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This one’s for you, Jean

Happy birthday-wild ride

I’m glad to be along for the ride!

Last January I contacted a hospice agency about volunteering with my dog, Liberty. There are other hospice agencies that serve my area and I don’t remember why I chose the one I did. I was surprised when I received a response to my online application from a woman I had known professionally for many years but, hadn’t seen for a very long time. It turned out that she was working as the volunteer coordinator for the hospice agency’s local office.

Our professional relationship had been limited to a once a year meeting to review the grant that the agency for which Jean was then employed received through my office. We also had an occasional phone call. It’s a small community so sometimes we would see each other at meetings related to health and human services issues. I liked her and I appreciated her work ethic and professional attitude but, I didn’t know anything about her on a personal level.

Fast forward about 11 or 12 years. Through my volunteer work with the hospice agency I had frequent contact with Jean and I grew to appreciate her in a whole new light. She still demonstrated the same professional attitude and work ethic I had admired in the past but I had the opportunity to get to know her as a person. I began to appreciate her sense of humor, intelligence and sensitivity. We discovered that we shared some unique similarities – one being that we both immigrated with our parents to the United States from Yorkshire, England, when we were children. She on the Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and me on the Queen Mary in 1955.

A few months after I started volunteering, Jean was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had surgery and chemotherapy and ended up being out of work for nearly 5 months. Just a few short weeks after returning to work, Jean was told that the cancer had been discovered in another location and she would have to undergo 6 weeks of treatment. One day a week of chemotherapy and 5 days of radiation at the Mayo hospital over an hour away. I asked what I could do to help and she said that the trip each day was going to be a major challenge because her significant other couldn’t lose that much time from work. I offered to drive 2 days a week and, along with two other friends and her significant other, we covered the daily trips.

Those long drives, under difficult circumstances, gave Jean and me the time to get to know each other. We learned that we have a lot in common; some in shared experiences and some in our personalities. She gets my dry, sarcastic, sometimes self-deprecating English sense of humor – and so few do! We’re both strong, independent women who find it difficult to ask for help so I know how hard it has been to let go of control and let the people who care about her offer their support. She talked about the side effects from the treatments and from the medications she had to take. She was never whiny or felt sorry for herself – she just wanted to be able to talk about what she was going through. We’re in the habit now of sending each other brief emails almost every day (like me, she’s not a big “phone person”) and I appreciate the glimpses into whatever she’s thinking about in that moment. As I saw her confront each new challenge the disease brought, my admiration and respect for her grew. I hope I never have cancer but, if I do, I hope I can find somewhere inside me the strong, positive attitude and faith in God that Jean has. I know she has her crying times and her angry times but they don’t last long and they certainly don’t define her. What defines her is faith, humor, optimism, generosity, gratitude, capacity to find joy in everyday things, perseverance, love of nature, and a kind heart.

I have decided that being a hospice volunteer isn’t right for me. I really wanted it to be right because I felt like something had called me to do it but, sometimes when you step back, you can see a bigger picture. I believe that God brings people and experiences into our lives for specific reasons so maybe my reason for being called to that particular agency at that particular time was to reconnect with Jean. We were each in need of a good friend in whom we could confide and trust and, amazingly, that’s what we got. Live long and prosper, my friend.

Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit. ~Aristotle

Dr. Brown and Kate check Liberty 4-4-16

Nobody likes to go to the doctor!

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Expectations

HopeI’ve been working on the problem of having expectations for a long time – especially unrealistic expectations – but, I’m still not quite where I want to be. Expectations of myself, of the outcomes of situations, of other people, and expectations that others have of me. Expectations I have had of myself have led me down some dark pathways of romantic idealism, failed perfectionism (alas, all perfectionism fails), self-criticism and doubt. Expectations regarding the outcome of situations have often led to disappointment and unhappiness. Expectations of people have led to feelings of betrayal, disillusionment and sadness. I’ve made a lot of progress on everything except my expectations of other people – maybe the answer is to have very low expectations!.

I just finished a book by author, lecturer, and radio host Dennis Prager titled “Happiness is a Serious Problem”. He devotes an entire chapter to expectations so, I guess I’m not the only person who wrestles with this issue. He states that “in general, expectations lead to unhappiness” and I tend to agree. He defines expectations as “taking for granted that something will happen or regarding something as virtually inevitable”, therefore, with rare exceptions, where we do not have complete control we should not have expectations. And in just how many situations in your life do you have complete control? I don’t know about you, but I realized some time ago that the only things I have any control over are my thoughts and actions – and even that can be a huge challenge at times!

Still, as logical as all that sounds … does it mean we can never have any expectations of other people and our relationships with them? When we marry someone and take vows with them before God, should we not expect them to keep those vows? Should close friends not expect honesty, trustworthiness and loyalty? It is in the area of close relationships that I have the most difficulty in letting go of expectations. I’m not talking about forgiving honest mistakes or tolerating human flaws because I know that no one is perfect, certainly not me, and I always hope (or do I expect?) to receive forgiveness and tolerance from those who are closest to me. We all disappoint each other at times without meaning to, but I’m thinking of much more serious injuries like lying, cheating, betrayal, and other forms of disloyalty. Loyalty and honesty are very important to me. That is what you can expect from me if I’m a friend of yours and it is what I expect in return from you. Needless to say, I’ve had some crushing disappointments but, was it because I expected a certain type of behavior or was it because I trusted someone? Where is the line between trusting and expecting in relationships? Doesn’t a person’s character invite you to expect a certain type of behavior from them?

Another long-held expectation I had was regarding my relationship with my son. I always thought that once he was an adult he would honor and respect me. I didn’t invent this idea – remember the fifth commandment “Honor your father and your mother”? – and yet, this concept seems to be foreign to him. Perhaps I bear some responsibility for not instilling it in him at an early age but, whatever the reason, I recently had to re-evaluate my thinking and begin to let go of my expectation that someday we would have a warm, comfortable and friendly adult relationship. I would love to be able to just enjoy relaxed conversations with him without feeling like I’m walking blindfolded through a mine field. Recent events have forced me to admit that this may never happen and I need to stop waiting for something of which he may not be emotionally capable. I think I need to learn the difference between hope and expectation.

If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed. ~Terrell Owens

Liberty has Great Expectations!

Liberty has Great Expectations!

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Thoughts about friendship

How are things on your endI’m not a fan of social media. I have Facebook and Twitter accounts but rarely use them. I can understand why they are a popular way for people to keep in touch but they just don’t appeal to me. On the other hand, I’ve never had a problem keeping in touch with long distance friends – before the days of email I wrote letters to my long distance friends. My friends know I’m not much of a telephone person but those who live far away can count on a weekly email, an occasional call and one of my original greeting cards on all the special occasions in their lives. Those who live nearby know we’ll see each other regularly for lunches, dinners, movies, etc. All my friends, both near and far know they can call upon me when they need a shoulder to cry on or when they want to share some happy news.

Over the years many friends have come into and out of my life. Some friends stayed for a short time and drifted away, a couple of friendships ended in anger. Friendships that were formed around a common experience, like a job or a neighborhood, usually ended when one of us left the job or moved away. Sometimes I felt sad when a friend didn’t keep in touch but, let’s face it, long distance friendships are difficult to sustain over time and take effort from both parties. I don’t worry about things like that anymore because I have lived enough years to recognize an ebb and flow to friendships and I understand now that not everyone who comes into your life is meant to stay forever.

People change as they get older and one important change I experienced is that I learned to be comfortable doing things alone. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the company of my friends; it simply means I found that doing things alone can be just as enjoyable, but in a different way. I think it also led me to become more selective about who I call a “friend”. Friend is an overused and misused word. When I was younger I was too dependent on the company and approval of others – to the point that I tolerated a lot of selfish, insensitive behavior just to keep a so-called “friend” in my life (or a relationship with a man, but that’s another blog post!). When I finally reached emotional maturity (yes, I admit I was a late bloomer) I realized that when you respect yourself and you’re not emotionally needy its much easier to be selective about the company you keep. This is another one of those lessons I wish I had learned at a much younger age but, I’m glad I finally did.

These days I have a small number of very nice friends, whose company I enjoy, and one special friend with whom I share an especially close bond. She is someone who I know will always be in my life. I don’t have sisters but, from what I have observed, my best friend and I are closer than many sisters. Although I haven’t been lucky in love, I consider myself blessed to have found a kindred spirit so many years ago and, for me, that is a rare thing. It’s been said that if you have only one friend that you can trust completely you are fortunate. I have a friend who I not only trust completely but, who understands me and loves me for the flawed human being I am. She doesn’t judge me and I don’t have to filter my thoughts when I talk to her. She even gets my sense of humor – many don’t! Unfortunately, she lives a thousand miles away – this is especially difficult because we used to see each other almost every day and shared the smallest details of our lives. In the meantime, it’s emails, phone calls and visits whenever we can work them out.

Recently my friend was at her timeshare in Cocoa Beach and I found a rental nearby so I could take my four-legged best friend with me (no doggies allowed at the timeshare) while I spent time with my human best friend. It was so great to be able to have a couple of days together on the beach just talking, laughing and crying as we caught up with each other’s lives. She’s dealing with some difficult situations so my counseling hat got a workout. We found a dog-friendly place to eat dinner so Liberty could join us while we continued our conversation – my friend loves Liberty almost as much as I do. I hope her plans and dreams of moving back to Florida come true – for her sake as well as my own!

Friendship is the mutual love of people who wish each other well.  ~Aristotle

Me and my four-legged best friend

Me and my four-legged best friend

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My friend Carol

Beach club 002The other day I received a call from the sister of my friend, Carol, to let me know that she had passed away on July 4th. She was 81. Carol had cerebral cortex dementia and, in January, had been given 2-5 months to live. Although we didn’t see each other often over the past few years, for many years she was my friend and mentor so, today I’m remembering fond memories of her.

I met Carol in 1995. She was 17 years older than me and, when I met her, she was a semi-retired social work consultant. She had run her own successful consulting business in Cleveland for more than 20 years before moving to Florida at the age of 60, about a year and a half before I met her. She had done grant writing, board training, and program development for some of the biggest social service agencies in Cleveland and was still doing those things on a part-time basis. She was a tall, imposing woman – about 5’11” – with silvery white hair and piercing blue eyes, large features, a wide toothy smile and a loud voice. She was confident, assertive, even somewhat overbearing; not a shy bone in her body. She immediately invaded my personal space, which is something that always makes me uncomfortable and, although I knew she was trying to be friendly, she came across as loud and pushy so I didn’t warm to her right away. It took a while before I accepted an invitation to meet her for lunch but, gradually, we became friends.

There was a lot to admire about Carol. Her generous nature and willingness to help anyone. The way she managed her life – work she enjoyed, volunteerism, an active social life, and financial independence. She had a lot of energy and always seemed to be in motion. As a younger woman she had been a marathon runner and when I met her she still regularly worked out at the gym and swam in the pool. She enjoyed movies and plays, all types of music, and she loved to dance. She had a soft spot for children, especially teens, and she started a non-profit children’s theater group with a friend who was a former actress and convinced me to serve on their board. She had several single friends in her age group, “the girls”, who regularly got together for birthdays and other celebrations – Carol loved to celebrate life – and I was often invited to join them. I started the “Quarterly Group” with Carol and two professional friends. We would get together for dinner once every quarter, on a rotating basis, at each other’s houses and we did that for several years until family and health issues started to interfere. She had been married twice but seemed more than capable of having a full, happy life without a man. I looked up to her as a good role model for a single, independent, successful career woman.

During the early years of our friendship I was struggling financially, dealing with a stressful job and difficult times with my son. She was always supportive and encouraging. She was a good listener and she gave good advice. She had been through struggles of her own – her father (and both husbands) had been an alcoholic, she got pregnant and ran away from home at 17 and gave the baby up for adoption, and then went on to earn Bachelors and Masters degrees in Social Work. She invited me to join her at her timeshare at the beach many times and she always referred to me as her “beach buddy” (I did the drawing on this post as a birthday card for her one year). We were both on a path of spiritual searching and personal growth and we enjoyed sharing the books we were reading with each other. In the mornings, we would sit on opposite ends of the long balcony sipping coffee, reading and writing in our journals, and occasionally reading something aloud that had especially resonated with us.

It was a sad ending for such a vibrant, energetic and caring woman but, I’m choosing not to focus on that. This week I’m going to meet Carol’s sister and the surviving “girls” at the beach to spread her ashes and celebrate her life.

God bless you, Carol. I’m glad I knew you.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.  ~Anais Nin

Carol at the Beach Club 12-03

Attitude of Gratitude

A Prayer for YouRecently I read a saying that has stuck with me: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you thanked God for today?” I like that saying so much that I plan to use it in a future greeting card and add it to my online shop at Lynda Linke Productions. I think a lot about thankfulness, in fact, every morning as I’m walking my dog, Liberty, I thank God for all the blessings in my life – ever since reading that saying I make sure to include everything I wouldn’t want to wake up without tomorrow! I spent a lot of years wanting, wanting, wanting  and not fully appreciating what I already had but when I began to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” I gradually became more content.

One of the things I thank God for every morning are the people I love and who love me.  Heaven knows, I’m not always easy to love! Today I went to my friend Rena’s house – it’s my birthday next week and she wanted to make me a special lunch.  She outdid herself with not only delicious food but, also, a lovely table setting fashioned in her own unique style. She invited another friend because she thought we would like each other, which we did, and the three of us enjoyed good conversation and laughs. Rena is a cat lover (she has four!) but she invited Liberty to go with me to her house a few weeks ago and declared that she is a “nice doggie”. She behaved herself and was invited to come back with me today.  This is just one example of Rena’s generous spirit – she knows how much I like to have Liberty with me so she invites her out of friendship and kindness to me.  Thankfully, Liberty was a good girl again and only had one small mishap when she fell in the pool – apparently the cover looked like something to be walked on!

Thanksgiving is coming up next week – I love the idea of a national day of thankfulness. I just hope people remember it isn’t only about stuffing your face, drinking too much and watching football.  Days of thanksgiving have been associated with the harvest since ancient times but the origins of our holiday stem from the story of a feast of thanksgiving shared by a small group of Pilgrims and their Wampanoag neighbors in 1621. There were very few details about this feast but the story was passed down through the generations and struck a chord in our hearts – as a people we embraced the idea of thankfulness.  In 1777 the Continental Congress proclaimed the first national day of thanksgiving and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November that year as a day of thanksgiving but it didn’t become an official fixed annual holiday until 1941 when Congress proclaimed Thanksgiving to be observed on the fourth Thursday of November.  Originally, it was a somber day of prayer but, gradually it became known as a day of feasting and festivities shared with family and friends.

My own Thanksgiving celebration has gone from the big family gatherings of my childhood to my small immediate family to just me and my Mom. Since my Dad passed away we like to get away for the week and enjoy a quiet dinner together. Several years ago, when my Dad was still with us, I started the tradition of each of us saying what we were thankful for and Mom and I have continued that. However you will be spending Thanksgiving, no matter how large or small your gathering, don’t forget to take a minute to be thankful for all your blessings. That small humbling act will make you feel really good. Then go eat!

PS/Don’t forget to kiss the cook (s)  🙂

 

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 

 

Merry Christmas-Decorating the tree

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