To have a friend, one must be a friend.
Of course I have been sleepless more than six times, but they haven’t always become blogs! There is no logical reason why I am sleepless. This was so insistent I had to get up and write about it.
I had a wonderful day, starting with lunch in the company of two great friends, Jody and her cousin Edie, a long time friend in my favourite restaurant, THE GREEN FORK in North Wales. If you haven’t been there, it is an experience.
Then Edie and I went to visit another friend, Kim (who publishes my blogs), (Hello! – Kim) her wonderful husband Eric, and her daughter, Arielle and baby granddaughter, Eloise. Four generations there!
So I was in good spirits, very relaxed and went to bed. My cat, Churchill, was asleep on my bed – our bed apparently – snoring gently and I was very comfortable. However, it is 3:19 am and I have to get up to go to work at 8:00 am. It is one of my favourite places – LivenGrin Foundation Rehab in Bensalem and the patients are very kind to me so when I tell them I haven’t slept, they will be gracious and tolerate my questionable concentration! I have a grasshopper brain to start with! They energise me so it will be a great experience as always. Which brings me to the subject of this essay.
Laying in bed (is it lying. I am never sure, as lying is something I detest, and laying is what hens do.) I began to think of my gratitude and how enormous it is. Grateful for so many things and what came up was GREATNESS.
I started to think of the great people, places, animals, books and decided to get up and write about them. I am blessed.
The greatest man I ever knew was my cousin Lawrence Stern. He was the brother I never had. I adored him. He was a dispatch rider in the Royal Air Force and this little girl was completely attached to him. There was no one like him for me during that terrible war I grew up in. I was ten years old and one night was the worst blitz that had occurred in 1943. After the all clear siren I was able to go to bed but I was still terrified and shaking. There was no support in that household, and I became an adult at ten years old!
I finally fell asleep and was awakened by someone pulling my big toe. It was Lawrence standing at the foot of my bed. I sat up and asked him what he was doing there. He came and sat close to me and said, “I am going on a dangerous mission and wanted to say goodbye as I don’t know when I’ll see you again. Be good to your mother.”
He hugged me with a big kiss on the top of my head and off he went. The next morning I went down to breakfast, and some of my aunts were there, all of them crying. I asked what was wrong and they told me that Lawrence had been murdered that night. I told them that couldn’t be as he was with me and of course I got the expected reaction.
“Don’t be a silly girl. Always wanting to be in the centre of attention,” they said. I closed down.
He is still the greatest man I ever knew and at times when life seems to be so challenging, I feel a tug at my big toe.
The greatest woman I ever knew was called Alma Mann. She was in my life in early recovery and became my sponsor. She had such wisdom and was relentless in pursuit of ensuring I followed the programme so I would have a better life. I wasn’t Dr.Kaye at that time.
The seed was sown by her; that I would achieve whatever I decided to pursue. And I did.
Here are two wisdom statements I live with today.
- When you point a finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you.
- When you help someone, keep your mouth shut!
Whatever success I have had in life began with Alma. She was an icon in Bucks County, and I was so fortunate she agreed to work with me.
The greatest book I ever read was Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl. The mother of one of my daughter’s friends came to see me. She said, “I heard you were very homesick. Your daughter is worried about you so she asked if I would visit.” I thanked her and then she said, “I brought this book for you. I think it would help”.
I took one look at the book and said, “I’m not reading that”.
She came the following week, with the book. I shook my head and told her I would not read that book. She came for a third week and said, “I’m not leaving until you read this book”.
I don’t know how I attract these people.
So, I read the book! This little book instantly changed my life. It saved my sanity and possibly my life. It is my bible.
I carry it in my briefcase, and it is falling apart. There is so much story attached to this little book that it would take an entire blog of its own. Suffice it to say, it’s the book I go to if I am very sad or stressed. Dr. Frankl wrote it in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. He had been in Buchenwald and then transferred. His entire family had perished and yet he could still say, “People make conscious decisions on the way they feel”, in those dire circumstances.
I see the whole book as being about choice. I once spoke with him for 15 amazing minutes on the phone and they will remain with me forever.
The greatest dog I ever had was Sherlock, adopted as a puppy from the SPCA. He was Alsatian (German Shepherd), Golden Retriever, and some kind of mountain dog. He was my son Daniel’s best friend and was with him during challenging times in our family. He died about 35 years ago and we miss him to this day. I had his portrait painted and it hangs on a wall in Daniel’s house. I tried to get it to no avail as although we all adored him he was Daniel’s dog. It took him many years to get another dog.
The greatest cat I ever had was Della, a little black cat I saw on the Stray Cat Blues website some 18 years ago. I don’t know what there was about her but I fell in love with her and had to have her. She was so smart and I adopted her together with another black cat named Daisy, who was entirely different in temperament and personality. Della was 17 years old when she died, four months after Daisy.
A close second was a cat called Nelson. A senior cat he was part tuxedo and part Persian, and he was gorgeous. He was age 13 when I got him at the same time as Churchill. They had lived in the same house and suffered the same abuse, so I adopted them.
Nelson was my comic relief, and his stories would take up another blog. He was so laid back and a real pleasure. After about four months, he began to change, becoming messy and wobbly, and his breathing was turning difficult. I took him to see Dr Holland at Chalfont, where she examined him and said he was very ill. She told me if he was her cat she would put him to peace (my terminology). I couldn’t believe it. I had him for five months. He must have become ill when they threw him out of the house. I‘ve tried to find out where he lived but of course, they wouldn’t tell me as they knew it wouldn’t be pretty. I will always miss him and see him as one of the most amazing cats I ever knew.
The greatest mistake I ever made.
Oh my! What a list to choose from. So many. Again, that would take another blog. Thinking about it, the greatest mistake is one I will not write about. Three people know it. Joe Weldon, the therapist’s therapist, my second longest American friend, Michele Rix and my older son Colin. The reason I won’t share it is that it would hurt too many people. Not that I did anything to harm them – it’s just the truth is too painful.
The best thing I learned from this was forgiveness. It was a long, challenging lesson.
Forgiveness brings peace. I am reminded of a man I admired so much -Nelson Mandela. He once said, “As I walked toward the gate of freedom, I knew if I kept bitterness and hatred in my heart, I would be in prison for the rest of my life”. What a man.
From another book I read every day, called Each Day a New Beginning. She wrote, “If you hold resentment to a person, you are bound to that person with bands of steel”. Wisdom indeed.
The greatest male friend I have is Dr. Dan Newman of Cincinnati Ohio.
I met him at the best conference on Addictions ever. It was held every year in Indianapolis and we both presented there. I would trust him with my life and even though we are at a distance, we talk and I can tell him anything.
We have similar professional backgrounds, and he is one of the funniest men I know. He can take something complicated (which is usually me) and simplify it in a heartbeat. He wrote an excellent book called Grief Behind Bars when he worked with prisoners on death row. Brilliant. When I met him one year I was struggling with my narcissistic husband (divorced later which another story). I talked with him, very distressed knowing I was the only person who could remedy the situation, and he said, “I’ll be back in a minute”. Off he went and shortly returned with a little white fluffy toy dog he bought at the hotel gift shop. That did it. I still have it and see it every day. Talk about keep it simple. Even at that distance, he is always there for me. Am I blessed or what?
My current greatest joy is being with my family and my children. I was pretty much a single parent from the beginning and did the best I could. When they were young, I would take them out one at a time and I still like to do that. We were together too, but that one on one was important to us and we would share thoughts and anything that was strictly private with one another.
All my family has a very dark humour and it exists to this day. It’s hilarious – when they get together I prefer to sit at another table as they can be pretty gross!
We have always been very open with one another so there are no secrets, even about life and death. Each one of them has lost a very special friend to death – very young and very tragic. We can talk about the “unacceptable” and have intimate relationships. The word intimate is taken from the Greek which means to be without fear. Anything goes.
I don’t see them often as they have their families and are extremely busy. We talk often and if I want to speak with them, I pick up the phone. I have dealt with parents over the years, who have been indignant that their children haven’t called them.
I asked them, “Have you forgotten how to dial?”
I am blessed and feel grateful for who I have in my life. My friends are gold dust, much cherished and there is nothing unusual about me. To have a friend, one must be a friend.
Be well and prosper.