My Last Christmas

As some of you may know, this holiday season has been a real milestone for me because this is the tenth anniversary of “My Last Christmas,” as in my final Christmas on earth.  Ten years ago, the week before Thanksgiving, on the day before my 45th birthday, I was told that I would not likely live to see another Christmas because I had terminal kidney cancer.  I spent the entire holiday season – and beyond – in doctors’ offices and hospitals, reading medical journals, finding hope, then losing hope after having tests that always seemed to bring worse and worse news.

Now, at this point, let me say, I can hear you thinking.  And what I hear is:  “Well, this is certainly uplifting.  What’s THIS got to do with the Happy LIFE?”  Well, please bear with me just a bit longer because here’s what I hope:  that thinking about what kind of Christmas you’d have if you knew it was going to be your last one, might help make this the best Christmas of your life.

Here are the top ten things I learned from my “last” Christmas:

1)   When you don’t know what else to do, go for a walk.  Or, take a bath.  Depending on how cold it is outside.  And don’t confuse the two because good walking shoes are not waterproof – and the neighbors won’t appreciate seeing you naked

2)   It’s OK to pray for healing but you’d better pray for strength and acceptance, too.  And the simplest act – from cleaning the kitchen to walking around the block – can become a prayer of gratitude for each moment that you have

3)   No matter how hard it is to wait for the right time, and no matter how far away they are, deliver bad news to the people who love you in person

4)   The people you’ve always laughed with before, may – or may not – be good at finding the humor in dying.  And the people you least expect may end up being the most comfort

5)   As hard as it is, dying is a lot harder on your family than it is on you – and they will become a whole lot closer to one another over the prospect of losing you

6)   A final family portrait is a good idea – and giving each other rabbit ears in a photo booth is the best portrait of all

7)   When it comes to spending your time, “who” is far more important than “how”

8)   Happiness really is a choice – and we can make a different choice every second of every day

9)   Christmas is about what’s in your heart, not what’s under the tree

And the biggest thing I learned from being told – ten Christmases ago – that I’d never live to see another Christmas:

10)  Don’t believe every freaking thing you hear.

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Note:  This post is adapted, just a little bit, from the remarks I was asked to give as “Holiday Sunshine” at a local Kiwanis Club (of which I am honored to be a member).  This is something I’ve been thinking about since I realized, around the time of my birthday this year, that it was the tenth anniversary of my “Last” Christmas.  Since this is also the year of “The Happy LIFE” project, it occurred to me that the Happy LIFE isn’t always sunshine and lollipops, either – so this is what came out when I sat down to write my Holiday Sunshine remarks.  And, in the interest of full disclosure and painting the fuller picture of the things I learned during that time, I’ll add this:  according to our daughter, one of the things I learned is how NOT to be such a [jackass] about putting up a Christmas tree.   I’m not fully cured of that one yet, though. 

Applied Happiness

If you were told you could do a few simple things and be happier, what would you do?

A:  Say, “Is that so?  Tell me more?” and be open to giving it a shot?

– Or –

B:  Run like a scalded cat the other way?

It’s an important question.  How you answer it may be the difference between being alive and living.  We’ve seen both answers along the path to the Happy LIFE – a self-propelled journey into creating “happy habits” – that is starting to make the rounds to employees of companies who think like we do at Life University.  Perhaps predictably, their experience has been similar to ours at at LIFE U.

An esteemed colleague (translation:  He’s a VP and way above my pay grade but I like him and he’s always been great to work with), summarized our Happy LIFE implementation like this:  “All, here’s the truth for me.  Remembering to compliment people is a challenge for me.  After sending “gratitudes” through Happy LIFE, I now express my appreciation more. The program will sound kooky to some, but it works in at least one way for everyone.”

I’d have to agree with my esteemed colleague.  But, unlike him, I’d say I’m fairly fluent in the language of affirmation (I have to be in order to balance out all the snarky things I say to get a laugh; in fact, I’d add Sharing Laughter as the sixth love language).  That means that I love to notice things that I can genuinely compliment people about.  For those who’ve read Gary Chapman’s book, “The 5 Love Languages,”* you’ll be familiar with Words of Affirmation as one of the five languages people use to express and receive love (and I’d say the same idea applies to kindness, too).

But, I digress.  What I found was this:  As a result of writing emails expressing appreciation for those who’ve made a real difference in my life, I’ve become less self-conscious about following my natural tendency to be complimentary.  Now, I don’t feel like a complete fool for complimenting even strangers if I happen to notice something I admire about them.  And, best of all, I’m finding that, even if a couple of the people I compliment make cracks or look at me like I’m deranged, most people seem pleased as punch to be complimented and thank me for it, often quite warmly.  It’s like we’ve just given each other gifts that are free and that fit perfectly – gifts we can wear in our hearts.

So, if some ol’ broad passes you on the street and says, “That color is perfect for you; everything you wear should include that color!” just believe her.  You look great.

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*Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages are:  1) Words of Affirmation, 2) Acts of Service, 3) Receiving Gives, 4) Quality Time and 5) Physical Touch.