Are They A Real Friend?

When I am In a conversation, face to face, with friends and family I might mention something that happened to one of my Facebook friends, but I don’t say they are a Facebook friend. I can’t tell  you how many times the people I am sharing a conversation with ask me, “Is this a real friend or a Facebook friend?” It as if one of the many people I connected with on Facebook are not real people and don’t have real feelings or real experiences. Can a friend only be a friend if you have met them face to face?

I think of my pen pals who I kept in touch with during my teen years. No one, including my parents, asked me if they were real friends.

When I consider a conventional friendship it means we converse regularly, or when it has been miles and years that have kept us apart and we get  back together nothing has changed. I care about this person. I hurt when they hurt and I rejoice when they have good news. We might exchange gifts or cards over the years. My definition of a friend is someone who I share the good times and the bad times with.

I do that with my Facebook friends. I have those that after we connected on Facebook, we met in real life and continue our friendship in person and online, such as my friends Timya and Barbara. Shopping is always fun with these two ladies. Or Mary, another author whom I meet for coffee when our lives permit us traveling a distance to meet.

Then there is Heather and Andrea who live in Canada. We Skype every so often and keep in touch every night by sending each other our gratitude list. It keeps us grateful.  My friend Sue Ann is a wonder woman on her farm in Ohio. I loved the smell of the lavender she sent me as a gift and also her tales of her life on her little piece of heaven. She should be a writer. Or my friend CeeCee who has been there  when I even mention I might be down. She gets in touch with me privately, helping me get through rough spots and I hope I do that for her. And of course there is sweet Lisa who I met when she reviewed my books, and has a heart so big that she hurts too every time one of her friends is hurting. I could go on and on about those who I consider friends whom I met online and I have only mentioned a few.

Today my heart is grieving for my friend Joanne Kocourek. She died last night and went into the loving arms of our Savior. Her pain is over. I don’t remember when exactly I met Joanne. I suspect it was because I am an author and she read one of my books. But once I met her I found she was one of the most courageous women I have known. She suffered from mitochondrial disease. Her life was not an easy one yet she always had encouragement for those she met. Through her journey of hospitals and pain and setbacks she kept her joyful spirit. She used her disease to help others who were diagnosed navigate the system. The more I learned about her life the more I knew she was special. She adopted two girls with the same disease and raised them to have the same beautiful spirit and attitude. She called herself the chronic conditions survivor and others called her a warrior and she was.  Her faith in the Lord was strong and I suspect she would tell us she couldn’t have done it without Him. I learned from Joanne about compassion and standing up for right and wrong when the system knocks you down. I am going to miss her guiding and encouraging spirit as are so many others. Yes, she was a real friend.

So don’t ask me again if I am talking about a “real friend” when they are from Facebook.  We may never meet in person but these special people have hopes, dreams, are caring and compassionate and because of their friendship,my life is richer and better. I learn about different cultures and I have become more tolerant and accepting of that which is different because they have let me into their lives and their feelings. I am blessed for these experiences.

RIP Joanne. I am sure you are now able to dance and sing with the angels.

Over the River and Through the Woods

It is that time of year again. Christmas decorations sparkle in the windows of businesses and homes and stores are ready for those Black Friday deals, but first…first…we need to celebrate Thanksgiving.

We give thanks for all the blessings we have in our lives. I wish I could go over the river and through the woods to my grandmother’s house again. In fact, I wish my mom and dad could share Thanksgiving with me. Their spirits will still be with us as we give thanks on Thanksgiving day.

Usually my family gathers at my home for Thanksgiving, but this year plans have changed, and we will celebrate on the Friday after Thanksgiving. No shopping for me on Black Friday. It will be all about family. To me it doesn’t matter what day we get together but that we get together. Not everyone has someone to share Thanksgiving or the days afterward.

I am thankful for this past year, the good and the bad. Without explaining, I know our lives are going to change this next year and our celebrations in the years to come will be different. It is the passage of life and passage of time.

Families change. Divorces, illnesses, death and time and distance change the family dynamics and our celebrations. We need to cherish what we have in the moments we have them.

I do not know where my husband and I will be Thanksgiving Day. I may fix a duck for the two of us as the turkey will be served the next day. We may find a restaurant in the neighboring town since my community will not have their usual Thanksgiving meal for the community. Or we may pop in and visit a neighboring community dinner. Whatever we do we will be thankful for all God has blessed us with in family, friends, a place to live and food on our table. I may opt for hot dogs instead of duck.

Churches, communities and shelters at their Thanksgiving meals are a great place to meet new family. Even those venues have changed as more and more takeout meals are ordered, not for the housebound but for those who don’t want to mingle or cook. If you have a community meal this year in your town and you are alone or aren’t cooking, don’t order takeout unless you physically can’t attend. Take a chance, get out there and mingle. Have a conversation, share some laughter and enjoy excellent food.

Volunteers give their day to cook the meal but they also enjoy meeting and talking to those who attend. You can also be one of those volunteers. I must say I used to volunteer and then life got in the way. I have never attended these meals in our community because I always had family. This was going to be our year to either volunteer or attend, but I waited too long. The community meal in my community is not happening. I took it for granted as we do for many events that are always just there, we count on them but don’t pay attention to what we can do because they always do get done. Many hands make a happy heart and we can be a part of that and we only realize what we are missing until it isn’t there.

Tradition has dictated in the past that holidays are for families and they are. What that family looks like is up to us. Yes, many of us have our immediate families of mom, dad, kids, and grandparents, but family can also mean good friends, neighbors, or a church family. We live in a time when media tells us that holidays are meant for celebration, family, shopping etc., etc. and it makes many feel lonely. I know in spite of having family, when we have been alone on the holidays, I have felt it. I had those feelings because of past memories of the time when my parents were alive; we had uncles, aunts and cousins and I missed them. I felt that way when my kids couldn’t come home, and yes, occasionally I cried, but no more. I realize the holiday will be what we make it, not what the media makes us feel.

Whatever your plans are for the Thanksgiving holiday, I hope you will feel the blessings of your life in both the good times and bad. I hope if you are alone you reach out or enjoy the peace of the day. The day is about being thankful, but remember we should be doing that 365 days of the year. Happy Thankfulness Day.

Caring For Mom

A lovely lady died last week. Her name was Kitty and she was a mom, grandmother, and great grandmother.

I met Kitty through her daughter many, many years ago. It is this daughter and her family that triggered this subject on my blog today. It was the devotion of this family that garners my respect. They kept their mother in her home through difficult circumstances until her death last week.

Kitty always had a smile and a kind word for everyone. Her devotion to her family was undeniable. She leaves a legacy of two daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom were by her side at her last hours even though some had to travel a distance to be there.

When Kitty’s health began to fail her oldest daughter left her life to move in with her mother to take care of her. She was there 24/7, only taking a few days here and there to go back to her home. There is another silent hero in this and that is my friend’s partner of 30 some years who supported her actions. This wasn’t just for a few short weeks but for a few years. The entire family rallied around Kitty to keep her happy, comfortable and in her home even as some confusion set in. It was not an easy task but their love for their mother fueled the decision.

Today I would like to honor this family with my words of respect and awe in the way they handled this difficult time in their lives. They honored a woman who gave them life, and they gave her life with their time until God chose to take her home.

Having lived in a household where my mother took care of her ailing mother I know the sacrifices that are made. The same thing happened in my husband’s family when they took care of his elderly grandparents with dementia. There are nights of no sleep, patience stretched slim and household chores, plus heavy lifting when loved ones can no longer carry their own weight when moving even a few steps.

The hard but easy choice for this family might have been a nursing home. Many of us make that decision and it might be the right choice for our loved ones or for ourselves. Each of us knows our limits and what we can or cannot do. We shouldn’t let anyone tell us the choice we make is wrong. We know ourselves and our family the best. Kitty’s family felt home was what they wanted for her.

Today our culture has the benefits of utilizing places that care for our elderly. Our parents and grandparents are cared for with staff who know how to navigate the road of old age. My mother and mother-in-law lived in these care facilities. I did not have the stamina to bring them into my home full time. That is why I  admire families that make a commitment to those they love.

Before nursing homes and assisted living the young took care of the old. They took parents into their homes and blended them into their life. Growing up I didn’t give it a thought that we lived with my grandmother, or that my uncles lived with my other grandmother. I just thought it was the way it was. I had other relatives whose grandparents lived with them too.

We all have different journeys. We all make different choices that are right for us and those we love. It is your journey and you will know what is best for you.

There are many studies that prove the elderly love longer with strong family connections. In other cultures, it is not unusual for grandma and grandpa to live with their families. According to the Blue Zones by Dan Buettner, grandparents who look after their grandchildren have a lower risk of death. Mixing the young and old is healthy and this appeared to be true in Kitty’s case with her last smiles an indication that she felt loved with her family by her side.

Kitty you will be missed.