At some point, Rosalie decided her life was without purpose. She was 52 and married (28 years). The last of her three children had just graduated from college, and moved away to pursue Their careers. Her marriage was stable, although Rosalie had begun developing “mood” problems 10 years earlier. Her physician prescribed various anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications with minimal success. She developed medical problems that were not life threatening, but that added to her general stress. She decided to try counseling.
Rosalie told her counselor that her purpose for living was over because her children were independent and did not need her any longer. The counselor pointed out that their independence was a testament to her excellent childrearing, but Rosalie could not find life goals consistent with her values, which were defined solely by her effectiveness as a mother. Her kids were gone; how could she continue to see herself as an effective mother?
Within a year after her last child’s graduation, she terminated counseling, and a couple of weeks later she committed suicide at home. Hundreds of people attended her funeral stunned with questions and disbelief. Rosalie, who had come to believe that her life had been stripped of friends and loved ones, probably would have been surprised to see how loved and appreciated she really was.
Who knows, if Rosalie had known how truly valued she was by so many friends and neighbors, would she have been less likely to give up on life when the chips were down? There’s no way of knowing, of course, but the question begs another important question that perhaps we all should ask ourselves: “Do I spend enough time letting people know how important they are to me, and how much I appreciate their presence in my life?”
I remember when an older colleague retired, and the occasion was highlighted in an issue of the alumni magazine. For weeks after the magazine article, he was literally inundated with letters, cards, emails, and phone calls from dozens of former students thanking him for the positive influence he had on their lives. He said to me, “My God, wish I had known back when I was teaching. There were a lot of days when I wondered if I was getting through to them…wondering if all my effort was worth it. Now I know it was. How about that!”
Here’s the coping lesson: When someone tells you that you’re a positive part of their life, that makes you feel good, right? Comments like that are good for the coping soul. But here’s the thing – when you tell someone that they’re an important and positive part of your life, not only do you make them feel good, but you make yourself feel good, too. Coping is a two-way street. When you help others, you help yourself.
At the end of each day ask yourself if you established a positive legacy that day, meaning did you do something that made a person feel better about themselves and life? “I told my sister Lucy how she’s such a positive part of my life. She was having a bad day and it seemed like her face really lit up.” “After work I gave John a ride to pick up his car. He didn’t have to wait for his wife to pick him up; saved him an hour. No big deal, but he was really appreciative.” “After dinner, I gave my neighbor Fred a hand fixing his garage door. He said having an extra pair of hands really made things a little easier for him.” The folks speaking those words gave Lucy, John, and Fred something to smile about, plus the speakers also ended their day with a smile. That’s a good day, and if that’s not effective coping, I don’t know what is.
How about you? At the end of a day, can you identify a positive legacy that you left someone? Can you end that day with a smile?