So there I was yesterday driving to Bridgeport, Connecticut singing to the radio and looking forward to a speaking gig at The Laughter for Life Club, also referred to as the Happiness Club. What could be bad? Happy people are easy laughers and I was prepared, actually extra prepared because my expected audience (I was told) of 80 or so people were not widows.
Time spent varying my talk to fit these happy folks was well worth it. Certainly other opportunities would come my way and now I am ready.
And, the process of preparing made me consider what made me, personally happy and what made me unhappy. There were no huge surprises there, but it was interesting to re-look at my choices and wonder if I always chose happiness and if not, why not?
Having happiness on my mind, I asked Skylar, my 7 and a half-year-old granddaughter, “What do you think makes grandma happy?” Without a blink, she answered, “Seeing my face.”
Oh, God, just let me stay alive another five years to make that stick to her and then I can die HAPPY.
As I pulled up to the address in Bridgeport, I saw a large apartment building beyond the security gate. I asked the guard, “What kind of place is this?”
“Assisted living” he said.
I immediately texted my kids, Is this an intervention? Are you hiding here and going to pop up and sign me in?
I parked the car. The light rain that had felt cozy along the way was now a downpour, a sign of doom and an extremely unhappy situation for hair at the tail end of a Brazilian straightening.
I was early for the 2 PM event although in this facility I was probably late for a nap. I maneuvered myself around the wheelchairs and walkers and I hid in the Ladies Room. I passed the time looking in the mirror, shaking my head and making a mental note to make sure my long term insurance was paid up. A young woman walked in and for a moment I was excited until I realized she was someone’s aid.
Finally, I came out of hiding and looked at the spot I was to speak. It was a pleasant enough open area, sort of like a big living room with nice bookshelves and couches. Folding chairs were added on like you’d arrange if you were expecting company except all the furniture was facing a podium.
It was ten minutes to showtime and the room was empty. The Laughter for Life Club has a speaker the first Tuesday of each month and I found out later that the advertising for me had said, Tuesday the 4th and it was the 6th. Naturally all the people from the ‘outside’ were confused.
Soon one couple did show up. Grateful for an audience, I greeted them like old friends. It was their second marriage. They told me that they he had been married for 60 years and she for 50 years and together they were married for 8 years. I did the math quickly and they each had to be 140.
As the three of us sat there, at least I got to tell them the moment from my book called “Growing Old Together” about the couple in their 80′s who I envied because I assumed they were together since birth until the woman corrected me with, “Honey, we’ve only been married for 3 years.”
This lovely couple listened and smiled at me politely. Then, they looked around the room at all the empty folding chairs and couches and back at me with eyes that spoke the familiar, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
I left them for a moment to stand at the podium and asked the young woman setting up the cookies and lemonade if she would please take my picture, the one posted at the start of this blog. Hey, a photo opt is a photo opt. In truth, I didn’t give my talk at the podium. As the residents dribbled in and the room filled with twelve people, I turned one of the couches around to face them and be closer, still holding the mike. (necessary)
I began by saying how this set up is so similar to FDR’s ‘Fireside chats.’ Their long-term memory nodded knowingly and we were off to a steady start. I got a few laughs and I couldn’t help but think of the wonderful comic Mickey Freeman who died recently – He’d play all the nursing homes and say, “I killed. there wasn’t a dry seat in the house!”
Much of what I had planned to say was not going to go over well and as I briefly turned over each index card, I was tempted to toss the inappropriate ones in the air like David Letterman does.
I intended to close with number five from something I found on the internet – the deathbed regrets confessed to a hospice worker. Obviously, that was a card that would have burst into flames had I read it to them. I had chosen it originally because number five was about choosing to be happy.
I want to share it with you – just because. To read all five: www.simplehumble.com/the-top-5-regrets-people-make-on-their-deathbeds/
This was written by hospice worker Bonnie Ware.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have sillyness in their lives again. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
All in all, the hour passed surprisingly fast and luckily none of the residents did. Some stayed for cookies and we talked a bit.
But, what made the day all worthwhile was the woman who pushed her walker towards me and said, “I’m sorry I fell asleep, but what I heard I liked very much.”