by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
Every now and then life teaches a lesson that cannot be ignored. It is always a lesson we need to learn, but not usually a lesson we are ready to receive. Tonight was my tutorial in listening to the cues. Call it intuition, insight or a spiritual prompting; we all need to pay attention to that part within ourselves that speaks softly yet consistently. My stubborn nature often keeps my ears closed to this inner voice.
My monthly writing task was almost complete, but I could not seem to put in the finishing touches. Frustration was starting to build because the piece just wasn't right: due right now, but not complete. I decided to take a break for a moment to focus my attention to the task at hand. While channel surfing, an Oprah repeat caused me to stop and listen to her guest – an amazing man named Randy Pausch.
Many people have heard Dr. Pausch's story and it was not entirely new to me, but I felt drawn to listen to his remarks. Randy is living (or in his words, dying) with pancreatic cancer. His final gift to his family is a presentation titled "The Last Lecture" in which he lays out the framework for living life. Hyperion is publishing the lecture as a book and I have already ordered mine. Not for myself, because reading is not my favorite pasttime, but one copy for each of my children.
After ordering the book, I started thinking about the people who really make a difference in our lives. As a society we often give awards and recognitions to those who impact the masses. I am not suggesting this method of honoring others is wrong, but I do think the most important individuals are overlooked: those who are impacting human experiences one person at a time.
My own existence has been blessed by many friends, relatives, and even heroes who have shaped my life. Some have made my life fun, others have given my life meaning, and still others have given me reason to yell, laugh, and occasionally (almost) cry. While each of us takes a moment to reflect on such individuals in our past, I want to take this opportunity to share a story of two such people from my own life.
I can honestly say there is not one single person who has influenced my life most. As years go by and my situations change, the people who shape my world change. In the early years, my parents were my heroes and later teachers, coaches, and friends took on the role of mentor. During high school, the parents of a friend made a huge impact on who I am today. But right now the two people who enter my thoughts most often are my grandmother and Aunt Louona.
Grandma Laughter was always the grandmother who let me know when I was "screwing up." She was also the one who told me often of my potential and the responsibility to not throw that gift away. There is no doubt she was sometimes disappointed in my actions, but my goal was always to make her proud. Grandma Laughter is also the one who showed me it doesn't take "mush" to show love and acceptance and that zucchini cookies are adequate reward for most achievements. Applause and pieces of paper never tasted so good.
My grandmother passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) on Halloween 1990 at the age of 75. Even in her dying, she taught the entire family about responsibility and letting go of the small stuff. Possessions were not a priority with my grandmother and she would often say it was better to spend money helping someone else than accumulating clutter. Other than a cedar chest and a tarnished necklace, she didn't leave me any tangible memories of herself. Instead, I rely on photos and stories to keep Grandma Laughter alive in my own children's memories. I wouldn't have it any other way.
My grandmother lived with my family during much of my childhood. As an Air Force family, we were stationed in Germany close to her family roots. We spent much of those four years traveling to meet relatives who didn't know we existed and learning about family members we had only read about in genealogy books. Much to my chagrin at the time, she also shared my bedroom. Only now do I realize how precious those nights spent listening to her stories and advice would become to me. While I seldom took the advice, the stories are safely stored for future generations.
My Aunt Louona is the daughter of my Grandma Laughter – she is also living with ALS. Grandma's time from diagnosis to passing was only seven months and her passing was relatively peaceful compared to most with this disease. Aunt Louona has lived for more than two years with her diagnosis and the journey has not been smooth.
The lessons I am learning from Louona are very different from those taught by my grandmother. I was very close to my aunt during my younger years, then suddenly stopped seeing her or even communicating with her for no apparent reason. Our lives merely went in different directions. She moved to Nevada and later I moved to California. Fifteen years passed before we met up again at a family reunion last July.
Though her condition had robbed her of most vocal abilities at that point, Aunt Louona still managed a local gas station/convenience store and she took me with her to check on a fuel delivery. She ran a tight ship and wanted to be positive no errors were made in dispensing or billing. As she tried to introduce me to the employees, memories of a conversation many years earlier filled my thoughts.
Louona held many management positions over the years, often in the service industry running restaurants and convenience stores. One summer while visiting her in Wyoming, we ate lunch at a truck stop she managed. I asked her why all the employees respected her so much and her reply was simply, "I take chances on people nobody else will hire because skills lead to a purpose in life." It didn't make sense at the time because I wasn't ready to learn.
Though I had not spoken to her in years, my aunt gave me a chance to rebuild the bonds of an earlier relationship. She listened and allowed me to work on my own skills of communication, apology, and humility. I learned that she had kept up on my life and knew of my achievements and trials. And again I learned that mush is not essential in expressing love.
I am well aware this has nothing to do with our clinical careers or our roles as health educators. I am even more conscious of the fact most readers don't know me or my family and won't find my stories that interesting. My hope is that each of you will take a moment and remember what makes your life worth living. Honor those who helped mold the person you are today and look for opportunities to shape lives of tomorrow. By becoming better humans, we ultimately become better clinicians.
About the Author
Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, divides her full-time clinical practice between general and periodontics practices in Napa and Sonoma California. She is co-owner of Dental IQ, a continuing education provider responsible for bringing quality courses and speakers to the entire dental team. In her spare time, Lory enjoys writing, speaking, volunteering, and providing shelter to homeless pets. You may contact her at [email protected] or through www.dentaliq.net.