10 Lessons I've Learned About Life From My Disabled Aunt

10 Lessons I've Learned About Life From My Disabled Aunt

Some everyday life lessons from the happiest person you'd ever meet.

My aunt Wendy is 44 years old and has had disabilities since she was born. She is deaf, cognitively delayed, and also struggles with OCD, anxiety, and mood swings. For several years she has lived with my family, though I'm in college and see her less often now. She is the greatest person that I know.

She has no idea the wisdom and teaching that her presence in my life and the lives of others has created, yet every day she continues to teach me how I should be living my life. It recently occurred to me that these things that Wendy has taught me may also inspire others to make their lives more joyful and full of love.

1. Ask questions

Wendy asks questions persistently and constantly. This is a part of her OCD but also a part of who she is. She wants to know what's happening; she wants to be clear that her requests are being handled. She isn't afraid to be seen as pushy -- she asks for things to happen and makes sure they do.

Some of us are afraid to ask for what we want or to question the things that are told to us. Avoid these thoughts; ask for help or clarification or for whatever it is that you need and allow others the same courtesy -- everyone deserves to have their question answered.

2. Believe in small miracles

For Wendy, so many things are treated like small miracles. A gift of a few coins or a visit from someone she hasn't seen in awhile can leave her giddy and joyful for hours. She can often be seen jumping up and down with glee. The cause? Maybe a new shirt, one of her favorite meals for dinner, or a message on her iPad. These simple miracles are things that would never make most people quite so excited or happy, but why not? Everyone would be so much happier if they did.

Find some small and everyday things that make you feel so happy that you can't help but smile. Let yourself experience these things each day.

3. Love unconditionally

Last year I got my first tattoo. I took the writing directly from one of Wendy's letters to me at school. I wanted a constant reminder to love as she does: unconditionally. Once Wendy has met someone and feels connected to them, they have her love forever. She is intensely loyal to the people she cares about, even if their presence in her life is less than it once was or should be.

Allow yourself to love this way. Fill your life with only the people you truly care about and want to spend time with. Never be fake with something as important as love.

4. Laugh often

A few days ago, she and I were working on a project and something funny happened. We both started laughing. She'd been cracking up for more than a minute when she asked me, "What's funny?" while still laughing hysterically. This, of course, made us laugh all the more.

So laugh, even when you're not confident that anything is funny. Never allow outside stressors keep you from laughing at something funny. This is what Wendy would wish for people. If everyone laughed as much as she does, she'd be absolutely ecstatic.

5. Allow yourself to be upset, but forgive easily

Like anyone, Wendy is frustrated by plenty of things. She gets mad at us often when we won't let her redo something we've already done or when she's being particularly slow. She gets angry, yells, stomps, avoids eye contact, and ignores our signed responses to her, but when the argument is over and she's cooled down, things go back to normal quickly. I doubt Wendy has ever held a grudge in her life. It's simply not even an option in her mind.

Try to be this way. Get mad if you should, yell if you need to. But in the end, offer forgiveness and apologize for mistakes you know you've made.

6. Take some things very seriously

There are plenty of things that Wendy is very serious about. And while Mickey Mouse, movies, and dogs are at the top of her list, these are just as worthwhile as anything else. If you pretend to steal her nose, she is incredibly serious about getting it back. If she is given any task, large or small, she considers this a matter of utmost importance, not to be delayed. She never fails to pay attention to the feelings of others.

Be passionate and serious about things that are important to you, and allow failures or struggles with less important things bother you less. Take the feelings of others and the consequences of your actions very seriously. Live with intention.

7. Hold on to some childlike wonder

Wendy, at 44 years old, is a firm and passionate believer in Santa Claus. This will never change. One glimpse of Santa leaves her in a state of manic delight. Though Wendy is cognitively delayed and behaves more like a 6- or 8- or 10-year-old (depending on the day), she is unlike a child in plenty of ways. She realizes more about life and how things work than a young child would. But in many ways, her hobbies, beliefs, and favorite things all fill her with childlike wonder.

Find something in your life that makes you feel as young and innocent as possible, and hold on to it. Let yourself act immature if it will make you smile more.

8. Be Patient

Patience is spending five nonstop hours working alone on a tedious puzzle just to say you've done it. Patience is waiting for as long as necessary next to the door while the dogs run around outside, just to be there when they're ready to come back. Patience is helping your elderly, disabled friend roll the ball every few minutes during Special Olympics bocce. Patience is letting your nieces spend hour upon hour turning you into a "human pizza." This photo and these stories will eternally inspire me to be a more patient person.

When simple things are frustrating, be patient and calm. Relax when you can and never let impatience color your words or actions.

9. Work hard

Wendy has a job at VIP Services, which employs disabled adults to do tasks for other companies while learning skills and interacting with their peers. It is an incredible place that offers so much support to families like ours. Wendy has worked at VIP since 1997. Despite the repetition of the work she does, Wendy loves going every day. She loves feeling like she has a job of great importance and earning her little paychecks so she can go shopping.

When you do work, no matter what it is, put effort and determination into it. Don't let low pay or lack of inspiration keep you from doing great, worthwhile work and creating positivity in your life.

10. Be passionate about something

Wendy's primary passions in life are Mickey Mouse and her family and friends, though perhaps not in that order. These things are often what drive her the most. She cherishes time spent with her neighborhood or work friends, her relatives, and her frequent discussions with her giant stuffed Mickey Mouse. It isn't hard for most people to be passionate about something or many things. However, it is much less likely for any other adult to show their passion like Wendy does.

Be passionate about some things and be open with the joy these small pleasures bring you. Never hide joy; instead, spread it to others. Make the world happier, like my aunt does with every moment of her life.

Cover Image Credit: Kelly Klein

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8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.

Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.

7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

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To The Best Friend Every Girl Should Be Blessed Enough To Have

You definitely deserve all the love.


I have not written this letter, but it has been on my list of "to write" for forever. She keeps asking when I will write one about her and every time I tell her, soon.

Well here it is. The truth on why it took so long? No words seem to do everything justice. No matter how I put them or how I want them to sound, the page always makes them look weird and they always sound lame.

But finally, here it is. Best friend, this one is for you.

First and foremost I will start with a holy cow. We have been best friends for only a short time because who knew your "in school friend" from all those math classes would actually turn into this? We put off hanging out outside of school for years, and finally, after suffering through all that algebra we decided enough was enough.

I wish we had sooner.

I wish I had gotten more time with you before we both moved away to college - but ill take whatever time I get with you because well… you're incredible.

Thank you.

Thank you for finally agreeing to hang out with me.

Thank you for listening to every rant ever - whether it was a paragraph long text, a 2 hour FaceTime call or an hour-long car ride.

Thank you for ordering planners with me and spending nights decorating them with me (we are such losers).

Thank you for letting me become a part of your family.

Thank you for going to Friendly's, IHOP and Target at the most ungodly hours.

Thank you for encouraging me in everything I do, and stopping me from making bad decisions.

Thank you for telling me the truth, despite if it hurt me or not, I know now you will never lie about your feelings towards someone (LOL).

Basically, thank you for everything you have done for me. You have made me a better person and you encourage me to be my best self every single day.

Moving on I want to make it clear how incredibly proud of you I am. I love getting texts from you about your love for your classes, and how you want to be president of this club and president of that. How you help out kids, and how you host events. I love hearing about your major and the classes you are so incredibly excited to take. Watching you be so passionate about what you are doing and becoming makes me want to feel the same way in everything I do.

I hope someday my kids are your students because, in your hands, I know they can change the world.

Last but not least, I love you. And you're stuck with me.


Your forever number one fan

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