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.
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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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Dear Mom, I Hope You Know

I hope you know that I am here for you--until the very end.
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Dear Mom,

I hope you know that I appreciate you.

You are the hardest working woman I know, continuously putting your family before yourself. Thank you for doing all of the tedious jobs that no one wants to do like keeping the house in order, cooking the food, and doing the laundry. Thank you for constantly putting up with my siblings and I. Thank you for always supporting us in our interests and hobbies. Thank you for investing in our daily lives and listening to our minor problems. Thank you for always loving us unconditionally.

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I hope you know I'm sorry.

I know I can be a big pain in the butt sometimes, and for that I'm sorry. I'm sorry for yelling at you, arguing with you, not listening to you, and making dumb decisions at times, but thank you for loving me anyways. Thank you for helping me stand back up, teaching me right from wrong, and pushing me to be the very best version of me.

I hope you know your love inspires me.

You live your life with a love that is contagious. Whether its nurturing love, tough love, friendly love, or romantic love, you have it all and you show it daily. The love you and Dad share is something I hope to find one day and the love you have for your family is evident in the way you constantly put us first.

I hope you know that you are my biggest role model and hero.

Ever since I was a little girl, you have been the person I have looked to in my life. You are strong, independent, confident, loving, supportive, and nurturing-- everything I strive to be as a woman and as a future mother. You give the best advice, even when I don't always take it. Though, I should know better by now because mothers always know best. Without you in my life, I honestly don't know where I'd be.

I hope you know that you are my best friend.

Not only are you my biggest cheerleader supporting me in everything I do, you are the person I talk to about everything, whether it's good or bad. I'm honestly so thankful for the relationship we share because I've had countless screwups and you literally give the best advice. Seriously, thank you for being the person I can count on at all times, at any time of the day or even night to just talk with. I mean we really do have some of the best conversations, best laughs, best cries (when needed), and the most fun watching cheesy chick flicks together or going on crazy shopping adventures.

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I hope you know that I am here for you--until the very end.

I don't mean to make you cry or anything -- even though you probably already are, but I want you to know that when the time comes, I'm going to be there for you just like all of these years you've been here for me. I will be there to support you, talk with you, laugh with you, cry with you, and love you for all of my life.

Honestly, I can't really imagine my life without you -- but it doesn't matter because I wouldn't be here without you, so here's to you.

Thank you for being you.

Love you lots!

Your daughter.

Cover Image Credit: Flickr

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Poetry On Odyssey: Poems On Friendship

It can kill you or revive you, but whatever the case, it will change your life.

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A Poem Beginning with the Death of Caesar

Et tu, Brute?—Then fall Caesar.

[He dies.]


The stab wasn't what killed him,

no,

Caesar truly died of a broken heart.

Yes,

upon seeing his best friend involved in the conspiracy,

Caesar could no longer find the strength to live in this world.


I can't say I blame him.

A bond with a best friend,

a true best friend,

is deeper than family,

deeper than marriage.

They are your soulmate.


But that kind of relationship is a mutual thing.

It may be unspoken,

sure,

but it is mutual.


The pain of finding out a best friendship isn't mutual is unbearable.

The rejection is one thing,

but there's almost always an accompanying betrayal.


That's the real knife,

the real stab.

It twists in your heart and,

instead of blood,

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And you stare at the one you loved so much,

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But you aren't Caesar,

they aren't Brutus,

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the knife isn't.

So you live,

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Still Fourteen - Beginning with a Line by Shakespeare

To me fair friend you never can be old

because you will always be fourteen,

awkward but happy-go-lucky,

with jacked-up teeth and mousy brown hair.


You knew no pain then,

not really,

and you were refreshing to my already tortured mind.

You made my dark times easier,

holding a flashlight out for me to find you,

even though you never knew what you were really doing.


Things are a little different now.

You have experienced pain and heartbreak,

despite my very best efforts to help you otherwise,

but I was there with a flashlight for you,

returning the favor.

You now know the full extent of all you did for me,

which makes it harder for me to hide my pain from you,

but I know that's for the best.


Still,

time has flown by the last eight years,

and every time I see you,

I still see the awkward fourteen-year-old in my algebra class,

asking if I want to work with her.

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