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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30 Things I'd Rather Be Than 'Pretty'

Because "pretty" is so overrated.

Nowadays, we put so much emphasis on our looks. We focus so much on the outside that we forget to really focus on what matters. I was inspired by a list that I found online of "Things I Would Rather Be Called Instead Of Pretty," so I made my own version. Here is a list of things that I would rather be than "pretty."

1. Captivating

I want one glance at me to completely steal your breath away.

2. Magnetic

I want people to feel drawn to me. I want something to be different about me that people recognize at first glance.

3. Raw

I want to be real. Vulnerable. Completely, genuinely myself.

4. Intoxicating

..and I want you addicted.

5. Humble

I want to recognize my abilities, but not be boastful or proud.

6. Exemplary

I want to stand out.

7. Loyal

I want to pride myself on sticking out the storm.

8. Fascinating

I want you to be hanging on every word I say.

9. Empathetic

I want to be able to feel your pain, so that I can help you heal.

10. Vivacious

I want to be the life of the party.

11. Reckless

I want to be crazy. Thrilling. Unpredictable. I want to keep you guessing, keep your heart pounding, and your blood rushing.

12. Philanthropic

I want to give.

13. Philosophical

I want to ask the tough questions that get you thinking about the purpose of our beating hearts.

14. Loving

When my name is spoken, I want my tenderness to come to mind.

15. Quaintrelle

I want my passion to ooze out of me.

16. Belesprit

I want to be quick. Witty. Always on my toes.

17. Conscientious

I want to always be thinking of others.

18. Passionate

...and I want people to know what my passions are.

19. Alluring

I want to be a woman who draws people in.

20. Kind

Simply put, I want to be pleasant and kind.

21. Selcouth

Even if you've known me your whole life, I want strange, yet marvelous. Rare and wondrous.

22. Pierian

From the way I move to the way I speak, I want to be poetic.

23. Esoteric

Do not mistake this. I do not want to be misunderstood. But rather I'd like to keep my circle small and close. I don't want to be an average, everyday person.

24. Authentic

I don't want anyone to ever question whether I am being genuine or telling the truth.

25. Novaturient

..about my own life. I never want to settle for good enough. Instead I always want to seek to make a positive change.

26. Observant

I want to take all of life in.

27. Peart

I want to be honestly in good spirits at all times.

28. Romantic

Sure, I want to be a little old school in this sense.

29. Elysian

I want to give you the same feeling that you get in paradise.

30. Curious

And I never want to stop searching for answers.
Cover Image Credit: Favim

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What It Is Really Like Having Sisters Close To Your Age

While having siblings close to your age is pretty amazing, there can be a lot of issues that can come with it.


I come from a family of 5 people and 1 dog. I have 2 sisters, Grace and Caroline. We are all pretty close in age, Caroline being the youngest and 3 years younger than me.

My sisters and I share a bond like no one else, no one can replicate it. When you have siblings close to your age you have built-in best friends, and since they are around your age you have the same interest, or at least, enough so that you can do things that other siblings cannot. Examples of this would be seeing R-Rated movies and going to the mall without too much complaining, along with being able to shop in the same stores or even share clothes. Grace and I sometimes even split the cost of a shirt we both like.

We even overlap friend groups! Which is not much of a problem for us, Grace and I are both in music programs which overlap enough for us to have the same friends, which is great for when one of us has a sleepover, the other can join in on the fun. Caroline, however, even though she is seen as the sporty one of the 3 of us, she still has a lot of friends who have similar interests as Grace or I, giving us a lot of the same friends. It's nice not to be considered the "cool older sister", I am just like the rest of them.

While we do fight a lot, we make up really quickly, because most issues we have are stupid sibling fights: who gets the T.V., what to have for dinner, what movie to see. But it is always fun because there are 3 of us, which means majority rules, something we tend to go by most of the time depending on the situation.

Having 3 teenagers in the house can be a handful for our parents though, when you have three teenage girls going through puberty at relatively the same time, it can be grueling, especially when you are all on your period at the same time.. (yes, that has happened before) (and yes, it sucks). While I am on the topic, let's say a prayer and a thank you to my dad for dealing with 5 girls (including the dog, obviously) because he does a pretty damn good job at dealing with all of us.

When we were younger, we always had a play date even when one was canceled. We all made up songs and dances and would perform them for our parents. We even had a band called The Halsey Sisters (AKA the female version of The Jonas Brothers) where we had a hit song called "We Got The Heart and Soul". It was a hell of a time. Let's just say the music video for that song is, interesting to say the least.

At the end of the day, I wouldn't switch my sisters for anything in the world, they are my rocks, and I wouldn't want it any other way, Grace, Caroline, keep doing what you're doing, because you're pretty damn awesome.

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