More than a few years ago, my mother-in-law was coming up to her 80th birthday and had planned a big family get together to celebrate. She was excited and was looking forward to having all her family together. In the process of inviting everyone and relaying all the logistical information, she let it be known, “by the way, I want a sapphire and diamond tennis bracelet as my gift.”!

This was not out of character for my mother-in-law. She knew what she wanted and was never timid about saying what she wanted. And usually we loved her for it.

Her daughter was designated as the one to purchase it and efforts made to collect contributions. No one commented or questioned her request. That is, no one commented but I remember thinking, “why, at her age, would she want to spend money on a piece of jewelry?”

I guess I thought that at a certain age, desires and wants, and even needs, are lessened (I had not yet experienced old age!).  I was surprised that “just being together” wasn’t enough.

Well, it turned out the reason she gave as she opened her gift with a squeal of great delight was “I have always wanted this!”

Seeing the joy this bracelet gave her and later the fun memory it represents as her daughter now wears it was worth every penny spent!

Knowing what we want or need isn’t always easy to discern. It requires regular self examination and open hearted honesty and self-awareness, even in old age.

I’ve caught myself a few times lately entertaining the notion that because the end of life is coming closer into view I don’t need to do or have certain things…sort of a what’s-the use kind of attitude. It feels easier sometimes to adapt to the decisions others make for me, or not make decisions and just let life happen, than to figure out what I really want or need to have happen and then take action to make it happen.

Of course, there’s the other extreme of this that pushes me to think, “I might not have much time left, so I must have this or that or do this or that NOW” which also eliminates the hard work of good self-awareness that asks, “what do I really want or need?”. How do I want to live out these last precious years and make decisions from my own reasons and values?

Often what others think I need or should have is easier to accept and is what influences my own feelings to the point of clouding over my real ones. I end up going without what I really need or desire, thus opening myself to resentment, or self-pity, or isolation, or other negative emotions that eventually rob me of vibrancy and joy.

Unlike Grandma Georgia on her birthday, my needs and desires tend to be more emotional than material. However, emotional needs and desires are harder to name and talk about for many of us than the more material ones.

For instance, I carry my cell phone around in my pocket hoping one of my “kids” will call, for no reason except to chat or check-in on me. It rarely happens. I try to keep something baked on hand just in case a neighbor or friend calls and wants to stop by for coffee. It rarely happens. I shower and fix my hair everyday hoping I will get an invitation to go to lunch…BUT, who knows this? not my “kids”, not my friends, not my neighbors. I haven’t told them what I need from them. I haven’t asked them to come by.  I haven’t called them to chat. Consequently, sometimes my thoughts wander to that dark place where “no one cares, no one knows, no one will miss me when I’m gone.”

The reality is no one can read my mind! I need to tell people what I need and want.

I most probably won’t ask for a diamond bracelet for my next birthday, but my dear mother-in-law will continue to haunt me from time to time as I continue to learn to ask for what I need and want, whatever it is.

Something I found a while back that helps to keep me focused on my responsibility to myself:*

  • Missing Someone….Call
  • Want to meet...Invite
  • Want to be understood…Explain
  • Have questions…Ask
  • Don’t like something…Name it
  • Like something…Say it
  • Want something…Ask for it
  • Love Someone…Tell them

Rest In Peace, Grandma Georgia!

*author unknown