Today: In her last stage of life, a woman learned an invaluable lesson that could benefit us all.
Dear Reader, this story is based in part upon a real life story.
Helen was tough as nails and perhaps she had to be. Her father and mother struggled to put food on the table for their three children and to keep a roof over their heads.
Growing up in a Chicago tenement, Helen froze in the winter when the icy winds whistled through the paper thin walls of their apartment. In the summer it was swelteringly hot and humid. At times she could barely hear herself think as the noise echoed from neighboring apartments.
From the time she was tiny and wearing second hand tattered clothes, Helen was determined to become rich and never to live in poverty again.
While in high school, Helen took a secretarial class and started doing clerical work to help support her family. But when she graduated, most career opportunities were reserved for men.
This was during the Great Depression of the 1930’s but Helen didn’t let it stop her. She started a firm which provided clerical services and worked long intense hours to make it a success.
For every man who rejected her firm and told her “a woman’s place is in the home,” she knocked on 10 more doors and after enduring many a painful rejection; she built a large base of customers and a very profitable company.
Helen was rich just as she had dreamed of as a child but she wasn’t happy. Business consumed her and she never married, never had a family of her own.
Because she was contemptuous of her parents and her brother and sister for not making more of themselves, her relationship with them was strained.
Helen was not close to her employees either for she was impatient and dictatorial and spent little time learning their names or anything about them. Nor did she have any friends.
As the years passed, Helen grew into old age and very profitably sold her firm. She was wealthy and could have all the things money could buy.
But from the stark memories of her childhood poverty, and from the fears she had of her business failing in its early days, she was miserly and pinched pennies.
Then one day in a doctor’s office Helen received crushing news. Her body was cancer ridden and she had only a few months to live. Soon she would be hospitalized and bedridden.
From the time Helen arrived in the hospital, she was angry and demanding, telling the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, what she wanted and that she wanted it now.
She was quick-tempered, abusive, and foul-mouthed and did not learn names nor express her gratitude for anything others did for her.
The word spread and no-one in the hospital wanted anything to do with her, performing only the minimal tasks required to care for her. Helen was isolated and bitter.
Meanwhile, nobody came to visit her. Her brother and sister could easily have come as could her former employees. But her only visitors were the paid hospital staff.
Then one day, despite the warnings of others, a young chaplain began to regularly sit with Helen.
At first she would spew her anger at him but he would smile and patiently listen to her complaints about everyone. And he would intervene with the staff to get her additional care.
In a burst of feelings over several sessions, all those years of fears, inadequacies and bitterness poured out of Helen. But gradually with his encouragement, she began to let go of her anger and find some peace within herself.
Helen began to look forward to his daily visits. He would share a funny story or two and ask her to tell him interesting stories from her childhood or her career. From the distant reaches of her mind she realized she had those stories and enjoyed telling them.
Together they would laugh and Helen began to see life’s lighter side.
Then one by one over the days that followed, the chaplain introduced a medical staff member and encouraged them to share stories from their lives with Helen and him.
Helen got to know them and they got to know her and gradually close bonds of friendships began to form. After awhile, as staff members would speak with her, she would encourage them to show her their family pictures.
If they had problems to share, from her many years of business and life experiences, she gladly counseled them. What had been a cold and lifeless world for Helen now became enriched by the presence and involvement of others.
As Helen reached her final days and her candle of life began to flicker she remarked, “I wish I had known earlier in life what I learned at the end. I now understand the importance of being involved with others, of sincerely caring for them. People like me and I like them.”
Helen had finally found happiness and was at peace with herself.
Success Tip of the Week:
Learn from Helen and don’t wait until late in life to reach out to others. Smile and get to know them now and be a good listener and be helpful. It will make your life so much richer and theirs as well.
This story was taken from one of the thousands of patients of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926- 2004), who was a psychiatrist and a renowned expert on death and dying. If late in life lessons are of interest to you, I strongly encourage you to read some of her books.
In the next KazanToday:
A retired New York school teacher who launched a remarkable writing career at the age of 66.