Category Archives: Courage

Till Death Do Us Part

I heard this story a few months ago, but wanted to bring it to your attention again right before Valentine’s Day as an example of true and deep love.

The headline from last October read: “Iowa Couple Married 72 Years Dies Holding Hands, an Hour Apart,” and the article went on to say that their passing “reflected the nature of their marriage where…everything was done together,” according to their daughter.  Here’s more about them:

Gordon Yeager, 94, and his wife Norma, 90, left their small town of State Center, Iowa, on Wednesday to go into town, but never made it. A car accident sent the couple to the emergency room and intensive care unit with broken bones and other injuries. But, even in the hospital, their concerns were each other.

The most important part of the story is what comes next.  I really want you to think about it.

“She was saying her chest hurt and what’s wrong with Dad? Even laying there like that, she was worried about Dad,” said the couple’s son, Dennis Yeager, 52. “And his back was hurting and he was asking about Mom.”

When it became clear that their conditions were not improving, the couple was moved into a room together in beds side-by-side where they could hold hands.

He joined his right hand to her left hand, and that’s how they died. 

The key to the whole story, however, was they were concerned about each other up to the moment they passed away.

I wrote a book several years ago entitled “The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage,” in which I talk about waking up each day, looking over at your spouse and making the decision to make their day worthwhile and to make them happy that they are married to you.  In other words, instead of waking up with all your bitchy thoughts, all your self- centered thoughts about what you’re not getting, what you’re not feeling,  wake up thinking  what you do for him/her to make his/her life worth living and worth living with you.  That is the key to this couple.  And that’s the key to them dying together.

There are more stories that illustrate this point: Couple Die Together After 62 Years of Marriage

Eighty-four-year-old Robert, whose health had declined steadily in recent years, always expected to go first. His 80-year-old wife, Darlene, had been his steady caretaker at home they built with their own hands, until she was diagnosed with cancer and given only a few weeks to live.

When Robert learned Darlene was terminally ill, he quickly grumbled: “I’m terminal, too.”  While family members and caretakers just chalked off that statement to the emotion of the moment, as his wife lay beside him in her last moments, he, too because to die.  Only six hours separated their deaths.
It was a bittersweet moment for the couple’s five children and extended family.

While they’d lost their mother and father, they knew their parents, the couple who lived and breathed love for one another, who spooned together every night while watching the news, who even walked to their mailbox in tandem had received their last wish.

Their story of love and long-term devotion showcases an aspect of humanity that even modern science has a hard time explaining: that sometimes strength of will decides whether we live or die.

Their chemistry was magical, the family said. They got up from bed together and always waited for the other to get in bed at night. Mornings over coffee together developed a mutual plan of attack for the day. Darlene always made sure Robert’s lunch was packed and clothes folded for him to wear.

They eventually had nine children, and it’s safe to say they proved their doctor wrong.

Robert suffered strokes, kidney troubles, congestive heart failure and other ailments following, but he never complained.

“I’m fine,” he’d always say.

In retirement, they never left each other’s sides. If a check needed depositing, they went to the bank together. Grocery shopping was done in tandem. The pair even ventured to the mailbox together everyday unless one was too ill to do so.

In the days before their deaths, hospice had a special bed put into the couple’s bedroom, where youthful pictures of Robert and Darlene hang above their respective bedsides. Robert, in their own bed, held her hand tight as she began to die.

Not long after, the nurse came to check on Robert. Astonishingly, his vital signs began to fail. His breathing became broken. He was actively dying, the nurse told the family. There were no drugs or methods he’d used to quicken death; it just began to happen.

They gave him two days to live, tops. Instead, he joined his wife in death only six hours after hers.

Robert and Darlene, whose services were held Thursday, will be buried in the same way they lived their lives together.

In the same casket.

Dying beside the love of your life and passing into eternity together is the stuff of legends, but it’s well documented around the world.  It’s some connection.  It’s some special connection.  In some cases, research shows that one person’s heartbeat can affect and even regulate another’s (working as a type of life support).

Now, in none of these cases where spouses died within minutes or hours of each other was there a suicide.  I think the amazing thing to take from these stories is that these relationships lasted that long. But it’s a simple fact (and one to remember when you find yourselves crabbing and whining about each other):  these husbands and wives lived to make sure the other was happy.  And, in doing so, they were happy. 

It’s really not that complicated, and it’s something very special to think about this Valentine’s Day.

Finding Your Motivation

I’m going to tell you a story about motivating employees and what’s inside the mind of an employee who is motivated, regardless of the job. 

I was in college and had always worked so hard I think I just sort of emotionally burned myself out. I’d study, study, study – exam… study, study, study – exam… study, study… you get the idea.  I was at the State University of New York at Stonybrook where most of the people didn’t do study, study, study – exams.  They did smoke pot, smoke pot, smoke pot – protest… stuff like that.  Maybe that broke up the monotony for them; and maybe I should’ve participated, but I did not. 

So I was kind of burned out and looking for something to do for the summer and I applied for a job to teach at a school for handicapped kids, but it was also a place where they rehabbed adults.  Part of my training was to work alongside the people who were in there.  I was placed with a guy in his early 40s who had been an athlete, but was paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident and he was in a wheelchair. 

My assignment for the whole week was to sit with him, work with him and do what he had to do.  And you know what he had to do?  Little transistor thingies had to be bent on each end so they could be soldered on to something.  So, we bent wires.  There I was, capable, energetic, educated, sitting there bending little wires on to resistors with this very nice guy bored out of my gourd, annoyed, and feeling like I was wasting my time. 

I’m a type-A personality – I’m a racehorse; I’m not a plow horse, so this was just awful.  Of course, by now you’ve realized I was totally thinking about myself only. Totally.  At one point, in my stupidity, I said out loud, “This is so boring!” And then the second it came out of my mouth, I realized this is what this guy had to do and I had just dissed the hell out of it.  What was wrong with me?  I was so embarrassed.  And I immediately said, “I’m so sorry.” 

He was so nice about it and so patient.  He taught me a huge lesson I’ve used my whole life.  He said, “That’s one way of looking at it.”   And then he started to talk about all the things that he had done in his life, like being a type-A personality athlete, a racehorse  (not a plow horse), and then he got zapped and had to find some kind of labor he could do.  And I felt sick… absolutely sick to my gut.  You know how immediately you feel nauseated?  That’s where I was. 

And he said, “Let me explain something to you.  This is, on its own, a very boring task. However, the ‘suits’ in the front office project how many of these can be prepared, how many different sizes, in what amount of time per day.”  He went on, “I found out their projections, and then I figured a way to surpass them.”  I looked at him in amazement.  What a brilliant guy.  Because there are two ways to look at it:

1. This is an incredibly boring thing for a human being to do; a machine ought to be doing this. 

2.  A machine can’t get motivated.  A machine can’t motivate itself; it’s limited by physics and human beings aren’t. 

So I looked at him and I went, “Really?  Okay.  So, how many of these, those and the other things do they think we can do today?”  He got out a piece of paper, “This is the quota.”  I said, “All right.  If we’re working together, how can we make this go faster?”  And the two of us sat there and figured out how to almost double the productivity.  And we were laughing and having a grand ol’ time and I was never bored again.  At the end of the week, when I had to leave him, we gave each other big hugs.

Motivation comes from within.  That doesn’t mean the environment you’re in doesn’t matter.  It does. There’s some research in Science magazine where they found that during the day there are sort of bio-rhythms at work –   for example, between 6 and 9 in the morning we are very happy, but this happiness drops throughout the day until mid-afternoon (siesta time – part of the world is very smart), and then it picks up in late afternoon and peaks again in the evening.   

The truth is, if you work in an environment which consists of poor pay, lousy benefits, lousy work conditions, demeaning policies and rules, and bad relationships with coworkers, you’re probably not going to operate at peak performance, yet some people do anyway because they don’t allow the environment to dictate their motivation. 

Think about that guy in the wheelchair, an athlete who will never be an athlete again – the environment was okay, nothing much to speak of, but his motivation, commitment and engagement came from within. He felt like he was part of something important and he challenged himself with plans and goals.  Challenges increase motivation. 

As it turns out, people are not motivated by money as much as everybody thinks.  I mean, money is good but it doesn’t motivate people to do better.  Sometimes people can get bonuses and raises, but then sit on their haunches, not feeling obligated to put out.  So there isn’t necessarily an association.  People making modest salaries can be extremely highly motivated because they have pride. 

Motivation cannot be imposed.  When people call my show and say, “I’m fat, I want to get thin. I want to get fit.  Where do I get my motivation?” I tell them it comes from inside.  It’s not a mysterious force that comes from somewhere else; it’s a direct result of how you manage yourself.  Unfortunately in a lot of families, kids get to go to Disneyland if they finish a project or are paid money for every ‘A’ they get on their report card.  This trains kids to not look inside and feel pride in their accomplishments and obligations. Instead of teaching kids to dig down deep for that motivation, they are being taught it should come from the outside, so people procrastinate.  They don’t feel like they have to.  They have an attitude of, “What’s in it for me?” 

To motivate yourself, you have to look for new opportunities, look for new responsibilities, look for new challenges and read about people you admire.  When I was a kid growing up, we read books about people who excelled at something and what followed their journey to excellence.  Learn from achievers in sports, in arts, business, or the workplace.  Learn from their bad qualities too.

Basically it’s a matter of what’s inside you.  If you think or say: “I don’t know how to find motivation,”   just look in the mirror.  It’s there…somewhere.

Standing Up and Speaking Out

This is about standing up and speaking out.  Not enough of you do it, and you don’t do it often enough.  There’s a good reason you don’t – because you get crap for it and most people want to avoid getting crap in their lives.  When you tickle something somebody is sensitive about (and they feel guilt about), they’ll attack to protect their ego.  So, standing up takes guts and a commitment to your beliefs.  But without being willing to do such, how can you possibly EVER have any pride in yourself? 

What sparked these thoughts is Catherine’s email:

Dr. Laura,

A few days ago, my car decided not to start. Luckily, my husband hadn’t left yet, so he drove me to work before going to his job. Then, since he had an appointment after work, he picked me up from my office and took me with him. I didn’t mind going, considering he did me a great favor of driving me to and from my job.

While sitting in the waiting room at his appointment, another couple came in. The secretary and the woman started to talk very flippantly about divorce. They commented on how they had already discussed with their husbands – before getting married – what they would receive, (as they would say), in their “inevitable divorce”. I was shocked and horrified they would say such things betweent themselves let alone in front of their husbands. I spoke up by saying “It is very sad you feel that way toward the person you promised to love, honor and cherish. Your husbands obviously chose very poorly in a wife and I hope your children have better examples of what love should be other than yourselves.”

I got up and walked away from astonished faces. And when my husband met me outside, all I could do was hug him and let him know that thank goodness we were nothing like the people in that office.

Wow!  Let that be an inspiration.  Don’t be wussy – it doesn’t make you have pride in yourself.  And I certainly never want you to call me and say, “This is what I heard… and what I wanted to say was….” It won’t be a pretty moment.

Where Are the Real Men?

I want to write about how there are no men.  (Well, there aren’t no men, there are just few men).  And a lot of women don’t even like real men; they like feminized men – - especially if they’re gay.  That’s even better.  And many women marry mama’s boys because they don’t want a real man.  Then they get shocked when his mother can push him around better than they can.  Well… his mother has had a lot more practice — his whole life. 

Betsy Hart, one of my favorite writers, recently wrote a great article about this topic.  She begins:

Whatever happened to men? That’s a common question today, being asked by social commentators, parents and single women everywhere. They are lamenting young men’s shrinking status in academia, the workplace and, maybe especially, marriage….

She goes on to say:

…it’s simply the case that too often today’s males are living up to the low expectations the culture has for them.

This is true particularly since feminism arose with the attitude of “we don’t need men.”  Gloria Steinem said: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”.  That was feminism.  It rarely had anything to do with equal pay for equal jobs.  It had to do with hating being a wife… hating being a mother… and hating men.  That’s what feminism primarily has always been about.  Don’t kid yourself.

Betsy Hart goes on to quote from Bill Bennett’s new book: The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.  In it, there’s an essay by:

David Gelernter, the renowned Yale computer-sciences professor who was injured in an attack by the Unabomber[. He] talks about how he is bringing up his own sons against the culture. He writes that ‘a man’s role in respect to women is to protect, to help, to support, to cherish as opposed to consume. We are a consumer society and the number one consumption is that of women.’

…Families need to teach young men what it means to be responsible, to work hard and to be prepared to someday get married and care for a wife and children….

I would argue that we also might teach our daughters to respect men. Real men, not the men concocted for treacly romantic comedies. And to respect themselves enough to wait for that man in every sense of that word.

Please take the time to read Betsy Hart’s entire article: Lamenting the Demise of Manliness in America 

And then my staff got me information on traits of real men and I want to share this article with you.  It’s from the blogger MochaDad:

Men were made to be bold, strong leaders.  However, our society has attempted to repress these traits.  (Sidebar: Look what happens in schools with little boys and girls.  Schools are organized for little girls who can sit quietly and sweetly with their hands folded at the desk.  Of course I was never one of those little girls, but generally speaking the schools were. And the little boys?  Well, we say they have ADD and we drug them so they’ll sit like little girls with their hands folded sweetly.) If you look at the way men (especially dads) are portrayed on TV, you’d think we were all a bunch of irresponsible, befuddled, nincompoops, who can only function with the help of a “smart” female partner, friend, or spouse.

He titles his blog: The 7 Traits of Real Men.  Women — I want you to read them because this is the guy you should look for.  Men — I want you to read them so you can stop being weenies and take back your masculinity, your parts, your giblets — if you get my drift.   I can’t believe how many women who have called my show over the years who I’ve told they should have married another woman because the traits they wanted in their husband are not masculine.

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide

There was an article in the news recently about a man who returned money he stole from a Sears store in Seattle in the 1940s.  The original theft was between $20 and $30, so the now elderly man returned $100.  The store manager believes the man’s conscience may have been bothering him for the past 60 years.  The store will put the money toward helping needy families.

So I was interested to learn what my listeners have owned up to – even years later – because of their conscience; why they felt it was important to right the wrong and how doing so changed their life.  Below are just three examples. 

When I was a young, very poor child in the 1940′s nearly everything was ‘too expensive’  — even the little rubber balls on a rubber string that were only ten cents at the Five & Dime store.

One summer day I stole one of the little balls. It seemed to be such fun but sadly, my great aunt and grandmother had raised me with a conscience. The ‘fun’ even seemed to be stolen and not so much fun after all.

Years later, in my 20s we traveled back to my old home town. The first thing I did was go to the store and paid back ten fold for the little ball. The manager was open-mouthed at first and then smiled and thanked me.

It was a great feeling. Forgiven and restored. That was nearly 60 years ago but the satisfaction of handing a dollar to the store manager and wiping the slate clean is still with me. – P.

When I was twenty-four, already living on my own, my mom had a hysterectomy. A week later it was her 50th birthday. I was supposed to go to her house, but I wanted to go out with my boyfriend instead. I told my brother over the phone it would be real boring because I’d have to sit around and just hold her hand. My mom was listening in on the extension and started to cry. My dad called me back, told me I was a slut, and he was ashamed of me. I went to my boyfriend’s house anyway.

Years later I told my mom there were things I did selfishly I had regretted ever since, and I mentioned the time of her 50th birthday. I realized how much it must have hurt her and I was appalled at my behavior. She said she forgave me, and was proud of the person I had become; I was a good mom and she admired my strength. I replied, “Every good thing I know I learned from you, Mom.” I think Mom was choked up and couldn’t accept the compliment, but I know my slate was wiped clean and it felt so good.

When she lay dying this past spring, I was sad and upset, but I never felt we had any unfinished business. In every way that matters, I know Mom loved me and knew I loved her. – L.

In high school, there was a kid who was a real easy target for me.  We went to a small school; our class had 20 kids. I was a big kid, had a big mouth and silver tongue, and he was a little slow, didn’t have any friends, and torturing him was a quick way to get easy laughs and make myself look cool. It went beyond simple name calling and spit wads. You could say my friends and I were bordering on psychological abuse. I thought about it every now and then over the years, but just shrugged it off as teenage crap.

This July I went to my 20 year reunion. I was surprised to see him there, in the corner by himself, and, was shocked at the look on his face when he saw me. It was a look of fear and panic. I was made aware in that split second when our eyes met it was much more than ‘teenage crap’ to that guy. I wasn’t a distance memory he could barely recall. He was actually scared of me – 20 years later.

I felt awful. I spent the next hour or so away from my buddies, one-on-one with him, engaging in good conversation, about what he’s been doing and just general catch-up. Unfortunately, life hasn’t been much kinder to him than I was all those years ago.  Just before the dinner started, I leaned in close and said, “There’s something I’ve got to say to you. I owe you a huge apology for how I treated you, man.” He tried to dismiss it and I interrupted. “No, this is important. There was no excuse for the crap you had to endure back then. I have no excuse for the things I said and did, and I was an absolute bastard. I’d like to ask for your forgiveness.”

He studied me for a second, and then got a huge grin with glassy eyes as he put his hand out. We shook, he said he accepted, and appreciated it.

The rest of the evening was great, he had a good time, and his spirit seemed to lift. I’m not sure if that had more effect on me or him, but I’m angry at myself for not seeking him out sooner. All I can hope for is I’ve made it right, and that night was a turning point for him. – C.

I do believe no matter how many days, months, years or decade pass, it’s a good thing to right the wrong.  I’ve gotten so many calls from people having done something they want to apologize for, but it happened so long ago.  Absolutely, send a card, send an email; just don’t text — that’s the least sensitive way to apologize.  But make a connection and say you’re sorry – if you are.  Don’t excuse it, don’t even explain it.  The best way to apologize is to say, “I did _________.  It was wrong.  I regret it.  And I’m sorry for any pain I caused you.”

Overcoming Life’s Challenges

There are many people living with physical disabilities who lead truly inspiring lives. Some you may know in your own personal lives.  I want to share some stories with you and hope they will inspire and challenge you to live your best life.

Probably one of the world’s best-known high achievers with a disability is Stephen Hawking.  He’s an internationally renowned physicist/mathematician, who, at 35, was Cambridge’s first professor of gravitational physics.  He has written a best-selling book (which was later made into a film) called “A Brief History of Time:  From the Big Bang to Black Holes.”  He’s in a wheelchair and can hardly move any part of his body.  He has a mechanism to help him talk, but it sounds like something from a science fiction movie.  His body is seriously disabled, but his mind is not.  So, he’s committed it to using it at math.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt , the 32nd President of the United States, contracted polio in 1921, and was paralyzed from the waist down.  Refusing to accept his paralysis, he tried different therapies and methods to try to walk, and did master walking short distances using iron braces and a cane.  Men were men in that era, and he wanted to look strong as President.  He established a foundation to help others with polio and directed the March of Dimes program which eventually funded an effective vaccine.

My favorite and absolute heroine, however, is Helen Keller.  She was an American author, political activist and lecturer… She was also blind, deaf, and mute.  That sort of cuts out a lot of input when you’re blind AND deaf.  She was the first blind and deaf person to be awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree.  The list goes on and on.

So, what is it that makes a Helen Keller or a Stephen Hawking?  Or an Albert Einstein for that matter (he had a learning disability)?  How do they do it, and why do they do it?

I had a caller recently from a man who was 120 pounds overweight.  He had aches and pains, and couldn’t find motivation, or didn’t want motivation.  It’s not like you can “find” motivation – either you’re motivated or you’re not.  I believe those who “can’t” in actuality just “won’t.”  But how do you overcome tough, difficult and demoralizing challenges?  How do you just not simmer in self-pity or negativity?

Well, the first way is to motivate yourself.  Motivate yourself any way you want, but just do it.  

Next, calm down and take it slowly.  When you’re facing serious problems and troubles in life, you can’t panic your way through something.  You can’t think through a panic.  You need to find a way to do that.  Most people avoid challenges because failure is too embarrassing or uncomfortable, but when you don’t even face a challenge, that’s the biggest failure.  Trying something and not being able to do it well or not at all is not considered failure in my book.  It’s the beginning of success.  Failing can be frustrating and embarrassing, but so what?  

Third, simplify the problem.  Break it down into parts.  Do one thing at a time:  what went wrong, what are your options, and what could happen with each option?  Simplify each step.  One of the reasons people have trouble tackling tough problems is because they tend to make them complicated.  Keep it simple.

Finally, you need inner strength, because you have to do the best you can to maintain confidence and a positive outlook, because that’s going to ebb and flow.  Some people get freaked out when that happens, but that’s normal!

Last, but not least, is to learn how to live with a little bit of failure.  That’s how we learn.  That’s the only way to get better.

Interview with Parents Who Had Wrong Embryo Implanted

It’s a nightmare no one wants to live out in real life.  Carolyn and Sean Savage, undergoing an in vitro fertilization (IVF) transfer, had the wrong embryo implanted, yet they brought the baby to term and then turned the infant over to his genetic parents.  I wanted to talk to this courageous couple about their heartbreaking journey.  Listen to the interview here.

Surviving A Shark Attack (On Land)

Last week, I was on the “Today” show  to talk about my book, my life, your life getting screwed over by people you depended on or never knew were going to shoot at you or unknown to you completely.  When it comes out of left field, it’s really something.

My book is called “Surviving a Shark Attack (On Land)”and it’s about overcoming betrayal and dealing with revenge, and as I’ve said many times, I adore revenge.  I just can’t get any!  You know, like the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction?”  Well, I can’t get no revenge.

Why?  Because the only way to get revenge is doing something illegal, immoral, fattening, or out of your own character, which then warps your character. Damn!

Here’s a little piecelet from the book, so you get to know something more about me:

“There is a rush of lust for quick vengeance when betrayed.  I know because I have felt it every time I’ve been attacked.  I’m glad I’m surrounded by cooler heads, people I admire and trust who distract me with tales of new beginnings, opportunities and challenges.  It is also true that time well filled (in other words, not with obsessing) is a great salve.
In the case of a number of my betrayers, they went on to fail miserably and publicly.  I know that their egos have taken a beating, but I’m not rejoicing.  I simply don’t care.

I’m enjoying my work to a greater degree, because I’m surrounded by more support at SiriusXM.

I have taken up at least three new hobbies, and I am planning an incredible journey – an ocean race of I don’t know how many hundreds of miles (I don’t want to think about it) from Los Angeles to Honolulu in a sailboat with my crew.  All right, I’m nuts.

When these situations first went down, I, of course yearned for a “blood-letting.” And I actually think I would have enjoyed it at the time.

Time is the smart part of life.
Time reveals character.
Time permits healing.

Time permits growth.

Time gives perspective.
Time is one of life’s greatest embraces.

My entire being has been “rebooted,” and while it is satisfying on some level that my betrayers ultimately failed, it gives me no surge of delight or adrenaline.  I believe that it went the way it should have gone, the way most of us knew it would, but if I still cared, it would be less of me.  In other words, their loss is not my gain.  My gain comes from my actions, my activity, my attitude, and not from anybody else’s pain.”

The book is very tight (I tend to write succinctly), and is only 200 pages. I found some great quotes to put in it, and I’ve got my soul in it.  If there was ever a book to help you dealing with hurt, this is it.  I come at you quite personally with it.
Getting to the point of not caring is the epiphany that you have to come to, and it is the epitome of handling it when you actually don’t care.  I’m 64.  It took a while to learn all these things.