When your Mom Dies

Bruce and Anna Babcock with 1956 Black Thunderbird, Gowanda, New York, June 1998 (2)

Mom and Dad in 1998

Next month – March 2020 – will be the second anniversary of my mom’s death. Her death has been extremely difficult to put into words, and I’ve purposely waited some time before really delving deeply into its meaning to me. Mom and I were not close, and I still have mixed feelings about her death. Of course, mom is my mother and she will always be my mother, no matter what. But, we never had a close bond. There are reasons for that, of course, that I won’t explain here. It’s something that cannot be changed.

Sometimes I miss Mom and sometimes, I don’t. I miss the things about her that I love, and I don’t miss the things about her that I dislike. What I’ve come to terms with is that it’s okay. Many years ago, I came to accept our relationship as it was. There’s no changing someone who won’t change, so I made little effort to convince her to see things another way. The lack of closeness and bond are losses enough in themselves. There is always that void and emptiness there that will not be fulfilled. I know that, I understand that, I accept that. That’s how it is.

What was so difficult for Mom to endure was all of the suffering that accompanied death. Mom battled cancers for two years before she died. I remember in early summer, one year, when she had flu-like symptoms, but didn’t have the flu. This went on for a week, and I told her to call her doctor. She didn’t. It went on for another week. She still hadn’t called her doctor. By the third week, things still hadn’t improved – and had worsened, and called her doctor and made an appointment for her.

Mom’s biggest fear about cancer was her fear. She watched her dad die from cancer long before I was born, and it was a fear that paralyzed her. But, by trying to avoid to fear and the truth, she was just making it worse. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after many tests, and began chemotherapy. She didn’t want to have chemotherapy, but I told her she had to do it – she didn’t have a choice. She had to try. Mom had an oncologist in Atlanta who was nationally-renowned. She believed in him, she trusted him. He saved so many people’s lives. He became her god, in the hopes that he would save her, too. He didn’t.

I went with Mom to only a few of her appointments. It was my dad who religiously took her to her appointments, even when he was exhausted and felt ill, himself. My dad was available, and so, he took her. I would’ve had to change my schedule, take off work, or cancel commitments, including my son’s school commitments, if I took Mom to her appointments. So, Dad did it.

For nine months, Mom had regular chemotherapy appointments. She was sick, she couldn’t eat, she was hospitalized at times, she lost weight, and she eventually completed her treatments. The cancer and the chemotherapy changed Mom. She lived in fear. She still had difficulty eating. She wanted to be happy when her oncologists told her that her cancer was in remission, but I wasn’t so sure. If the cancer was gone, why did she still have difficulty eating? Why was she still sick?

I didn’t believe that Mom’s cancer was gone. While I wanted to be happy, I was cautiously optimistic. There was something about it all that wasn’t quite right. I told Mom and Dad, together, that Mom should get a second opinion. It wouldn’t hurt to see another oncologist. Again, Mom believed in her god-like oncologist. He knew what he was doing. He had decades of experience. After all, he said she was cancer-free. She wouldn’t seek a second opinion. I couldn’t tell her anything, and she wouldn’t listen. The chemotherapy also made her mind such that she couldn’t “hear” me. It was already too much of an ordeal of suffering and fear that was overwhelming to her.

Mom was to go to get checked, monthly, with lab work for her cancer cell count. Two months after she was supposedly “cured,” her cancer cell count was up, slightly. The next month, it was up significantly more. By four months after Mom was supposedly cured, she was diagnosed with another cancer. Unfortunately – and tragically – I believe this is the cancer she shouldn’t been diagnosed with the first time – peritoneal cancer – a type of intestinal cancer.

When Mom’s oncologist did her surgery to remove her cancerous ovary, he also found and removed cancers from the outside of her intestines. These were cancers he missed on the MRI. This nationally-renowned oncologist was so sure that Mom’s cancer was ovarian cancer that he failed to consider whether it could be something else. I believe that the intestinal cancer had spread to Mom’s ovary – in the beginning – and thus, her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. I believe the primary cancer – the peritoneal cancer – was totally missed…until it was too late. The oncologist, himself, also realized this, and cried with Mom when he was unable to tell her that he could save her.

Having been diagnosed with cancer a second time, Mom was in and out of the hospital for extended stays. She couldn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep. She was sad, angry, and afraid. She just wanted to die. Mom’s intestines were blocked. Fortunately, the doctors devised a way for her stomach to eliminate what little digested food she could eat by having inserted a tube in her stomach. For the last three months or so of her life, Mom ate only crackers, chicken soup, and homemade custard. She just loved that custard. I couldn’t make it as well as she did, but I did my best.

Once Mom’s oncologist couldn’t tell her there was any hope, Mom was discharged from the hospital to home hospice. She was given three months to live. She lived only for just over two more months. Mom apologized to us for putting us through what was about to come. How sad that she would apologize for something out of her control. We just wanted to take the burden away from her.

Dad and I wanted Mom to be as comfortable as she could be. We stayed with Mom in shifts, around the clock. When I worked, Dad had a double shift. We tried to shield my son from Mom’s decline as much as we could, but he also helped us care for her. He was a great help with her, especially because she wanted to get up out of bed, and we were afraid she would fall and break a leg or hip. That would just make things worse. My son made sure Mom stayed put when Dad and I couldn’t stay with her.

We made sure that Mom had an IV drip in her last weeks. A truly inhumane way for someone to die is for them not to have any liquid or nutrients, and we didn’t want for Mom to suffer any more, unnecessarily. We employed a home hospice company that was really good, for the most part. Mom had the meds she needed, and the CNA care was excellent. All but one of the nurses was great. The one that wasn’t great was no longer welcome in our home – as I informed the nursing manager. That nurse should never even be a nurse at all – she was horrific.

The last five days of Mom’s life were the worst. She no longer knew who she was. She no longer knew me and didn’t remember that she had a grandson. She wouldn’t listen to anything and couldn’t understand anything. She wasn’t herself and she was out of her head. I had to tell Mom that I was her sister, in order to comfort her. I later joked with my aunt that I impersonated her to Mom in order to help her feel better.

In Mom’s final two days of her life, the smell of death surrounded her. The hospice CNA told me it was only a matter of time before Mom died. I asked her how long – a day, two days, a week? I wanted to plan and prepare myself. What you discover with death is that you can’t plan anything. Death has its own timetable.

I called people and made appointments. I called and arranged for the hospice social worker to come by in a couple of days with the hospice pastor. I didn’t want for that to scare Mom because she had been terrified when I had earlier asked our church priest to visit her while she was in the hospital. At that time, he was only there to do a healing prayer, and she thought he was giving her last rites. She was unable to understand, and I didn’t want to scare her again.

I also called our church priest and asked him to come by. It was late on a Monday when I spoke with him. He said Tuesday is his day off. Couldn’t he ask another priest to come and visit? The other priest was already overwhelmed by his own responsibilities, I know. The soonest our priest could come was Wednesday. By then, Mom had already died. Father – people still die on your day off.

The day before Mom died, she was very stiff and catatonic. It appeared that she could no longer see. Her eyes were bloodshot and her vision was impaired. She wanted more pain medicine. Dad and I did our best to keep Mom on a regimented schedule with strict dosages, so she was getting enough, but not too much. On the morning of the day that Mom died, I couldn’t awaken her for her medicine. She was comatose. She was breathing, but she was no longer with us. I hadn’t realized it yet at the time.

Dad was sitting with Mom when she took her last breath. He and I had just changed shifts about a half an hour prior to that at lunchtime. Unbeknownst to me, Mom had died, and he sat with her for about a half an hour before coming to get me. She was gone. I couldn’t believe she was gone. For several weeks, Mom had already been using oxygen tubes for her breathing. I believe those helped her body not have to work as hard to breath; they were good for her. Her oxygen tubes were still circulating the oxygen to her nostrils; they seemed so awkward now that she had died.

Mom died at home, surrounded by family. Mom’s immediate death was felt most strongly by my dad – her husband of almost 55 years. Dad grieved very severely for about nine months before I noticed that he seemed to be feeling better. I believe it will always be somewhat lonely for him without his life partner. No one else can fulfill for him what my mom did. I love and miss you, Mom. I know you’re in a much better place, and I will see you again. Please save a place for me at The Table.

This Valentine’s Day, Practice Love and Understanding (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Water Heart Design (from www.newevolutiondesigns.com, February 14, 2015)

Water Heart Design (from http://www.newevolutiondesigns.com, February 14, 2015)

It is St. Valentine’s Day, a day for love and romance, especially as reflected in our culture and history. Valentine’s Day is a day that is important for couples, though it is also important for everyone. On Valentine’s Day, everyone can show a little more love, respect, appreciation, and understanding toward each other.

I’ve already heard the national news today of a plot to kill people in a mall in Canada that was thwarted. Later today, I heard about a cartoonist in Denmark who was killed – an artist who apparently depicted Mohammed in a negative manner. There are also likely so many more countless tragedies, hate crimes, and killings that have occurred around the world.

Today – as every day – however, should be a day for spreading love, kindness, compassion, and understanding. Do not be the person who is ugly toward or who hurts others. Take the opportunity to do an act of kindness for another.

For those who are unable or unwilling to practice loving kindness and understanding, my heart and prayers go out to you. I understand that, sometimes, life experiences may make it more difficult to love, but it should not be an excuse to avoid doing so.

On this day of all days, we must open our hearts and practice loving kindness and forgiveness. Of course, that does not mean that we should fall victim to being hurt for doing so, however setting a good, positive example may be all a person needs for his or her spirit to be uplifted, even for one day.

How will you practice love, kindness, and understanding toward others today?

UB – the University at Buffalo – as a Sexist Institution (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

When I first entered the University at Buffalo as an undergraduate student in 1989, I felt included. For me, as a woman, it is important to me to feel and be a part of any group or institution that truly “includes” women, both appreciating and respecting women. The atmosphere that is present at UB today, in 2014, however, has changed. UB has become a sexist institution that promotes a perspective and images that make men the priority. Women’s concerns and interests have taken a backseat to those of men, sometimes being entirely excluded. What happened?

The University at Buffalo (UB) is one of the four university centers within the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Being born and raised in Western New York State, I was aware of UB as an institution that was prestigious, with a reputation for educational excellence. As a high school senior, I was accepted at all of the eight or ten colleges and universities to which I applied. UB was actually my second choice behind Ithaca College, though I chose to attend UB because of the lesser cost, closer proximity to home, and excellent reputation as a research institution. I had been interested in pursuing a medically-related career at that time, and I am an individual who gets much enjoyment from completing research, so UB seemed the perfect place for me to go after high school.

After arriving at UB, I quickly gained the feeling that it was a place in which I could soar, and I was correct. In my first year there, I became a member of several student organizations in which I was interested; studied a science-related curriculum to prepare for a medical career; worked part-time in my dormitory complex; was active in the university wind ensemble and chorus; and was a member of both the indoor and outdoor women’s track and field teams. I was not, nor have ever been a “partier;” and I never put on the “freshman 15.” In fact, I became more busy and active at UB, getting into better shape, and structuring my life and managing my time so that I would be as successful as possible. While doing this, I also met new people, made new friends, tried out different avenues of interests and enjoyment, and stayed as focused on my studies as possible.

As a member of the women’s track and field team at UB, I was one of the Royals. The men were the Bulls, and the women were the Royals. My specialty areas were in field events, including shot put, discus, and javelin. In my last two years of high school, I was recognized as one of the top competitors in shot put and discus throughout Western New York State. While I also competed in nearly every other event throughout the six years that I was a member of my varsity high school team, those two were my top events. As a Royal, I was a proud member of the women’s team at UB. Today, women’s sports teams are only known as Bulls, a masculine term that excludes, overlooks, and denies the “femaleness” of women. As such and in the manner that it is used at UB, the term ‘Bulls’ has become a sexist word that excludes women, and in turn, prioritizes only the gender, concerns, and interests of men.

Throughout most of my time spent at UB as an undergraduate, I was also a member of the university’s pep band. The Pep Band was a group that played songs during men’s home football and basketball games to liven up the crowd. The Pep Band also played at one away football game per semester. In my schooling prior to attending UB, I had been a member of the band and marching band for eight years. Included as a requirement for being a band member in high school was participating in both the marching band and pep band. Therefore, while UB did not have a marching band at that time, I was quite familiar with what was expected and required of musicians, whether they were extremely serious or playing just for fun. The Pep Band provided an outlet for students to play their instruments socially and recreationally.

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

At UB today, there is the Thunder of the East Marching Band. The main logo that promotes the image of the group reflects a man playing a trumpet. Inequality and sexism are represented in the image because of this. There is no woman who is reflected in the logo. Women are completely excluded from being portrayed in the logo, though the marching band is not a group that is exclusively male. This reflects another situation in which men’s gender, interests, and concerns take priority over women, excluding women.

At UB, I never had a boyfriend. As a heterosexual woman, that was a part of my life that was lacking. At more than half way through my senior year, I was still a virgin, and was quite proud of it. I had prided myself in trying remain chaste for the “right” person. Certainly, I dated and always had many male friends, with many who were very good friends – respectful, caring, protective, and gentlemanly, more like good brothers. But, there was never one who could adjust to my busy and focused lifestyle; perhaps there was never a man who wanted to work as hard as it would be required to maintain an intimate relationship with me. My focus was on my studies and activities, ending up with completing two degrees in the less than 3.5 years, less than the amount of time that it takes most students to complete one degree. And, perhaps I was not willing to “make” the time necessary for which an intimate relationship would have required to be successful. Through all of this, it was still okay at UB for me to make my own decision in regard to the types and levels of intensity of my relationships with others.

In the latter part of 1992, in my last semester at UB as an undergraduate, a peer raped me. The rape occurred on a blind date with him that had been arranged by two mutual friends, one of whom was a fraternity member. This man was a fellow UB student, two years younger than me, from Downstate New York who was also a member of the same fraternity as our mutual friend. The morning following the violent and hurtful rape that I experienced, I informed my two friends about it, and one friend encouraged me to confront the rapist about it by phone, another hurtful experience for me. While four people knew of the rape, it was not reported until I reported it to UB campus police a few years later, having caused all those involved to protect the rapist so that he cleanly got away with his crime, as well as creating accomplices out of our mutual “friends.”

In later reporting the crime to public safety at UB, one of the police chiefs laughed about it, dismissing it and minimizing it. The case went through the legal system, but the perpetrator was never charged, nor prosecuted. He got away with a violent rape in which I was harmed and injured in many ways. No one at UB provided me with any support in coping with what had occurred. No one told me that women at college and university campuses may have a chance of being raped. No one told me that men who are members of many college and university fraternities believe rape is sex. No one told me that the assistant district attorney in Buffalo would deny that I was raped, telling me that I had not been raped. No one told me that my life would be forever altered by being trusting of a man who was twisted in his thoughts and actions, violently raping and harming me, and getting away with it. No one asks to be raped. And, when it happens, I have experienced that it is the victim or survivor who is blamed, revictimized, and punished by many in society who do not hold the offender responsible or accountable for his actions.

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/)

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/ 2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/)

Colleges and universities in which there is a rape culture present within their fraternities are not only sexist and harmful, but criminal. When all those who are supposed to protect women from harm, and support them in their reporting and recovery, but do not do so, and instead, support the actions of the rapist, they embolden and enable such men to continue their criminal actions, believing they can get away with it, because they have gotten away with it. It has been my experience that this hidden rape culture within certain fraternities at UB has continued and has been perpetuated. The annual tradition of fraternity men creating snow sculptures of ejaculating penises is only one reflection that this hidden rape culture within UB’s fraternities still exists, and is very much alive and well.

Lastly, when I completed my studies at UB in 1992, and returned to attend the graduation ceremony in 1993, it was a Division III institution. There had been a lot of talk and news about the possibility of UB going to Division I. Many students did not think it would happen; in fact, many hoped that it would not happen, including myself. This is because there was a belief among students that football would detract from UB’s reputation as a renowned research university in the Northeastern United States. My experience, as well as that of many students and faculty, was to observe that to occur.

In 1994 and 1995, I returned to UB and took several classes as an open student. I completed undergraduate courses, a graduate course, and a post-graduate class. It was during that time that I realized that the atmosphere and mood at UB had changed. Football became the “all important” aspect of UB. An example of that occurred in my sociology class. In my class were three football players who had extremely disrespectful attitudes and toilet mouths. They were disrespectful to the instructor, resistant and angry about having to attend class (and often, did not do so), and sat in the back of the class, swearing and causing disruption. Unfortunately, because they were football players, they were “untouchable.” They got away with all of these behaviors, and appeared to have the support of the heads of the athletics department in their unruliness. They acted abominably and they got away with it. Professors were afraid to speak out and express themselves about the manner in which education was deteriorating at UB, having been replaced with football, so lauded and supported by the institution’s president.

Women who enter UB, as well as other colleges and universities, must be informed and educated about these types of issues that are present in institutions of higher education so that we can better empower, bond with, and protect ourselves. Our society so often teaches girls and women that we must sacrifice ourselves, our identities, our safety, our intelligence, our feelings, our bodies to men. In order to survive and even prosper, women have often learned that it is a man’s world, and that we must be submissive and/or subservient to men. There are men and women who perpetuate this societal standard when they promote issues such as sexism and inequality toward women, as well as issues including sexual assault and rape. Denying and turning a blind eye to resolving these issues only promotes a culture that becomes even more sexist, unequal, harmful, and violent toward women and girls.

Prestigious universities such as UB have an opportunity to get back on the right track. College and university leaders must remain open-minded when faced with issues such as sexism, inequality, and sexual assault on campus, including rapes experienced by both women and men. They must not attempt to hide, cover up, ridicule, deny, or minimize these situations. Doing so only worsens and perpetuates them. College and university leaders must promote environments on campus that are fair and equal, respectful and appreciative, caring and sensitive.

I went to UB to gain an excellent education. While I, indeed, obtained a great education from an outstanding institution, I also graduated from UB, unnecessarily, as a rape victim and survivor. 😦 No one did anything to prevent or stop it from happening then, and to my knowledge, the culture there has not changed for the better for women, thus still perpetuating its continuance now.  UB did not make it better for me, but it can still make things better for others.

Author’s Note: This post – along with dozens of others regarding campus sexual assault – is listed on the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence website as of January 1, 2015 at: http://www.ncdsv.org/publications_sa-campus.html .

The Gernatt’s of Western New York State in the 1980s and 1990s (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

As you have likely read in a prior post to this blog, a person who was inspiring and to whom I looked up to as a role model when I was a teen and young adult was Flavia “Feggie” (Schmitt) Gernatt (now deceased).  Growing up, I lived in the same neighborhood of Seneca Heights and Taylor Hollow in Collins, New York in Western New York State as Feggie and many members of her family and extended family.  Feggie and her husband, Dan Sr., lived in Collins, right next to the main headquarters of one of their gravel and asphalt plants.

Next door to Dan Sr. and Feggie lived their son, Dan Jr., and his family.  Just a couple of doors down the road from them and across the street lives her eldest daughter, Patricia Rebmann.  The Rebmann Family has lived there for decades, having raised about 10 children.  And, in a neighboring town has lived Feggie’s and Dan’s youngest daughter, Phyllis.  Phyllis and her family have lived in Perrysburg for many years.  Many years ago, Phyllis and her family gave a cute teddy bear as a gift to my son when he was a newborn.

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

I got to know the Gernatt’s by living in the same neighborhood and by attending the same church, St. Joseph Church in Gowanda, New York and the Diocese of Buffalo, of the Roman Catholic faith.  I was also familiar with some of the Gernatt’s racing stallions since they were housed in my neighborhood.  While the Gernatt’s and Rebmann’s had always attended the church’s parochial school at that time, I also got to know them and was familiar with them through bus rides to and from school.  Donald Gernatt, the youngest son of Dan Jr. and Dolores “Dolly” (Stelmach) Gernatt, and my brother, were friends, striking up a friendship on those occasional bus rides that Don took to and from school (most of the time, he was driven to or from school).  Indeed, my brother’s first employer was Dan Gernatt, Jr. at one of his gravel and asphalt companies.

The older children of Dan Jr. and Dolly are Dianna (Gernatt) Saraf and Dan III.  Dan Jr. and Dolly are divorced, and Dan is married to his second wife, Roseann (Morgano) Gernatt.  As a kid, I also knew some of the younger Rebmann kids, including Dave, Barb, and Jeanne, through church as well as Girl Scouts.  Some of the older Rebmann’s continued to live in Seneca Heights after getting married and having their own families.

The Ulmer Family, 2000

The Ulmer Family, 2000

In my mid-teens, I would often attend daily mass at St. Joseph Church, and discovered that many in the Gernatt extended family did, as well.  Through church and mass, I got to know and become familiar with Dan Sr.’s and Feggie’s daughter, Phyllis Ulmer, and her family.  Phyllis and her husband, Rich (now deceased) have two adult sons, and Rich has two adult children from a prior marriage.  Phyllis and Rich have been involved in the church and school in many capacities.  I also got to know and become more familiar with Dan Sr., Feggie, and Dan Jr., as they regularly attended daily mass, as well.

I remember back to the time when I was a student at the University at Buffalo and on Spring Break that my car had broken down, and after asking Dan Sr. and Feggie to transport me to and from daily mass for a few days, they did so.  They included me as their guest in the light breakfast that followed a 6:30 AM mass during Lent at that time, and were very kind to me.  I further got to know Feggie a bit more while catching up with her and walking with her, occasionally, on walks through our neighborhood.  Feggie was a wise, intelligent, insightful, and strong woman.

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

As a high school junior, a friend of mine began dating one of the Rebmann’s.  This young man was a cousin and friend to Don Gernatt, and so, I asked my friend if she would pass along to him that I was interested in seeing him, if he was available.  It was at that time in 1987 that I dated Don for a few months, until my family’s out-of-state vacation interfered with Don’s prom.  I remember him as an exceptional gentleman who treated me with kindness, appreciation, honor, respect, and dignity, in the manner that I believe that all men should treat women.  Since that time, I have found no one with whom I have been romantically involved to have met or exceeded the standard that he set for me in men.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me that most people would not be as kind or respectful of me as Don was.  Then, I would not have held my expectations so high.  While Don and his family members are multimillionaires who are very powerful and influential in New York State business and politics, and in the Roman Catholic Church, my interest in him had never been about money, but in him as a person.  Indeed, the only financial support I ever received from the Gernatt Family was through a $50 sponsorship when I participated in the Miss Teen of New York Pageant in 1987.  Further, I had always observed Don to be kind and good-hearted, even toward those who were jealous of him during our rides on the school bus.  Don is the only member of the Gernatt family and extended family with whom I have ever been romantically involved.

I suppose that when people get to a certain age, they may recall the past and certain past experiences that are always prominent in their memories.  Don and his family live in Springville, New York, while Dianna and her family live in Hamburg, New York.  And, while we have all gone on our separate paths in life now and I no longer have connections to these families, I can still recall many fond memories that I have of dating my first boyfriend, Don.

All other men whom I have dated since my first boyfriend are those who can take lessons from Don in how to treat a woman with respect, honor, dignity, and appreciation.  I am thankful that I was able to experience from him the manner in which men should treat their romantic partners.  I hope that I will have taught my own son to be as respectful of a gentleman toward women as my first boyfriend was to me.

Sources:

Michele Babcock-Nice (March 17, 2014).  Having a Love for Horses: Remembering Sir Taurus and Elitist.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on May 5, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-qi

Michele Babcock-Nice (February 3, 2012).  In Remembrance of Flavia C. Gernatt.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-3O

Michele Babcock-Nice (2014).  Photograph collection of Michele Babcock-Nice, 1971-2014.  (Photos of the Gernatt’s, Ulmer’s, and Sir Taurus from their families/owners, 1980s-1990s.)  Snellville, Georgia.

References:

Gernatt Asphalt Products, Inc. (2001).  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://www.gernatt.com/

Wikipedia (2014).   Daniel and Flavia Gernatt Family Foundation.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_and_Flavia_Gernatt_Family_Foundation

Wikipedia (2014).  Gernatt Family of Companies.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gernatt_Family_of_Companies

Wikipedia (2014).  Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.  Retrieved on May 6, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_Diocese_of_Buffalo

Wikipedia (2014).  St. Joseph Parish, Gowanda, New York.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Joseph_Parish,_Gowanda,_New_York

“What Happened to the American Dream?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

What has happened to the American Dream?  Is it alive?  Is it dead?  Has it changed?  Does it apply to some people and not others?  I think there are several possible answers to this question, with certain answers applying to particular people and different answers being relevant to others.  I will attempt to explore some of the answers to the initially-posed question, and relate those answers to various Americans, particularly those who live on my own street.

When my parents and grandparents were growing up, I believe the American Dream meant to get married, potentially be educated, have a family, own a home, be employed, and be as successful as possible.  There was talk when I was a kid of the American Dream including families owning a home with a white picket fence surrounding the yard, and generally being happy and successful, much like one would imagine on the TV show, Leave it to Beaver.

Even on later shows such as The Brady Bunch, larger families who were combined as a result of second marriages were portrayed as experiencing the ups and downs of life, yet still being happy and successful.  I would be hard-pressed to select an American television show, today, that portrayed the ideal living situation for most American families.  Perhaps a family more like that reflected on Dr. Pol, having a single, adult son living at home with parents who are senior citizens, may be more like the America of today.

Personally, as an adult, the American Dream for me, meant becoming educated, getting married (to an amazing man who would be both an excellent husband and father to our children), owning a home, and having a successful career that was enjoyable and rewarding, along with having a happy family.  The American Dream also meant helping others and giving back to my community.  Throughout my 20s, I strived toward those aims, and achieved one of them – becoming educated.

In my 30s, I accomplished and/or partially attained some other facets of my American Dream, including getting married, owning a home, and having a successful career that was both stressful and rewarding.  While the marriage was nothing close to the ideal that I had envisioned or hoped to achieve, an outcome of the union was the birth of my wonderful son, a blessing from God for whom I will always be thankful.

I can’t say if the family part of my American Dream was ever really “happy,” though I always tried to put on a happy face for my son so he would not have to witness the stress, loneliness, unhappiness, and other issues that were the reality in the marriage.  The marital union was never really a partnership as it should have been, but more like roommates living together and sharing costs, not the type of situation one would envision for the making of a stable family.

One thing was for sure, however, the American Dream never included divorce.  Marriage is supposed to be forever.  Divorce was not an option.  Yet, even so, divorce became a reality, though out of no absolute choice of my own.  I always had hope for better in my American Dream, not worse.  No matter how hard I tried, my American Dream never improved, but only worsened, at least in regard to marital issues.  One just cannot force a person to change or perceive things differently if he won’t.

So, this brings me to the reality of having lost the American Dream.  For so many years, the American Dream has been an elusive façade that, to me, no longer exists.  Having experienced marital separations and a divorce, as well as being unemployed and a full-time student, both the economy and lack of opportunity have proved too challenging for many such as myself to maintain the hope of an American Dream.

What I have observed is that many people who have experienced divorce have also lost their American Dream.  People who have lost their jobs and/or careers, as well as their homes, have also often lost sight of the American Dream.  For others, experiencing each of these factors, simultaneously, has all but obliterated their American Dream.  American Dream?  “What American Dream?,” they ask.  Particularly after a divorce, in addition to the loss of employment and home, it is extremely difficult for people to recover at all, economically.  They wonder what hope is left for something as intangible as the American Dream.  Indeed, for many, the American Dream transformed into something more like an American Nightmare.

Taking into account those who live on my own street, for example, it is possible to explain how the American Dream has changed.  There are 16 houses on my street.  Of those 16 houses, there are six homes in which extended families are living together.  More specifically, in those six homes that include extended families – which all happen to be Caucasian – there is one or more adult child living in the home with one or more of his or her parents who is a senior citizen and/or elderly.  In three of those six homes previously mentioned, there is a single and/or divorced mother who is also raising one or more children.  So, in those three homes, there are three generations of extended family members living together.  Ten years ago, this is something that was rarely experienced among Caucasian families in the United States.

Additionally, on my street, there are only two young couples who own their own homes.  One couple has children, and the other does not.  Most of the homes on my street are owned by Caucasians who are senior citizens and/or elderly.  There is also one home in which an African-American mother resides with three of her sons who are minors.  And, there is a home in which one Caucasian man who is divorced lives by himself.  There are also two homes in which two adult sons live with their elderly mother, and another adult son lives with his elderly mother.  Also, each of these men has been married and divorced at least once.

This is just the make-up of those who live on my street.  This is just another example of the changing face of the American landscape, the transformation of the American Dream.  It is also a reflection that for certain people, the American Dream may still be alive and well.  For two elderly couples and one older couple on my street, they have their homes to themselves.  They have lived out their lives and appear to have lived the American Dream, as well.  Is it only for them, then, that the American Dream has been accomplished?

So, that brings me back to my initial question.  What has happened to the American Dream?  The American Dream appears to be alive for a select few people, but not for most others.  At least, this appears to be applicable to most of those people who live on my street.  Or, perhaps now, they may have a different conceptualization of the American Dream.

At any rate, the American Dream is certainly not anything near to what it was in the times of my parents and grandparents.  For many, such as myself, perhaps it was just an ideal that was never really able to be achieved anyway.  Those who survive must adjust to a changing world, changing times, and changing ideals.  Having strived for something that was unattainable in its entirety, I have experienced just how elusive and no longer realistic the American Dream really is.  One may have to be happy for having experienced parts of it.

“Perspectives on Gift-Giving” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Wrapped Gift Boxes (Retrieved from http://jeannekolenda.com/a-christmas-gift-for-you-2 on December 28, 2013)

Wrapped Gift Boxes (Retrieved from http://jeannekolenda.com/a-christmas-gift-for-you-2 on December 28, 2013)

Through the years, I have acquired and contemplated different perspectives on gift-giving, especially as it pertains to giving gifts to men.  Basically, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of men are unable to successfully cope with receiving gifts from women.  The situation is even worse when the woman is single or divorced because many men seem to believe the woman has ulterior motives and wants something from him – or wants to give something to him, namely sex – if she gives him a gift.  I would like to take some time to analyze my observations to follow.

There are many reasons that a woman may give a gift to a man.  Within a committed partnership or marriage, there is an expectation that partners are supposed to give and receive gifts with each other.  In situations in which a woman is single or divorced, as in my case, however, I have noticed that most men jump to all kinds of incorrect conclusions, and make misjudgments and inaccurate assumptions when a woman gives a man a gift.  I have always wondered why that is, and what in our cultural and society that seems to cause it to be so taboo for women to give gifts to men, and for men to receive gifts from women, particularly those who are in a platonic and/or professional relationship that does not involve anything sexually intimate.

When I give a gift – whether to a man, woman, or child – for whatever reason, I gain satisfaction, fulfillment, and intrinsic personal rewards from being giving.  It makes me feel good to be giving, and I like to be giving.  Whether I give restaurant gift card to a man in simple gratitude and in return for some nice personal or professional action he has taken on my behalf, or whether I send a card or letter in appreciation, I was taught to be thankful, to show my gratitude, and to give something back in return for what I received.  That was something that was ingrained into me from a very young age.  One does not simply “take” from another without showing gratitude and doing something good and nice in return.

So, this brings me to my gift-giving dilemma regarding men.  In my entire life, I will estimate that there have been only four men who have been able to accept a gift from me of a restaurant gift card, or some other gift, and still continue to maintain a good, platonic, respectful professional relationship with me.  Out of how many men in my life who have ever been kind to me or who have done something nice for me, and for whom I have provided something appropriate in return, it does not say much that only four men have appeared to have been able to cope and interact with me in the same manner as prior to my giving the gift to them.  Most men seem to lose respect for women who give gifts to them, as I have experienced.  And that, in turn, causes me to lose respect for them because they are unable to accept me for who I am.

Of course, there are other reasons that women give gifts to men, as well.  Sometimes, giving a gift to a man could be to test his reaction, to see if he will actually behave and interact with her in the same manner as he did previously, or if he will change in his interactions toward her – whether positively or negatively.  At other times, and because men are so easily driven away by women who give gifts to them, women may purposely do so in order to actually drive the man away.  Of course, there may be reasons for that in that perhaps he has repeatedly harassed or sexually harassed her in the past, and she believes there is no other alternative but to make him stop by creating a similar situation toward him that he did toward her.

Additionally, in my experience, men who are very hyper-masculine have much difficulty in receiving any type of gift from a woman unless it is sexual in nature.  I believe this is due to society’s highly and inaccurately sexualized portrayals that women always wants to fling themselves at men and that men always want sex.  Most men appear to feel threatened in some way by a woman who gives them a gift.  And, it is not only the men who are hyper-masculine who have difficulty in accepting gifts from women, but most average men, as well.  Also, those men who are very insecure and lack confidence in themselves are truly unable to cope with receiving gifts from women.  Once received, they say they don’t want the gift or even return it after, at first, having said it was an item that they wanted.  Only those men who appear to have much confidence in themselves have ever evidenced to me that they can successfully cope with receiving any type of gift from me, both as a woman, and as a divorced, single woman.

Such behavior by men can often leave women confused, disappointed, frustrated, and hurt.  Women typically do not behave in such a manner when another women gives her a platonic gift, in support, gratitude, or appreciation for something.  Women do not appear to have the same strings attached in receiving gifts from women that men have.  So, entering into the realm of gift-giving toward men is a completely different world.  Based on the reactions that I have received from many men to my own gift-giving throughout the years, I have come to the conclusion that it is better to just send a “thank you” letter or send nothing at all.  I think that this is what most men expect when they do something nice for a woman – or, perhaps, they expect nothing at all.

Therefore, I am thankful to all of the men who have not appreciated my gifts throughout the years because they have taught me that it is better to invest in my son and myself, my family.  But for the four or so men who have been successfully able to cope with receiving gifts from me as a woman and/or divorced, single woman who has absolutely no other interest in them but to show gratitude and appreciation, any further gift-giving that I do with men will likely be on a very minimal scale.  Most men truly need to be able to cope with and appreciate receiving gifts from women, without losing respect for them, without changing their behavior and interactions toward them in a negative manner, and without allowing their minds to reach gutter level.  It has been a difficult lesson to learn, though I am thankful for having come to the realization that I have on gift-giving regarding most men.

“Rejection: Just One Step Closer to Getting What you Want…or Recognizing What you Already Have” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Rejection.  Yes, that bad word.  It is part of our vocabulary, and is not a very nice word.  For some of us, it has been part of our vocabulary for much too long.  Nobody likes rejection.  It is, indeed, very painful.  Especially if one’s heart is set on something – or someone – rejection can be particularly painful, even crippling.  I can personally share, however, that the more rejection one experiences, the easier it is to take.

After having experienced much rejection (more than I like to think about) throughout the course of a number of years regarding employment, I stopped actively seeking work and returned to school.  When the school goals didn’t materialize as I had hoped, I took some time to reorganize my thoughts and set about continuing to do what I enjoy the most – being a mom, and writing. 

Having stepped out of my career, it has been all that much more difficult to gain re-entry.  And, everyone always has lots of advice, though I believe that I have tried everything that everyone has suggested.  If they say it, I’ve done it.  The thing is, one can’t just change the way in which people think.  They must be open and willing to consider flexibility and creativity in employment scheduling and responsibilities.  If employers are unable to do that, they have already rejected potential employees, by default. 

Thankfully, I have family support and am able to get by.  It is very difficult, however, for outspoken women, especially those who are a little older, to get ahead in a society that doesn’t seem to want to hear us, and would often rather put us in our place.  Certainly, there are many women who get ahead by just saying “yes,” however I need to be able to sleep at night, and if something is not correct – morally or ethically – then it is not suitable for me.  It always amazes me regarding the number of people who can say or do things that I would not consider, and they are totally okay with it.

Recently, not looking for employment, I was offered a part-time job in the area of writing education.  Admittedly, I was very excited, but didn’t get my hopes up too highly.  The per hour wage was certainly very good, however that it would have required several days out of my week to drive quite far from my home put a damper on things very quickly.  I probably would have paid just as much to gas up my vehicle as I would have earned in income.  While it would have been nice, it would have been nicer if it was closer to home.

Further, a contact of mine recently asked for some advice about job-seeking and career transitions.  While I provided advice about several different topics, I also know that everyone can always give advice and is full of advice.  It is truly what is in one’s heart and within their inner spirit that must guide them and to which they must turn to uplift them.  In seeking employment or even voluntary positions, we must be real regarding ourselves, our capabilities, and our financial means.  In times such as these, I have found that it is better to expect rejection.  One is definitely not nearly as injured in his or her self-confidence if one’s best foot is placed forward, and a rejection is given.

But even more than that, in rejection, one is getting a step closer to gaining or acquiring the position that he or she may desire.  And, if one experiences many more rejections than he or she would like to contemplate, one must always reflect on what he or she already has.  What talents and skills does one already possess?  What is one doing in their time to be creative, to network, to be open to opportunities?  Sometimes, just being at the right place at the right time is essential.  One must recognize that, as well, and be thankful for it.

One must also keep in mind that, if one is able, going back to college is a wonderful opportunity to update skills, network, meet new people, expand horizons, and just be in a different environment.  Where people are open, flexible, and creative, many opportunities abound at colleges for potential employment, internships, and activities.  Perhaps participating in or leading one activity may lead to an opportunity one was not expecting.  Or, at other times, one’s talents and skills may not be valued at all, and one must seek other opportunities for development and/or advancement.

Luckily, I am not a person who lives for money.  My priorities generally reflect more of a “quality of life” perspective, both for myself and my family.  I have learned, through the years, that it is not the amount of money one has that makes him or her happy.  One’s attitude, perspective, and quality of life that one provides to oneself and one’s family are truly the best.  Of course, money is important for survival and we all need a certain amount of it, but it need not be the ultimate end in one’s life.

Therefore, rejection – whether in career, employment, relationships, or otherwise – is definitely painful, but one must keep in mind that rejection can be a good thing.  Rejection, depending upon one’s view, can be one step closer to achieving one’s goal, to getting what one desires.  Or, in situations of much rejection, it is an opportunity for one to recognize and appreciate what he or she already has, and to capitalize on that. 

Rejection certainly can hurt one’s self-confidence – and coming from the Rejection Queen, herself – I understand it’s stunting qualities.  However, one must keep their faith and inner strength alive in believing that rejection is not always the worst thing, and that it may, in fact, open doors to other paths untaken that may be more fruitful or beneficial in the long run.

“Fidelity and Morality” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Fidelity and morality.  They are two different words, yet they are intertwined, especially in association with relationships, partnerships, and marriages.  Fidelity refers to “faithfulness,” while morality can be understood as meaning the difference between right and wrong, or a reference to one’s personal values.  In a marriage, fidelity means being true to one’s spouse or partner, while morality can be described as acting in accordance to one’s values of right and wrong within that marriage. 

In my 41 years, including those 9 years within which I was committed to a serious relationship that resulted in marriage (and, unfortunately, later divorce), I will admit that there were a few occasions during which I was tempted to stray from my vows, to go back on my holy and blessed commitment to my spouse.  I am proud to say that while I never strayed or broke my fidelity, physically or sexually, I am guilty of becoming too emotionally involved on a couple of occasions. 

When spouses stop communicating effectively, cease to love each other, and no longer care about each other in many different ways – by words, body language, actions, degradations said in the presence of others – it is all too easy to look elsewhere for one’s needs and desires to be fulfilled.  When spouses and/or partners in any relationship do not understand, appreciate, love, or respect each other, their bond is deteriorating. 

Sometimes, one spouse tries very intently to maintain and strengthen the relationship bond, while the other is oblivious and uncaring about the problem.  At other times, both spouses may work at it and improve their relationship.  And, in other instances, both spouses may give up hope and throw in the towel because too much hurt and pain has already caused too great of a rift or distance between them that is irreparable.

Recently, a man whom I have known on a completely platonic level, asked me out to coffee.  He is someone whom I have known in my religious community for the past 2.5 years, and we both share the same religious faith.  He and I have always been friendly to each other, and have seemed to appreciate and respect one another, period.  He is intelligent, attractive, … and married with two young children.  Therefore, certainly “going out for coffee” in his mind is not merely and innocently going out for coffee.

Certainly, for a woman in my position of being divorced and single with a child of my own, I admit that I am want for a meaningful, personal, intimate relationship.  I would like to share meaningful events and experiences in my life with a spouse who thinks and feels similarly to the ways in which I do.  It would be nice to share spiritual, emotional, personal, physical, sexual, and even financial situations with a close and caring spouse.  It would also be wonderful to have a man in my life who would be a caring role model for my son.

So, while it is a temptation to become involved with this attractive, intelligent, spiritual man who is also my peer, I declined his invitation for coffee.  In my refusal, I also stated to him that I do appreciate his friendship.  However, he must understand that the platonic friendship is as far as it goes.  I am not one to sneak around and be dishonest.  I am not about to lie and go against my morals, values, and principles.  I try my best to be out in the open with everything, unless it is something that is seriously going to hurt or damage myself or my family in some way.

It took 2.5 years of this man’s friendly relationship with me for him to ask me out for coffee.  Even when I declined, he still held out hope that I might someday change my mind, as that is what he shared with me.  I pray for him that God will help him see that he has a good, committed wife and two wonderful, beautiful children.  While he may wish to fulfill his own unmet fantasies and desires, he does not realize what an affair would do to his own family or mine. 

I already know all too well that many men will say whatever they like just to convince a woman to go to bed with her.  Those men promise all kinds of things, and then, never deliver.  They want all the fun and pleasures, but not the true commitment.  I am not interested in that, and am not about to get involved in something that will hurt so many people, not to mention go against my morals and values.

When a person is married or in a committed relationship, fidelity is precious.  The fidelity that has been bestowed upon the couple has been done so in a holy and/or legal manner.  When we are not happy or things aren’t going well, it is all too easy to give up and throw in the towel.  I have even told my ex-husband that my own parents experienced worse trials and tribulations that we ever did, and they will celebrate 50 years of marriage this year! 

So, men and women out there, perhaps you don’t love your spouse in the same manner as you used to, but remain open-minded and do not become blinded by your unfulfilled or unmet fantasies and desires of flesh that are fleeting and temporary.  Look at and stick to your commitment – strengthen it, make it better…for yourselves and your children.

“What do People Want to Hear?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Pink Flower in Garden, August 2012

Throughout my life and through my life experiences, I have generally found that people only want to hear “good” things.  That is, it seems that people only want to hear what is good, pleasant, positive, or uplifting to them in some way.  Those who have had much life experience, whether they are younger or older, can share that not all life experiences are good, though it is still important to be able to share about them with others. 

People generally seem to love the “feel good” communications, messages, and information that they receive and/or share.  I admit and agree that I enjoy such information just as much as any other.  However, in order for people to remain “real,” we must understand that in order to continue growing, developing, and improving ourselves, we must also recognize, realize, and deal with experiences, issues, or concerns that are hurtful, painful, and potentially negative.

Because there may be a tendency for people to avoid or shut out information that they do not want to hear, there may also be a tendency to “blame” or “revictimize” the individual who has experienced a painful situation.  It sometimes seems that the person who has been hurtful to another has not at all been hurt by the situation that he or she caused, but actually feels good about it and such situation may have served to boost their own ego.  Psychological research has reflected this in the case of bullies who interact negatively with their targets.  The bullies feel good and get an ego boost, while the targets feel badly and are hurt by it.  Similar research has reflected this phenomena in sexual predators.

So, what do people want to hear?  I think the answer is that people generally want to hear about good and wonderful things, and may not have the training necessary to be equipped to cope with things they don’t want to hear.  As a result of some of my own life experiences and those of others that have been painful, in sharing about them, I have found that there are a very few who are successfully able to hear, listen to, and cope with the knowledge of and information about them.   

This, therefore, creates a very small number of people with whom one can relate about deep and serious issues.  Sometimes, then, it is necessary to seek professionals with whom to communicate with such issues when others do not understand them or may make them worse.  When people do not present an understanding about the issues, they may also unnecessarily misjudge the person who is simply the messenger, the one who is simply providing the information.  Then, they may inaccurately associate the messenger with the issue that was presented and about which they do not want to hear.

Red Flower in Garden, August 2012

There is alot of information out there.  Some of it is good, and some, not so good.  Within it all, however, I believe there is some good that can be made out of it or that can come from it.  Yes, people generally feel good about positive, pleasant, and happy situations.  However, we can also come together in genuinely caring community and loving fellowship when we recognize and deal effectively, positively, and successfully with issues that have a negative or painful impact.  Since we are all different and unique, but also similar, each individual may have his or her own views on what constitutes successfully and positively coping with something.

When we mobilize to help survivors of natural disasters, that is a reflection of something good coming from a painful situation.  When we listen to others and guide them in ways of helping themselves rather than denying them or shutting them out, those are ways of bringing something positive to a situation or experience.  When we use our gifts and talents to help others who are in need, who are impoverished, who are in pain, and who are suffering in some way, we are showing the genuine care and love to others that God intended us to use.  These are the good things that people want to hear that can come from situations and/or experiences that have potentially been hurtful or painful.

When people blame, punish, misjudge, or revictimize others because of hearing what they don’t want to hear, they are not using their natural gifts and talents to help, assist, and support others in finding a better way to help themselves.  It is in these situations when people potentially try to “fix” a situation without adequate care or understanding that the situation may potentially be made worse. 

Sometimes, when people hear what they don’t want to hear, and react negatively to it, an opportunity for growth, development, and knowledge for something more positive may be lost.  This also reflects that people hear what they want to hear, even though they may not understand the true message.  It also reflects that people may react negatively to a situation simply because it is something that they don’t want to hear.

Pink Flower in Garden, August 2012

Life is full of things that we want to hear and that we don’t want to hear.  How we cope with and communicate with others about such information can make all the difference in either helping or hurting another.  We must first take a close look at ourselves and analyze how we process and cope with information – that which we may view as positive, negative, or neutral.  And, we must realize that life and all of what we experience in it are learning experiences.  We can make it good or bad. 

We can take painful experiences, and work to make similar, future situations better for others.  We can take happy experiences and work to share the joy in them with others.  We can decide only to be open to and “hear” the good about situations and experiences.  We can filter out what we don’t want to hear.  Or, we can “hear” what we don’t want to hear and work to make future, similar experiences better for ourselves and others.  What do you want to hear?

“What is a True Friend?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

What is a true friend?  What makes a person be a true friend to another?  There are many qualities of a friend that people may categorize as causing someone to be a true friend, and some people’s characteristics of a true friend may differ from others.  There are many qualities of what makes a true friend for me that I would like to share.

Firstly, a true friend likes, respects, and appreciates you for who you are.  A true friend is supportive, understanding, encouraging, and honest, and is not unnecessarily led or influenced by others in their opinions, decisions, and judgments about you.  A true friend sees the whole picture, not just what’s on the surface.  A true friend seeks to know and understand you, to be sensitive to you.  A true friend is there for you, encouraging you to be true to yourself, to help and protect yourself, to be your best, to improve yourself – your inner self.  A true friend knows you, seeks to know you, and appreciates what they know about you.  A true friend is always a friend, regardless of the issue or situation.

Next, true friends are those who can listen to and hear you out on any subject.  Sometimes, in providing others with certain information about ourselves, we are seeking to know whether or not we can fully trust and confide in another person.  Most people are uncomfortable with information with which they cannot cope, whether it is information about a topic that causes discomfort to them, or whether it is just plain a topic that they cannot handle or put up a wall against.  A true friend can take in all information and remain supportive and understanding because such information may lead to something better, a deeper relationship and more trusting relationship, a confidence in the other person that one can share anything with them, any issue, any detail, without them shutting you out or turning you away.

Sometimes, just when you believe you have found a true friend, someone on whom you can count, confide, and trust, you discover completely the opposite about that person.  It is particularly painful in those for whom one cares or loves, such as family members, close friends, or those others with whom one has a close emotional and/or spiritual connection to discover that they are not a true friend.  One may discover that they are led or blinded by their own discomforts, biases, judgments, beliefs, and/or the pressures of others and even the institutions that they may represent.  They are incapable of being a true friend when they have sight, but cannot see; when they have eyes, but no vision; when they are bound to their own discomforts, and are unable and unwilling to see the bigger picture; when they are a puppet to the rules and policies of the institutions that they represent, yet they don’t realize it, and are being led astray.

At other times, however, one may discover that they indeed, have found and maintained a true friend.  There are at least a half-dozen people throughout my life whom I would consider as true friends, those with whom I can share anything, and time and time again, they have responded to me positively, supportively, and encouragingly.  They appreciate and support me for who I am.  They reflect the care about me that I would like to think that I similarly do for them.  They help me to realize and be myself.  They open doors for me rather than shut them.  They break down walls and barriers for me rather than create them.  They are those whose actions have continually and regularly surpassed those of others in wanting, doing, and assisting in the best for others.  They are true friends.

I am so appreciative of those people in my life who are true friends!  It seems that those people, similarly to myself, who are true friends and whom I consider to be true friends, have the same characteristics.  We are warm, kind, understanding, sensitive, honest, supportive, encouraging, intelligent, confident, and assertive.  We want the best for ourselves and others, and to bring out the best in ourselves and others.  We are people who are helpful, rather than harmful or destructive.  

True friends also bring and seek to bring important issues to others’ attention and awareness in order to effect positive change, improvement, and enhancement in our lives and those of others.  We are concerned for the welfare and well-being of ourselves and others, and we always seek and strive to achieve and accomplish that with our honesty, sincerity, and genuineness.  Leaders and public figures such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mahatma Gandhi are those whom I would consider to be a true friend to others on an even greater level than a close, personal true friend.

Sadly, too often, however, many people feel threatened by those positive qualities and characteristics that I previously described.  They may feel threatened due to their own insecurities and/or discomforts, shut us out, and refuse to listen to or hear us.  There may be something much greater at stake for the good of many others, yet when we are shut out, overlooked, denied, disrespected, discredited, or worse, it is they who have shown themselves of being untrustworthy and perhaps lacking in character. 

In those situations, one cannot count on that person to be a true friend, and must either seek the support and consult of someone else or rely on oneself.  I think this reflects that many people see only what they want to see, and not necessarily what is reality.  Too often, people are content to see only what is on the surface, and not ask questions, not dig deeper, and thus, they miss out on enjoying more meaningful and satisfying relationships with each other.

By being followers, such people are also not being leaders.  Leaders must be open to all information, all sides of an issue, all sides of a situation that they may not have even considered.  They must ask questions and seek to discover, not necessarily believing all that they see on the surface as deeper issues may be discovered that end up being for everyone’s benefit.  It is so sad to me that so many shut themselves out to the deeper issues, close themselves off due to their own discomforts and insecurities, fall short of potentially making situations, policies, and understandings of issues better for others rather than potentially worse. 

It is especially sad and disappointing to me when individuals who represent organizations or institutions shut out others, particularly when it is part of their job to be open to others.  One cannot speak with others who will not listen.  One cannot convince others of a different perspective when they have already made a decision to shut you out.  If you cannot trust a person to be open about hearing or considering one serious issue, there is no sense in presenting other important issues.  They think they are right and you are wrong; they think their way is perfect and your way is flawed.  This situation is potentially damaging and diminishing for everyone, and they may not even realize it. 

For how many years, decades, and lifetimes do people maintain sensitive or personal information all due to the fact that someone shut them out and would not listen to them due to the discomforts and/or insecurities of the other?  This is a perfect example of how individuals such as Jerry Sandusky are able to continue their damage and destruction upon others, when people don’t ask enough questions, when too many people don’t listen, when people shut each other out, when people choose to be blind rather than use their vision, regardless of the consequences. 

There are other situations in which red flags appeared prior to particular tragedies, yet those individuals who may have potentially stopped the situations from occurring either did not act or did not behave in a way that protected and saved others from harm.  Regarding the recent tragedy of senseless killings and injuries at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by James Holmes, here is another situation when potential blindness of others failed to protect and save lives.  And, further, in situations in which child sexual abuse – or similar abuses of power – by Catholic clergy is covered up by male church leaders such as Msgr. William Lynn of Philadelphia, one wonders what male leaders, if any, within the Catholic Church can be trusted?

A true friend, therefore, is also someone in whom one can confide their most sensitive issues (of course, as long as those issues are all legal, moral, and ethical), and will find that the friend keeps their confidence.  One finds that another is not a true friend in confiding their most sensitive and painful issues to another when that person shares those issues with others, especially to those who thereby unnecessarily misunderstand, misconstrue, and misjudge them because of it.

Someone is definitely your enemy if they do not have your best interests at heart.  Someone who incorrectly shares sensitive or confidential information without knowing the whole picture or all the facts, thereby damaging you, is definitely not a friend, but an enemy.  Those who are very direct about it are easy to identify, however there are also those whom I characterize as wolves in sheep’s clothing who take in sensitive information, twist it around, and use it to harm you.  We must all be especially cautious and aware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Throughout my life, there have been many of those, from whom I still feel and experience some of the damaging effects today.

There are few people in one’s life, therefore, whom they may consider to be a true friend.  A true friend, after all, is extremely hard to find.  A true friend is even harder to maintain.  Even more difficult to experience is the friend who turns into an enemy, a friend who by their own discomforts, insecurities, or feelings of being threatened by information that they don’t want to hear – or which information may be biased or incorrect to begin with – puts up a wall against you and shuts you out.  I feel sympathy and pray for those people who are missing out on developing a richer and more full relationship with others, simply by refusing to be more open to and honest with others. 

Importantly therefore, one must be very thankful for those people in their lives who have truly shown themselves to be true friends.  It is also important to remember to show one’s appreciation for their true friends.  Don’t take them for granted as they may be few and far between.  Are you a true friend?  And, how have you behaved as a true friend toward someone lately?