Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and Harvard Medical school professor conducted a fascinating study on the secret to happiness. Here’s what he learned:
“The quality of people’s relationships are way more important than what we thought they were—not just for emotional well-being but also for physical health. Close relationships and social connections keep you happy and healthy. That is the bottom line. People who were concerned with achievement or less concerned with connection were less happy. Basically, humans are wired for personal connection.”
We need each other. This is both obvious and easy to forget. We can become obsessed with chasing “success” or being “efficient” or thinking too much about ourselves and lose sight of the fact that engaging in deep and meaningful relationships is what makes life worth living.
A Wake-Up Call
A couple of years ago, I received a reminder of this that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I have always been close with my family, but in my thirties, I felt increasingly distant from my youngest sister. She is a high school teacher and club leader – dedicated, passionate, and always busy! Many days, I told myself she didn’t need one more conversation in her day or to hear about more problems. I called less and less frequently. At the same time, I was hurt and complained a lot to my other sister.
Then it happened.
In early January 2014, I received a call from my parents. My mom was panicked, and I could tell immediately that something was wrong. Her voice was shaking as she told me that my sister had been found lying face-down in a swimming pool and was unresponsive. The image that flashed before my eyes took my breath away. I felt paralyzed and felt a crushing pain in my chest. Questions flooded my mind. How could this happen? Where was she? Was she alone? This must be a mistake.
Upon entering that emergency room, the reality struck. There was no mistake. It was my sister. On a routine Saturday, she had been swimming in a public pool at a gym, had a stroke, and had suddenly became unconscious in the pool with no one around. We had no idea why or how long she had been under water. Was she in pain? Would she be able to walk? Would she still recognize us? Would she be the same? Would she live?
For a couple of weeks, we didn’t know the answer to any of these questions. Her heart had stopped beating at one point; her lungs had filled with water; and, she had a second stroke before being transferred to a different hospital. She was in a coma, with a breathing tube.
I had not had the relationship I wanted with my sister for a long time. I always figured we would work things out someday. Now I didn’t know if I would ever have the chance to tell her how much she meant to me. Or if I would ever talk to her again.
My family sat in shock…not sleeping…waiting for any news. We needed help. And almost immediately upon hearing the news, friends and family surrounded us. My sister’s network of friends took the reigns and organized a meal and visitation system. School administrators and teachers, family in town and out of state, all came together to support my sister and care for us. Those relationships, which we so often take for granted, were a true source of light for our family in those horrifying days.
After many long days of not knowing whether my sister would live or die, she woke up with a request – she wanted to see her fiancé. The feeling of joy and relief was immense, truly indescribable. My sister was talking, her memory was intact, her sense of humor was alive, and well, her beautiful personality was present…medicated, but present. Thankfully, she had no memory of what had happened.
Don’t Take Your Loved Ones for Granted
Once she entered outpatient rehab, I frequently had the privilege of driving my sister to therapy as she relearned how to walk and use her right hand. I will never forget the joy I felt every time I walked through the door to see her waiting and ready to go. In the most horrible experience any of us had ever known, I found my sister again. Now, a day does not go by where we don’t exchange a text or a phone call. And my relationship with all of my family members has grown much closer. I appreciate them, and I make sure they know it.
I would not wish this type of tragedy on any family, but I am extremely grateful for the newfound sense of beauty and appreciation for the people in my life. It should not take something like this to appreciate the people close to you. Every day you have with them is a gift. Remember that. And tell them often.
If you need help reconnecting with your loved ones, give us a call! We’re here to help. Call 720-468-0101