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  • Writer's pictureMary Balistreri

Take A Happiness Break

Listen to the wind. Feel the moisture in the early morning air. Hear the silence. Breathe it in and let it go. Let it all go.

My sister Ann brimmed with an abundance of emotion. The energy pulsated off her in waves. When she was upset, you could feel the energy from feet, yards away. As we grew older and saw less of each other, I felt it miles away through the phone.

Sometimes, it would wake me from a deep sleep. I could feel the vibrations from her home seven miles away. So, I called. Usually it was right after midnight. And we would talk for hours some nights. Other nights, she would ask me to just stay on the line with her while we both drifted off to sleep.

Ann possessed an instinct for emotions of all kinds. When the feelings were too low, she knew how to lighten it up. I remember once when we were adults living together with her two beautiful children, Valery and Joshua, the rain started plinking on the concrete outside very late at night. We decided to "dance in the garden in torn sheets in the rain" per the B52s song Deadbeat Club. Laughter and silliness and the shock of a cold shower took us to a lighter place.

She found the antidote to the pain and sadness that sometimes accompanied life. Often, after she left her first husband, we would hop in the car and "just drive." Destination unknown. Driving late at night with very little traffic, with music filling the car, with songs bursting from our lungs brought a dose of happiness. Let's drive. Just drive.

That was her way. My way evolved over time. I wrote about the happiness of being with friends and family a few blogs back. That is one method for me.

As I think about things today, I am filled with happiness. My life is my happiness break.

I think about all the hours I wasted sitting in unhappiness. When I was a young woman, I spent hours praying to God that my legs would grow. I desperately wanted long legs. I had an ideal in my mind of beauty and it very much included long legs. Thinking back on that, I see the foolishness. Why not shift the focus to a feature I value in myself. Physically, it would be my blue eyes. People comment on them - random people, people I have not met, a cashier at the grocery store, a person on the city bus, a passerby as we exchange niceties about each others' dogs.

It's human nature to focus on the negative when it comes to ourselves. I learned to take a happiness break instead. We hear about the focus on gratefulness nearly every day. It works!

My gratefulness starts with people. I think about my husband and extraordinary son. They bring me joy. I sit in my garden enjoying my flowers, raspberries, and trees while watching my sweet dogs chase bunnies and my beautiful cats enjoy the sunshine. Then, I text or call more people who bring me joy. Starting with my sisters, friends, nieces and nephews.

There is a special gift I received from my sister Ann. The gift of her children. Loving children as if they are your own brings immense joy. Valery is like a daughter. We talk nearly every day. She fills my life with vibrancy, intelligence, creativity, humor and her knack for solving problems. Joshua is my second son. He fills me with great pride through his empathy, gentleness, thoroughness in execution of any task he takes on, and unshakable sense of responsibility.

Val and Josh have brought so much joy and love to my life since they were babies. I was 17 when Valery was born. All my friends loved hanging out with her. She was an exuberant child, filled with mischief and hilariously funny. A friend of mine famously said, "You don't need a television when she's around. Just watch Valery put on a show."

Joshua was the sweetest boy filled with demonstrative joy. He literally sparkled with energy and mischief. He was my mother's prince. She was living with all of us and then bought a house with Ann - a built in babysitter/grandma. She served Josh his snacks on a silver platter. She took him to kindergarten battling his defiance to try and get him in the car every morning. She loved him so dearly. It was fitting that he returned that love very late in her life managing her medicine and bringing her two meals each day. This was before we had to move her to assisted living for her worsening, soon-to-be-crippling dementia.

One of the greatest memories Ann and I shared with our mom when we were kids was the perfect happiness break. Once or twice when the weather was just right, usually late Spring and early Summer, we were treated to breakfast in our bathrobes on the patio in the back yard. Mom would make soft-boiled eggs and toast. We grabbed our juice and she brought her coffee, and outside we went. We smelled the lilacs in Spring and the roses in Summer. We listened to the chirps and calls of the robins, sparrows, and cardinals in our yard. We drank in the togetherness, the love, the specialness of this simple treat.

The past week, I enjoyed something similar. Several days of blissful togetherness with my wonderful husband, Steve, my awesome sister Chris, and our beautiful, fun and generous hosts, my sister Sue and her husband Mike. While I write this, I am filled with the rejuvenation of simple things made special by those in your company.

I dreamed for many years of enjoying coffee in the early morning hours with these sisters. That simple fantasy may have stemmed from the memory Ann and I shared of breakfast with mom on the patio. I told my sisters about that dream. "I just want to have the simple things," I said a few years ago. "Strolling over to each other's houses in the morning for coffee and conversation. Dropping by for a quick cookout. Sharing a meaningful champagne toast when something good happens."

Now, those dreams are coming true. Rejoice in the simple. Allow the sweet memories to flood you. During grief those thoughts and memories may be bittersweet or painful. Let them flow anyway. Let it go.

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