My Grandad recommended one book to me: Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it (it isn’t just special for me because it was the only book my Grandad recommended to me: it’s a truly great book!). The basic premise of the book is that, as you arrive in Heaven, you’ll meet the five people who shaped the course of your life on Earth. I must have read it twenty years ago now but I find myself thinking of it again – often – recently.
Who are my five people (up to now) and how did they change me?
1. My Dad. He showed me that life is meant to be wonderful. Meant to be filled with laughter and not tears, with kindness and not negative emotions. He made an impact on everyone he met, from the cashier (who he always made laugh) to the CEO (several of whom told me, at his funeral, and completely genuinely (according to the tears in their eyes) that they would miss him – and his insights – sorely) to the homeless/out of luck (he would always – much to our despair – give rides to hitchhikers; his reasoning that no-one could possibly hurt him). He was a man who touched everyone he met. He definitely showed me how to get the most from life. [I often wonder if he died when he was just 45 because he’d lived his life so intensely…did he literally use it all up?]. I miss you Dad, every day I miss you.
2. My Gran. She showed me what love is. True, pure, love. I learnt all I know about how to treat people and how to be kind from her. She was an angel on Earth. So tender and kind and so pure. She had her moments, don’t get me wrong, but she emitted such deep love, such comfort, just being near her was joy itself. I miss her, every day I miss her. I think of her at least a dozen times a day and I often smell her perfume (usually in my times of greatest need): is it my mind playing tricks on me or is she really with me, helping me, guiding me? Even if it is my mind, I’ll take it: I feel instantly more calm every time I feel her near.
3. My Grandad. He was a giant of a man. In every sense. Larger than life, with his jokes and his tender turns of phrase. He always had something interesting to tell me, always wanted me to be able to shine. He always used to save up to take me to the theatre or to the ballet (not usual for a Northern working class miner): we’d go off on our own, me dressed impeccably, beautiful dress, lacy socks, polished shoes, him driving me through the night (exciting for a little girl!), then we’d get to the theatre and I’d always be amazed at it’s grandness. Captivated the whole show long by the life there before me on stage. I realise it was him trying to show me there was something else, something bigger than my surroundings. It worked: I caught the bug. When I went to University (the first to do so from my town), he wrote me the second letter he’d ever written. It ends: “Well, that’s about it, Helen. I know there is no need for me to tell you how much me and your Gran love you and hope you can do all the things you want to do. Love Grandad xxx”. I have a big print of it posted on the wall at the side of my desk (where I’m writing now): it brings me so much confidence and comfort. Having grandparents who loved me, who believed in me so totally: that definitely shaped the person I am today. I cannot ever say enough thanks for their teachings (all of which were by example): it is their example that guides me through this stage of my life. With grace.
4. My friend Barnaby. An inspiration from the moment I met him, some twenty plus years ago now. A rock of a man. Fiercely intelligent. Deeply kind. Always there for me, in whatever hour, whatever situation. Always willing me on, unfailingly believing in me and my potential. He shows me, every day, the power of friendship and the joy that can come from having the kind of friendship that allows you to just be you: horrible bits and all. He’s taught me so, so much about life and kindness and grace and the power of philanthropy. He’s my walking Encyclopedia. I turn to him whenever I need to offload/unload. He’s been there for me through thick, through thin, through it all. Always cheering me on. Always guiding me. Never letting me fail on my path towards achieving my goals. [I should have listened to you, Barnaby, should have listened when you told me ‘Don’t do it. You’ll regret it”. Should have listened, but didn’t. Your wisdom hasn’t allowed you to say, “I told you so” and I appreciate you all the more for that. Thank you].
5. My soon-to-be-ex husband. We were together for 16 years. A long time. He taught me many valuable lessons I needed to learn (I see that now): not to be so naive; not to trust blindly; to follow my instincts; to protect myself more; to be more selfish; to think of myself more; to care for myself more; to trust in myself more. And most importantly? I’m still processing it all, but I think the most important thing I’ve learnt: sometimes, you can’t help. It’s just not in your power to be able to help. You just have to move on. And not look back. That you are more important than trying to save something that wasn’t as important to the other person. I see this now and it’s giving me the strength I’ll need for this next stage of my life. I thank him for these valuable lessons. They’ve strengthened my weak areas.
Do you have five people?
It’s a great exercise to do, a useful piece of self-reflection to show you where you’ve been, who’s helped you to get there and where you want to go next. Only by having a clear knowledge of your past and a clear path forwards will you reach your goals.