Wonder Maven Laure (left) and her daughter, Julie
I’ve often heard people give the advice that the right job for you is the job that you would do for free. I’ve even said that to people about my role as Maven Bestie at Julep (hello, free manicures!) I just didn’t expect that to be the first thing our August Wonder Maven, Laure (pronounced Laur-ee), said about her former career as a grief counselor.
“I need to go to bed at night knowing that I put a smile on someone’s face,” explains Laure. As a grief counselor in Chicago’s South Side, Laure has witnessed some tough situations, and some heartbreaking losses. “When you’re in the middle of it, you can’t see the way out. You think, ‘I’m never going to smile again, I’m never going to laugh again.’ My favorite thing is giving someone hope that they won’t always feel the way they feel at this moment.” Laure tells people that they don’t have to believe that what she is saying is true. She will believe it for them.
Someone believed it for Laure. Due to numerous problems within the home, Laure became the “mom” to her siblings at a very young age, offering love, discipline, and protection when needed (some of them still send her cards on Mother’s Day – that’s how much of a mom she is to her siblings.) It was rough living, but Laure made the best of it. “I had to creatively think of ways to keep the kids happy, to protect my brothers and sisters, to make it through the hardest times.” Laure credits this with helping her to discover and develop her creative side.
When Laure was four years old, her first baby brother was born, and she remembers being bored in their home, waiting for mom and baby to get home from the hospital. She went into the bathroom and picked out a box of Band-Aids. Laure points out to me that these were not your everyday, skin-colored band-aids: “In 1959, every kid wanted to wear Band-Aids. They were in super vivid colors, bright blue, red with white stars, these really cool band-aids.” Laure decorated their bathroom door with them. She then discovered her mom’s brand new lipstick and used it to paint a mural on her parents’ bedroom. No lack of crayons would stop this passionate, expressive four-year-old artist! (After these incidents, Laure reports, she did get some crayons from Mom and Dad.)
At this point, I’ve talked to Laure for about ten minutes and I already feel like I have known her my entire life. She’s that kind of person: warm, open, positive. Completely celebratory of whomever she is talking to. Laure is memorable. It doesn’t surprise me that she still runs into people whom she counseled, years ago. They tell her what a difference she made in their lives, during their most challenging times. “It’s amazing to know that something you did or said stays with someone the rest of their life. It’s such a blessing to be able to have done this. I never thought of it as a job—it’s who I am.”
Who she is, indeed. When Maven Julie, Laure’s daughter, wrote us to nominate her as a Wonder Maven, she described her mother’s seemingly endless capacity to give—through her time, her compassion, and her art. “Everything my mom does is massively impressive,” says Julie. “She inspires everyone who sees her art with her gift and her passion.” Julie described her mom as an artist, a giver, and a fighter.
For Julie’s wedding this year, Laure promised to make them a guestbook. Julie and her guests were blown away by the sheer size (50+ pages) and level of personal detail that Laure included: quotes from Julie’s favorite book (Alice in Wonderland) and she and her husband’s favorite authors, photos, envelopes for holding a letter that Julie and her husband wrote each other on their wedding day, to read on their anniversary. Laure took an ordinary ask and turned it into a masterpiece.
Everyday miracles seem to be Laure’s every day. Whether it is turning band-aids and lipstick into works of art, a horrible moment of pain into a small spark of hope, or a cookie-cutter wedding ceremony into a unique celebration. In 1978, when Laure married her husband and love of her life, you didn’t really have “options” for how the wedding would go. This was pre-Pinterest, pre-personalization, pre-The Knot, pre-caring-about-every-little-detail (as a bride with 5 days to go until my own wedding, I hope I don’t offend anyone in the wedding industry by saying, The Wedding Industry Is Crazy! Who knew I needed an opinion about napkin colors?) Laure and her husband wrote their own vows and picked their own songs, walking down aisle to You Light Up My Life and generally shocking the Catholic Church (yet doing them proud, I imagine, staying together in sickness and in health as they approach their 37-year anniversary.) I imagine Laure’s wedding had the same memorable, spunky, uplifting spirit that Laure is sharing with me on the phone.
Laure is clearly a woman who loves caring for others. “I am the type of person who needs to make a difference,” she tells me. “I’ve always been that way in people’s lives.” I can only imagine, then, how challenging it must have been for Laure to get diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic, widespread pain that can make it difficult to move around, sleep properly, even get out of bed. This is where the fighter enters the ring.
Julie tells me about family vacations after her mom’s diagnosis. “We pushed her in a wheelchair around Disney World, went to the Wisconsin Dells, shopped the Mall of America in a wheelchair… No matter who’s pushing her, or what stage of pain she is in, the whole time we’re pushing her, she’s asking ‘Do you need a break? Are you ok? I can walk if I have to, just say the word…” For Julie, this was the first time that her mom’s inimitable optimism stood out to her. Most people would have complained. Most people wouldn’t have even taken the trip. Even from a wheelchair, Laure was caring for everyone else.
Laure’s condition made it impossible to continue her work as a grief counselor professionally, so she had to walk away from that job. “That was very, very tough,” says Laure. “It is still my passion.” Laure describes the last five years as “trying to figure out what the heck I am supposed to be doing!” She has struggled to care for herself, with some close health calls including a scary hospital experience when she was close to dying. Laure kept this from her children—“I didn’t want to scare them”—but Julie found out when Laure made a joke about it to a mutual friend. That’s Laure – simultaneously battling a serious health condition, caring for her kid’s feelings, and bringing a sense of humor to even the darkest experience. Laure shared with me how hard it has been to be the patient; as the constant caregiver, it can be difficult to reverse roles and ask for help. “When it’s you in the wheelchair, it’s hard to listen to your own advice,” she tells me.
Still, Laure is continually inspiring joy in others, even as she finds it more challenging to get up and go. She pulled off a bridal shower for Julie even though it meant she was in bed for two weeks afterward (she says it was worth every second of joy and fun!). She squeezed in a phone call with me between doctor’s appointments. And she keeps producing a ton of wonderful, imaginative art (which you can find at http://www.etsy.com/shop/LittleJoysStudio).
We developed Laure (Wonder Maven), this sparkling red-orange stardust, to celebrate Laure – the artist, the caregiver, the mom, and the bringer-of-happiness to anyone and everyone. We hope it helps you stay positive even when things get tough. We hope it brings a smile to your face and helps you believe in yourself. And, we hope it helps you rock that sassy nail look you’ve been thinking about.
If you would like to nominate a Wonder Maven in your life (it could even be you!), please complete this brief nomination form. We’ll be choosing a Wonder Maven every month and naming a polish after her.