Janet’s mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer last April. She passed away eight and a half months later. Her death wasn’t easy. Then again, neither was her life. She struggled constantly to fit in, but at best lived on the perimeter of her social circles. Emotionally, she went from one conflict to another, and from being a victim to acting the angry, critical, vindictive martyr. As a result, she experienced little success in her relations with others, whether they were family or friends, and kept everyone at a distance.
Janet was probably the one person she genuinely cared for. She was also the person she gave the most grief to. Isn’t that usually the case? It may well date me, but I clearly recall a song written about this notion. It was called , “You Always Hurt The One You Love, The One You Shouldn’t Hurt At All”.
As you might surmise, Janet’s and her mother’s relationship was a mercurial one. Every pleasant interval was short-lived and followed by long periods of conflict and estrangement. All the while, Janet tried in many ways (not always in a positive manner) to improve and/or maintain a relationship with her mother. Her efforts were rarely successful. However, after mother finally accepted the fact that she was dying, and that her time was limited, for the first time in her live, she opened up emotionally. But it wasn’t easy for her to let go of her old coping defenses. It was clearly difficult for her to share her feelings, her fears and her needs. It was only close to her final days that she did, but even then her emotions were restricted. Throughout her life, genuine displays of affection were never her forte, and almost up to her death, she pushed away hands extended in kindness and love. On the last day or two, however, she stopped resisting and even seemed to derive some pleasure as Janet held her hand or wiped her forehead with a cool cloth.
I’m sure you’ll understand when I say that her death brought Janet considerable sorrow over her loss, but overall, it was really a positive experience that gave Janet closure and the feeling that, despite all of the painful times they shared, her mother really cared. It was the first time that she could hold onto the genuine belief that mother really loved her. It was something she always knew, but had never before felt in her heart.
I wanted to share this story with each of you because, after hearing it, I began to think about life in general and my life, specifically. I asked myself, when it comes to the end of the day, what’s really important? Why does it take dying before so many people can allow themselves to experience life? But most of all, what can we learn now, before that time, that will make our lives and the lives of those who really matter to us more meaningful and enjoyable today, and all the days before it’s time to say goodbye?
If I had the time, and The Jewish Herald-Voice were willing to allot sufficient space, I’m sure I could compile a lengthy, comprehensive list, of questions and answers that all of us should attend to before we finish our time here on earth. However, that not being the case, I thought that I needed to pose one question, the answer to which would positively contribute to enhancing the everyday lives of all of us. I wanted the question to be pragmatic and the answer one that would require the least amount of time or effort to actualize. I know that sounds like an ambitious task, but truly, it was actually easy, because it really was the first thought that came to mind after listening to Janet’s story. The question is simply, “What should you do every time you find yourself engaged in any emotionally excessive conflict, or paralyzed by any decision you need to make?” The answer is, “Ask yourself, ‘Would this be of this great an importance if today was the day before the day I’m going to die?” For just a moment, think about several of those situations that I know myself and countless supposedly sane, intelligent, rational individuals similar to us find themselves upset about. For example:
If today was the day before the day I was going to die; would it matter if the lights were left on, or hadn’t been turned off; if the kitchen cabinet doors weren’t closed; who controlled the thermostat, i.e., whether it was too low or too high; or if someone was ten to fifteen minutes late? Ask yourself whether you would place more importance on the fact that they came home late, as opposed to the fact that they arrived home safely and that home was the place they wanted to be. There are countless other areas of conflict that I could add to the list, such as clutter on the counters, drawers that totally lack organization; piles of mail scattered around, or how much he/she spent on a new fishing rod, shotgun, new leather boots, or an expensive blouse. Would all these things matter if it was truly the day before the day you’re going to die, or would it be more important to know that someone genuinely loved you and was there to express his or her feelings and wipe your brow? Your answer is obvious, so ask yourself another question: Why then should it be important today?
I’m sure you’ve got the general idea. But, more importantly, I’d have you think about it and allow your thoughts to affect your actions and behaviors today in a manner that would help you delineate now, long before it’s time to say goodbye, whether something is truly important or significant or not. It seems to me that you have to learn to choose your wars and create relationships in which the words you hear aren’t “goodbye”, they’re “I love you and I’m glad, happy, so very content that I have you to share the rest of my life with.”