Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death. Coco Chanel
Not too long ago, I read an article by a young mother who had almost died from a brain aneurysm. On the night her aneurysm burst, she realized that if she died, her young daughter would never know her. She survived and resolved to change her life — to become kind, gentle, giving, loving and to not say anything negative about another person. She wrote that it’s “as simple as replacing a negative thought or comment with a positive one”. And that it’s easier to be a “nice girl”.
I’ve been chewing on this ever since …
Learning your oldest child has brain cancer is a similar kind of wake up call. I wish I could say that I became Mother Teresa as a result. I didn’t. I still got irritated with my kids, even Jimmy. I continued to overreact to the “small stuff”. I still wanted time to myself. I whined about not having enough time or energy to exercise and about feeling fat. When I felt let down or hurt by a friend, I complained about it.
And then I felt guilty, in the moment, when I reflected back on my behavior and especially after Jimmy died. How could I be worrying about myself when Jimmy was sick, undergoing horrific treatment, feeling miserable? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t curb my tongue or suppress my irritation? Why couldn’t I just let the comment or perceived slight go?
Suffice it to say, I did not find it easier to be a “nice girl” then, and I don’t find it easier now. Nor did I discover how to pop negative thoughts out like puzzle pieces and replace them with similar sized positive ones. But I did change. Jimmy’s illness and Jimmy himself taught me to be grateful for the smallest of gestures and the simplest of blessings. I found myself appreciating other people, the world and my life more. I looked for the helpers .. and found them. I searched for laughter, bright spots and joy and found those, too .. over and over and over again. I cherished my time with Dan and the kids. I learned to say ‘yes’ to anything that involved us being together as a family no matter the cost or work involved to make it happen. I worked on being kinder and more present and discovered in the process how many people in this life are suffering far more than I’d realized.
Am I better person now? Yes. Definitely. But a purely positive “nice girl”? Not even close. After mulling it over, I realized that I don’t want to be either. Life is confusing, confounding, messy and complicated. I am, too, much of the time. So are the people I love most. If you offer me a choice between perfect and real, I’ll take real every time. Because that’s where the beauty, joy, mystery and wonder reside.