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Guilt is the Thief of Joy

Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death. Coco Chanel

Three days 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 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, both 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. But I did change. Jimmy’s illness and Jimmy himself taught me to be more 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 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. And by being more present, I discovered how many people in this life are suffering more than I’d realized.

Am I better person now? Yes. Definitely. But a purely positive “nice girl”? Not even close. I realized after three days of mulling it over that I don’t want to be either. Life is confusing, confounding, messy, complicated and mostly out of our control. So am I. And so are the people I love most. So if you offer me a choice between perfect and real, I’ll take real every time. Because that’s where the beauty, the joy and the wonder live.

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