I spend a lot of time looking through the rear view and not enough time in the present.
In the hustle and bustle of end-of-year school projects, concerts, open houses and competitions there was no time to be still. I took the days, one-at-a-time; focusing on the schedule and things needed to be done that very day and not looking ahead to the next. Juggling three sons at three different schools, our work schedules and family commitments was as much as I could handle. So when the text from my girlfriend came that a dear friend was in ICU; I pushed it to the back-of-my mind. I quickly shared the words with my hubs as I pushed through invoicing and his response shocked me.
I verbally retorted the tasks due that very morning. I told him that I probably wouldn’t even get in to see her; the rules for ICU usually allowing few visitors except family. This 38 year old girlfriend has been in and out of hospitals for the past two years and I have visited her in these different places. To this my hubby had replied.
You never know.
I did go, standing by her bedside with three other women. I stared at the monitors and IV tubes, looking at O2 saturation numbers on the ventilator. On a whim I had returned the following evening before our school’s open house; the place where her presence was always felt in PTA. Less than two days later, this girlfriend would leave us to greener pastures in the heavens above; free from the burdens placed upon her body. She rests in peace.
I pushed through each event, each day, and in random moments the memories would return with this fellow parent and friend who leaves a husband and eleven-year-old son behind. The feelings of guilt came upon me of the email she had sent, just a week before. I hadn’t had time to return her words while at work. Her request had been simple. She had asked my girlfriend and I to write a letter for her son’s sixth grade promotion book; to encourage him as he transitions from elementary to junior high. It would be presented later in this month, in the classroom, with a breakfast. Each child would receive their book to read the letters from family and friends.
As news of her passing spread through our school there were many parents who also felt guilt. The recurring undercurrent was in the guilt of not seeing our friend often. As I sat in the memorial service I had been surprised at the reach this girlfriend has had in our community. When healthy, this woman could unceasingly talk with boundless energy and tenacity; a force to be reckoned with. Most people only saw this side and it was rare she would reveal the person she truly was. She was generous and loyal; to a fault. She had many groups of friends but very few knew her. Those of us who had these glimpses of who she was realized the fragile woman who sought close meaningful connections within.
When I questioned the medical advice she received from her physicians she’d remained strong in her convictions and in her faith in God. I often offered to advocate for her, to question the cocktail of infusions and drugs she received for her treatments. But she always remained steadfast; knowing she was always in God’s hands. The book she had given a few of us, several years back, has always remained on my nightstand. I am always the doubting Thomas; the one that must always question, why?
This is the gift our dear friend has given me; her strong and unwavering conviction in her faith through adversity.
As I jogged, out of breath, in the mornings I would think of my girlfriend on the vent struggling for air. As I picked up in my sons’ messy rooms, I thanked God I was still here to be a mother to them. I reflected and dwelt on the past too much; not appreciating the life I currently have. Soon my boys will leave this home and the noise and mess will be gone with it. I look through my camera lens and capture great shots; but am not really present in them. I take shots through the rear view mirror of the amazing views that I’ve already left behind.
But it’s time to change all that. It’s not too late.
We have to live life to its fullest each and every day. This isn’t to say that we must be perfect, far from it. What I am learning is that I must own the things that I do, the good and the bad. I should let go of expectations and of trying to please others and solely focus on those lives who directly impact my own. The relationships that nurture and build, not the ones that make me feel inadequate and tear me down. Bank accounts and grand vacations, kids’ accomplishments, large cover-worthy homes; even plenty of friends are not things that define who I am. The dramas of people around us are inconsequential if the relationships that matter remain strong. I may not see my dear friends or family often but I know that they are there and will always affirm me.
Discover and invest time with those who make the time to be with you and accept who you are. Forgive those who’ve done you wrong; you never know. And if you are fortunate to have already found them, take the time to appreciate them and tell them so.
That includes your spouses. I know, I am guilty.
My girlfriend and I were not very far removed; both of us seeking meaning in the diverse groups of people we are a part of. We both realized those friends who were superficial and those who were genuine. We both were blessed with husbands who endured our over-the-top ways of giving in service, and who balanced our personalities with their strong, silent ones. We were bound by the need to contribute, to leave legacies so that our only child lives would have some kind of meaning; primarily for our sons. We were both driven to give our boys the best and to be involved; unlike our own parents growing up.
And so I grieve alone, through words, as I know this girlfriend has these past two years for the losses she has endured. She would understand my guilt for living, while she is not here, and she’d feel guilt in leaving so soon. She would want the best for her husband and son in the years to come and would be happy at the outpouring of love from our community. She would be surprised that so many people would remember her contributions at her school, her church and the lives she touched outside of her family and small group of friends. Her short life had not been in vain.
It had been said, during her service, that our girlfriend’s overwhelming nature was because she would have to make up for the short years she would be on Earth with us. For those of us who knew her, we have been blessed.
This Memorial Day it is important to look back to those who have laid down their lives for our freedoms. I am grateful to my own father and my veteran husband, for serving this purpose. But we must also live our every day lives so that we, too, embody these things. So that we do not regret or look back at the things we never said or did. Plant yourselves in the present (not past or future) and appreciate what our country is NOW during this controversial presidential election year. We are the land of opportunity and of the free. Today, (and every day), be grateful.