I recently got the news that my 99 year old grandmother is struggling again to stay alive. While I am sad, I am also distressed by the family drama that always comes at times such as this. Moments like these seem to always be accompanied by guilt, anger, frustration, accusations, and of course sadness. All these emotions are like that sticky gum you just can’t remove from the bottom of your shoe.
I understand the need for many individuals to want to spend as much time as possible with the dying while they live those last few days. For me, however, I prefer to remember the person in a state that was much livelier than the state near death. In all fairness, I wasn’t the best of grandsons but much of that had to do with previous family issues that came about long before I was born. I just couldn’t manage to clean off the old family dirt from my mind. You sometimes can’t realize the impact of your family’s muddled past pre-birth, can have on your post birth behavior. I don’t believe, however, in playing the victim so I take full responsibility for my lack of closeness to my grandmother. When it comes to this, I continue to lie in the bed of regret. But being a caregiver myself, although in a different vein to my daughter, it is difficult to open up and do what’s right for many of life’s important moments. I am like a locked down prisoner living in the chains I have created.
So with any pending death in a family, people tend to look back on their own lives as if they are near a river bank questioning the vividness of their own reflection. Just like many people, I started thinking to myself what if I was 99? What if I was that old and still had enough mental capacity to reflect back on my own life? I think now, more than ever, I know what I would hope for. I would hope to have as few regrets as possible. Already now, I have plenty of regrets. Since starting this blog though, I look forward to fewer as I move ahead. I am staring down a fork in the road and starting to have the guts to blaze my own path. I wish I could say that means doing more of what’s right for others, but after many years of being an includer and a pleaser I hope to be able to do more for myself. Unfortunately, sometimes the obstacles of less regrets include hurting those who are close to you. I thank James Altucher, who unveiled for me, the importance of choosing yourself. Deep down, I already knew this to be true but one needs to periodically be yanked free from the depths of a deep gorge. I thank Chris Guillebeau as well, who reminded me that you can still fulfill your lifelong dreams while also helping others.
Many would think by 99, that an individual would have had time to accomplish many of the things they dreamed of achieving. But deep down, in ravines of the unspoken, I think we all know that this is usually not the case. We go day by day thinking we have enough time, ultimately letting death creep closer. Or death surprises in a tragic boom which squashes our own life’s contemplation, but leaves us dead while others remain weeping.
Sure I had many happy moments with my Grandmother and I do cherish the time we spent together. Unfortunately, a combination of family drama and a special needs daughter became a fortress of bricks that I was unable to climb over. As I said before I take full responsibility. The victim lives in chains whereas the accountable take control. It’s that control which leads me closer to my dreams of achievement.
It is much too late to speak with her directly and share my regrets. That sun has set and the moon of death is rising. But I am very appreciative of the lessons she has taught me about living long even if quietly. She was good at living long yet remained challenged at living loudly.
I pray that my grandmother can persevere like she has many times in the past. She is a life warrior that always seems to find another sword to battle the grim reaper. While she inches close to death I am reminding about the importance of chasing your dreams. It’s captured well by Steve Jobs in three of the many paragraphs he delivered in his commencement speech to Stanford graduates in 2005…
“…Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
“…No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
When death is staring one of your relatives in the face, it’s your wake up call to go after your dreams. Steve says it best in his closing remarks… “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish!” It’s just another version of my usual closing…
Smile Big, Dream Bigger!