I feel very fortunate to have my best friend and partner all in one person. It is a gift, yes, but it also means I have to be totally honest with Steve about everything. That’s what you do with best friends – confide – right? You tell your best friend all the annoying things your spouse does. Because Steve is my best friend, I really think about whether or not to mention the few little things he does that get under my skin. They are actually my issues, not his, right?
We had the wonderful opportunity of living with my mom, Dottie, for the last eight years of her life. We moved in with her after a health crisis that the doctors thought was the beginning of the end – saying we would have her for a year or two – but I guess that goes to show what cutting out cigarettes after 60 years and what a new diet of organic foods can do to extend your life. She bounced back and thrived. Although the journey was incredible, and the three of us had a blast together, there were times when I felt myself ready to snap or roll my eyes at her for being overly concerned about what I saw as trivial or her wanting to continue to do something the same way she had for 80 some years, when I knew better.
Most of the time with Steve and my mom, I would stop myself and say, “What if this were the last thing I got to say to them? Would this be what I would want to say?”
I started this habit when I thought I would only have Dottie for a short time. I started saying to myself, “If this were the last time …”It can sound heavy but it wasn’t/isn’t. It just made me stop and think.
We are rarely given the opportunity “to know”when something is for the last time. But when we are given the chance to know – you really pay attention. Your deep awareness takes over, and the trivial does not get a chance to interfere.
Fast forward eight years. Dottie had an episode with her lungs that put her in the hospital overnight. She seemed fine as we left the hospital that evening. The next morning they called to say she was having issues breathing, and they did not think she would pull out of it. In that moment I wondered if this would be the last day. But how could I know? I wished I could know.
As we rushed to the hospital, I felt a shift in my awareness. I told myself to stop the “what ifs”and be in each moment. When I got to her side, she motioned for me to take the oxygen mask off. Looking me in the eyes, she said in a whisper, “This is the day I am going to die.”I must admit that it took my breath away. But knowing Dottie, if anyone could pick their exit day, it would be her. I took a deep breath. I bent down and asked, “Do you know what time?”She shook her head no.
But I got an answer to my question. Yes, this was going to be the last day. It was almost 24 hours later that she took her last breath. But we, along with my brother Dave, stayed with her the entire time. One of us was always holding her hand, singing to her, saying the rosary, telling her how much we loved her. And even in her weakened state, I could hear her say back to us each time, “I Love you too.”
When the grief would well up inside me, I would say, not yet. You still have her. Be here. Open your eyes. Feel her skin, her hair. Be in the moment. As intense as it was, it was also so beautiful and life altering.
So I have been saying it even more. “What if this is the last time?”Again I don’t say it to bring up sadness. It is not about getting lost in the emotion of sadness. It is about bringing my awareness into the moment. It helps me to look into the eyes of the one I am speaking with. It has me look at each student in my yoga class and acknowledge them. It opens me to discernment, so I save my criticism for the things that REALLY matter. There are times when we must speak our truth. But many times our criticism is based on the fact that someone’s actions or words set us off because they are not doing it our way or the way we think they “should.” Anytime we think or say “should,”it is our expectations being reflected on to someone else.
“What if this is the last time …”is my way of bringing myself back to the moment I am in. It brings me into the NOW. My friend Cindy is dealing with aging parents and the natural tendency to start the grieving before anyone has moved on. You find yourself grieving because they are not the “way”they used to be or how you remember. We talked about it when her Mom went through a recent health crisis. We all age if we are fortunate enough to do so. All humans have aging in common. So be with them as they are Now. Don’t mourn how they used to be. That’s useless and just breaks your heart over and over. Acknowledge the natural process of things and open your awareness to the NOW. Be with them here. Maybe you let a few things roll off your back. Maybe you have to take a deep breath and allow them to be their eccentric selves. In the grand scheme of things, what does it matter? If it were the last time, what would you do or say? Pause. Pay attention as if there are no tomorrows. Don’t hope for more time or opportunities or blindly count on it; make use of the ones you have right now. Don’t stop yourself from reaching for their hand. Keep saying I love you even if it is never said back to you. If it is the last time, make sure you lived it true to your heart. Let your heart be free. Be kind. That kindness finds its way back to you.
I learned so much from my Mom. I am still learning. I have great gratitude that she gave me the experience of “knowing it was the last time.”I used that moment, that day, all the time to make my life richer and more meaningful.
It’s funny now how I find myself smiling at the little things about Steve that once bothered me. I open my Awareness, and I have gratitude for having him around. I find myself looking at him to capture every detail as if I might not get another opportunity. Live each day, each moment, as if it’s the only one you’ve got. That’s what is important. Namaste’