Why do we have to make mistakes to learn some of life’s most critical lessons? Why does it oftentimes take losing something of unspeakable value to appreciate what we have? I don’t want to make any errors; I want to learn from the mistakes of others. I want to appreciate what I have while I still have it.
But that’s not how I always operate.
Photo credit: Kattaryna Stiles
Here are 5 mistakes I made in the years before Hubby’s cancer, before widowhood that I hope to never repeat:
1. Taking things for granted.
I was married to the most thoughtful man on the planet. Seriously. This was a guy who would do anything for me. Well, wait … there was the time in our first year of marriage where I tried to talk Hubby into homesteading in Alaska but he thought it sounded cold; and then a couple years later, I read a magazine article featuring a barn that had been converted into a warm woodsy open-beamed home and since we were in the process of a job-related move, but he didn’t want to live in a barn.
Other than those two things, this was a man who truly would do anything for me. I got lucky with this one. It was all I knew. And I’m afraid I took so much for granted:
- An arm to companionably loop my arm through as we crossed a parking lot to a ballgame, a concert, a movie
- Someone who made me laugh with his ridiculously dry witty sense of humor
- Someone who watched the occasional chick flick with me … without complaint
- An amateur plumber who kept all sinks and toilets unclogged
- A considerate man who kept my gas tank filled (which caused me to nearly run out of gas a couple times as a widow, but that’s beside the point)
- Someone who enjoyed road trips, and breaking trail in snowshoes, and sitting on tops of mountains with me
- A warm body to curl up next to
And that’s the short list. I never meant to assume I’d always have all these astonishing benefits of being married to Hubby. I never meant to take these things for granted. But oftentimes I did.
2. Having too much stuff.
There were three significant paring-down stages in our marriage. The first was devastating at the time. In the middle of what would be a two-year period of unemployment, we sold our home and cashed out our 401(k). We started over in our middle years, having lost everything we had worked for against retirement.
The second paring down wasn’t as devastating, but certainly heart-wrenching. My mother, needing more assistance than we were able to provide as she slipped into dementia, moved from our home and we downsized to an 800-square-foot duplex as part of getting our finances in order now that Hubby was employed again. Not wanting to pay storage fees, we gave away years of furniture and accumulation, including the beautiful old refurbished upright grand piano that my parents bought when I was five years old, that I later taught our kids on, that later still our preschool-aged grandkids pounded on. That piano.
The third paring down wasn’t devastating or heart-wrenching, but it was certainly challenging. After Hubby died, friends offered to move me closer to my daughter and her family on the east coast, which was where I thought I’d end up. There was one catch: Everything needed to fit into their 10-foot cargo trailer. The items I kept did fit, much like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle.
Interestingly, through all the paring down, I learned that living with less is rather liberating.
3. Living too frugally.
Living frugally and within your means is a very good thing; living too frugally and not making memories or taking adventures with the people you love the most: um … not such a good thing. Hubby and I had saved enough to take an Alaskan cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary (note: my first time to Alaska, but I’m not bitter over the Alaska-homestead fail). When it was time to book the cruise, we almost didn’t. I mentioned to our daughter, away at college, that we were thinking about getting a new computer instead. In a very stern voice, she said, “Mom …” as if she were the parent and I the child “… you’re. going. on. the. cruise.” Well, OK, then.
The too-frugal option would have been to buy a new computer — which, by the way, would be in some landfill at present. But, oh, do I have some fabulous memories with Hubby in that astonishing land called Alaska.
4. Complaining about things that don’t really matter.
I’m not referring only to out-loud whining, but also to the complaining we do in our spirits over trivial things … like, Hubby leaving all the lights on in the house; drivers on the road who aren’t paying attention to the light that just changed to green while I have places to go and people to see; a kitchen sink that magically refills itself with dirty dishes just minutes after the dishes are done.
But do you know how many people in the world would love to have electricity and light switches? Cars and stoplights and paved roads? Dishes and sinks and indoor running water? You get the point.
5. Not chasing joy.
David Steindl-Rast writes: “The root of joy is gratefulness.” Which means the subtitle of this section could be “Not chasing gratitude.” As bad news piled on top of bad news, Hubby and I didn’t chase joy. Or gratitude. In time, we learned to refocus on the simple pleasures and blessings of daily life, even as cancer stole from it, piece by piece. Later, my daughter gifted me with an Ann Voskamp book for Mother’s Day, One Thousand Gifts. I set a goal to reach the numbering of a thousand gifts, a thousand ways God loves me. Even in widowhood, my list continues to grow:
#660. Writing in a log-cabin-turned-coffee-shop — fire crackling, fluffy white stuff falling outdoors
#663. Sugar-frosted tree limbs hanging over my balcony
#674. Safe travel on trains and planes in inclement weather
#681. One-on-one dates with each grandchild — that they all still like hanging with me
#696. Simple pleasure of being snowed in with fireplace flickering, knitting project, new books arrived from Amazon
#706. Cradling mug of steaming Chai tea, looking across beautiful white-blanketed valley
Hubby and I learned we could count all that was lost, or we could count what still remained. With gratefulness comes joy. (Notice, too, how snow figures prominently in joy.)
This thought from G.K. Chesterton always speaks to me: “Here lies another day during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world round me. And with tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two?”
As life continues, I’ll make more mistakes. But for now, this starter list of five that I jot down here as a reminder to never repeat.
What about you? What lessons have you learned from loss?
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