It’s about time, isn’t it? Our lives are marked by time…how old we are, what grades our kids are in, how many days until…… And we learn so many of life’s lessons with the passage of time.
Tomorrow it will be 6 months ago that Ben died. Six months. 26 weeks. 182 days.
A few years ago, one of my son Ben’s friends started teasing me about being in the “autumn” of my life. I think that’s about the time I started my deep reflections on what I’d done with my life to that point, who I am, and what I’d like to do before I die. Since Ben’s death, that scrutiny has greatly intensified, involving a lot of introspection, self-loathing for the regrets that I have, and trying to find a way to live with my grief. All while dealing with the ordinariness of life.
I’ve decided that I am now in “my time”. My “It’s all about me….if I want to do it, I will–if I don’t, I won’t” time. Not much time has been spent by me in the last decades of my life looking deep within. I was too busy living and enjoying to analyze. I willingly gave as much of myself as I could to many people, helping as much as I was able to. I got my sense of self-worth by doing for others. But now, since it’s my time, I’m devoting as much of my energy as I can to fixing me. My broken me. Anyone who knows me knows my brain works overtime. It’s really been in overdrive since Ben’s accident. Imagine mental ping-pong all day long. With thoughts so varied it’s frightening. Continually churning and spitting…..sometimes crazy or happy, hurt or sad, wistful, angry, resentful. Ping ping ping. Some thoughts simply cannot be defined in my struggle to make meaning of it all.
I know my past, the present and my future are all interwoven, with all the colors intertwined, like the loop pot-holders I used to make as a child. It’s nearly impossible to remove the present moment from what has happened before or what might lie ahead in my life. Often times I dwell on the concept of “time.” My over-active brain is always spitting out random thoughts about time.
I was 27 when Ben was born. He was 27 when he died. Half of my life was with him. The rest of my life will be without. An eternity. An unfathomable amount of time to live without one of your children. How do I do that? How can I comprehend that amount of time “without” when the last half of my life has been with him?
My brain, of course, had to calculate that (counting leap years) Ben lived 9,996 days, just shy of ten thousand days. Why couldn’t he have hit that milestone? At least? Why didn’t he live twenty thousand? Or 30? or 40? I would have cut 10,000 days off the end of my life and given them to him if I could.
I picture myself as a 24-year old being diagnosed with cancer, as Ben was. Did Ben know, or did God know, at that time that Ben’s time was limited?
I’m so grateful that when I became a new mom I chose to work part-time so I could spend all those extra days with my kids. I thank God that even back then I knew what a precious gift time was. I gave up many material “things” because I knew they could never compare with the extra time spent with my kids. Oh, yeah, and I absolutely loved snow days. I think I was more excited than the kids were when school was called off. I loved those “stay in your jammies and do nothing” kind of days. That down time.
I sink into a dark hole every Tuesday on my lunch break from work. I hate that time!!!!! Every week, every single Tuesday, during my lunch hour, I flash back to my last phone call with Ben at 12:10, which lasted about 4 minutes. I received another call so I told him I’d call him back. His phone pocket-dialed mine twice in the next ten minutes while I was running errands. I answered both times and kept saying “Ben, Ben”….no response. I never got to speak with him again. 15 minutes later, the accident occurred. Regrets. Regrets. What if’s. What if’s. If I had talked to him for one minute longer when I had called him at 12:10. If I hadn’t hung up to take that other call. Or if I had called him back when I said I would, he may still be alive. In my mind, that is how precious one minute is. The value of just one minute. I wouldn’t even be sitting here spewing my thoughts, if I had taken that extra minute with him on the phone or we had talked for a minute or so when he pocket-dialed me. That one minute could have changed the whole course of events. Just the thought of one minute, just the teeniest tiniest speck of time, will haunt me for the rest of my life. But all those what-ifs, they have no real answers, do they? Nothing solid to hold on to, so my brain just keeps churning.
Ben told me in our last conversation that I could never imagine how much pain he was in. Every minute of every day he felt like his insides were being twisted and turned, the effects of chemotherapy that had so damaged him. Saved his life, yet did so much damage to him. His days and nights were filled with pain. Fifteen minutes after I last spoke with him, his suffering ended. His days and nights filled with pain were over. Our days and nights filled with pain had just begun.
My past, that is so interwoven in my present, keeps looking at me in the mirror. The phrase “if I could turn back the hands of time” screams at me. If I had done this, done that, and on and on and on. So, at those particular moments in time, when I am attacking that person in the mirror, tearing her apart, I tell myself I can’t live with the “should haves” or “could haves”. I need to invite the “would haves” into my life. If I had known at the time, I would have…..
Another weird abstract “time” thought: If I live another 20 years beyond Ben’s death, I am already 1/40th of the way to being with him again. Another 27 years, which is my life expectancy, I’m already 1/54th of the way there. Then I put that all in balance. I pull myself back. I tell myself: Focus on the now. Enjoy my time here. Don’t waste those years. Make good use of the coming years. Enjoy life. Enjoy Nick and Gina and their futures. Ben was cheated out of time. Don’t cheat Nick and Gina. I’ll get there, with that concept. But with all else, it’s going to take some time.
And then I have basic “non-weird” time thoughts, like:
I’m glad I took the time to take the thousands of pictures of my kids that I did, of special events and plain old ordinary days. The simple times of ordinary life. So many memories are there, ready and waiting for me when I am strong enough to look at them for more than a few minutes.
I’m glad my boss is such a wonderful man who, when I was a new mom, appreciated my desire to spend as much time with my family as possible. The same holds true now. I tell him what hours I want to work, what I’m able to handle, and it’s ok. No questions asked. He gets it…..I need the time to be with my family now.
I appreciate my 86-year old friend emailing me at least once a day to tell me about his day and ask about mine. I am glad that I take the time to respond to him, even though it is I who is receiving his gift….the lessons in life that he has learned from the passage of time. He has taught me so much and given me so much of his time.
I’m happy that Nick was given a deferral for a year (without asking) from the law school he will be attending so that he could be with us during this tough year. When he explained the situation, those people got it. He needed time.
I LOVE when my family and friends take the time to let me know they care. The sister who stops by once a week or so on her way home from work (often with dinner or goodies), and the others who call or text me or FB message me on a regular basis. My best friend who’s persistent in reaching out to me nearly every day….often with the “Hi, how ya doing?” text. And our great friend who took the time to drive the 1,000 miles each way with us to and from Kansas for Ben’s memorial service, the one who invites us over and stops by for coffee all the time. And also all of my new-found FB heart-broken moms. The time they all take to show they care is so heart warming. I appreciate those few minutes they give to make me feel loved.
Conversely, though, I’ve learned that some people, the ones I thought might be there for us, aren’t. Is there not one minute, out of the tens of thousands of minutes in each month, to show they care? Others, some whom we barely know, reach out on a regular basis to say they’re thinking of us. Just one of the lessons I’ve learned with the passage of time….. you just don’t know who will or won’t be there for you when you need them. Who will take the time and who won’t? I am grateful for the great support system we do have and I know, with time, I will accept that others, for reasons only they know, can’t find one minute. I think those thoughts during my hurting times. And then, randomly, lines from Desiderata (one of my all-time favorites) come to mind – “Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.” In other words, Susan, shut up. You’re tired and lonely.
And, finally, my favorite time of each day is my “reward” time. Having made it through another day, I reward myself with one wine cooler. I sip it, it relaxes me enough to sleep, and then my brain goes into “down time.” Sleep! Finally! The only time my brain is not working overtime, in overdrive, with crazy thoughts, processing this long, arduous journey I am on. My time. Good night. Please pray for me.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with this question: It’s about time, isn’t it? All of it.