Something came up on my Instagram feed yesterday that made me stop and think for a while. It wasn’t anything that I hadn’t seen before, but seeing it again felt valuable. It resonated hugely with me.
I’m sure that you’ll also have seen this, or something like this before. You read it for 10 seconds; nod with agreement; move on to what you have to do before the day ends.
A friend I used to work with a few years, someone who I used to work with closely and confide in lots would often say to me, when things were getting tough,
“Anita, at your funeral, the person reading your eulogy won’t talk about how you always got your books marked according to the marking policy. That won’t be a relief that you have on your own deathbed, ‘At least I got my books marked!’ You’ve got to live a life so that you have no regrets later on.”
I’ve never forgotten those words. I’ve never forgotten her message. On the poster I’ve shared, Number 2 and Number 5 – are especially pertinent to me and my life right now.
Recently, I’d made a life decision. Actually, scratch that – 8 years ago, I’d made a life decision. I wanted to have children. I wanted to be a mother. I was blessed, and 7 years ago my first child was born. I know that I’ve written about this before, but that completely changed my life, in ways that I’d never considered, never imagined. From the moment that she was born, I also opened a door to a very special part of my brain. The door, entitled ‘constant guilt’. Am I a good mother? Am I doing the right things for her? Please, please, please God, don’t let me mess things up!
To cut a long story short, for 7 years I’ve been battling with wanting to work and do a job I love successfully, along with wanting to be there for my children and be the mum that they deserve. And for 7 years, the job won. Was I happy about that? No. Did I feel like I had a choice? No. Did I feel that I could change things? No.
But the more that time went on, the years rolled on, the feeling that something wasn’t right was growing stronger and stronger, until it was suffocating me from the inside. I remember distinctly, wanting to be there for my children, but coming home exhausted from the day, and knowing that I had at least 2 more hours of work to do that evening. I’d manage to spend an hour with them, talk to them about their day, get them to bed and pray that they would sleep so that I could eat and then start my work.
My eldest, she makes me laugh. Whilst we have all the time in the world downstairs, she won’t say anything about anything important. It’s when I’m tucking her into bed, the lights are dimmed and I’m just about to creep out…that’s when she’ll decide to talk about what’s on her mind. It’s important that she speaks, because she bottles everything up, and if she’s ready to talk, you bet your life I’m going to listen. But at the back of my mind, a huge gremlin would be screaming, ‘You’d better hurry this along! You’ve got so much work to do! You need to get to bed on time or you’ll be tired the next day!’ I would have to physically try to murder the gremlins that were shouting these hateful things at me. I’d have to scream inside my head – NOOOOO! My daughters come first!
Eventually, I’d leave her room, hoping that she felt better, hoping that I’d given the right advice, hoping that I’ve given her the right amount of time.
Things went on life this for years. I’m ashamed to say – years. And then, the choice was taken out of my hands. When you feel like you are being suffocated on the inside and no one else can see what you’re going through – you either continue that way until something snaps – or you do something about it. My sense of self-preservation is quite strong. I won’t be a martyr for anyone’s cause – so, I had to be creative and find a way to live that worked for me and my family. The wheels were put into motion quite quickly and, with the support of my amazing husband, I was able to make a life choice that would improve the quality of life for my family.
So now, I work everyday, but am back much, much earlier. I cook! I actually cook at home. And to beat it all – I’m actually quite good at it. I’ve been flooding my Instagram account and Facebook profile with annoying pictures of some of the dishes that I’ve made. They aren’t anything remarkable BUT it’s the satisfaction of me actually being able to make food that my family will enjoy.
I go to the gym. Again, I’m not setting the world alight with my physical prowess, but I’m exercising and feel healthier and stronger than I did when I was 28!
I’m meeting my friends. I’m actually making concrete plans to make people, instead of sending a non-committal reply saying ‘Yes – we should definitely meet!’ But no word of when and where.
I’m kinder to everyone around me. I tell my girls – yes, it’s fine to make mistakes. It’s ok – because from that mistake you’ll learn something that you didn’t know before.
This week, I was putting my eldest to bed, and she was bothered by something, but doing her best to mask it. Not wanting to worry anyone. Not wanting to talk about what was bothering her – in case she was wrong about it. I stayed with her for a bit longer. Stroked her hair. Talked about my day and something that was bothering me. Let her give me some advice. Then I asked ‘Are you ok?’ Then the floodgates opened. She was not ok. Things were on her mind. And I listened, and listened and listened. My heart soared as I listened. For the first time in my life – and hers – I was there. Truly there and I was going to give her all the time that she needed. No gremlins at the back of my head. No conflicts. Just peace. Of course I was sad, that my daughter was sad…but I was able to be there for her and I wasn’t going until she felt better. We talked for hours. I didn’t care…
The next day, she had managed to resolve the problem that she was going through, and I genuinely felt like a superhero.
But most of all – I was grateful. I had taken a brave step towards being happy. A decision that I know, many would not have agreed with, but this is my life. I don’t live it for the approval of others. I live it so that I can be happy and most of all, so that I can make my loved ones as happy as they can possibly be.
You might laugh at me, but since I saw that poster, with the regrets of people who are dying, Robbie Williams’ song lyrics have been going around and around in my head…
‘No regrets. They don’t work. No regrets. They only hurt.’
Okay, the context of those lyrics are totally different to what I’ve writing about…but even so… I refuse to have regrets. I refuse to live a life where I look back and wish that I had been braver and done the things that would have made me happier…
But most of all, I feel gratitude. I thank God that I am able to make choices in life. I thank God that I could be there for the ones I love. And for giving the opportunity to have no regrets later.