Thursday September 17, 2016 our Uncle Clay died. It wasn’t unexpected. He wasn’t a young man who hadn’t lived his life fully. Honestly, he wasn’t even MY uncle.
Uncle Clay had been sick for some time. He made the decision to leave the hospital with hospice in hopes to die the way he wanted, at home. He was a man who lived such a unique life doing what he wanted with his time, spending decades being his own boss, and refusing to live his life with a normal nine to five. He was my husband’s Uncle his whole life and only mine since our marriage.
Yet, the finality of his death is still so… final.
In the grips of the chaos and emotional exhaustion, so many chores went on the back burner. When we received the news of his passing, we immediately drove an hour to his home. My husband needed to be with his family. In the following days, we traveled an hour back and forth to see the incoming family from out of state. Often we just sat in a room together steeping in the quiet finality of death.
Days went by as my husband and I juggled emotional fatigue alongside the fatigue that comes from having a 2 month old. We had long heart to hearts and shared memories of a person that, regardless of his less endearing quirks, was a staple at every family gathering. You think you don’t have time to hear that “story for the millionth time”. Until you find yourself laughing, in a bittersweet remembrance, about the story that we have all heard a million times.
Weeks before Clay’s death, I visited him in the hospital. I did not know yet that it was the last time I would see him alive. Over the course of hours, he talked to me about his life. In retrospect, I think he knew he was dying and he was surveying his life from beginning to present. All I can say is that this man lived my tired mother dream. Highlights include being his own boss and retiring early to spend decades doing LITERALLY whatever he wanted WHENEVER he wanted. If that meant binge watching Breaking Bad… so be it. If it meant eating pudding for dinner…done! I laughed with him as he talked to me about his proudest moments and his favorite hobbies. As he was taking stock of his life, I was comparing it to my own. How STARKLY different our paths are! A man who was born in the 40’s and a young mother born in ’91. We kept coming to points where I would say, “just like that you up and moved?” or “How did you get away with that?” Again and again I realized the answer was because he wanted to. Clay and I have very different dreams but he made conscious choices to chose his dream. He lived his life accountable to no one but himself. To say I was jealous is an understatement.
Don’t get me wrong! I do not hate my life or NOT love my children. Quite the opposite! I always knew I wanted to be a wife and mother, no question! I think I just thought it would be very different than it is. No one tells you that unless you marry someone who will pay for a maid, you will spend hours of your day EVERYDAY picking up after someone else. You don’t just wash your laundry. (Don’t get me started on laundry it is literally the BANE of my existence!!) You wash EVERYONE’S laundry. It’s hard to find the glamour in that. Being accountable to so many other people is sometimes taxing work. It often comes with a LOT less sleep. As I was playing the comparing game, I thought about why I WANTED to become a mother. I had so MANY reasons. I thought of how much time I spend each day doing the things I wanted to become a wife and mother for. It’s a terribly sad and small number that I am too ashamed to share.
The night before his memorial service, I sat and thought about how beautiful Clay’s life was. It was perfectly beautiful because he lived it the way he wanted to. Regardless of how important or unimportant others viewed the things he spent his time on, he did what HE enjoyed. How understated the importance of living a life FOR YOURSELF really is. I don’t do that as well as I want to. I spend too much time doing unnecessary things that I don’t even remotely enjoy because of the pressure. I’m constantly picking up to always have a “guest ready” home. I invest too much time in ridiculous recipes because of the pressure to be a great wife who serves up exciting home cooked meals. I literally redo the throw pillows on my couch more than once a day so it looks “presentable”. I say no to the things I enjoy doing because, HELLO! There are dirty dishes in the sink and they can’t just BE here in this place MADE for dirty dishes! Dare I ask, why not? Who does it benefit to always chose the not fun obligations? Not me. Not my kids. I’m not saying I’ll never do dishes again (well, let’s not make promises) but I am saying it’s not worth it to always do the dishes! You, dear mother, are not accountable to the pressure and obligations from society or pinterest. You are accountable to you.
I became a mother to spend time with my kids and see their faces light up when they giggle. I became a mother so that no matter how old I am I can still have awesome make believe games of “the floor is lava”. In the finality of Clay’s death there is a real lesson. Tonight, as the throw pillows are askew and the clean laundry that had been dumped on the couch for folding continues to stale from neglect, I’m looking at abandoned toys. A missed opportunity to do what I love.
“When I die I want to feel like my time was WELL SPENT. I want to take stock of my life and feel confident in my choices.”
From now on I’m going to do more of what matters TO ME. I’m going to play caterpillar barbie dinosaur pokemon battles with my four year old. I have my whole life to work but the thing I want to spend my life doing, it IS EXPIRING RIGHT NOW! Being a mother is a forever job but mothering young children isn’t. One day she wont want to play imaginary games. One day I’ll be old.
We only get this one life, friend. This one today. I don’t know about you but when I die I want to feel like my time was WELL SPENT. I want to take stock of my life and feel confident in my choices. I want to be like Uncle Clay. I want to look at my fleeting time dwindling by the second, stare death in the face and say, “I DID WHAT I WANTED TO DO!”