In a recent study, it was determined that most of us have expended 93% of the time we will spend with our parents by the age of eighteen (link below). Until eighteen, we typically live with our parents and see them every day. After eighteen, we typically move out, go to college or get a job, maybe even move out of state. At this point we only see them sporadically, sometimes only a few times a year. For the rest of our lives, only 7% of our time interacting with our parents will occur.
That’s not much. And that’s why it’s so important we value this time and make the most of it. And that seven percent? That’s assuming they live to age 90. And that’s a pretty big assumption.
Knowing this, it makes it easier not get annoyed by their quirks and behaviors that, as their children, sometimes drive us crazy. It makes it easier to let go of the petty grievances and baggage we carry from our youth. Embrace them and tell them you love them. Your opportunities to do this are fewer than you think. Believe me, I know.
In 2004, at the age of 58, my mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Despite having chemotherapy and even having her stomach removed (yes, you can live without a stomach—the intestine adapts) the cancer had spread throughout her body. In January of 2005, I took her and my father to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She had previously never been out of the country. Wheelchair bound, she reveled in bouncing along the bumpy, cobblestone streets, taking in the bright colors of the painted buildings, fabrics and glassware. She loved bartering with the merchants and ordering exotic and beautiful food she knew she would not be able to eat. Sitting on the beach, she watched the ocean for hours.
On the day before we left I pushed her wheelchair out to the sand and we sat and watched the sun set over the ocean. We were quiet for a long stretch of time before she spoke.
“It’s so great to be here, isn’t it?” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “I love Mexico.”
“Yes, but I mean it’s so great to be here.”
And then I knew what she meant. It was great to be here, alive, now, in the present moment. And I could feel the bittersweet realization she had come to, and I witnessed the sense of peace, not regret, that it gave her.
We returned home and a month later she died. Despite the horrible physical suffering she endured (and cancer is god-awful—no one should experience what my mother experienced), that sense of peace and presence never left her. When she passed away, she was ready.
When I get wrapped up with my to-do list and am biting my lip and talking to myself anxiously over this or that, in my best moments I catch myself and go back to the beach, sitting on the sand next to my mother, and remind myself how great it is to be Here. I slow down, I pay attention, and I look at things as if seeing them for the first time. I try to look at things as if seeing them for the last time. I remind myself to be bewildered and experience rapture, one moment at a time. My problems shrink to their proper, insignificant size, and I am again at peace. This, the last gift I ever received from my mother, is a precious one I will never forget.
Happy Mother’s Day, mom. I miss you everyday.
Link to the study:
My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian
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