In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin has an “ah-ha moment” that changed her life.
"The days are long, but the years are short."
She used this revelation as a catalyst to spend the next twelve months testing different approaches to finding happiness.
This quote strikes at the chords of my motherly heart. On those especially trying days when the children are being difficult, Gretchen’s words ring through my ears reminding me that they will soon be grown and gone. It usually gives me the patience and peace I need to get through a long day (or spring break).
And then at the most random of times, this quote will sneak into my soul and pinch at all of the guilt and regret that lives inside of me on the other end of the caregiving spectrum. I ask myself why I didn't fully appreciate the time I had with my grandmother, why I didn’t enjoy it more. With each painful tweak, I rerun the different scenarios of my impatience, my annoyance, my frustration, my dark days while she was still here.
The days as a caregiver can be so incredibly long. There are countless moments of anger, resentment, frustration, sadness, fear, and doubt. And when we give into these emotions, when we surrender ourselves too deeply into the woes, we fall deeper and deeper, and they grow bigger and bigger.
Left unchecked, these emotions become all consuming. They can harden our heart and dampen our spirit. A downward spiral of negative emotion can cast a shadow on even the greatest of times.
Of course, this isn't to say there should be no room for the darker emotions. That would be unrealistic. There are moments, even days when we’re simply sad or angry. And that’s okay. We have to allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling, but we don’t have to surrender ourselves to one emotion.
When we give in to these emotions, when we allow our hearts to become closed off from the light and love that can come from caregiving, we end up right where I am – the intersection of guilt and regret.
Because I gave in to the anger, the frustration, the sadness, and the fear, I didn't leave any room for joy, love, laughter, admiration, or even peace. I can’t go back and create these moments with my grandmother. They are lost forever. It is one of the great regrets of my life.
I can’t go back and try to make tomorrow with her a happier day. There is no opportunity to just enjoy the moment next time. There is no next time.
And that’s the lie we tell ourselves. “Next time, I’ll…” “Tomorrow, I’ll…”
It’s not that we have no intention of trying harder to revel in the good, to allow ourselves to be present in the moment. We just don’t realize that this is the last chance. Today is the last chance. Right now is the moment that counts.
The years are short. They become even shorter when we don’t allow ourselves to break free from the dark emotions in caregiving. Darkness steals time, and we don’t get time back. So ask yourself the last time you regretted being joyful. When was the last time you wanted to redo a moment because it was peaceful?
No matter how long the days seem, enjoy them. Before you know it, a week will have passed, then a month, then years. And those years are oh-so short. Don’t look back at them with guilt and regret.
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