Monday, November 16, 2009

A Tale of Two Widows

You've probably heard a hundred sayings like this:
  • Attitude is everything.
  • Happiness is a choice.
  • Some people focus on what they have lost and others on what they have left.
  • Whether your glass is half-full or half-empty all depends on your perspective.
I saw that clearly illustrated when Julia and I visited with one of her elderly, widowed aunts who is now home-bound.  Mary Lee greeted us warmly and invited us to sit down, as one might expect.  Since having a brain aneurism, she has required around-the-clock sitters but spoke kindly of the women who performed that service for her as well as the meals that they prepared for her.  She spoke fondly of her sons, their attentiveness to her needs and their faithfulness to visit her when they could.  When Julia inquired about the brace on her arm, she down-played the seriousness of the injury that resulted from a fall and insisted that it would be better in time.  Julia had baked a cake for her and Mary Lee thanked her for it and told her that she was sure that she'd enjoy it.  She acknowledged that her memory was bad and was confused on a few points of our conversation but she was cheerful, nonetheless.  When it was time for us to go, her aunt thanked us for the visit and bid us goodbye without cajoling us to stay longer or pressing us for a specific commitment to visit again. I never heard her complain, not even once.  That's how I want to be if I reach her age and am incapacitated.  I want to be thankful for what I have left.  I want to see my glass as half-full. I want to be grateful and gracious.  I want to be a pleasant person to visit.

Sadly, not all people her age and in her circumstance are like that. Some of them dwell on the negative aspects of their circumstances, reminding themselves and their visitors of each ache and pain, moment of loneliness, and loss of independence.  They so intensely grieve the passing of the "good old days" that they leave no opportunity to appreciate the beauty or value of today.    They focus on what they have lost rather than on what they have left and, in doing so, destine themselves for more of the same.  My mother is one of those people.  She is a bit older than Mary Lee, perhaps, but is in a similar circumstance.  In her eyes, all the best is behind her and all that lies ahead is pain and suffering.  She is stubbornly defiant about taking any action that might improve her mobility and quality of life.  Her glass is half-empty.  I hope that who she is now will not be her legacy because this is not the person she always was.  She still models some admirable traits such as diligence, tenacity, generosity and thoughtfulness, to name just a few.   She struggles to be cheerful and  pleasant but she remembers a time when that characterized her life.  However, for her it's only a memory of another time.   She believes those days are behind her and is helpless to recover in herself all the best that she has been for so many years.  I'm sad for her.

There are circumstances that are beyond my control but even so, I do still have choices.   I'm not so naive as to believe that I can will myself to be happy and cheerful in every circumstance but I do have some choice in how I will respond to what life throws at me.  I must choose wisely how I will respond not only for myself but for all of those who love me.  My choices have a profound effect on the outcome of my life, my future and others.

What do you think determines how you will respond to the circumstances in which you find yourself? 

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