It’s a topic for small gatherings. For fun discussion. Something we talk about when we’re bored. It’s a question we all have probably asked, or been asked at some point in our life. “Knowing what you know now, if you could go back and change one thing or do one thing differently, what would it be?” It’s a pretty deep question actually—one that allows us to think about our past, and the decisions we’ve made, good, or bad (usually bad). It’s kind of fun to think about all the things we could have done–what the possible outcomes would have been, how life would be different now. Of course, then reality hits, we all laugh a bit, and then change the subject. Sound familiar?
I used to think this question was ridiculous. Because I can usually link a pretty valuable lesson that I learned from the decision in question. A lesson that shaped who I am today. But then something happened that changed my opinion. Not totally of course. But I found something that I would change if given the chance. I don’t want to call it a regret, but I would definitely do it differently, if I could.
It was the evening of August 4, 2012. It had been a long day–a very long day. Christina was in bed and there were about eight or ten people in the room chatting with her, including me. At one point, she sat up in bed and said, “I want some ice cream.” Everyone jumped up to get it. I think my mother was closest to the door and ultimately got it for her.
When she came back to the bedroom, she had a full bowl of Chrisina’s favorite–Chocolate/Vanilla twirl. Christina held the bowl and let the ice cream soften a bit. At one point our pastor looked at the ice cream and said “Wow, that ice cream looks really good.” Christina looked up at the pastor, squinted her eyes in a feigned glare and said, “You get your own bowl.” The room erupted in laughter and the slightest grin crept onto Christina’s face. In a time when we were all in agony over the prospect of losing her, she was still able to bring joy to everyone, and lighten the mood a little.
We all talked for a bit more, and then I called it a night. Christina was doing her best to remain strong for everyone that was there. But you could tell her strength was waning.
People were slowly starting to leave, and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. I knew Christina would soon be back to sleep, so I said “good night” to her, kissed her, and let myself succumb to the sleep that so desperately called to me.
That’s it. That’s the moment that, if given the chance, I would change. See, that was the last time I saw Christina awake. That was the last time I kissed her and got a reaction from her. It was the last time I got to converse with her. It was the last time I heard her sweet voice.
When I woke up the next morning, Christina was asleep. Her breathing pattern had changed. She was taking about 5 or 6 breaths a minute. I knew at this moment that she would never wake up again. And she never did. I laid there with her for the remainder of her life. At about 1:20 pm, while she was surrounded by family, wrapped in my arms, and holding each of our children’s hands, Christina took her last breath on this earth.
I tell people that I have no regrets. Christina and I had a lively marriage. We fought like cats and dogs. We disagreed on a lot of things. We hurt each other, said things we shouldn’t have said. We also had wonderful times. We took trips. We moved across the country. We have two beautiful children. We built a house together. But more than any of that, we loved each other unconditionally. No matter what happened, we both knew that we would be there for each other. Leaving never crossed our minds. We were best friends. I miss her dearly. Every day.
So what is it? What would I have done differently on that night? Well, if I had it to do over again, I would have fixed a pot of coffee, and stayed up all night talking with her. Listening to her. Looking at her. Holding her hand. Rubbing her feet. Whatever. Just being with her.
See, even when we are caring for someone who is on the brink of death, we find ourselves getting into a routine. That routine tends to give us blinders to the cold reality of our situation. I went to bed that night fully expecting to see Christina the next day, fully expecting to fix her breakfast, to help her get cleaned up, to give her a hug and a kiss good morning. I expected to have that next day with her. It was the routine.
I wonder how much our daily routine blinds us to the reality of life. How many of us went to bed tonight expecting to see our loved ones in the morning? How many of us leave for work in the morning expecting to see our loved ones when we get home? How many of us say mean and cruel things, expecting to have the chance to say we’re sorry? How many of us will one day say “I wish I had fixed a pot of coffee so that I could just be with her a little while longer”?
The bottom line is that we will all make mistakes. We will all do crazy things. And we’ll all have those times when we wish we could have done something different. It’s life. The question is, “What can I learn from those times to help make my life better”? Maybe that’s the question we should be asking in small gatherings. For fun discussion, or when we’re bored–or when we really want to know. Maybe?