I stared at the veins in my grandmother’s hand as I watched her take her last breaths. I sang her Elvis, I cried, and I wondered “Was she happy with the life she lived? The choices she made? Did she have regrets? Was she happy with whom she was?”
Because at that moment, trapped in a broken body and moaning from pain with her broken voice…she was all she had. Other family members and I could remind her that we loved her. Nurses could try to pour water down her parched throat and doctors could try different pain medicines, but ultimately death was a journey she would take alone. A journey we will all take alone. And, at that moment she and only she was responsible for the life she had lived. It didn’t matter if she lived up to her parent’s expectations, if her boss thought she was good at her job, or even if her friends thought she was making the right decisions. She made her choices. She lived her life. Was she happy with what she had made of it?
As I sat there in reflection on grandmother’s life, the nurses asked if I wanted to up the dosage of her pain medicine. They warned me she may never wake up. I turned my gaze to the warrior woman lying before me who had raised three kids on her own, buried a husband, multiple siblings, and a daughter -the woman who was now barely recognizable as she writhed and rolled in her agonizing dance with death. “Yes,” I whispered. And, then stronger, “Yes. Please, whatever you need to do.” As the medicine hit her veins and she slipped smoothly into slumber, I thought again, “Were you happy with the life you lived? Were you happy with…you?”
When my time comes will I be happy with me? With the choices I made? With the life I lived?
I have fought people pleasing my entire life. Both my nature and upbringing were strongly ingrained with doing “the right thing.” But, the right thing always seemed to be what someone else thought I should do and being who someone else thought I should be. As a result, I became the quintessential good girl – the epitome of following all the rules. The problem is the rules kept changing depending on who I was around at the moment or who had the loudest voice in my life at the time. The right thing always seemed to be playing by someone else’s rules. No one ever said, “What do you think the right thing is?” They said, “I know what you should do.”
And, I did it.
It nearly killed me.
All the voices in my head became too much and I felt trapped not knowing who I should listen to, where I should turn. I tried to counter the confusion by surrounding myself with strong personality types who I could lean on to make decisions for me. And, I ran and I worked, and I strived, and I cried trying to keep up with whatever version of the right thing was presented to me at the time.
But, that night, after sitting with the champion that I called grandmother, singing with her, sobbing with her…I changed. I realized that when my own dance with death comes I will not be asked if everyone else thought I did the right thing. I will not stare at my own shriveled hands, my own bloated feet, my own broken body and wonder if the people in my life were happy with my decisions. I will be faced with myself. As walk step by step on the road to death I won’t be able to hide behind the identity of my job, title, family, money or friends. I won’t be able to blame anyone else for the choices I should have made, the life I should have lived. No matter who is holding my hand at the time the walk to death will be a walk I take alone.
May I look back and see that I was kind.
May I look back and see that I was brave.
May I look back and see that I was smart.
May I look back and see that I was caring.
May I look back and see that I was strong.
May I look back and see that I loved fiercely.
May I look back and see that I never gave up.
May I look back and see that I gave the world the best version of myself I could offer.
May I look back and realize that I acted in grace when the world didn’t give its best self back.
May I look back and realize I lived.