Last weekend I attended the funeral services for my husband’s uncle — one of the best men I’ve ever known. When he found out his cancer was incurable, he chose palliative care over the painful treatments he had previously been receiving. Knowing his time was short, he wanted to enjoy the last months of his life as comfortable as possible, and — in his own words — showing the rest of us how to die.
Despite extreme pain and discomfort, he made a very deliberate, minute by minute choice to recognize the everyday miracles in his life, express gratitude for them, and do whatever he could to lift and love everyone within his circle of influence. The last time I talked with him, he called to express his condolences (between coughing) the day after my own sister’s passing. Somehow he even managed to make me laugh before the end of our conversation.
Simply put, he was an inspiration.
The day following his funeral was Mother’s Day, and I took about an hour to myself in the morning to walk up a nearby mountainside. It was a beautifully clear day, and the rising sun warmed me both inside and out. I wanted to spend some time thinking about my uncle’s life and what his example meant to me as a mother. Hearing my uncle’s children speak of the powerful influence he had in their lives got me thinking about the influence I was having on my own children. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I wanted the most for them was the same thing I wanted the most for myself in this mothering journey: the ability to choose joy in any circumstance.
If my uncle could see every day miracles, express gratitude, and exude love for those around him while in extreme pain, shouldn’t I be able to do the same when faced with a night of interrupted sleep, a few mundane hours of housework, or a long five minute tantrum? I almost felt like the last months of his life were a challenge. An invitation. Choose joy. Everything is better when you simply choose joy.
What mother doesn’t want to feel more joy in her work and in her relationships with her children? But how is it done? I don’t think there is any bullet list that can provide a magic answer to transform a person’s life paradigm from misery to joy, but if I tried to make one, it would include two simple things: gratitude and love. At least, those seemed to be the secret ingredients my uncle used to create his joy.
One of his daughters spoke at the funeral about how no matter what happened during the day and no matter how he felt, he always ended their time together by saying, “Another perfect day.” Isn’t that beautiful? It’s not that he didn’t see the imperfection in his life, it’s that he recognized it as an essential part of his growth and felt grateful for it. Wouldn’t you like to see your life like that at the end of every perfectly imperfect day of being a mother? Why don’t you? Why don’t I?
And I’ve rarely been around someone so intent on leaving the person they were with better than they were before. His ability to love through listening, supporting, encouraging, and complimenting — it was rare. Wouldn’t we all be so much happier if we could do the same? Think of what it would do for our relationships with our children!
I know. It seems much easier said than done. But that’s my point. Could it really be as simple and easy as making a choice? (Maybe simple, but not always easy.) Criticize or praise. Resent or accept. Ignore or engage. Complain or appreciate. Aren’t all of these behaviors just mental and emotional choices we make first in our heads and then in our hearts? Think about it. Joy doesn’t require a certain amount of money, a degree from a prestigious institution, or a license from the government. Joy really is for the taking. Again, if a dying man in extreme pain can choose joy and really experience it, can’t any of us in any circumstance?
I like to think so.
QUESTION: Do you find joy in mothering? Why or why not? Do you think joy is a choice? Why or why not?
CHALLENGE: No matter what happens today in your mothering journey, choose joy anyway.