Priorities

August 27, 2015 – Block Island, RI

Shortly after my mom’s illness became terminal, I asked her if she had any regrets. I couldn’t imagine how she was feeling. If I could learn from her experiences, at least I’d gain a little knowledge from this loss. 

“I worried too much about money,” she told me. 

It didn’t surprise me. Our bills raked up with my dance lessons, our house, and our Disney trips. She stopped working to raise my younger brother, but she began to worry about how we’d pay for my college education, among other expenses. She’d wanted to teach. She even started taking English classes at a nearby college so that she could earn a teaching degree. But those classes were costly and time consuming, so she ended up taking a class to become a certified Pharmacy Technician instead. She didn’t want to work at a hospital, because they’d require her to work long hours during the time that my brother and I would be home. She settled for a small local pharmacy so that she would still have time to spend with my brother and I. 

I’d ask her to drive me all across town to visit with my friends, and she’d groan. “I get pushed around all day at work and then I come home and still can’t rest.” She had some coworkers who were arlight, but her boss squeezed every last drop of motivation out of her. 

His first question when she told him of her diagnosis was, “When can you return to work?” 

Her last summer without cancer, my dad, brother, and I took a trip to Block Island. She’d wanted to come and ride bikes around the island with us like we’d occasionally done in the past, but she had to work. So she worked. And I saw that sometimes you have to skip out on fun times to go and earn a living, but now she was sitting in front of me saying that she should have gone to Block Island that time.

About ten square miles, Block Island is a ferry ride away from Connecticut, and the narrow sandy roads hold both cars and bikers. My parents biked there in summers before I was born. The idea was to bike from one side of the island to the other, stopping at the lighthouse, beach, and ice cream shop sometime during the day. 

The edge of the island.

The day that we visited without her, we stopped for donuts when we first arrived on the island. I gobbled that warm cinnamon-sugar covered dessert while standing under the sun and watching islanders walk from their cottages into town. I snapped this picture of it, then got on my bike and continued on. Despite my younger brother’s shakiness on the bike, we explored the quaint island until the sky turned to cotton candy colors. We sped past cute cottages, sprawled out on the beach, and sat down for dinner at one of the few restaurants in the little town square.

But years later, looking at that picture of that donut that probably took me all of thirty seconds to eat, I think about my mom stuck inside working that day. It had seemed like the smarter, more sensible decision at the time, but now it was a regret. She had no idea that would be her last healthy summer, or her second to last summer ever. 

We have no idea when our lives could change forever. Tomorrow any one of us could walk out our front door and get run over by a car, shot, or diagnosed with cancer. That’s not an excuse to live only for the now and disregard any possible future, but it’s enough to remind me to focus on what really matters.

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