Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two Grandmothers and Two Different Stories

By Judith England

I was one of those lucky children who had two grandmothers around through my growing up and many years beyond.

They both loved my brothers and me – no doubt of that. But they were about as different from one another as two people could be, especially in the way that they told the stories about their lives.

One reminded us many times how she had been sent to live with an aunt when she was a young girl. Although I was never quite clear why this was so, it wasn’t a hardship for her. On the contrary, her Aunt Sara was a wealthy, generous woman who doted on her. Circumstances changed, Grandma’s mother passed away, and she was needed at home to care for her younger brothers. Reluctant to leave the comforts of her adopted home, Grandma’s Dad dangled an incentive for her to return. “Come home,” he said, “and I’ll buy you a pair of diamond earrings.” She did, taking her place as surrogate Mom, with all the work that entailed. But the earrings never came.

In telling the story, even into her 80s, it was clear that Grandma felt that she had been duped; trading luxury for labor, and a promise never kept.

Then there was my other grandmother.

She had become family caretaker as a young woman also. Her beloved father died young, and her mother would hide herself away for weeks at a time wrapped up in troubles with “the drink” and perhaps a broken heart. Her brothers needed her.

She buried two husbands. One died in an accident two short weeks after my father was born, the second succumbed to complications of a ruptured appendix. She raised two sons alone, working as a switchboard operator.

You would never know from her actions how hard her life had been. Nor did she share these stories often.

For her, that was “then,” and life was definitely “now.”

Every year when the holidays come around thoughts center on family – those that are here, and those that are gone. We learn to negotiate the ups and down of life in large measure from the examples that set.

Sometimes that insidious feeling we call “regret” also rears its head. There’s the temptation to think about the could have, would have, should have, if only we might rewrite the story of our lives.

Maybe it’s something big like the job opportunity we didn’t take, the trip postponed, the child we didn’t have. Often it’s less earth-shattering like a word not spoke, or spoken in haste, or even leaving the turkey in the oven too long.

With another Christmas behind us, and a New Year about to begin, I have a few thoughts about regrets that have kept me moving in a direction that works for me:

Regret keeps us tied to the past – Unlike it’s second-cousin “learning from experience”, regret offers no room for change, for growth. We are stuck with the half-empty glass. The script is finished with no hope of revision.

Regret is self-perpetuating – Every time we think about a regret our body responds by generating the same misery we felt the first time. The event is long past, but the negativity continues

Regret is self-defeating – By locking in on unhappiness that things “might have been different if only…..” we limit the possibility of more creative solutions for the future.

Regret is other directed – A lot of blaming can go along with regret. Blaming gives the power to others. Taking ownership of our actions and choices places the power back where it belongs.

No one has a crystal ball that allows them to make perfect decisions – only a heart and mind that might reveal the “best possible” decision for them under the circumstances. It’s about playing the cards we’ve been dealt, perhaps taking a few risks from time to time, and accepting that we’ve done the best we could.

And maybe, just maybe, it might be about buying a pair of diamond earrings for yourself.

With wishes for peace in the New Year!

Writer Judith England is a yoga instructor and massage therapist practicing in Albany, New York. This piece appeared first on her Albany Times Union Holistic Health blog. She can be reached by email at yogajudi@aol.com.

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