“If not for me, the world would have missed….”   The Hospice Chaplain began his message with that question during the Memorial Service last Thursday evening led by Midland Hospice, the organization that sponsors the Grief Support Groups I attend.   

It is not unusual for people to be so self-deprecating that they find it hard to presume to suggest they have made a difference in the world.  It seems arrogant to talk as if we are God’s gift to the world.  If we happen to be in the mode of feeling sorry for ourselves, we will claim we have done nothing anyone will miss.  If we have had a critical parent or spouse or close friend, we may have concluded that just as they have said about us, we do not measure up. 

Sometimes it is actually our inflated ego that sabotages our ability to finish that sentence with anything of substance.  What I mean by that is we sometimes demand that for something to qualify as an achievement that would be missed, it has to be something so much better than what the ordinary folks can do that we received accolades for it. 

What ordinary things have you done?  They are likely to be the things that the world would have missed most.  That you have survived what you have been through is a remarkable accomplishment — no matter how it compares to anyone else’s accomplishments.

The Chaplain was very insightful when he followed that question with some clarification.  He pointed out rightly that most of us struggle with memories of things we did not do well, times we were impatient, harsh, unsympathetic, times we did not do what we should have done, had we been better caregivers.  He urged us to set those thoughts aside for the moment, and focus on what we did do for our Loved Ones.

I have admitted here more than once that the most painful memories are memories of just how debilitated Mary Ann was getting and how little I allowed that to enter my awareness.  I was not always as sympathic and understanding of her limitations as I should have been.  This morning, a simple question some neighbors asked when we crossed paths at the Farmer’s Market planted a seed that sprouted twenty or thirty minutes later.  The question was about cooking, did I do the cooking for Mary Ann.  I admitted my limitations in that area, but answered yes.   Later, as I was leaving, my mind wandered back to that conversation.  A silly claim that I had made came to mind, that I made the best peanut butter and jelly toast around.  I remembered toasting the bread to exactly the color that she liked, cutting it into four squares and feeding it to Mary Ann, making sure each bite had some jelly and peanut butter in it.  I often added two slices of crisp bacon, each cut in half so that every quarter of the toast had a half slice of bacon on it.  I had a certain order of squares so that she would not have too much dry toast in any one bite.  I anticipated when she would need a drink.  Thinking about that brought back the painful feelings to a level I had not felt in the last three weeks or so.  It was not that impossibly intense level that that could hit like a brick during the first weeks, but it was painful. 

I remembered how good it felt to be able to feed her in a way that brought her some pleasant moments.  I longed to be able to do that again.   As that pain settled in (it stayed for a while), I realized that feeding her that peanut butter and jelly toast with bacon was something that she might have missed, had I not been caring for her.  Obviously, I can’t know what would have happened if I had not existed — whether someone else would have done it.  That is not the point.  I did do it.  I made a difference in her world, just as she did in mine. 

There are, of course, some obvious ways of finishing a sentence like that.  I suspect our Children and Grandchildren would have missed mine and/or Mary Ann’s presence in the world.  Those are easy answers.  It is a healthy exercise to think about the impact we have had, the ordinary impact, just being a part of people’s lives.  Simply having answered the Call to Live by continuing through each day.  I have spent time in conversation with many suffering from depression over the years.  When someone is depressed, just trying to finish a sentence like this one is more depressing.  The Chaplain made the point that each of us in that room had survived our grief until that moment.  We had survived the death of someone we loved.  Just to have survived what we have been through, whether the loss of a Loved One or the loss of our confidence and sense of self-worth that comes whith depression — just to have survived is an achievement worth adding where the dots are in that incomplete sentence.   

There are so many things that I did not do for Mary Ann or did not do well.  She deserved better.  At the same time, I did make a difference in her life, as she did in mine.  The greatest gift we gave each other was ourselves.  We stayed in relationship with each other.  In doing so we did make a difference.  Each of us would have missed a lifetime of the other’s presence, had we not been there for one another.  As painful as it is sometimes to remember, it is comforting to remember what each of us brought to the other.  That remains.  We both get to keep those memories.

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