appreciate the present moment

Yesterday, I heard an interview on NPR with Joan Didion. She read an excerpt of her recent book, Blue Nights,which chronicles her grief following the death of her only daughter.  In this except she discussed how her boxes and drawers of mementos which fill her New York apartment serve not to bring her back to the moments in time they represent, but to remind her how she didn’t fully appreciate them when they occured.

This is the dense part of the human condition, the obtuse flavor of reality: we can’t appreciate what we love the most until we lose it.   

Maybe this is why I like the pictures of my mom and I from my infancy so much. In photos from later years, its harder to overlook the forced teenaged smile, or the vacant eyes of someone who would rather be doing something else.  

One of the gifts of cancer is there is often warning before the end.  But even though I anticipated my mother’s death for a year before it happened, I couldn’t fully get it.  There was part of my heart that simply didn’t understand, or wouldn’t accept, that she could be not-here.  I spent the better part of the hour after she died lying next to her in bewilderment.  Yes, she had been in hospice for a month. Yes, I’m a nurse. But it seemed… impossible.  

No, I didn’t appreciate her fully when she was alive.  And how could I? We don’t appreciate air until we drown. 

And now she is gone. With my whole heart, I appreciate her, and other parts of my life too that I would otherwise have taken for granted.

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15 thoughts on “appreciate the present moment

  1. Noel

    I really appreciate this post. Very inspiring. “We don’t appreciate until we drown” It is so true. We must appreciate what we currently have, because like is short. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Barb

    You’re so right – it does not seem possible she is not with us. I prefer to believe she is with me when I take a walk and deer comes out of the field and stares at me with big brown beautiful eyes. I prefer to believe she is with me when I can’t sleep at night until I envision her as she was before the illness took over. I prefer to believe she is with me when I’m struggling with some decision and think what would Janelle do? I and know she is with you always, because I know she knows you never took her for granted.
    Love you,
    Barb

    Reply
  3. Step On a Crack

    What beautiful writing and such a deep heart ‘topic’ topic is not the word… loss and love and wondering and making it through: not a ‘topic’ but a way of living after loss and during loss too.

    I am reading the Didion book now! oh my. I read The Year of Magical Thinking after a family suicide and it helped

    and it did not.

    truth be told, nothing really ‘helps’ right? You are in a unique position of answer this: a nurse, forewarning and still: it is unreal and not acceptable. “They’ say time heals…. maybe, maybe not. I think we just fold the grief in and it becomes part and parcel of who we are now without Them.

    I am moved by your writing. thank you!

    Peace, Jen

    Reply
  4. chasingtheperfectmoment

    I am entering the “golden years” with my mom. I try to always remember that one day I may not have her. Your words are inspiring. Thank you for sharing with the rest of us.
    I would love to offer a snippet of your story on my blog. I work with the older adult population. I think they would appreciate this. Would you consider it?

    Reply
  5. Pingback: 10 things I learned from Mom… and Chasing the Perfect Moment « born by a river

  6. Pingback: the gift of the new year | born by a river

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