Choices

This week I made a choice I did not expect to make. I chose to not travel to my grandmother’s funeral. She passed away late Tuesday night, and over the past few days, knowing she was in the hospital, I had mentally been preparing to fly back to Mississippi. But at the moment of decision, I suddenly knew it was the wrong choice.

Rob and I have had a difficult year. We have recognized that many decisions we made in the past few years have not been healthy for us, for our relationship, and that to correct that, we needed to make radical changes. To be honest, with all the amazing adventure that Alaska has offered…experiencing the Arctic, seeing dog sled teams race, traveling to remote and beautiful locations by float plane and ferry, seeing glaciers and northern lights…if I had it to do again, I wouldn’t move here. The distance from family is too great, and adventure doesn’t replace the ability to be present.

Still, this is where I find myself today. I looked at flying out today, knowing that Rob would spend the holiday and the next week alone, and I couldn’t do it. He’s a big boy, he’s spent a fair amount of time alone in the past three years due to work and travel demands. I know he could do it. But the point is, that choice has been a bad one. We are both weary of spending time apart for the sake of work.

I considered the reality that this was a family emergency, a moment to mark and honor a beloved woman in my life, and to renew my connections with family members that I don’t see often. But in the end, I think I am honoring my family. I’m acknowledging that this relationship, even at a moment like this, has to come first. It feels a bit selfish, and I have some anxiety that this choice will not be be understood. But after a time of reflection, I am at peace.

So today I’m sharing a Thanksgiving meal with a few others from the clinic where Rob is covering call. I will miss being with my family who have gathered to say goodbye to my grandmother tomorrow afternoon. I will miss seeing the little ones who’ve grown and the ones who have joined the clan since I was last with them. I’ll miss sharing the tears and the memories, the hugs and the smiles. It hurts my heart to choose absence.

But this morning, drinking my coffee and looking at this man who has been my life for the past 30 years, I knew I was right to stay. The lesson of the moment is that we have the present, and that’s all. We may not have the good fortune to live to 90 with all our faculties intact. The choices that we’ve made, we live with, and we look for ways to re-align our priorities with family and future needs.

And my grandmother? If I could ask her, I believe she would support my decision. She was a lighthouse, staying put, watching her children roam the globe, but I don’t recall ever hearing her complain about their choices. She was accepting that life has to be lived.

Rob and I had already planned a trip back in March. I regret that she won’t be there to sit with, to share with. But we’ll visit the cemetery then with my mom, and remember her, my grandfather, my dad, my uncle and aunt…all the family we’ve lost. It will be sad, but it will be sweet, full of happy tears that these people…human, imperfect, funny, wonderful, loving…touched our lives.

And until then, I’m where I belong.

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What would I take?

I’m sometimes inspired by other blog authors. It’s amazing what a variety of topics people blog about, some of a serious nature, some funny. There are how-to blogs, travel and cooking blogs; parenting and relationship blogs. Some are written as essays. Others have a kind of gritty reality that can be a little unnerving if the subject matter is also gritty.

Now and then I run across a reference to a website that I have to check out for myself. I recently found a website, http://theburninghouse.com/ that poses the challenge to readers: if your house is on fire, what would you save? After you sort that out in your mind, you gather the items and make a photo and submit, along with your list, to the site.

I scanned a few of the entries. As you might expect, the items in some lists seemed randomly chosen. In others, there were the more the practical and sentimental objects most people would select. The photos are interesting. Do you think you could put into one photo the MOST important things (not including people or pets, this is about STUFF) in your home?

I challenged myself to work through this exercise. Not only would it be useful, just in case my house should be on fire and I happen to be around to secure my items to save; but also, thinking it out would help me to assign priority and value. Surely that would be worthwhile.

Turns out, not too much made my list of the essentials. I would grab my purse (has all my cards, id, planner, phone); my iPad; some favorite portraits of my children and family; my jewelry; my recipe collection that has the handwritten and tried and true treasures I’ve accumulated over my adult lifetime; my Bible I’ve had since high school; important documents; a few favorite old books; and a handful of items that I have sentimental attachment to…a few things from family, and from my kids’ childhood. That’s it. The furniture I love, the decorative items, clothing, framed art, kitchen stuff, china, knick-knacks…it’s all good, all meaningful to me. But would I save it from a burning house? No.

So what is really important? Mostly, I would save the things that represent the people that are important in my life: my husband, my children, my family. The portraits and few items that I would save for sentimental reasons are important because I can’t replace them…portraits of my children from years ago, or my wedding, or of family that is no longer here. The books are writings that have been old friends to me for many years, that have taught me and sustained me. The jewelry that I own is not so much valuable as it is meaningful: each piece was given to me by my husband or my parents, or my children. The recipes are full of memories of people who have shared with me, and who have had a place in my life.

Now, to collect everything and make a photo…what would you save? I challenge you to think it through. Hopefully no one has to find out the hard way if this is truly useful…I certainly don’t need a house on fire to help me know what’s important. But it gives context to the question, and gives me insight to myself as I walk through the house and craft my answer.