On Her Deathbed, His Mother Said…

One of my dear Women At Woodstock friends, Janet Riccobono, came to town last month - but instead of getting together for lunch or a bike ride as we've done in the past, this time she and her partner Rob came to our home and stayed with us for a couple of days.
It was a leap of faith; I'd never met Rob, and Brad had never met either Rob or Jan. But I wasn't worried. Every time someone I've befriended at Women At Woodstock comes to visit, it feels like a reunion with an old, old friend. I've become comfortable with this strange phenomenon; Woodstock women are truly my tribe of people.
As I knew it would, the visit turned out to be great - so great, in fact, that Jan and Rob's two-night stay evolved into three - just because we were all having such a good time.
The visit alone was a gift, but something else happened that made it more valuable; in an odd conversational moment, Rob told us what his mother's dying words to him were. Sure, this is not your normal conversational topic, but the really amazing thing is that those words told me something I needed to hear right now.

We'd all been talking about accumulated belongings that had to be sorted through and weeded out; the when/where/how of retiring and how we will choose to live once both spouses are free of reporting to jobs; worries about our children's' happiness, security, and well-being. We were digging our spades in deep and turning over big clods of the rich soil of fear and anxiety about the future.

Rob told me what his mother had said many years ago on her deathbed, and, amazingly, those were just the words that I needed to hear right now.

Rob, normally boisterous and funny as hell, grew quiet during the discussion. Then he said, "You know, I lost my mother a long time ago. I was with her at her deathbed. And do you know what she said to me? I'll never forget. She said, 'You know what, Rob? My biggest regret about my life is that I spent too much time worrying.'"
What a moment of beautiful clarity.

Brad Baker, Janet Riccobono, Ann Voorhees Baker, Rob Shannon

Brad, Jan, me & Rob

How many times in the last couple of years have I heard the buzzword du jour: "being present." People talk about it all the time. And I've tried to embrace that idea. But it's hard. I mean...

The dashboard light came on saying "ABS off," whatever that means.

Two days ago my younger daughter left South Africa after living there for half a decade and building a whole life, a whole circle of friends; I worry day and night about her heart-wrenching transition.

There's nothing planned for dinner.

My older daughter is constantly overloaded with work in her Ph.D. program.

I have writing deadlines and web design deadlines and a backlog of emails.

My husband and I are up against a decision to apply for Social Security - or not - and if so, under what strategy?

My 90-year-old mother-in-law refuses to wear an alert bracelet even though she's had several bad falls over the last two years.

My hair is going gray and frankly, I'm glad; it's almost weird that it's refused to go gray for so long, but it's in threads and patches, not beautiful streaks or all-over silver like some lucky women; how do I deal with this new feature of my body?

There are weeds in my yard and I hate gardening.

I was using this carb-monitoring app on my phone and it was really cool and then one day I just stopped using it - what the hell; why did I quit?

I know how lucky I am to have lived as long as I have, but I struggle against depression over being old and not having accomplished what I had hoped.

Should I have cataract surgery soon, as my doctor recommends, even though it totally creeps me out to remove a piece of my body - the lens of my eye, for god's sake, and replace it with a piece of plastic? 

Why can't I find time to watch all the movies I've listed in my phone's memo app?

I missed so many ballet classes last month, I'm afraid I won't be able to keep up when I go to class tomorrow! 

I'm literally losing sleep over all this - mostly over worrying about my daughters, and lack of sleep creates serious health risks. Maybe that's why my hair suddenly is going gray so fast?

Where are my keys? How, goddammit, have I lost my keys again?

As you can see, my mind is screaming all the time. 
So in the midst of this cacophony, Rob shared his mother's final words. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. Stop worrying. That makes much more sense to me than be present. Let it go. Look around you. Trust that things will be - well, as they will be. That's all there is.
At the car repair, my ABS warning turned out to be a minor thing, but the mechanic discovered a problem with my struts that might turn out to cost a chunk of money. Jamie at the desk (who I love; she is smart and efficient and cool and reminds me of Sara Ramirez, the actor who plays Madame Secretary's assistant Kat) handed me my estimate, and she'd paperclipped a lottery scratcher to it. I could win up to $500! It made me laugh. I could get a bill and a pile of cash with which to pay it, all in the same handful. Probably not, but it could happen, right? Yep, what will be will be, and what will be could go either way.

lottery scratcher

It COULD have been this one! (It wasn't.)

Learning the meaning of being present right when I needed it; yet another amazing coincidence that always seems to happen with Woodstock Women - and now, I see, with the people in their lives who they bring into mine. 

9 thoughts on “On Her Deathbed, His Mother Said…

  • March 6, 2019 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for the important reminder.

    • March 7, 2019 at 5:50 pm

      You’re welcome, Mary!

  • March 6, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Great essay, Ann: “Trust that things will be – well, as they will be. That’s all there is.”

    As I get older, I find myself employing cliches more and more–1) because I finally realize how true most of them are, and 2) because I guess the aging mind just goes to them rather than crafting its own brilliant epiphanies.

    The ones I tell myself as I stupidly worry about things that “might be”:
    “Worrying never changed anything.”
    “Don’t borrow trouble.”
    And of course, “Que sera, sera” (in Doris Day’s voice)
    Perhaps those are a little passive, but they seem to soothe me.

    Relatedly, I like these two cliches-in-the-making by my 83-year old Aunt Andy:
    “I’ll get to it when I get to it.”
    “I’ve perfected procrastination.”
    Of course, I had to design a mug for her with the second saying, I just loved it so much…

    To end on a practical note, *everyone* I know that finally got their cataract taken care of says, “Why did I wait so long?” So maybe you can cross that off the worry list just by doing it. One less worry!

    • March 7, 2019 at 5:53 pm

      Thanks, Laura – I too love Aunt Andy’s second cliche. It was made for my life. Hmmm, cataract surgery now??? Yikes. I’m sure you’re right. Just have to get my mind around doing it.

  • March 6, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Thank you Ann from both of us. We are in the car traveling back toward California from Seattle. I opened my email and read this post aloud to Rob. Sharing time with you & Brad was memorable; I feel even closer to you and Rob & I both know we’ve made forever friends. Sharing our lives was the easy part. You relayed something poignant in this post with sweet words that remind us we only have THIS moment; and we love you for doing so.

    • March 7, 2019 at 5:54 pm

      What a wonderful note, Janet (and Rob)! Back atcha, and thank you.

    • March 7, 2019 at 5:54 pm

      Thank you, Jan. I’m glad you liked the post.

  • March 10, 2019 at 9:50 am

    I immediately thought of this poem, and was going to post only the last half–starting with “when it’s over,” but really, the purpose is to appreciate each moment in full measure.

    When Death Comes
    by Mary Oliver

    When death comes
    like the hungry bear in autumn;
    when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

    to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
    when death comes
    like the measle-pox;

    when death comes
    like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

    I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
    what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

    And therefore I look upon everything
    as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
    and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
    and I consider eternity as another possibility,

    and I think of each life as a flower, as common
    as a field daisy, and as singular,

    and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
    tending, as all music does, toward silence,

    and each body a lion of courage, and something
    precious to the earth.

    When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
    I was a bride married to amazement.
    I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

    When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
    if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
    I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
    or full of argument.

    I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
    —Mary Oliver


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