On Pain, Remembering and Living Courageously in 2015
The doctors said she mustn’t go to the wedding on the weekend. Her platelet count had dropped for the third time and they couldn’t explain why.
This time she had to stay in hospital, they said, for her own and her baby’s safety.
It was a Wednesday when Maria told me all this: how serious things were, and how disappointed she was about missing her cousin’s wedding. She said she felt mostly fine, although her back was aching. She thought she’d get her husband to buy her a swiss ball, hoping that might help, but I told her to send him round to my place and borrow mine instead.
She admitted she was scared.
There was a moment of silence between us.
She mused about how beautiful it was to have her mother sitting there in hospital each day, knitting for the baby.
She’d had two miscarriages and subsequent IVF challenges. Now at 40 years old and almost midway through this pregnancy, she dared to believe that she was going to be a mother. She didn’t keep any of it secret — the baby in her belly was a boy and she called him Cameron.
When Margarita called the following Tuesday I felt sick. She was another of Maria’s cousins and could have no other reason to call me. She explained that Maria must have had bleeding in her brain overnight on Saturday and they’d switched the life support off on Sunday.
As Margarita spoke, I heard a soft, guttural kind of wail, and realized that it was coming from me.
Maria’s death shook me deeply. It was an acute ache that came and went for a long while.
In a couple of weeks time it will be six years since she died.
Of course I still remember often.
I think of Maria’s Mum at Christmas time. I remember her death each January. I think of how old she’d be when it’s her birthday in June. And how old Cameron would be.
I remember how I wore her wedding shoes to my own wedding.
I remember the learn-to-surf day we had together, how freezing and exhausted we were: I looked up at one moment to see her gently collide with another beginner; he was on all fours on his board when they bumped, presumably on his way to standing up; and somehow, post collision, having accidentally disembarked her own board, Maria wound up side-saddle on his back, on his board; and in that pose they rode the white water all the way into the sand.
It remains one of the most bizarre, miraculous and funny images of my life.
There are other times when something random will trigger a memory of Maria. But there are also two other occasions when I remember her regularly and deliberately.
When I’m running as part of my fitness training, and if I find myself struggling, I think of her — I run, and I run hard, because I can. I’m alive and grateful to be so.
The second practice of remembering relates to my work. Two months before she died and shortly after my son was born, Maria gave me a stripy blue bunny for him. I keep it on my desk. It helps give me perspective, focus and daring.
Having it there, I am more courageous. I procrastinate less. I work harder. But it also reminds me when to stop and pay attention to life beyond my desk: my health, my family.
Remembering Maria helps me to live better.
It is tempting to put pain out of our minds. To numb it, distract ourselves, or to try to coat it in positivity. But in doing so, you do yourself a disservice. It will continue to nag at you, to sap your energy and divert you from where you want to go in life.
Try to avoid or diminish pain, and you avoid and diminish your chance at a full life. On the other hand deliberately remembering that you only have one chance, stops you from taking life for granted.
The practice of remembering that we all must die is called memento mori and it can be traced back to classical philosophers, and later to medieval art and literature. It takes different forms in different religions and cultures. But the central idea is the same: by deliberately remembering our mortality, we are better able to keep a firm grip on what is important in life.
It may seem odd to you, my writing here about Maria, and about remembering death, and my throwing these thoughts together with the new year, motherhood and entrepreneurship, but then again I have a feeling you won’t find it a stretch at all.
January can feel at once positive and hopeful, as well as daunting (even a little dark) — new plans, a fresh chance, and yet another year on, another year older (and maybe a niggling feeling of having held back in 2014, having not achieved what you’d hoped).
Motherhood and entrepreneurship can inspire both joy and fear. As a mom (and in all relationships you hold dear) you dare to love and thereby risk loss. In business (and in all creative pursuits), you invest yourself (perhaps your time, effort, money, identity) and thereby risk failure.
But not as scary as the prospect of a life half-lived.
Better to find the courage to feel pain and fear, and to remember death.
Better to really live.
What is important to you this year?
How will you find the courage to do what you want to do…in your relationships, your business, your life?
How or who will you remember, to be sure you really live in 2015?
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