My mother had been sick for many years before she passed away. I knew the day was coming but as anyone who has experienced that type of loss knows, you can never really prepare yourself. I was in my 30s at the time. I had a young son, worked full-time, and was in a master’s degree program. I was juggling all of that along with caring for my mother and my college-aged sister. There was already a lot on my plate and I knew there would be more to come. The funeral plans, clearing out of her home, and settling her estate – all while grieving my loss and comforting my family – I thought it was too much to handle. My exact words when I got the call that she had passed were, “I can’t handle this”. A friend not only assured me that I could, but he also asked me this life-changing question -
“Imagine it’s one year from now, you’ve taken care of all of the details and all of that is past you. When you look back on this time, how do you want to have handled yourself? What exactly will make you feel proud?”
His words gave me permission to pause, step out of my crisis mentality, and identify what was important to me. The word that popped into my head was grace. In addition to Grace being my mother’s middle name, it also holds a special meaning for me - being considerate, thoughtful, strong, kind, and poised. I wanted to look back on this time of my life and feel I acted with grace. It helped me to let go of worry and focus on the things that were most important to me like my sister, my son, and my mother’s memory.
It has been many years since my mom’s passing, but I have employed this strategy many times. In 2009 when faced with handling massive recession layoffs, with burnout and worry creeping in, I stopped and asked myself, “When this is all over, and it will be, how will I want to have acted? What will make me feel proud?”. This time the answer was to serve, to put other people first. When things started to feel overwhelming or impossible, I focused on how I could better serve. I remember thinking that if someone had to tell people they were losing their jobs I was glad it was me because I knew I would treat them with care and respect.
We are now in the middle of a global crisis and after the initial shock of what is happening has worn off I find myself asking the same question – when this is over and I’m looking back on it, how will I want to have acted? What’s coming up for me now is connection. Using this time to reconnect with people I haven’t spoken to in a while but also connecting with new folks. What I find most interesting is that since we are all experiencing the same crisis, we can all relate to each other on a deeper level. Even when having a virtual coffee with a new contact the first thing we ask each other is “How are you doing?” or “How are you holding up?” Both the question and the answer are sincere. I’ve had strangers share with me their worries, concerns, and what’s getting them through. If there is one positive for me during this difficult and uncertain time, it is that I feel more connected than ever.
So, I ask you - when you look back on this time of uncertainty and crisis, how will you want to have acted? What will make you feel proud of yourself?