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May 15 2014

My Sister-in-Law Died From Breast Cancer And Her Words of Advice Still Haunt Me

By at 4:24 pm

guilt

In a conversation I had with my sister-in-law shortly after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she solemnly told me to “just enjoy my children.” She only lived for nine months after her diagnosis, and during the course of her illness, I thought many, many times about those words.

Immediately after we had that conversation, I did spend more time just being around my kids, not rushing off to make dinner, or put in a load of laundry, or hide in my room with my laptop. I would interact with them more, watch them play. The importance of spending time with them was crushing in its urgency. The stark reality that no one really knows how long they have here in this life was in my face, all the time.

I’m not sure how long this attitude lasted. Maybe a couple weeks. Maybe less (I tend to be generous with myself in remembering things like this. It could have only lasted a couple days, honestly). But I do know that the first time one of my children did something that drove me up the wall, I felt an impressive amount of guilt.

How could I dare to be impatient or short-tempered with my children? How could I want to stick them in front of a video so I could have some down time? Did I not realize that every single moment is precious and fleeting? Was I the most selfish mother in the history of all time?

So, besides the obvious fact that I can be overly dramatic and too hard on myself, I was torn between the desire to spend as much quality time with my children as possible and the reality that I have three children, five and under, and it can be really overwhelming.

Sometimes I just need a break. But, man, did I feel guilty for needing it.

It’s been over two months since Ahuva died, and we’re all adjusting to the new normal. The feeling of urgency of spending time with my children has dulled, strangely. It’s not that I don’t think about enjoying my children now that she’s gone. I do. It’s almost impossible not to.

Over the course of an average day, amid the bustle and stress of the morning and evening routine, I will sometimes find myself immobilized by the thought of how ridiculously fortunate I am to just be here. To be doing something as mundane as quartering cucumbers or making my son a sandwich for his lunch.

Last week it hit me when I was washing my sons’ tzitzit, (fringes on four-cornered garment).

“Wow,” I thought. “She’s never going to do this again.”

It’s still intense, but it’s a different kind of intensity. Throughout the process of grieving and acceptance these past months, I’ve come to interpret my sister-in-law’s words in a different, more accessible way.

Instead of feeling the pressure to enjoy my kids all the time, I am going to focus on enjoying my kids during the times that I am with them.

I’m going to try to spend some time with them that’s not directly related to the morning routine, dinner or bedtime. I’m going to try to be honest with myself about just how much downtime I need to function, and to not feel guilty about that. I’m thinking about having some set hours where I really just focus on being a mom. To sit and shmooze with my oldest while he draws a picture. To read all those books my 2-year-old brings to the couch. To push my 3-year-old on the swing for as long as he wants. Even to sit with them while they watch a video.

None of this comes easily to me. Not at all. I don’t know why I feel like I’m always running away from my kids, but I do. I love my kids. I love how close they are and how they play together. But they are all little, and it is very, very tiring and frustrating sometimes.

The main difference is that now I don’t feel so guilty for needing breaks. Down time is important. I usually need it in the afternoon, slightly before dinner. It helps me recharge and gives me the boost I need to tackle the dinner and bedtime routine a/k/a everyone says “no” to anything I ask time.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a point where I don’t feel like there could be some improvement in the balance between mom-time and me-time. But I guess as long as I know that I’m striving for that balance, and remembering to be grateful to God that I get to be here with my kids, and praying for assistance in achieving my goals, I can be content with that.

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