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The Best Gift We Can Give
Memories are the most valuable thing we leave behind, so we should live our lives accordingly
Read Time: 4 minutes
Though I write about my mom and her death fairly often, it’s really only on days like Mother’s Day that I try to intentionally recall memories of her.
Unfortunately, the most vivid memories I have are bad ones.
her delivering the news of her terminal diagnosis
witnessing her have a seizure in the hospital and not being able to do anything about it because she was in palliative care and had a “DNR” (do not resuscitate”)
holding her hand as we waited for her to take her last breaths
removing her remaining jewelry and finally gathering the courage to leave the hospital room after said last breaths
touching her cold, dead body as part of the process of identification before she could be cremated
Recency bias can be so cruel…
The last year of her life she was in near-constant excruciating pain. She also was pretty withdrawn. Definitely not how I imagined someone who was given 3-6 months to live would be (thanks Bucket List 🙄).
After writing about her time in palliative care, I realized that the only memories I have that are powerful enough to counteract these ones that I would rather forget are the ones when she was having fun.
👯♀️ Getting low with her as we danced to Apple Bottom Jeans by T-Pain on an Alaskan cruise after she finished her first round of chemo. 🚢
🍝 Hosting dinner parties. 🍾
🍰 Always ordering dessert after dinner. 🧁
🧘♀️ Teaching my middle school soccer team to meditate and visualize our success. ⚽️
🦩 Cycling with her to work where she had fluffy pink flamingo pens on her desk. 🚴♀️
👰♀️ Say Yes to the Dress marathons in the hospital. 📺
We don’t have control over so much, especially the “bad” stuff like how and when we will die, but we do have control over the fun stuff.
“It is only possible to live happily ever after on a day to day basis.” Margaret Bonnano
Every time my mom chose fun was a gift to me, one I will cherish above any other in my life. And it’s a gift I want to pass on to loved ones in my life.
There is a bottomless pit of advice (and research) about how to be “happy,” some of which points to the importance of fun, but I don’t think enough has been said about what fun actually is and how to have more of it.
I hadn’t given the question of how to have more fun much thought until I had a baby and I noticed that my partner was having more “fun” with said baby than I was (and I could see that from the time he was just a few weeks old that my baby was starting to anticipate fun from his dad…and not me).
From making silly faces to making up songs, my partner was playing with his son in ways I hadn’t even considered.
I asked him why he was so good at having fun and his answer was so simple and obvious: “I just never stopped.”
Which begged the question, why did I?
If you’ve spent any time with babies or young children, it’s very obvious that they are intrinsically motivated by fun. We are born knowing how to have fun. Then we slowly but surely learn to de-prioritize this core part of who we are in favour of doing things that will please others, starting with the caretakers in our lives and eventually our friends.
The feedback we get can be so small, and even delivered with genuinely kind intentions.
I think back to a time when I genuinely loved putting outfits together. Then when I was probably ~seven years old, my mom told me, kindly, that my outfit (a floral print top with a floral print skirt), didn’t match. Suddenly I learned there were rules to follow. I don’t think I’ve had fun with fashion since that moment.
I also remember when my childhood best friend told me my “face looked stupid” when I sang. I was in first grade. Until that day, no one had ever told me it mattered how I sounded or looked when I sang. I think I used to enjoy singing? I barely remember because I certainly haven’t enjoyed it since. I’m too self conscious for it to be fun.
I vividly remember being told that I couldn’t colour outside the lines by a teacher, that my enthusiasm for pizza was annoying by friends, and that I needed to spend less time chatting with customers by my first employer.
Every time, I stopped having fun when I started trying to please others.
Which has made me realize that to have fun is to feel secure. It is the ultimate act of confidence.
The above stories are just a few of the examples that I remember, but I am sure I internalized dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of other messages like these over the years that I don’t even remember, but that made me feel smaller nonetheless.
How did my partner manage not to? Well, he just doesn’t care what other people think about him. He think’s he’s likely “on the spectrum” (if ever you needed proof that people with autism can have huge strengths and advantages…), so he’s fortunate in that this comes a little more naturally for him.
For the rest of us, this takes effort: to remember and to reprogram.
To help me remember and reprogram, I’ve set aside one hour/day, for all of May (but maybe will continue, tbd) for “Fun Practice.”
I’ll report back on how this goes as I learn more, but for now, I believe having a “fun practice” is at least as important as having a gratitude practice.
Let this be an invitation to you all to start your own fun practice, even if it’s just in the smallest increments of time or effort.
“The richest person in the cemetery is the one who left the most happy memories.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo