A lesson in life from the dying


Esteban’s mom died yesterday.

The Skinner Family at the Country Fair Motel in Damariscotta, Maine, 1965.
In happier times, and in matching home-sewn outfits.

Although her passing wasn’t entirely unexpected, I cried when I got the news — mostly because she was gone, but also because a wave of regret washed over me. “I wish I’d had a better relationship with your mom,” I told Esteban. I wished I’d gone to visit her the night before, instead of cursing the traffic and muttering, “I’ll go tomorrow.” I wish I’d told her more often that I admired her, and how grateful I am for her son.

Esteban’s mom had her share of regrets, too, in her final months. She mourned her own damaged relationships and cried about missed opportunities. But it was too late for her, as well … she’d lived her life and there was no going back.

Some say regret is a useless emotion, because we can’t change the past. But i think regret can be priceless — if it teaches us something about ourselves and informs our future actions.

The lesson I’ve learned these past few months — and especially last night — is to not wait. To not say, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” to not wish your life away because you hope for something more perfect, to seize each day … and to live the hell out of every day. Even the bad ones.

I’m heartened at least that in the last two weeks Ellen seemed happier and lighter, buoyed by the legacy she’d created through her courage and hard work — and immensely proud of her two children and her grandchildren. I hope these memories brought comfort as she embarked on that final, lonely journey.

Rest in peace, dear Ellen.

28 Responses to “A lesson in life from the dying”

  1. I am sorry for your and Esteban’s loss. The lesson learned is a valuable one and a life lesson we all have to learn. Regret is a powerful teacher and the wise among us learn from her.

    • 2 hmunro

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Tom. Regret is indeed a powerful teacher — but it’s a shame that her lessons often come too late. For the rest of my life, I’ll wish I’d gotten to see Elin one more time.

      • Yes you will. I regret not taking time to really get to know my mom better. I make amends by trying not to repeat the mistake with others. You are a good person.

  2. Always thought-provoking, H. Thanks for sharing and my deepest condolences to you and your loved ones.

    • 5 hmunro

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Mark. It always pleases me to hear from you, but especially today.

  3. I’m really sorry for your and Esteban’s loss. So beautifully written….yes, let’s live each day to the full. Hugs from afar… x

    • 7 hmunro

      Thanks a million for your kind words, Rochelle. Hugs back to you from afar! xx

  4. My condolences to you and Esteban. Take comfort from the fact that you found something moving and beautiful to say in a time of loss. Peace.

    • 9 hmunro

      Aw, Jarrett … you always know how to make me feel better. Merci, mon ami.

  5. My condolences. Cherish the memories, learn from the regret and its lessons, keep making great memories and living life to the fullest. In honor of Elin.

    • 11 hmunro

      Thanks for the kind words, Patti, and for the excellent advice. In honor of Elin, indeed!

  6. I’m sorry for your and Esteban’s loss. But I am so touched by this lovely tribute you pay to her about lessons learned and intentions made. To live every day to the full and not wish time away is such an important thing to remember.

    I am in a time of transition myself, and sometimes it’s tempting to think about the future, instead of still immersing myself in the every day moments. Thank you for reminding me.

    • 13 hmunro

      Thanks for your kind, comforting words, Deborah. It can be especially hard to keep one’s eye on the present during life transitions, because the unknown can be uncomfortable. But good for you for trying to remember to immerse yourself in those every day moments — and best wishes to you as you start the next chapter!

  7. 14 pmmiller1

    I am so sorry! I know that even when a death doesn’t come as a surprise, it comes as a huge change,and opens so many ponderings. (Sorry I am seeing this so late too…I should have sent you a card.) Here’s to her memory and to her complicated life and legacy. XO, Pam

    • 15 hmunro

      You’re so kind, Pam … thank you for the sweet sentiments. (But don’t worry about sending a card; your thoughtfulness words here are more than enough.) xo

  8. I picked a subject (family) and now I’m reading a few posts. You’re an amazing writer, and a thoughtful soul. You have such a youthful voice along with the wisdom of an old soul. I’m so impressed.

    I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother-in-law either, nor my father in law. But, I love their son and the boys we made together, so for that I’m grateful. They died the same month, from unrelated ailments and much younger than any of us expected (68 and 72). Life is messy business, but when possible good to live without regrets, though today I regret that I can’t go back and read every single post.

    • 17 Heide

      Relationships can be so complicated when we’re thrust into them by circumstance (as with co-workers and in-laws) — and rationally I know there will always be people with whom I won’t quite “click” for whatever reason. But I’ve still blamed myself for a long time for not having a better relationship with my mom-in-law. It’s reassuring to know this has happened to you too, because if it can happen to someone as kind, generous, and empathic as you it really can happen to anyone. BLESS YOU and your kind, generous, empathic soul, Alys. xx

      • It’s so much easier to blame ourselves for things, especially when the stakes are high. That said, it takes two to make any relationship, and MIL/DIL relationships are complex. You gave her the greatest gift: you love her son with all your heart and together you’ve made each other happy for many years. Chin up, not regrets. You’re amazing, and I know Estaban agrees.

  9. *their not there…I’ve been making that error since 7th grade!

    • 23 Heide

      Their/they’re/there is one of the toughest concepts I have to teach my ESL students, Alys — and in the process sometimes I get tripped up myself. But no worries; I have made a little tweak so it’s like it never happened. 🙂

      • You are so dear. Thank you. I didn’t know you were an ESL teacher. You are full of wonder.

        • 25 Heide

          I should clarify that I don’t (yet) have my TEFL degree or certification — I’m but a simple volunteer, and not the greatest teacher because I’m given to fits of giggles. 🙂

          • Fits of giggles sound like great fun to me. And please don’t sell your volunteer status short. Many organizations can’t survive without volunteers. It sounds like you’re having fun.

          • 27 Heide

            Not only am I having fun, but it’s greatly helping my OWN language studies! Talk about a win-win.

          • Awesome!

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