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.


  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.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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!

  3. 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

    • 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

  4. 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.

    • 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

    • 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. 🙂

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