59: Why Me?

59: Why Me?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Why Me?

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.
~Jean Baptiste Massieu, translated from French

What have I done to deserve this?

Things look bad. People are in despair. Even the fog outside my window is symbolic of a world shrouded in mourning.

And yet, I sit alone in my chair … relaxed, content, and at peace.

Why should this be?

Every news story, every bill, and every bank statement looks worse than the one before. I’m not able to get a job. Sixty-year-old widows just can’t compete. For three decades I worked as a caregiver to my paralyzed husband, John. But that’s not good enough for a résumé.

Now John’s elderly parents require my help. Their minds are failing. It’s a sad process to watch and a heavy responsibility.

So … why should I be at peace?

As I sit, I study the faces in a smattering of pictures on my wall. Their smiles serve as visible reminders of personal victories over life’s battles.

One photo is of my mother when she was my age. She’s stylishly dressed in a black suit and a crisp, white blouse—attire reflecting her position as a hotel executive. But it’s her schoolgirl grin that reveals the woman inside.

My mother possessed a boundless love of life. I got such a kick out of her spunk. In her day, business executives were almost exclusively male. But Mom elbowed her way to the top … because she had to. There was no one else to support her family.

Thirty years earlier, Dad died in a car accident. He left no savings or life insurance. At age twenty-nine, Mom faced the responsibility of providing for three small children. Immediately after Dad’s death, she retreated to her bedroom for a week of weeping. But when she came out, she never looked back. Her elderly mother moved in to serve as our 24/7 babysitter. Then Mom charged headlong into the working world.

She started as a banquet waitress in a luxury hotel, working long hours—even around the clock, if she could. Determined to succeed, she became the most resourceful, insightful person in her department. The rich and famous regularly called on her to serve their sumptuous feasts.

But at home, Mom cut corners wherever she could. Our clothes were secondhand, but adequate. We ate well, due to the kindness of neighbors and friends. We learned to never turn on a lamp or an appliance unless there was no alternative. Believe it or not, Mom and Granny used to ration “luxury” items such as Kleenex.

Sometimes Mom struggled to pay the mortgage, but we had a roomy home, heated by a lone fireplace. Granny got up before dawn to start the fire. Then, we’d all dash out of bed to bask in its warmth.

Mom didn’t own a car until I was in my teens. We were told, “You have two good feet to get around.” Public transportation was available for longer trips.

Every summer we tended a large garden, yielding bountiful crops of vegetables and berries. What couldn’t be used fresh was canned or frozen.

In her “spare” time, Mom made ballet costumes, and attended recitals, little league games, and parent-teacher conferences. When she should have been sleeping, she’d take us to the beach or the zoo. On rare occasions, we’d go to the theater or the symphony. She did everything possible to enrich our time together.

Mom was a living encyclopedia on how to survive in hard times. Best of all, she came through it all victoriously—grinning from ear to ear.

Another face smiling at me is John. What a husband! He was a funny guy, a brilliant scholar and a high achiever. But, at age twenty-seven, multiple sclerosis took him down.

At the time of his diagnosis, we’d been married only six years and were expecting our son at any moment. We were just starting our lives! John already limped from the onset of paralysis in his legs. The doctor told him to quit his physically demanding job or his health would decline rapidly. How would we survive?

The initial shock sent John reeling into depression. But, after a few months, he rallied and returned to college to obtain his Master’s degree in Business Administration. He fought his way through school. He fought the deterioration of his body. He fought for the sake of his family. And, through it all … he kept us laughing.

Although John’s paralysis eventually forced him to depend on an electric wheelchair, he refused to let it hold him back. Instead of languishing in self pity, he concentrated on being the best possible husband and father.

John used his financial skills to manage our household. Since we had to live on a small disability pension, he set strict budgetary guidelines. He taught me how to handle money responsibly, adding to Mom’s lessons on penny-pinching.

Yes … I started rationing Kleenex.

John also insisted I learn how to care for the car, do minor repairs around our home, work on a computer, and handle family finances. He trained me in the skills I’d need after he was gone.

When I’d moan about being too busy, John would say, “Sit down, shut up, and learn this stuff!”

I wish I could kiss him for his patient insistence. The skills he taught me now serve both my needs and those of his parents.

The last photo to catch my eye is one of Granny, taken in 1898. She’s a tender, young woman wearing a long, white dress and a serene glow.

Even when Granny was eighty, she retained that serene look. I remember her sitting in a worn, upholstered rocker gazing wistfully into the fireplace. Her hands would be neatly folded over the “Good Book,” as she called it. Granny seemed lost in absolute contentment, worlds away from our childish antics—oblivious to the chaos around her.

However, this was a woman who’d faced many trials. As the youngest child of a Civil War amputee, she spent her young adult years caring for her widowed father. She married late in life and had three children. Her husband died just before the Great Depression. The family nearly starved. But Granny fought on … getting little jobs here and there working as a nurse.

She loved children and taught us much through play. With Granny’s help, we learned to create great adventures just by using a little imagination. Blankets became tents, magazines became alphabet games, and closets became spaceships.

Life didn’t leave Granny bitter. She lived in a place of peace.

I gaze with gratitude at my gallery of good examples. Their lives have taught me how to: work hard, be frugal, fix leaking faucets, manage a small income, nurse the ailing, play with children, and feast on life’s little joys.

Outside my window, the fog is lifting. Birds fill the neighborhood with joyful songs. Squirrels bounce playfully from tree to tree. They’re not worried. Neither am I.

I sit peacefully, staring into the fireplace. My hands are neatly folded over the “Good Book.” Although, the world reels in chaos, my heart and home are filled with peace.

Having done nothing to deserve this … I bow my head in thanks.

~Laura L. Bradford

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