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when you have dreams

when you have dreams, blog post by Andrea Hurley: painting by Rita Hurley

by Andrea
May 20, 2014

My relationship with my elderly mother has become a metaphor for my life. It truly has. Several years ago I made an important decision. I decided that I wanted no regrets about my life. As I looked at my life through the rear view mirror, I saw a lot that I could be regretful about—plenty of missed opportunities and wrong turns. And yet somewhere inside I knew it was possible to live a life of no regrets, even with an imperfect past. But how does one do that? How does one live a life of no regrets? 

It was around this time that my mother was beginning to show signs of becoming more fragile and needing greater support. She was in her early nineties, still driving and living alone, but little by little we saw signs of a deeper change. A change that was ringing alarms in my heart. So here I was, faced with trying to come to terms with my own life, wanting to live without regrets—and here was my mother, entering the sunset phase of her life and losing her grip on life. And as much as she would not have wanted to admit it, she was beginning to need the support of others—more than ever. So as I was contemplating what it would mean to live a life of no regrets I realized something significant.  Not only did I want no regrets in my own life, I did not want regrets in my mother’s life either. She worked too hard and gave too much for her life to end with regrets. It simply did not make sense. I realized that if I abided by the cultural status quo of our times, with all the ideas of "it’s her life… you can’t change her… she’s just an old lady… that’s what happens when you get old… there’s nothing you can do…" I would end up with—guess what? Exactly, I would end up with yet another regret. I would regret that I never got to repay my mother for all that she gave, for all the thankless and unacknowledged sacrifices that she made.

Like all of us, my mother did not have a perfect life. She grew up in a small town with wonderful parents, had a brother who she adored, married a great guy when she was 23 years old. Off she went across country with my dad in a convertible to California in 1940. Life was good. Then came Pearl Harbor. My dad, who was in the Navy, was gone one day and they didn’t see each other for over a year. When they saw each other again, they had a 3 month old. Then my dad got TB and was in rehab and recovery for a long time, as my mother cared for him. Eventually came another kid, and another, and another… until finally there were 9. My mother put all of her own dreams aside and raised us. The bulk of the child care was my mothers, because that’s pretty much how it was in those days. And now, half a century later, here I am a beneficiary of all her sacrifices and all those unfulfilled dreams. Not sure my mother wanted 9 kids. But that’s how things worked out. She complained at times, and felt trapped at times too. It’s hard to be a mother of 9, especially when you have dreams.

So I asked myself, what did all that sacrifice mean? It had to mean something. It couldn’t just be for nothing. I looked at the end result of all her sacrifices, at all her 9 kids. It’s not that we were or are perfect—hardly. But there is a thread of care and respect that runs deep. Even when the going got really rough at times and we were seriously tested, we held together. And at the end of the day, despite all her unfulfilled talents, dreams and aspirations, and despite all the thankless sacrifices she made along the way, what she did with her life was no small thing. Through it all she cultivated empathy in each of our hearts.

When asked if she has regrets about her life, without hesitation my mother says no. Maybe there are things she doesn't remember but I think it's more than that. I feel she has found true resolution. She's content, at peace. And through her elderly years she has allowed me the privilege to shine a light deeply into her heart, to write about my experience of knowing her at this tender and fragile age, and to discover that wanting a life of no regrets means also wanting a life of no regrets for others.

when you have dreams, blog post by Andrea Hurley: painting by Rita Hurley
Painted by my mother, Rita Hurley, at 96 years old. I call it "Rita's dreams".

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