Regrets? I have a few. . .

 “To err on the side of kindness is seldom an error.” (Liz Armbruster)

Attribution: Donna CameronIn the spring of 1991, my mother decided it was time to die. Eight years of thrice-weekly kidney dialysis had taken its toll. Her frailty was compounded by more than a half-century of cigarette smoking and alcohol excess. The final straw was her doctor’s warning that she could no longer live alone. He advised a care facility or moving in with one of her daughters.

Neither option was palatable. Despite being a card-carrying member of the demographic, she frequently said that she couldn’t stand old people. And just as frequently, she vowed never to be a burden to her children. With memories of our somewhat bewildering childhood, we didn’t argue the point. She refused any further dialysis.

Life held little appeal for her. Death was something she had looked forward to almost since the day her beloved husband died, 27 years earlier. Death was something she could anticipate with an enthusiasm I hadn’t seen in many years. She was an ardent atheist, so she had no illusions about an afterlife of bliss and reunion. She just wanted out. Perhaps we could have convinced her to delay death, but somehow we knew that allowing this choice without argument was what she wanted.

She took that ball and ran with it, assuming total control of this last venture. From her hospital bed, she directed us to give certain possessions to various friends, to call others and say goodbye for her (she wanted no visitors), and to arrange for the interment of her ashes next to our father’s. She was adamant that there be no funeral or memorial service.

One afternoon, she instructed me to bring her checkbook to her. She had written a list of all the nurses, technicians, and support staff at the dialysis center where she had received treatment for the last eight years. She wanted me to go to the bank and get a “crisp” $50 bill for each of the seventeen people listed, and to put them in note cards for each. She had even drafted the note we were to include: “Connie thanks you for your care and kindness, and hopes you will use this to go out for a lovely dinner with someone special in your life.” (Remember, it was 1991—$50 might actually have covered a night on the town!)

Under the list of names and instructions was a line written in all caps: NOT BETTY*! I asked her what she meant and she told me that there was one nurse—Betty—to whom she did not want to give money or thanks. “She’s never nice to me and I think sometimes she hurts me deliberately. I don’t want her to get anything.”

“But how will she feel when everyone else gets a note and fifty dollars,” I asked her.

“I don’t care. I hope she knows exactly why she didn’t get anything from me. She’s mean.” My mother was adamant.

So, she wrote a check for $850 and I took it to the bank and got seventeen crisp fifties. Then I went to the Hallmark store and bought pretty note cards. My sister and I spent the evening writing mother’s note to the staff of the dialysis center. The next day, I delivered them and asked the receptionist to distribute the cards. There was one for her in the stack. I hoped Betty wasn’t in that day, but I didn’t ask.

I wish I could have a do-over.

I would have gotten another fifty and a card for Betty and written the same note I wrote to her colleagues. I wouldn’t have told Mom. Withholding the gift from Betty felt small. It felt petty. It felt unkind. I can excuse myself by saying I was complying with my mother’s deathbed wish, and that I was dealing with the stress of her imminent loss. I was being a good daughter.

Maybe all of those things are true, and maybe Betty wasn’t a nice person and was unkind to my mother. Still, I wish I had disregarded all of those factors and simply asked myself, “What’s the kindest action here?” If I had, I would have thanked Betty along with the rest, but kept that fact from my mother.

This isn’t something I dwell on. In fact, I probably went 20 years without ever thinking about it. But after spending these recent years thinking about kindness, I know I did not act then as I would today.

You might ask: had I given the money and note to Betty, would I now be regretting having ignored my mother’s deathbed wish? Fair question. But, no, I don’t think so. I would rather err on the side of kindness.

There will always be lapses in kindness—whether sins of commission or of omission. But I hope I can learn from them and then honestly decide how I will respond if ever faced with a similar situation. I hope I will pause and ask, “What’s the kind response here?” and then allow kindness to point the way.

*Let’s call her “Betty,” I don’t remember her name

 “Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you—not because they are nice, but because you are.” (Author Unknown)

23 thoughts on “Regrets? I have a few. . .

  1. An interesting and timely post given that George H. W. Bush chose to invite President Trump to his funeral — because it was the right thing to do. My mother was also on dialysis, but for less than a year — but her kidney failure was a result of diabetes.

    Liked by 4 people

    • No matter one’s politics, we are certainly being reminded of what kindness and graciousness are in the aftermath of President Bush’s death. Sadly, we are also reminded by their absence in other public political behaviors. I’m learning that more people than I ever imagined are touched by kidney disease, and life-saving dialysis treatment. Thanks, Fransi!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree, whenever possible, err on the side of kindness. But I don’t think you should regret following your mother’s wishes too much. I can’t imagine how overwhelming that time must have been, and you probably felt that doing exactly what she asked you to was the right thing to do. We just do the best we can, after all!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree lovely. I would have mailed one to Betty too, but this is now and not then. xx If she was mean, she probably needed some kindness the most. xx

    No regrets. Now you know what you would do differently if a similar situation arises. You were trying to abide by your mother’s wishes and you did. Well done. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m going to be a bit leftfield here, Donna, but maybe leaving Betty out WAS the kind thing to do. Inevitably, should would come to learn she was the only one, and it is likely that she would understand she had been mean/unkind/cold to your mother, and it might just, perhaps, encourage her to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s certainly a possibility, Mick, though I wonder if treating an unkind person unkindly only reinforces their view of the world and grants permission for continued bad behavior. It’s an interesting question, though, and the more I think about it, I’m particularly taken by the power of mystery—of not-knowing. It gives us the gift of wonder.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This post reminds me of my wedding. I worked with a bunch of people I loved, and one woman who was not particularly kind to me. I invited her anyway, and she was extremely surprised and appreciative. I can’t leave people out. It might be one of my tragic flaws, but my parents raised me to treat people kindly.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh I love this post, Donna. The curious literature major in me would love to know Betty’s side. Was she really mean? Did she ever find out she was the only one that didn’t get a card? Did she realize why? And did that change her?

    And yes, I too have regrets about not showing kindness when I had a chance to. If I could turn back the clock….

    Liked by 1 person

    • If only we could see the “flashbacks” in people’s lives that explain their current behavior, as in the show you described on your latest blog, “This is Us,” That would give us so much more empathy for them. But getting in the habit of asking, “Why?” is a great way of offering the benefit of the doubt. Thanks, Therese!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:
    My first Featured Blogger of this brand spankin’ new year is, very appropriately, I think, Donna Cameron of A Year of Living Kindly.

    I’ve been a Donna fan for some time now, having discovered her deeply engaging blog early on, before she published her same-titled book, or realized her “year” had become a permanent way of life. One that many others have decided to adopt, as well. Can there be too many?

    Maybe you’ll be the next. The outset of 2019 seems like the perfect time to start!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Donna,
    It is nice to meet you!

    I enjoyed this post. Sometimes, being kind to an unkind person can be difficult, But you never know how their heart can change because of your kindness. I try to remember that when I am in the checkout line at Walmart. :/

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.