Don't Delay

Understanding procrastination and how to achieve our goals

Three Women and a Hospital Room: What I'm Learning

On being grateful

hospital bed
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time at the hospital. My mother had a stroke just over a month ago. There has been plenty of time and motivation for reflection.

Prior to my mother’s move to another room in palliative care yesterday, there were three very elderly women, well into their 80s and 90s, who shared a room. Each of these women faces serious, life-altering conditions that affect their mobility, independence, and, their lives. The first two losses seemed the most troubling to them. Each struggled hard against their dependence, while at the same time, cries out that they wanted to die were common, if not constant at times.

Three woman, three lives, each threatened in so many ways, collided in a hospital room. Busy nurses attend as they can. Family and friends come and go. Requests to be moved from chair to bed go unanswered. Requests to god for a swift passing go unanswered as well.

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I needn’t focus on the care required. Strokes can cause serious impairments. Assistance for even basic needs is necessary.

My focus is on how grateful I am for the time I am sharing with my mother despite the circumstances. And, despite the circumstances, I know she feels the same.

As I sat next to her bed, comfortable in the silence of day-long visits, I looked out the window past the hospital grounds to a nearby factory. A tall flagpole marked one of the main administration buildings. As I watched the flag flutter, I was taken back in my reflections to a time when my mother, sister and I would wait patiently for my dad to join us in the parking lot next to that flag. Well, not so patiently, really. On hot summer days, with the car crammed with groceries from a weekly shopping trip, my mother was quite anxious for dad to join us as promised. Frozen food was thawing, and her kids’ activity level was rising in the confines of the back seat. Memories.

I glance back from the flagpole, returning back from childhood to bedside. My heart aches, but I’m glad to be by her side.

When I looked out the window of her previous room two weeks ago, I could see the bridge we used to cross as kids. It was a landmark in our city. A monstrous metal structure, from which as a kid, I was sure I would fall off. Viscerally, if only for a moment, I could recall the fear of my first few crossings of that bridge while clinging to my mother’s hand.

I cling to that hand today. I have a new kind of visceral experience. It’s one we all face at some time as the existential uncertainty of life faces us down. I was grateful for my mother’s hand then. I am grateful for it today.

I am learning that there is something to be grateful for in every moment, even the most tragic. I am learning that each moment counts. I am learning to put together past with present in important ways. I am learning that there are different kinds of healing.

 

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

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