Since Neil died, I am learning to appreciate solitude (at least sometimes), but I am still having trouble adjusting to all the work that goes onto caring for a house. I started keeping lists to remind me what needs to be done.
From indoor things like laundry and groceries and pets, to outside things like the yard and the heat pump and the car, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. The lists help me feel more in control and productive, and I admit I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing things off when they are done. I should have known I was developing a problem when one of my friends invited me to lunch and I declined to go. I didn’t tell her it was because I had too many things on my list, but it was.
Recently I sat on the phone with one of my daughters, half listening and half looking at my list. “Uh huh,” I said, as I considered the litter box and my cleaning schedule. “Oh, really” I muttered as I wrote two more things on the grocery list. “Mhhmm,” I mumbled as I tried to figure out if I had enough gas in the car to run the day’s errands. “Mom,” she said, “so what should I do?”
I stopped dead in my tracks, a deer in the headlights, frozen in the realization that I had not been listening. Oh no, what had I done? I had been looking at the list, planning and figuring, and had completely missed what she had shared! I felt my face flush a bit as the shame rolled over me.
What a horrible moment it was as I confessed not knowing what she had said. What a blessing it was as she forgave me and started the whole story over again. And what a reminder it was that being fully present is one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another.
Lists are fine; they keep me on schedule and remind me what I need to do, but I can’t let them distract me from what’s important. What is truly important is the people I love, and slowing down to be present for them in whatever moments they offer.
I can remember Neil inviting me to watch the sunset from the patio, and choosing not to because I “had to” fold the laundry. I can remember sweeping the floor as he tried to watch TV and hearing him say, “Nobody cares if the house is clean or the laundry is done except you. Take a break and sit with me.” I cringe when I think of those lost opportunities, and from now on I will not be ruled by my to-do list. I don’t want to miss any more moments to sit with the people I love.