I had some tough moments yesterday. It was my husband’s birthday and I tried hard to make it a really good day for him. But somewhere in the back of my mind, especially as the day neared its end, I was just really aware that we don’t know how many he’ll have left.
Then my mood turned more anxious as I read one of the personal finance boards that I’ve been reading as an alternative to online shopping. Someone on the board posted that they were 26 with a household income of $160K and wondered if they should get life insurance because they weren’t offered it as a contractor.
Aside from the obvious answer to their question (good god, YES, do it, stop being a moron), it just ended up making me feel really bad. For one thing, we’ve never come anywhere close to that kind of income, even now. We were so poor in Michigan that we truly could not afford to buy extra life insurance.
For another thing, it’s not that we didn’t know we needed more life insurance than what was offered through my husband’s employer. But by the time we finally could afford it, my husband ended up getting diagnosed with cancer. Now he can’t even get extra life insurance until he’s been cancer-free for 10 years.
I felt the weight of all my years of bad choices and bad luck weighing heavily on me. Yes, we never should have moved back to Michigan, first of all. I should have worked full-time while I was still healthy enough to do so. Doing so would have required that I pull my kids out of their gifted education programs because I didn’t have transportation for them, which I ended up having to do anyway just so I could work part-time.
Yes, I could blame my parents for being unwilling to help with the transportation, since they were available and didn’t live far away. I did and to some degree still do blame them for their absolute unwillingness to help with anything regarding the kids’ needs. (If they ever wonder why they have virtually no relationship with my kids, they only have themselves to blame because they weren’t willing to put in any effort.)
I got in a spiral of thinking about every wrong decision I’d ever made and every bit of just plain shitty luck that fell on us. My husband’s cancer diagnosis at age 46 was just the latest in a series of kicks in the gut, occurring when it finally looked like things were turning around.
But sometimes shit happens. You can’t always fix your mistakes before it’s too late, though lord knows we were trying. And you also have to take into account that there’s only so much you can do anyway. My husband wasn’t on a career path to make a decent salary until this year.
So I consciously decided to pull myself out of that unproductive spiral of shame and regret. The vast number of things I worry about are things that haven’t happened yet. They might not ever happen. If they DO happen, there’s very little I can do differently by worrying about them now.
My husband might be one of those people who makes it for 10+ years with a stage IV cancer diagnosis; he’s beaten a lot of the odds already. I’ve certainly encountered a number of people online who have made it 10 years or more. If he remains cancer-free for all 10 of those years, he can get life insurance again.
I may feel ashamed of my debt and relative lack of savings but I’m in the process of trying to turn them around. I can’t expect to both wipe out my debt and have a fat savings account in a month or two, especially at Christmas. But—and this is the important part—neither does it mean that my husband will die before I can reach those goals.
The fact remains that life is good right now. All my worries are about things that haven’t happened yet and may never happen. Still, a cancer diagnosis can’t help but remind you that catastrophically bad things actually can happen to you, which makes it tougher to be optimistic and hopeful.
I can be the kind of nurturing mother to myself that I wished I had. And my fantasy mother would stroke my hair and remind me that everything was going to be alright. That I am strong and capable and not a quitter, no matter what personal health challenges I face.
And she’d remind me that my husband’s not dead yet and not to let my fears of that event take over my life now while he’s still here. It’s far more productive to try to remain grounded in the moment, just doing my best. Really, that was what I was doing all along, even when my choices turned out to be the wrong ones. I was doing the best that I could with the hands that I was dealt, including things that resulted from the consequences of my own actions.
Instead of fearing the future, maybe I should approach it with openness and curiosity. Whatever happens will definitely change me. But that doesn’t have to mean that the changes will be for the negative. Just having hope that I’ll get through them and will still find good things to appreciate is enough.