I like the distinction William Bridges makes between choices and decisions, that a decision is one we make rationally, using information and practical considerations. A choice is one we make from the heart.
In the summer of 2009, my father was seriously ill, in and out of hospital, and it was clear my mother needed help. I drove to my parents` house, a 4 hour drive, me and 5 cats in a Honda Civic. The plan was that my parents would sell their house and move to a really nice seniors`residence close to where I was living. I would move to the same city.
It seemed sensible. We would all move to the biggest city in the interior of BC. The big hospital is there, a good cancer clinic, lots of shopping. There are galleries and businesses there, more opportunity for someone like me with an arts and non-profit background.
We had a realtor tour the house, and the house was for sale, after 30 years. Relatives came and my parents gave away or sold books and bigger tools. My father sent out excited emails to his friends about the move.
And then he died. It was unexpected, months sooner than we thought. Shocking. Yet, death from brain cancer can be excruciating and horrible. Instead, he went quickly, quietly, gently. The same way he`d lived, really.
My life`s path changed in that moment, but it took months to accept it. I had no time to think ahead or plan, everything seemed urgent. I had to get my mother to doctors, have her assessed, settle my father`s estate, make sure things that needed to run would keep on running.
When I took my mother to see her doctor, I was told it was “medically unsafe” for me to live with her. She became agitated, I panicked and got anxious. I had no plan, I just lurched from lawyer to psychologist to doctor, handling what needed to be handled.
In the end, I carried on living in my parents` house while my mother moved into a new seniors residence in my hometown. It`s much like the place they`d planned to move into.
A friend of mine kept talking about the freedom to choose, that I hadn`t CHOSEN to live here. I finally said, “you know, when it comes to the big things, the ones that truly shape our lives, we rarely get a choice. You don`t get to choose your parents, whether you`re oldest or youngest in your family. You don`t get to choose when your parents die or how. You don`t get to choose what your children will be like, sometimes not even whether you have children.”
There are decisions we can make, based on logic and practicality. Maybe we go to college versus vocational training. We have choices about how hard we work, how much we put into our schooling or our job. We may get a choice about which job to take or where we live.
I didn`t WANT to move to my old hometown, I never imagined myself living in my parents`house. I even talked to a realtor about selling it. But that meant sorting things out, getting rid of what I don`t need. It seemed simpler to sell and move on. All things considered, weighing the practical pros and cons….
I hired a friend to help me tidy things up, get things to the dump, make it saleable.
Besides ongoing major and minor improvements to the house, my parents created a park-like garden that`s a miracle of planning, a true labour of love. It was something they did together for 30 years, and in a way, I felt it was their domain, especially after I left home. Now here I had full responsibility for it.
In June 2010, my friend got someone in to do some pruning, but that was a disaster. He was the expert, I was just the middle-aged daughter who had inherited the place, who didn`t understand things. I was “sentimental.” With every snip of his shears, it felt like pieces of my own body were being cut away. I cried, I stormed, I negotiated. In the end, I fired him.
The next day, I walked around the garden, then ran back for my camera. It was as if I`d never seen it before. Every few feet, there was another magical vista, another precious moment I wanted to capture. I was like a first-time parent. Every angle of light and flicker of wind was a new world to be explored, like a doorway into eternity, yet a fragile, wavering moment in time that will never come again.
When it comes to the big things that shape our lives, we rarely get to choose. We get to say no, or yes.