A friend who traveled this road many years before I did said, “I am a better person because I lost my husband. I am kinder, nicer, sweeter. I have my priorities in order. I know what matters.”
I had to agree. “Yes, you are. And so am I.”
As she had, I re-ordered my priorities after Lev’s death. I asked myself the question: How do I choose to spend my discretionary time and money? I examined my bank statements, my calendar and my “to-do” lists. What did they tell me about my priorities? Did my priorities accurately reflect my professed values? Since my desk was never clean nor everything on my list checked off, I had to concentrate on what really mattered.
So much of what seemed to matter suddenly lost all importance after Lev died. Of course, physical and material things matter. I can cope better because I feel safe and secure in my home, I have financial security and my mind and body are relatively intact. I am one of the fortunate ones.
Almost eight years later I am still trying to figure it out. I have shared much of my thought process in blogs the past five weeks:
A chapter in my book, RECLAIMING JOY, is titled “Priorities.” My editor challenged what I wrote:
But all that paled compared to relationships. Family. Friends. Faith. How many times through the years had I concluded a sympathy note with the wish that “you will find comfort from your family, friends and faith”? So much of what I used to write I now considered trivial, if not downright offensive. But from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that family, friends and faith were my support system when Lev died; and they continue to be the most important things in my life.
Family, undoubtedly, was my first priority. However, finding the balance of placing family first without suffocating them and being always available to them without demanding that they always be available to me was hard. My widowhood impacted my children’s priorities. At this point in time, I now was on their list of responsibilities and obligations.
Friends mattered much more than things. Without friends, nothing else really mattered at all. I would choose poor health and a shorter life with friends over excellent health and long life alone, beans and cornbread with friends over champagne and caviar with strangers. Besides, by investing in friends—not only as unconnected individual relationships, but also as a community of older, single women with shared interests and values—I removed some of the pressure on my family to fill my hours and make me happy.
After running through my list of past and present priorities—church, health, meetings, philanthropy—I concluded:
Business—“Lev work”—is a necessary evil, required to be my top priority. Everything else is leftover time. I repeatedly filled free days on my calendar to the brim with “Ella work,” only to have an unexpected business or legal issue force me to drop everything else to deal with it. With all my travels, I promised my advisors that I would be accessible 24×7. I delegated what I could and stayed connected via iPhone and iPad.
That is where Mary challenged me. You contradict yourself. What is your first priority? Relationships or business?
I still don’t have the answer to her question. I must take care of business, but I want to focus on relationships, and I need to spend more time on health and writing. I have the same 24 hours a day. I am already at my desk all day when I am home. I don’t want to quit traveling.
Steven Covey’s advice helps.
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.
I have restocked the index cards I relied on as a new widow, once again creating timed agendas on busy days to carve out time to write, time for business, a hour for physical activity and—ideally—time for friends. I have learned to put the things that require mental energy and acuity at the top and to move physical activity to late afternoon, when my brain is weary. Sometimes—as in packing—I put what I must do last, knowing that I will stay up late if necessary to take care of the “have to’s.”
And then, about the time I thought I had figured it all out, a single page in a little book of lists changed my perception.
List what you would like your life to look like in ten years.
My response last Sunday:
I would love for my life at 85 to look a lot like my life at 75 plus great-grandchildren. That is wishful thinking. More friends will be dead; and even if I don’t have major health issues, I will be slower and the arthritis will be worse.
To make the best of it:
- Stay fit!
- Make younger friends.
- Work harder to build friendships in Dallas.
- Stay intellectually involved.
- Keep connections with the grands strong.
- Build joy or awe into every day.
- Connect more closely with the local church.
- Don’t spend too much!
I think I have 10 years of resolutions right here.
How about you?
What do you want your life to look like in a year?
In 10 years?
“The art of making (and not making) plans,” by Verena von Pfetten, The New York Times, 15 Oct 2016, offers excellent advice of prioritizing commitments.