“Expect the Worst” – Good Advice?


News of a family member’s unexpected illness last week sent me into temporary panic waves resembling those of the Indonesian tsunami of ’04.

I have to say, I am getting pretty dang sick of my Mom calling, with that hushed tone and the words, “I have news.” (And she’s probably pretty sick of it, too!)

“Hindsight is always 20/20” – how many times have we heard that line? In the last few years, it’s taken on new meaning for me. It seems no matter the terms or conditions of a loss, I always find something to regret in what I did or didn’t do beforehand.

So, I’ve developed a new preemptive strategy. I have decided to expect the worst. And, I’m saying this with a smile on my face because I believe it’s good advice for myself!

I am all about living in positivity, manifesting joy and abundance in your life through positive affirmations, and everything else I talk about here.

But, when it comes to pondering how much time you may or may not have with a loved one…whether they are perfectly healthy, or fighting an illness, my advice is this: Expect the worst.

Treat every person – every experience you have for that matter – like it has a signed and stamped impending expiration date.

Everything has an expiration date. Expecting the worst grants us freedom to enjoy each person and experience more fully and freely knowing "this too shall pass."

When I received the news about this most recent family member’s massive, debilitating stroke, my first thoughts were for her life, and then, for how much I had been in that life lately.

At Christmas-time I had given The Gift of Time to my loved ones, offering ideas of personalized “dates” together that I wanted to fulfill with each.

My first thought at this news was, “But I didn’t get to have my date with her yet!” Followed by, “Geez Megan, haven’t you learned anything yet about making the most of your time with people? Stop procrastinating! I don’t care how much you have going on in your life, or how many people have died lately, why didn’t you go see her like you promised?!!!”

It was at that moment that I decided this time, I’m going to expect the worst. This time, I’m going to rush to see her as soon, and as often, as possible.

I have to admit, going to visit her is going to be hard. Every time, putting myself in the face of illness and mortality has been oozingly uncomfortable. But, I would rather the discomfort of illness now, then the ache of regret later. Regret lives on after a loss, and becomes it’s own illness in us. I’ve tasted it so many times, I’ve really had enough of it now.

So, I’ve decided that the eternal optimist in me has its place, but so does the ever-so-jaded, reality-based pessimist. Honestly, that damn optimist has tricked me nearly every time. When my Aunt was dying of cancer, it said, “She beat it once, she’ll beat it again!” But, she didn’t beat it, and all those months I was telling myself she would, I was two hours away believing for a miracle instead of at her bed, savoring every last second with her.

My Grandmother was in her eighties, fighting late-stage Alzheimer’s and again, the optimist in me said, “She’s strong, otherwise healthy – she’ll be here for years!” When she suffered an unexpected stroke, I felt bruised and betrayed by that damn optimism. I would have treasured pessimism much more if it had forced me to her house a few more times those last couple months, in fear of impending doom.

If I had expected the worst every time, I would have had a lot more of just that – time, with each person. The plain truth is…if I’m too abundantly sanguine about a person’s health and longevity, I’m more likely to take them for granted.

So, my optimism can come along for the ride and hope for a speedy recovery for this one, but it’ll have to come hand-in-hand with pessimism. I’ve decided a healthy fire stoked under my rear is probably the better burn to feel now, then the painful sting of regret later.

Forgive me if I sound morbid, but, dear, dear, dear ones, this is it right here – this is why facing the discomfort of the impermanence of all things, sooner rather then later, empowers you!

Every moment is a death – life is always changing, there is truly nothing to hold onto in this life, that will not eventually slip away. This is not morbid – it is acceptance of the now, of reality, and that is freedom! It helps us treasure the moments we have now fully. Empowered by an awareness of impermanence, you can savor each moment more deeply.

“It is very useful to keep our concentration on impermanence alive. You think the other person in your life is going to be there forever, but that is not true. That person is impermanent, just like you. So if you can do something to make that person happy, you should do it right away. Anything you can do or say to make him or her happy – say it or do it now. It’s now or never.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, “You Are Here” 

“Expecting the worst” doesn’t mean you end up living in morbid, worst-case scenario fright 24/7 – it means you live in eternal gratefulness for each moment, because you now know, each moment is truly a gift.

I am currently living in my fifth home in three years. Letting go of the first one was most painful – now that I’m in the fifth one, I hold it loosely. I enjoy it for what it has while I’m here, and also rest in a knowing that it could easily change. I expect the unexpected now, and this grants me abundant freedom.

I adore the elders in my family, and they adore the little ones in mine! We try to make the most of every minute we have together & fill our moments with lots of giggles!

The same applies to my loved ones – it’s good to expect the unexpected to ward off potential regret, but at the same time, I hold my loved ones loosely, knowing I have no control over when they leave this earth, and I can only do my best to enjoy them fully while they are here.

The many death experiences I have had have granted me the gift of understanding impermanence, of enjoying everything “for a season.” Grant yourself the freedom of holding life loosely! Enjoy every person and experience as though it were sand slipping through your fingers…wonderful to feel as it comes, and goes.

Update: I went to visit this family member just after writing this, and seeing her determination to regain her mobility, her dedication to living in the present moment, and her positive attitude, moved and inspired me. Seeing her was a gift to me, not just her. I am so glad I went, and I will go back again soon! It wasn’t easy seeing her so changed, but I felt like I’m starting to live up to my “Gift of Time” with her now, and we still plan to have that “date” soon.

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5 thoughts on ““Expect the Worst” – Good Advice?

  1. You don’t seem negative to me or pessimistic…the reality is none of us are here forever. But that’s the sort of thing people would prefer to block out of their mind, if they could. It’s hard to be reminded of impermanence – it goes against our nature.

    • Yes, I agree, it is very hard for many of us to accept, much less embrace impermanence as a part of our lives. I guess I’ve had lots of practice at this uncomfortable work, to become more comfortable with it these last few years. Now, I just hope to help others see the freedom it can grant, too. Thanks for your words, Patrice, I always enjoy hearing your feedback.

  2. I strongly, strongly back up your new way of looking at things! It’s definitely not negative; I think it’s just realistic. And when the worst doesn’t actually happen and you have more time with that person, or you come out on top of something you thought you couldn’t do, the moment becomes that much more important. I think it’s a great way to look at life. Good for you!

    • I love this comment! Thank you Courtney! You put it so well, I wish I’d say some of this myself in the post – thank you for adding the perfect words as a cherry on top to this post. I loved the line, “When the worst doesn’t actually happen and you have more time with that person, you come out on top!” Bravo – love it! Thanks for sharing.

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