There was a woman watching me, some time ago now, but feels like yesterday – as these things have a habit of doing.
She was watching me really closely as I interacted with my husband and my kids in a shop. I felt her staring hard and to be honest if she hadn’t had such a friendly face I would probably have got annoyed; my boys were arguing over something and being pretty disruptive.
Anyway, as we finally bought our items and started to make our way out, this woman took a hold of my arm from the side and said “I hope you don’t mind me staring, you are such a lovely family and I couldn’t help but see you looking a little bothered by your kids fighting and your husband moaning about shopping.”
Now I am a big believer in approaching strangers if you feel the need to say something complimentary but I admit I was a bit on the back foot at this statement – nobody likes being caught out in a grump, do they?
She went on, a little more eager now, as if her time was running out to say what she had to say “You see, I had a family just like yours and just like you they hated shopping or waiting for me and caused lots of fuss sometimes for no good reason. I got annoyed with them too. All the time. And now they aren’t here anymore.”
At this point my mouth dropped open and I began to say words like ‘Oh I am so sorry, what happened?” silly, futile words like that.
She continued to explain that one day her husband had taken the children out because she was stressed and needed some time to clean up the house and get things ‘just right’ to ease her nerves. A perfectionist she called herself. They never came back that day, having all been killed in a car accident, and she has never seen them since, except ‘every single minute of every single day when I close my eyes’.
I was distraught, as you can imagine, but she tried to soothe me, amazingly, and went on to say “I don’t need your sympathy but I do want you to understand how very precious your family is. Even in the very busiest of times, and how very unimportant everything else is. Especially housework and things you won’t care to remember when you’re old and grey.”
“Each day as I clean my house I think of all the times I scolded them for making a mess and tutted when they got in my way. And now I would give anything to have them mess up my world again.”
I of course, assured her, that I did realise this and that my family were my everything but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her ever since and to say her words have affected me over the time, would be an understatement.
I don’t like to ever imagine the worst, but occasionally, it’s a wonderful exercise to look at how cruel this life can be and to be grateful for your myriad blessings.
So I felt the need to tell you all, in case you needed a little reminder too. It’s good to write these things down for people to stumble upon where they need it.
Including me. A reminder.
To not sweat the small stuff and actually, it’s all small stuff really, in the end.