Before The Sand Runs Out…

As I wake up and rub my eyes, my thoughts begin to focus and a smile forms on my face. I just remembered what today is! I jump out of bed and run to the living room to see an endless sea of wrapping paper covering package after package. It’s Christmas morning 1989 and I am 11 years old. I see my parents with their coffee and wide grins. My father, though in a wheelchair, moves around quickly and with purpose. My brother, 12 years old, arrives with as much excitement as I have. My sister strolls out of her room, irritated to be bothered at such an early hour. Being 18, Christmas has lost its luster and she just wants her coffee and her space. We tear into our gifts, and one after another, we take turns opening. I get the baseball cards I wanted, as well as the mountain bike that signified that I was not a little kid anymore. My mother gets a surprise gift of a check from my father. Puzzled, she looked at him. “It’s the down payment for your car.” She paused for a moment and then burst into tears. She hadn’t had a car of her own in all the years of being together with my father. They shared one car until the car became a handicapped-equipped van. My father knew she needed to feel some sense of freedom and normalcy that was missing in her life of being both a mom and chauffeur. It was his way of saying, “I know this life’s been tough on you because of me.” There were so many nice gifts that year, but the big one was a joint gift for my brother and I. We opened it together after the 1-2-3 countdown from my mother. We jumped and screamed when the Nintendo box peeked from underneath all that wrapping paper. My grumpy sister even managed to be happy for a moment. “That’s the good one!” she said with a huge smile. “Why didn’t I get that?”

Fast forward 29 years. I am now forty years old. I have no father or mother. My father passed away in 1999 at the age of 56 and my mother in 2007 at 61. My brother and I stopped speaking probably 7 or 8 years ago and my sister and I stopped shortly after that. My brother and I had disagreements about religious matters. I was a devout Christian, preaching to him about his soul and telling him I would pray for him. He was an atheist and wanted nothing to do with religious talk. My sister never forgave me for the way I treated my mother before she died. My mother was talking about me and my wife behind our backs to relatives and we found out about it. She was dishonest and a huge attention-seeker so I stopped talking to her. I reconciled with her in on December 25th (Christmas day) in 2006 and she died on February 7, 2007, about a month and a half later. My family I had as a child is long gone, separated by death and friction. The image of that great Christmas day at the end of the 80’s is captured on a home video that I haven’t watched in years. It’s a hazy memory without watching the tape. I now am separated from that time by nearly 3 decades and also separated by the pain of my broken family.

I have my own wonderful family here at home. I have a loving wife with whom I have shared nearly 23 years. I have 4 great kids as well. My three boys and one little princess keep me busy from the moment my eyes open in the morning until they close at bedtime. I look back at my childhood and wonder where it went. How did so many years pass by so quickly? I was a child myself, just one blink of an eye earlier and here I am with kids of my own. I’m now the Dad and my kids look up to me. I have no one to turn to for advice. No one to ask for fatherly wisdom and my kids have no grandparents to hold them. It goes so fast and I feel like I’m missing it. I do my best as a parent but I wonder what my parents would say about my performance. Would they be proud, or say, “well I wouldn’t have done it that way.” I’ll never know.

Driving to work at 4 am on a cold day in December of last year, I had my last conversation with God. I used to start my morning commute with a prayer. I would give my thanks and my concerns to the Lord before I would turn on the radio. Some days I would pray for 20 or 30 minutes, pouring my heart out and sometimes arriving to work with bloodshot eyes from the tears. But this day, I was letting it all out. I was going to tell him exactly how I felt and I knew there was no turning back. “God, if you are real and you are listening to me, please give me guidance. Let me know you are listening because I have been hurting with all of your silence. I want to follow you so badly, but if you aren’t there then I have to walk away. Please, please answer me. I can’t spend another 40 years crying into the night, having my prayers bounce off of the sky. I need to know you are there because all of the good feelings I had believing in you and the feeling of your presence are long gone and have been for a long time.” God’s answer that day was predictable. It was the same as every other day. It was silence. There was no response. There was no sign that God wanted to keep this willing servant following him. That was the day I removed God from my life. That was a tough day. One of the toughest in my life.

God is gone. No prayers. No hope of heaven. No threat of hell. No prophecies. No promises. It’s gone. All of it. I was raised in a Christian home and with my father being sick for as long as I knew him, talk of heaven was a regular part of life. “If something ever happens to Daddy, you’ll see him again. He will be free of pain and will be living with Jesus” my mother would say. I remember as early as the third grade being pulled from school to visit my Dad in the hospital and I would always wonder if this was it. Was this the day that Jesus takes him home? My father went into cardiac arrest while I was on vacation for my one year wedding Anniversary in 1999. I was in Virginia and he was here in New Hampshire. I sped home without sleep to see him in the hospital. He was on life support when I got there, but after some time waiting, his eyes were open and I went in to see him. Tears streaming down my face, terror in my heart, I spoke with him. “Hi Dad. Can you see me?” I asked as I held his hand. I felt his hand tighten around mine yet he remained silent, his eyes fixed on mine, trapped in a body that had failed him. “I love you Dad. I will be back later to see you.” I walked away to be with my family and we drove home. That night we got the call to go back to the hospital as he had taken a turn for the worse. When we got to the hospital, the chaplain was waiting for us. We knew it was bad. When we got up to his floor, the doctors were waiting for us. “I’m sorry”, one of them said. “We’ve lost him.” My mother cried out in despair. I collapsed. Life hasn’t been the same since.

When my mother died in 2007, she was alone. I was the one to find her in her home about 2 days after she had passed. She had no one there for her. My brother, sister and I had our own lives and she was a widow. It was sad, knowing she was alone for years and years after my father died and was alone when she died. My oldest son was about a year and half then so he has no memory of her. We only have a couple of photos to remember them together. I have many regrets about that situation. Should I have just let her treat me like garbage and say sorry earlier? We would have had at least a year more than we had, but I couldn’t do it. I was an adult and I had to stand up for myself. I waited for her to do the right thing. She never did. I caved just before she died, made amends, and spent a little time with her. I have always second-guessed my decisions I made back then.

Regret is magnified when your once-hopeful dreams of eternity are crushed and reality sets in. All signs point to this being the one and only life we get. One life. One chance to get it right. I think I would have made many different choices had I believed that from the beginning instead of false hope guiding my actions. I used to go to the cemetery to visit my mother, father and my best friend who are all buried next to each other in the military section in the center of all other graves. My father, an army veteran and my friend, a member of the Coast Guard who had died in a training exercise. I would talk to them, knowing they were not there, but maybe they were looking down on me and smiling, knowing I didn’t forget them. But they aren’t looking down on me. They aren’t listening. They are gone and their memories haunt me.

I need to take advantage of what time I have left here and the relative youth I still have. My kids should have happy memories of time spent with me. I have no excuses for not giving them that. I want to live a long and meaningful life and leave this world with no regrets. I have many right now but it’s never too late to make the future better than the past. Time waits for no one and no one is immune to death. Worrying about a past filled with fairy tales, unsubstantiated promises, lies and more because people thousands of years ago created religion, doesn’t do any good. I see the error of my ways and though I cannot erase the mistakes of my past, I can toss out the file and start fresh. Time is way too short to do otherwise.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I’m always coming up with new questions for this crazy life we live. All I do know is that we are promised one life. Just one. Any more than that would be a surprise to me when I die. So with this one life, make the most of it. Don’t wait to tell those you love that you love them. If you are estranged from your family, mend that relationship if you still love them. Waiting too long will end up breaking your heart and fill your head and heart with painful memories. A life of regret doesn’t need to be your life. The hourglass of this life is tipped and the sand is rushing fast. Make the changes you need to and fix what is broken before the sand runs out.

42 thoughts on “Before The Sand Runs Out…

  1. Powerful my friend. Powerful. All the best to you and your time together. It’s never to late to regret, people only regret when it’s too late. Hold no malice and love often, never quit, and die trying! I got teary reading this Ben. No worries mate. I really think they’d all understand. We do.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Aah life is good sir. Fortunately with my personality I only remember the good. I think that’s the way it should be. My brother is the exact opposite though. Never figured out why, but I think some of it’s genetic. Good to be lucky that way.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. I remember it all, both good and bad, primarily focusing on the bad. I’m guess I’m more cursed than lucky when it comes to that sort of thing. I think back to happy times and then instantly remember that all the people in my good memories are not part of my life any longer. My life is good now, but I wish I had a few more people still here with me to share it with.

        Thanks for listening and thanks for the support.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. Instead of “blessed,” perhaps along the lines of things aligned and came out of the wash just as they should have. Besides, the wife KNOWS she found the best guy/father EVER and should treat him like the studly King! Que the song…

        Liked by 2 people

      4. She BETTER, right!? Hahahaha! πŸ˜„

        (I’m being totally ridiculous and Neanderthal cuz I KNOW who truly rules the world and which gender is capable of “launching a thousand ships” and really rocks the cradle of Earth. LOL)

        Liked by 3 people

  2. You, my blogging friend, are quite a writer!

    I was “there” with you on that C’mas morning and I was “there” with you as your mom and dad passed.

    But most of all, I was “there” with you when you prayed on the way to work — and any Christian who reads this and tries to make excuses for “the silence” is living in a make-believe world, whether they want to accept/believe it or not.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thank you Nan. Writing is not anything I ever thought I’d be interested in doing, but it’s one of the best things I have in this life to help me cope with all that I’ve been through. My family I have here is a huge help and they are my strength when I’m weak, but getting my thoughts out and letting go of hurt and anger through words is something I need as well. Bottling that up is not good for anyone.

      I don’t share my intimate thoughts and feelings all that often when it comes to my loss and personal tragedy, but sometimes it builds and builds until I need to let it out. Sharing it with others hopefully can do some good. If I had read stories like mine when I was going through the pain, I would have felt less alone than I felt in those moments.

      Thanks for reading and for being so supportive. It means a lot.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. As a follower of religion, a silent god can be depressing, painful and confusing. It can make you feel insignificant and unworthy. As a teacher of religion (church leader) you can use the silence to your advantage. You can make any ridiculous claim and no one can prove that you are wrong. God can be silent and they can say his timing was just off. God can be silent and they can say you just need to be patient and pray more. God can be silent and they can say that you aren’t giving enough to the church and God must be disappointed. Just open your hearts…and wallets. Without God speaking up and correcting this false teaching, churches can say and do whatever they want without fear of reprisal. There is no unity in the Christian Church because each congregation has it’s own needs and therefore God speaks differently to each one. Unfortunately we can’t hear him so the preachers do all the communicating with the Almighty. How convenient.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yep, and that’s why we have many different teachings and denominations. God isn’t around to clear any confusions up. i suppose when you believe in an afterlife where everything will supposedly be made right, then some issues are just ignored.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Woah Ben. This grips the heart HARD and doesn’t let go. 😢 I use to have serious regrets about certain events in my life, certain choices I made, but then I realized that is the WRONG way to look at it. Now I’m not anywhere near as obsessed with thinking, saying, acting, not acting, not saying, or not thinking 100% perfection (or close to it) in my life and with others. If I may, some of my all-time favorite quotes about this mentality…

    In every adversity lies the seed of an equal or greater opportunity. β€” Napoleon Hill

    The best way out is always through. β€” Robert Frost

    The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. β€” Henry David Thoreau

    And so the richest life lived is the one that has just as many of your masterpieces as it does the messy parts that teach you the deepest gratitude that you were even given the chance. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Wow, such an emotional and moving story Ben. It must’ve been very hard losing your parents at a youngish age too. By trying to make amends with you mum I think you did the right thing though, and I hope you and your brother can somehow make amends too; it takes two for it to work though.

    I was especially moved by your prayer to God on the way to work. When humans ignore a desperate request, they are written off as heartless/busy, possibly many different reasons under the sun. But when an omnipotent God is silent? Oh it’s not ‘his time’. Yeah…right. It must’ve been painful making the decision to leave, but it’s much nicer being grounded in reality than make believe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was difficult at first, walking away from the religion I had for all of my life. After some time passed and I learned more and more truth, it became easier. It is still quite an adjustment but I am filling my life with my own purpose instead of pretending to be part of a divine plan created by a god who ignores every single person who follows him.

      You are right. Ignoring people makes us look insensitive and uncaring but it’s all part of “the plan” when it comes to God doing it. It seems so obvious now, how ridiculous it all is. But I bought into it for a long time. Not because the message was clear and convincing, but because of how it was all packaged and sold to me. I trusted the sellers and assumed that they knew what they were talking about.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. As you already know, I can relate to this… The pain of my childhood and the losses I endured are eerily similar right up to not talking to my family anymore and finding my mom dead in her apartment. I never got to say goodbye to my dad. My mom wouldn’t let me. She didn’t want me to see him with tubes and all that. I was 11 and he collapsed on our driveway and was hemorrhaging. She didn’t tell me the details until I was in my 20s and when she did, it was like feeling the loss again but deeper. My dad had basically choked on his own blood and he only remained alive because of life support. The cancer killed him but my mom had to take him off machines.

    I have had more anxiety lately regarding my own health. Sometimes I have memories of finding my mom and I panic. What if that happens to me? I wouldn’t want my kids to find me like that. Sometimes I have nightmares. I’m not always sure what to do. I’ve started exercising and eating better but I still struggle with anxiety.

    I don’t feel the need to make amends with my siblings. You are right. Life goes by fast. I can’t see my life involving them because they are not good people. I want to spend whatever years I have left with people who bring me joy, not people who are assholes. I’ve tried to make amends but it was just more hurt. So for me, I choose to be indifferent to them. It’s sad. They’ll die and I’ll probably feel nothing. We haven’t talked in 8 years. I don’t even know them anymore.

    I’m sorry for all the pain you endured and the losses you faced. I’m glad your family has you though. People who face tragedy are often more caring, loving, and thoughtful. They don’t waste time on things that don’t matter. They know life is short so they make the best of it. So your wife and kids get a person that is dedicated and has high aims on loving them.

    I hate that you suffered but I’m glad to know you. I’m glad we aren’t as alone as we feel. Take care of yourself, Ben. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes, it is quite eerie how similar our stories are. Losing parents at a young age is tough. We are in our early 40’s. You and I both know how (even though we’re not kids anymore) that’s too young to be orphans. I know people in their 50’s and 60’s who still have parents. It’s tough. I was 21 when my dad died and 28 when my mom died. That’s too young. I also know how much of a monster cancer can be. My wife’s mother died from cancer. She was only 38 when she died. My wife was only 17 at the time. Her passing is what caused my father-in-law to spiral into depression and drink himself to death, dying at 55 back in 2012. Life is most definitely very short and no one is immune to disease or death. We are not guaranteed anything in this life.

      As far as making amends is concerned, I am torn. I don’t want to live with regrets or always wonder about things that could have been. At the same time, like you, I don’t really know my family anymore. When I did know them, at the end of our relationship, I didn’t get along with them. I want to do the right thing. But what is the right thing? Is it to pretend everything is okay even though anger and resentment are just beneath the skin? I made up with my mother partly because I felt bad for her. She had no one around so I pretended everything was fine. My siblings haven’t reached out to me to make any attempt at reconciliation. They haven’t checked on me to see how my life is going. They seemed to have moved on. I have lived my life being the “bigger person” and it’s why I have lived a life of getting walked on. I am not really mad at them, but I’m not really sure if I miss them either.

      I think what I miss most is feeling like I belong to a family that wants me to be there. When I was a kid, we all got along okay for the most part. We’d have big holiday parties where aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and family friends would gather. Now, as I’m all grown up, those days are gone. I have no family that wants to get together. Much of my childhood family is dead or lives far away now anyway. We have just a couple of good friends but that doesn’t seem like enough sometimes. We’re not bad people. We’re not jerks or rude to people. We’re kind, considerate and helpful people. I’m not sure why my family moved on other than how our religious differences pitted us against each other and how grudges are still held regarding past offenses that were misunderstandings to begin with.

      Maybe I just worry too much about what could have been or what could still be instead of moving on. I think, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t care as much about my family as I want to. I want to miss them terribly. I want to feel heartbroken that they are not around. But I don’t. What does that say about them? What does that say about me? I think that if I really wanted to fix our relationship, I would have made it happen. I did write my sister a letter a few years ago but she never responded. I never tried to reach my brother. But they never contacted me either. They know where I live. My wife and I have lived in the same house for the last 18 years. They just haven’t tried. I should take the hint and move on too I suppose.

      Thank you for caring and being supportive. I know that you understand suffering as well as I do. It really sucks and seems unfair but it does help to know we are not alone in this. If you and I have similar stories, just think of how many more are out there with stories like ours that feel completely alone. I am glad to know you as well and I am glad that you are as open to sharing as you are. It helps me to let things out when I see the courage of others to do the same. Thank you for sharing your story and for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good grief I can so relate to this!! We used to have big holiday get togethers too and now nothing. I reached out and one sister replied with more crap. The rest of my siblings don’t give a shit. I am so indifferent now. It’s not even anger. I just don’t care. I’m guessing they don’t either. It’s bizarre that you can grow up together and mean nothing to each other.

        I think you did try. Your sister did respond… With silence. That is a big response if you ask me. You could try your brother if you feel it’s important but no one would blame you for not trying. He’s silent too. And relationships work two ways.

        I still talk to my one sister and I’m a giant after thought. An obligation. I don’t know why I keep holding on to hope with her. I’m supposed to be in her wedding next summer and she’s inviting my other family. She keeps it open with them but when I don’t, she verbally abuses me. Honestly, I have been so depressed for the last 2 weeks because of her BS and then my lack of friends that I just feel like I have no reason to be here. Except for my kids and husband which is probably the only reason I’m still here. It’s not just her. It’s everything. It’s sad that they never care or try or that I’m just here to suffer with little support. It’s so damn lonely. And I try to distract myself and get a life but I’m still always feeling sad. I miss my parents sometimes. I look behind me and it’s a trail of tears. It’s so hard to be positive and thankful. I do have things I can be thankful for but it’s hard. And when my sister treats me like garbage, it just reminds me of all of it.

        My therapist says I need to see it like domestic abuse. If it was a husband beating up his wife would I think the wife was stupid and it was her fault? Anyway, she tried to call me 3 times last week. I tried calling her back and she didnt pick up. I told my husband she can F off. Everything is on her schedule. I’m an after thought so something more important came along. Anyway not talking to her feels good. I’m much less crabby.

        Sorry for rambling but sometimes having asshole siblings in your life is lonely too. It just seems like it would be less lonely. I honestly wish I could move away from this state and never come back. They all live here and knowing we don’t share the same air would make my day.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Ramble away. That’s what my blog is about. I think discussion is important for healing and growth. Have you read my posts? Seriously, every single one of them is a long-winded ramble. When you need to get your thoughts out, sometimes it’s hard to limit your words. I would never survive on twitter. πŸ™‚

        I think your therapist is right. Dealing with selfish, rude or just plain cruel family members is like abuse in a way. You can only take so much before it overtakes you. Everyone wants to blame someone for being the problem. But you cannot blame yourself for the bad behavior of others. They need to take responsibility for their own actions. I have found that, in my life, every single thing involving my family was on their schedule and never mine. That’s not how a healthy family should operate.

        I think of my family the way I now think of God. I am not going to close the door on them, but I’m done initiating the relationship and then doing all of the work to keep it going. And, also like God, if they want to reach me, they know right where to find me.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. A very moving post, Ben. God’s silence was one of the main reasons I abandoned ‘faith’. It took me some time to recognise I hadn’t ‘turned my back’ on a being who existed out there somewhere. I had to realign my thinking with the facts: there’s no such being, period.

    As for regrets, we all have them and they do come back to haunt us. We can only go on from where we are now, or so I keep telling myself. Onward and upward, Ben!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You are right Neil. The god I was raised to believe in was never there. It’s hard to turn our backs and walk away from such a being. It’s not so much walking away as it is correcting our thinking. It does take time to recognize that. At first I wondered “What if I made a huge mistake? What if I have reserved my place in hell for this?” But those thoughts pass and as more time goes by, I realized that there’s no reason to feel guilt over being duped. I was unintentionally taught lies by my parents; those who only had my best interest at heart. They had been taught what they thought was truth by people who thought that as well. I was doing the same with my children. I am glad I was able to correct this and be the one to stop this cycle of mistruth.

      Regrets are tough. I would like to just wish them away but that’s not reality. I do my best to focus on what I can change and leave what I can’t in the past. Easier said than done.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your honesty and openness is beyond refreshing, Ben…
    … and a source of healing for lots of your readers, me included.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Life can be so vicious that we don’t always get a second chance. And even if when we do have the opportunity to try again, it may still be unclear what is the right thing to do. Life can be so cruel that sometimes there is no good answer… so cruel that there is no right answer.

    Some regrets and sufferings really are beyond the reach of all the love and care in the world.

    Thanks and peace, brother.

    Liked by 1 person

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