I was just thinking…don’t sweat the small stuff
By Molly McCarthy
I was just thinking about the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I sweat the small stuff more than anyone I know, so I am not here to preach. Though, I would like to ponder on the commonly used phrase.
About two years ago, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal pancreatic cancer. She was given six months to live by her doctor. Power to my mom, she followed her own agenda and lived a year and a half longer than her prognosis. I do not know what it’s like to be told my life will end in about 6 months. I do know what it’s like to watch the person I cherish more than anything in the world live with this sentence.
The phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff” came up repeatedly during the past two years. Usually, the small stuff refers to a flat tire, getting lost on the highway, or being late to a meeting. When the person I loved most in the world is given 6 months to live, what is considered the small stuff then?
All of the small stuff was washed away with the tidal wave of the 6-month prognosis. Being cut off in traffic didn’t irk me because it didn’t register enough to get my blood boiling. Someone being rude to me was miniscule. I remember wondering why I used to spend so much time worrying about small things in life. My perspective had changed.
On the flip side, even important positive parts of my life like finishing my degree and major life decisions became small. When I wanted to be by mom’s side at the hospital she unselfishly repeated to me “get to class.” She knew my goal of a college degree was not the small stuff.
I watched my mom delicately navigate through life with a terminal illness. She didn’t sweat the small stuff. That doesn’t mean she didn’t worry. She lived in a way which let her cherish most of her moments. She worried about family, friends, and her work. She worried because she cared immensely about these parts of her life. Watching Mom separate caring about what she had control over while not worrying about parts of her life she didn’t, was truly inspiring.
What has amazed me the most about this part of my life is my human mind’s ability to forget. As my mother’s journey with pancreatic cancer surpassed six months, then a year, all of those little things I stopped letting get to me began to creep back into my life. I began to believe my mom was going to be the exception to the rule. A flat tire ruined my day. Getting lost was the most aggravating thing in the world.
All of the small stuff I was currently sweating was forced away again when my mom called me from the hospital to tell me she was given 48 hours to live. The fragility of life came crashing back in.
It’s been about two months since my mom passed away. I watch myself remember and forget what the small stuff is that I should be trying to not sweat. I wish it didn’t take tragedy to make the small stuff easier to decipher.
While my mother was living with her illness, I asked her if she saw the world differently since her diagnosis she said “Yes, all the things I used to take for granted, the color of flowers, the rain, all of that stuff, I’m so much more hyper aware of. I appreciate every day. I don’t sweat the small stuff.”
(Photos/courtesy Molly McCarthy)
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