“Coulda, shoulda, woulda,!”


This is part one of a series about Joy who was sixty-four years old when she enrolled in hospice services with cancer of the jaw. Joy was born in Tucson, Arizona. She shared, “My father was murdered when I was six weeks old. He was in the Air Force and it was payday and someone robbed and murdered him. So we moved in with my aunt in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When I was ten, mom remarried and we moved to Atlanta, Georgia. We moved into a $250,000 dollar house in downtown Atlanta; and that was way back in the seventies. We were rich and I didn’t want for anything. When I was fifteen I had a boyfriend who was in a band called “Souled Out”. The lead singer had a brother who just returned from Vietnam with a load of heroin; we main-lined it and I was hooked instantly. I ran away from home when I was fifteen and over the years I’ve used every drug there was. I was in prison three times, twice in the state and once in the federal. I lived up and down the eastern seaboard following men; I had sugar daddies. I was married three times, twice widowed and once divorced. I did every aspect of restaurant work; I was a waitress, a cook and a manager. I was homeless at times and I slept in peoples closets. I had four children but I don’t know where any of them are today. And now I don’t have anybody.”

Joy only weighs eighty pounds now and lives in an assisted living facility. Joy is artistic, she enjoys arts and crafts, she draws, colors and she keeps a personal journal. She has a rich vocabulary and is apparently very intelligent. When I commented on her vocabulary she smiled and asked, “Are you jealous?” I denied jealousy but confessed to envy. I then asked, “Do you ever wonder what you could have done, or what you could have been, if you hadn’t gotten involved in drugs?” I immediately realized how loaded with implications and innuendo my question was, and I lamented asking it. But Joy graciously replied “I could ask myself that, ‘What if’ question, but that won’t get me anywhere,‘coulda, shoulda woulda!’ I want the end of my life to be positive. I want to find peace and I want my life story to be an encouragement to others.”

I asked Joy, “What would you say to someone looking back and saying to himself, ‘If only I woulda…’? Joyce replied, “I would tell them, ‘No regrets!’, ‘don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, yesterday’s gone.’ That’s Fleetwood Mac!” I explained, “I know, I loved their ‘Rumors’, album too.” Then I confessed, “But I have to beg to differ with you on the ‘no regrets’ part.” I explained, “I don’t regret the difficulties in my life; getting kicked out of the house when I was eighteen, living in a camper for two years, putting one sleeping bag inside another to keep warm when I didn’t have utilities, hitchhiking back and forth to college in Athens, and not even not knowing who my father is. But I deeply regret the things that I’ve said or done that have hurt or disappointed others.” I shared, “After my heart attack and my open heart surgery things were touch and go for a while. So when my wife Susie and I were finally alone in my hospital room I apologized to her for all the things I’d done or said that hurt or disappointed her. She said, ‘Don’t talk like that, you’ve been a good husband’, but I told her, ‘I don’t want you to make excuses for me. I just want you to forgive me.’ And she said, ‘I forgive you.’ I wept deeply and thoroughly, but I think Susie needed to forgive me as much as I needed to be forgiven.” Joy suggested, “Like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, you made amends.”

I shared with Joy that as I was working on this story that the words of the song, “One Step Away”, by Casting Crowns came to mind: “What if you could go back and relive one day of your life all over again; and unmake the mistake that left you a million miles away from the you, you once knew…Leave your ghost in the past, cause you know that you can’t go back…lay down your old chains, come now and take up your new name…You’re one step away from surrender…One step away from arms wide open, His love has never let you go. You’re not alone…” When I read the lyrics to Joy she responded, “That’s comforting!”

My son-in-law Shane Runion wrote a powerfully relevant song titled, “Tattoos” (YouTube: Shane Runion Tattoos), and my favorite line is, “These old tattoos remind me of the sins, the good Lord washed away.” At the beginning of the video a fellow named “Tank” shares his testimony. Here’s Tank: “Yeah, I’ve been in prison three times for probably about I’d say six felonies, seven. In my adult years I probably done fourteen years. You know, I gave my heart to the Lord about eighteen years ago and I would sit in church, and I would look down at my tattoos and I would think, ‘Man, Lord is there any way that I could get rid of these things’, And then it’s like He spoke to my heart that these are a reminder of the sins I’ve committed; and He’s washed the sins away but the scars are always gonna’ be there. But you know what? It don’t matter, I’m who I am and God has changed me for the best and that’s what really matters.”

“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at hardinl@somc.org or at 740-356-2525

Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at hardinl@somc.org or at 740-356-2525