Is knowing better or worse?

Sometimes you know when you are experiencing something for the last time. When you move out of a house, you know you won’t be coming back. When you graduate you know that phase of life is done.

Sometimes you don’t — when someone dies unexpectedly or you’re fired from your job.

Knowing or not knowing — I don’t know which is better. Sometimes you wish you would have known so you could say things you didn’t get a chance to. Then again, knowing can give you sadness.

A few weeks ago we visited a friend at their vacation home in the mountains. We have been there before. Sometimes we miss a few years between visits. Nothing much changes there, not even the weather which is always cold! (I am personally convinced that one of the bridges we cross takes us to the edge of the North Pole.)

The routine doesn’t change. The early risers are up drinking coffee on the porch. If it’s not warm enough, we are around the fireplace. Both places are magical with extra credit for the porch. We get visiting chipmunks there who are not afraid to run over you to get peanuts.

We talk stuff. All kinds of stuff. Life. Love. Health. Death and even (gasp) politics! Sort of. We are all different but underneath there is a stable set of values that we appreciate in each other.

We all harbor (ok, maybe just me) the belief that someone is wrong occasionally but the common ground is greater and overcomes it.

I’m neurotic about animals. My friend is a hunter but doesn’t kill anything when I am there. It’s a sign of kindness and respect.

We are all getting older (mostly them, certainly not me). Our friends are planning ahead and this may have been our last visit. They are selling the cabin. It changed some things.

It’s like that last day of vacation when you are so intense about taking everything in. You want to live deeply in the moment so your memory stays fresh. You don’t want to miss anything. Was that a blue bedspread or a white one? The quiet of the early morning on the magical porch before everyone is up. The dinners that are always late because…it doesn’t matter. Always way too much food.

This isn’t an end to a friendship.  It not’s about us. We will continue see them. We will continue to be friends. It’s about keeping a memory fresh.

I can still remember in detail the beach house we rented with our siblings for those wonderful end of summer get togethers a few years back. They can’t happen again but I have my memories. I knew the last year we did that too. I felt like a photo-journalist chronicling the details.

This decision is logical and perhaps long overdue. Second homes are expensive and work, especially large ones. “The only thing that works in an older home is the owner.” That’s a quote from a friend who understood.

It’s another change in the stages of life. For us, it’s miniscule. For our friends, it’s a major life change but it will open the door to other opportunities. Lifting a burden allows new adventures and maybe a nice “little” beach house. I have my beach bag packed just in case there is a B&B next door.

For our friends Fred and Louise

So,  would you rather know when you are experiencing something for the last time?

78 thoughts on “Is knowing better or worse?

  1. I think it depends on what it is that you’re experiencing. Sometimes you don’t want to know so the pleasure is not tempered with sadness. Other times you want the opportunity to take it all in, snap all the photos and live in that one moment.
    Hopefully you can share your friendship with them in a new place that will create wonderful new memories..:)

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  2. All of life is change, but I don’t always smile through the shifts! I’ve been through this with the beach house we rented every year for more than 20 years. It, too, belonged to a friend, and when he passed away, the children sold it. We didn’t expect a “last time,” but his kids very sweetly gifted us with one last summer’s visit before they sold the house, and we cherished each moment. I feel the bittersweet pull at your heart as you share your experience with these dear friends, Kate. I truly wish them well. It can’t be easy on them, but how lovely you have such happy memories together in this one special spot.

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  3. Your post explains so well the pleasure we get from the little things we do occasionally and repeat at intervals. One question we often ask is, Would you rather explore a new place or re-experience a place you loved? Of course the answer is both. Last week with my grandson, son-in-law, and two of my daughters visiting, we spent three days on the Olympic Peninsula, a place we’ve been before. Hurricane Ridge was as spectacular as it always is, the beauty and pleasure only magnified by memories of past visits. My sister, on the other hand, is exploring Denmark for the first time.

    I don’t have an opinion about whether or not I want to know I’m doing something for the last time. But after reading your post, I feel the importance of cherishing the moments as they happen, whether or not it’s the last time.

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  4. I really enjoyed this post, Kate. I can still remember the last time I visited my boyhood home before my parents sold it and moved to an apartment. I went into the bathroom and looked at the floor’s tiling because when I was a kid I’d stare at for seemingly hours conjuring up faces I thought I saw in the shapes. It wasn’t melancholy, rather more of a marking of the moment, I suppose.

    So to answer your question, I guess I’d rather know ahead of time. You probably enjoyed your visit with your friends that much more because you did know. Great post. – Marty

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  5. When I was younger (when was that anyway and when did I become “older?”) I always thought wherever I was in the world that I would return to that spot some day or be with that person another time. Now, several decades into my life, I assume everything is for the last time. Even sitting here at my computer. Nothing is predictable. This is not morbid. Just the opposite. I appreciate life. I am now acutely aware of everything I do. I make a point of soaking it all in… coffee in the morning, sitting on my deck with a glass of wine, visiting an art gallery with a good friend, a vacation in some exotic land, driving my car down the street. Nothing is mundane anymore. I am grateful for every precious moment. Maybe some things I would like to know in advance, but mostly not. I could never be prepared enough for it anyway!

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  6. “I felt like a photo-journalist ” What a great post. You captured the intensity of that feeling.
    This was a long term place and experience – not just the place, but all those moments. I would grieve a bit over all that, I think.
    So, a new adventure next ( and the conversation will no doubt wander back to that cabin and those days) Still warmth ahead
    (Are you torn watching?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You got it. It really wasn’t about the place but the time spent together. We haven’t vacationed with friends in years. People start getting health issues or don’t want to travel distances. (Aging comes with all sorts of things you didn’t expect!) This was a place where we spent a quality 48 hours together.

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  7. I have a quirk in my personality that makes me think, “This may be the last time, so do it right, experience it well, part with it kindly.” Who knows, maybe I had some deeply felt loss at an early age that I now don’t remember but that still colors my outlook. Thought-provoking post!

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  8. It is in my nature to try and be prepared for anything and everything, so I often wish that I had known something ahead of time, which would have helped me prepare. However, for the most part, I have learned to just go with the flow and improvise as I go, because I have realized that a) I will not always know and b) if I will, it might not be the best in the long run.
    The answer varies depending on the situation. You surely hope to make the best memories, but you might be so focused on the details, that you forget the bigger picture.

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  9. Aww, I felt the melancholy. I completely understand that feeling of soaking in those last moments of vacation, and why you’d be soaking in those last moments at that cabin.

    Those second homes are nice, but boy, the work. My cousin sold her snowbird townhouse in Florida. She was so glad not to have that responsibility anymore. Since then, she rented a condo on the beach instead.

    As far as knowing in advance about something, for me, I guess it would depend on what it is.

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  10. Lovely post and very timely for me. It seems that I have been experiencing more and more of those “lasts” lately. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older that there are more “lasts,” or if, because I’m older, I appreciate them more. Your friends look fun – I’m sure you’ll continue to enjoy their company for many years to come… just not at their mountain home. Maybe you can convince them to buy another house somewhere else … Hawaii would be nice.

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    • I do think when you get older there are more lasts and you are more aware of them. I get crazy sometimes taking pictures. “Let’s get a picture! We don’t know if we’ll all be here next year!” I’m just a barrel of laughs.

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  11. Such a thought-provoking post, Kate, and such wisdom in the comments. I sadly can’t add anything new other than to echo Autumn’s comments “To live fully in each moment, appreciating exactly what that second has to offer”!

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  12. I can really feel what you’re thinking in this post – and your friends look like really lovely people. I also really savour those ‘boundary times’ ..when I know they are happening, when I know things are going to be different. I haven’t moved house many times but when I do I usually go to each room of the old house and thank it, and then close the door. Sometimes I will reflect back on the stories the house knows that I also know…and the ones I don’t know that happened before me. I try to remember and store up good stuff – even if it’s just the way the sunlight came through a window of my Dad’s house..Ooo..thanks for the memory, Kate!

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  13. I think about this stuff all the time, actually. I am lucky that I had come close to death a couple times and had my life traumatically turned upside down in a moment before I was 17. Those were gifts–blessings. I learned at a young age to savor as much as possible…all the time…every single day. To live each day as if it was my last, you know? Obviously I have forgotten at times and let time slip past without focus and gratitude–but then I snap to and pay attention again.

    Therefore, yes–I treasure all the memories–so big shifts you know are coming are special, bittersweet, and I linger over them if I can…like you did wandering through the house to kind of take memory pictures. But there are a lot of events you do not want to know ahead of time. Always let the people you care about know that you do and tell the people you love how much they mean to you–regularly. Eliminate negatives–jobs, people, stuff. Always do your best, be honest, and try not to spread any darkness. Be ready to say goodbye to your life with a smile and as clear a conscience as you can muster.

    Sorry to go on, but this is–literally–food for my soul and brings me great joy–so I get excited! 🙂 Savor those memories, Kate.

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  14. This was a beautiful post! You can feel your heart in it and your humor is still present amidst the pain of loss.
    As many have said, I am really not sure where I stand. I don’t like suspense so I do like to know things, but when we are talking about more serious things then that’s different.
    If I had known ahead of time what my family and I were going to go through these past couple years I believe I would have gone crazy! I may have thought of fleeing the Country, not that it would helped anything!

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  15. What a bittersweet visit you had. It’s good he doesn’t hunt while you’re there, but he’s the one neurotic about killing (not him as HIM but him as in all hunters); you are not neurotic about animals–just caring. So this question about whether it’s better to know or not is a good one relating to people dying. My husband’s father died on a flight home years ago. No warning there. His mother died within hours and no goodbye. We refer to them both as having “dropped dead.” Whereas, as you know, my dad was sick for months and then went into hospice. There are pros and cons to both ways of dying. For my husband’s parents it was good that they didn’t have to suffer, but it was much harder on us not to be able to say goodbye or get used to the idea. For my dad, he wanted to make things right with me, so he needed the time for that, but man did he suffer.

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  16. Definitely a good question. I agree with being on the fence about it. Some things were great to know they were ending…the last time I had to drive my daughter to school. The last time I had to go to a PTA meeting…I did not cry at either of those events.

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  17. This post conjured up many memories I have of ‘lasts’ – some came with no warning, others did. I would like to be able to respond to your question with an answer that’s both deep and clever … but I don’t one. When I look at my own ‘lasts’, I realize there are many conflicting feelings, so in the end I think I just don’t like to contemplate ‘ends’ … unless it involves something unpleasant.

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    • There are a few that would have been ruined had I know they were my last — like the last dinner with my ex. It’s really hard to say and there is no one answer. Deep and clever doesn’t lend itself to this topic or if it does, I missed it too.

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  18. Lovely post, Kate. I like how you broach this difficult subject with humor and sensitivity.
    I’ve finally got to the age (or state of mind) where I know that nothing lasts forever, things change, people (animals) die. Death is a tricky one because while I would want the opportunity to say goodbye, to say I love you one last time, it also tears at me if the person is dying slowly, in pain or not. I’ve lost my childhood home to a flood so there’s no going back there which I already knew but still found difficult to accept when I actually saw the damage. Back to your friends’ cabin: I think it would be good to know when you’re having your last visit because these are good memories to have and your friends will still be around 🙂

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    • For us the visit to the cabin was easy. For the owners I suspect much more difficult. Death is very tricky. My high school bestie who lives in another state didn’t send me her usual wordy Christmas card. I was surprised but didn’t think anything of it. Just before her birthday she died. I didn’t know she was ill and wished I could have been more helpful even from a distance in her illness. The Christmas card the previous year was the last. Wish I would have saved it.

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  19. A very poignant and insightful post Kate. I would rather not know that something might be the last time. Just knowing that it could be, puts a damper on something that is perhaps an otherwise wonderful vacation, or a conversation with a special person. As I get older I think about a lot of different “ends.” I am trying to balance the beginnings, the middles, and the inevitable ends. It has become very difficult for me.

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    • It is difficult. My mother died suddenly (although she was in the hospital) and I wished I had been there for her. The last week of work was intense not so much from me but from everyone wanting to wish me well. My departure overwhelmed the week. In this case, it didn’t effect the visit except I looked at details better as if I was reinforcing my feeble memory. It’s the right decision and I’m happy for them. The house has been in the family for decades and it wasn’t an easy decision.

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  20. I am “on the fence” with question because it would really depend on the circumstances. Advance notice does allow preparation, but the element of surprise can be fun… or not!

    Love the “older home” quote but, as Carol immediately responded “Sometimes the only thing that works in an older home… is the home!” 🙂

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  21. Kate, this is a beautiful post. I am a bit teary. You share some thoughts and experiences that I feel deeply… and you share them in your beautiful words with a sprinkle of humor.
    I think I will pass on knowing when I am experiencing something for the last time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kind words. It’s hard for me to say which is better. Looking to the future sometimes holds wonderful surprises. Some memories can’t be replaced but need to be cherished in that special place you go when you need a lift. This is the time of year that we would go to the beach with our siblings and every year at this time, I get a bit nostalgic. My husband’s family is scattered all over so we don’t see them often. As people have aged they don’t like the really long drives either but I have my memories.

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