Priorities & Regrets

In light of recent events, Michael shares some life strategy advice with you that he feels you should really take to heart.

[Author’s Note: I wrote this article on September 12th, 2013, the weekend before SCG Open Series: Atlanta; for those of you who aren’t aware, Steve Kaufmann life was tragically taken on the way home from that event by a careless drunk driver. While this article focuses on my regrets in regards to my own life, the sudden passing of Steve gives this article a new meaning to the Magic community as a whole. Please read this and take it to heart, and afterwards I’ll include information on how to help Steve’s wife, little son, and family.]

I’m going to go ahead and put this out up front:

There is not going to be one single iota of Magic game strategy in this week’s piece.

Let’s go ahead and call this life strategy.

You may have noticed a lack of an article from me the past couple of weeks; Cedric went ahead and approved my “week off” a couple of weeks ago since as of my deadline at midnight three Saturdays ago . . .

I was just arriving in Florida with my mother’s ashes. She was only 45.

We still don’t know what happened; there was no warning. I found out over text message (admittedly due to my reluctance to answer my own damn phone, but I’ll always hate that I found out over a text message). I’ve been in fistfights plenty in my life; I’ve never had a gut shot hit as hard as seeing “I really hate to tell you this over text, but mom is dead.” More than just the air drained out of me the morning of September 2nd, 2013.

Ironically enough, that was the day my last article came out that talked about how I was trying to be a better parent through teaching and playing with my son Chris.

If only I’d tried to be a better son as well.

I’ve learned so much over the past couple of weeks; I really have. I’ve learned that funerals are nowhere near cheap and burying family members isn’t free. I’ve learned how much caskets cost, even “cheap” ones.

I’ve learned that cremation is much cheaper.

I’ve learned that cremation still isn’t cheap.

I’ve learned that no one truly cares about your grieving if they stand to gain any money from you; I also learned they don’t care to give you any time to come to terms with what has happened. I’ve learned that funeral homes call the ashes “cremains,” a name that I found to be a bit too cute when I picked my Mom two Saturdays ago. I learned that another cute name they have in place of funeral is “cremorial.”

I also learned that delivering a eulogy for your mother without breaking down is impossible in spite of your best efforts.

I originally had a couple of paragraphs typed out talking about my mother before realizing that I was turning this article into an extended eulogy for her, so I’ll skip all that. Suffice to say that I haven’t been the best son recently, having not talked to my mother for months prior to her last phone call to me on Thursday, August 29th. I kept putting off talking to her, thinking to myself “yeah, I need to do that; I’ll do it soon” in regards to writing her.

I put it off for too long . . .

So, how does this apply to you, you might ask?

No, I’m not just writing an article bemoaning my mother’s death, though I am still incredible saddened by it. The fact is that I screwed up big time when it came to Mom. Usually, when I screw up, I have a chance to atone for my mistake. I have a chance to fix it.

There’s no chance to fix my glaring mistake, and that regret stings almost as badly as losing Mom herself.

You see, my mother recently (about five or six months ago) ran afoul of the law and had to spend some time behind bars; this brought back old feelings about her (and some issues between her and my brothers and myself), and I felt myself wanting some distance again in spite of the progress I’d made in recent years in terms of communicating with her. I didn’t write or call. Since I live two states away, I didn’t even consider visiting. My brother Randy tried to convince the rest of us to write in a text on July 31st: “please please write Mom; she needs us.”

I did what I usually do; I read it and clicked that one button on my iPhone5 to go back to my home screen before locking it, thinking “yeah, I’ll get to that soon.” I even meant it . . . I thought.

You see, I always put off the things I should be doing, thinking that I’m going to do them in this gray area I call “the future” where apparently I’m going to do any and everything and time is eternal. It’s this place that is full of potential and has no restrictions in regards to available time. I tend to file everything away into the hazy “future file”; it’s easy since I always get back to those things, right?

(Does this sound familiar?)

I filed my Mom away there too. There would always be time.

So what I want to share with everyone today is the lessons I’ve learned. More than just those nuances of burying a loved one, my Mom’s death has shown me a lot in regards to priorities. My Mom has been teaching me her entire life, and now she continues to do so in death.

I just wish I could have learned that lesson a bit easier than this (and a bit sooner).

The reason I’m writing an article for a Magic: The Gathering website is because I’ve noticed plenty of people that are similar to me; their priorities aren’t set in the correct order. They value an addiction to a game, be it Magic, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Starcraft 2, etc., over things that are far more important. The reason for this is that they haven’t experienced any negative backlash for this lack of prioritization.

Well, now I have.

The Letters

Remember how I said that I kept putting off writing to my mother? Well, let’s do some math; in the five or six months since she was sent away, how many articles have I written? Ask Cedric how many times I’ve been late in submitting those articles. I always made it a priority to make sure my articles were submitted on time. I read, reread them, edited them, then reread them again and rewrote them. I spent a lot of time working on my articles to make sure that they’re good reads week in and week out. I always made sure that my articles were up to my high standards for myself before sending them out.

And yet I never once made the time to pen a letter to my mother who gave up her hopes, dreams, and future all those years ago to make sure that I had the chance to succeed.

My brother Randy had been writing Mom; I told him at her memorial service two weekends ago that he was a much smarter man than I’ll ever be. He realized all of the lessons I’ve since learned before our mother’s death had to convince him; he was able to talk to her and spend time with her. He showed me some of the letters she wrote to him; she wrote exactly how she talked.

She rambled.

She talked about minor things she was doing that couldn’t have mattered less to the reader weeks ago but now hold a much more significant meaning.

She talked about her sons as if they were her prized possessions (because we were).

She also mentioned some other things; she talked about money for basic necessities. She caveated it each time with “son, if you can’t help, please don’t worry about it; I never wanted to be a burden to my children”; this is because money has become a sore point between my parents and the kids over the years. But to see my mother state that she’d rather go without basic necessities than to lose contact with her son made me feel like the smallest person on Earth since I never bothered to contact her to begin with.

She mentioned how she kept me on the visitation list; this was in spite of the distance between us and the low probability of me actually being able to make such a trip. That was her hopes coming across that yellow piece of paper; I could feel her hoping I would visit. I never considered it.

But oh, how I made FNM every single week. I went to Baltimore. I went to Grand Prix Charlotte. I went to Richmond.

I never once considered visiting Mom.

I wanted to reach through those letters and tell Mom that I did love her, that I did care, and that if she ever needed anything, I would pay for it on the spot. That it was something she should never have to worry about because in spite of her struggles when we were kids, we never had to.

But I can’t . . .

I can’t go back and fix this. I can only learn from it; this is my Mom’s lesson to me.

I hear you Mom; I’m so sorry that I didn’t hear you sooner.

Hopefully, though, I can help at least one other person out. I can help out a mother or father who desperately wants to hear from their child. Because, as a father myself, I cannot fathom a day when my children don’t view me as the coolest and most important person in the world. I don’t want to.

But I do deserve it . . .

Please, if you’re reading this section, take a break.

Right now.

Go write to your mother. Or your father. Or your grandparents. Or some family member who you might not have talked to in a while.

Don’t call; don’t text.

Don’t even email.

Handwrite a letter to your loved one; show them that they’re worth the time it’ll take to put pen to paper.

. . .

No, don’t keep reading. Go write.

. . .

Realize that in the unfortunate scenario that they pass away suddenly like my Mom did, you don’t get a chance to go back and talk to them. All of your feelings for them that you may not think they fully understand or realize will forever go unstated; it will be impossible to fix that. As much as I want to reach out to that beautiful lady writing those heartfelt letters on that yellow paper, as much as my very being aches and hurts because of the regret of not doing so, and as much as I want . . . no, need to fix this:

I can’t. Not only am I not able to, but I’m never going to be able to.

The wonderful thing for most of you is that you still can. You don’t have to feel this hurt, this regret. You don’t have to wonder how things might have been different had you have made the decision to simply reach out to that loved one. You don’t have to look back at old letters and realize that they were reaching out to you all along and you let the chance pass to really tell them just how much you love them.

Here’s the most ironic part; I’d been writing those articles and putting off talking to my mother. However, I’d give up writing completely just to have a chance to go back and write just one letter to my Mom now. I’d give it all up to just be able to write one line to my Mom. There’s no chance for me to go back and fix that now. . .

Only time to regret.

The Phone Call

The night my Mom called, I was gaming with my buddy Rob; he had excused himself for a minute, and I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize (with an 803/Rock Hill, SC area code). I assumed it was my youngest brother Daniel asking for money again since he’s been out of work since getting out of the Army and has truly needed it; I don’t answer since I feel guilty telling him no when in reality there was no good reason to tell him no other than the fact that I’d just given him some money days before.

The number called again, and I figured I might as well answer it since I’m not in the middle of a game. I heard a woman’s voice on the other end call me “son.” I quickly realized it’s my mother, who I thought was still in jail.

She’d just gotten out, and I was the first person she called. In spite of my lack of communication with her the entire time she was in jail, she still called me the moment she got out. Thinking back, I realize how stupid I was to think I was somehow being mature and whatever else I was selling to myself by not talking to her after her “mistake” that caused her to go behind bars. I realize now how stupid I was for not trying to talk to her; she simply wanted to talk to her son regardless of any other circumstance.

Why couldn’t I think the same way?

We talked for a bit about Zoey and me; we talked about her and her court case. I told her I should go because Rob came back and I wanted to game some more.

I chose going back to my games over talking to my mother for a few more minutes. She didn’t seem too upset, simply asking for Randy’s phone number and telling me that she was going to call him.

“Alright baby, I’ll talk to you soon. I love you.”

I can hear her saying those words as I write it; my heart sank for about the billionth time in the past couple of weeks as I think about those things. (I wonder if those memories will ever stop making me feel like the worst human alive.)

Again, I chose to play Magic over speaking to my Mom. Just as with the articles, the ironic thing is that I would sincerely quit the game of Magic in a fraction of a heartbeat if given the chance to talk to Mom again for those few minutes she wanted. Thinking about it now, that choice is an easy one; yet for years, YEARS, I made the incorrect decision. I’d been to multiple tournaments in Charlotte, yet I’d seen my mother maybe once or twice while at those events. I seemingly always chose Magic over my Mom; how ironic is it that now that I no longer have the option, I would snap quit Magic if given that option realistically again?

I’m not telling anyone to quit Magic. Since I’ll never get my Mom back, I have no plans to quit either; I still intend to play. However, I’ve made a point to talk to my Dad on the phone almost nightly since my mother’s death and have every intention of continuing. I’ve started setting up trips to spend time with rarely seen family members in Florida. I even want to spend more time with my family at home, the kids and Sarah; we’ve been talking about a camping trip for over a year now that we’ve never even begun to plan.

Imagine how horrible I would feel if one of those family members passed suddenly and I had to think of the excitement in their voice talking about that trip that we never took in time. Among other things that would make me unfathomably distraught, I would never forgive myself for failing to deliver on my promise. It would haunt me as much as Mom’s voice on the phone that night.

I think I can skip a tournament or two to make these things happen. The Magic community won’t mind so much.

Similar to my inability to forgive myself for not writing over those couple of months, I doubt I’ll soon forgive myself for choosing more game time over my Mom. There would be plenty of times for games after that phone conversation.


Before I begin this section, I just want to say that this above everything else hurts the most. Not even close. Thankfully, I’m typing behind a computer screen instead of having a face-to-face conversation with you.

The last time I saw my Mom was last Thanksgiving; I started hosting Thanksgiving at my house after my Grandma passed away over two years ago. Last year was the first time my Mom was able to make it; I paid for gas to get to my house and back to make sure she could. I tried to convince her to not bring her live-in boyfriend, “Joe,” but he insisted on coming, so I dealt with it.

She saw the monuments and museums in Washington, DC for the first time in her life.

She spent that day in DC walking around with Matt and Daniel, spending valuable time with them and catching up with the sons she’d long lost contact with.

She spent every waking second with Zoey if possible, tickled pink when Zoey called her “Gram-mah.”

My family stayed for two or three days apiece, and on the last day, everyone except Mom and Joe had left. Sarah and I were getting to the point where we wanted to be alone in the house again. My Mom and Joe had apparently been talking, and even he wanted to leave.

My Mom was evidently able to convince him to stay one more day. She told us of her desire.

Apparently I wore my emotions a bit too much on my face in spite the fact that I said, “That’s cool Mom.” She came back into the living room ten minutes later a bit more sullen than before and said, “I think we’re going to leave, baby,” before assuring me that it was ok. I didn’t argue too much since as with most family members, some of my Mom’s (and Joe’s) mannerisms had gotten old (muddy feet on the couch, tobacco from their pipes all over the carpet, etc.). I did feel kind of bad for making her feel unwelcome because that wasn’t my intention, but I went ahead and helped pay for their gas to get back and gave my Mom a hug.

Never would I have guessed that the last time I’d see my Mom I’d essentially chase her away. That look on her face when she came back into the living room keeps coming back to mind over and over again. I’ve said the words “I’m sorry” so many times thinking of that in the past week or so through sobs that come from places deep within me that I didn’t even know existed.

My Mom simply wanted one more day with me, Sarah, and the kids. I couldn’t get past myself long enough to spend that day with her.

I’d burn my couch and pour mud all over my carpet if I could spend that day with my Mom now.

I’m probably being a bit too overdramatic in regards to some of these situations; even in hindsight, I don’t think there’s anything overly wrong with wanting to get back to normal after Thanksgiving and three days of being around family. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to get back to gaming and telling your mother that you’ll call her back. It’s not that I can think of any one thing I wish I could go back and fix.

I just want to fix my mindset back then. And I can’t.

Again, you don’t have to feel like I do while I’m typing all of this out. Hopefully all of your immediate family is still alive. You can probably picture them as you read this. Maybe you’re annoyed at them about something; maybe you think they’re somewhat annoyed or upset with you about something. Please don’t let that stop you; I can tell you that those things couldn’t matter less at all when someone passes away.

My aunt Tracey (my Mom’s sister) put it best, though, when she said this about my feelings towards that Thanksgiving:

“Moms love their children so much that they’re going to get over anything that their children do that might have upset them. Even if she was hurt that day, she got over it immediately and loved you and knew you loved her. She would hate knowing that you are so upset thinking about that day and would tell you, ‘It’s alright baby; I’m ok.'”

I know she’s right; as a parent I overlook a lot of things because of my love for my kids. It doesn’t take the pain away completely, but it eases the sting just a little bit.

If I could wrap this piece up in a neat bow, it would be this: don’t waste time. Don’t put off talking to those people you love until “the future”; nothing ever truly gets accomplished in the future. Don’t prioritize your gaming life (or any hobby really) so fully over family; I’m not saying to quit or to not dedicate yourself to gaming success, but take a little bit of time at least once a week to make sure that they’re doing ok. They miss talking to you, and that call is going to mean so much more than you’ll ever know.

A bit from one of my Mom’s letters (paraphrased):

“Please keep writing. I really like hearing my name called when they do mail call and knowing that I get to hear from you.”

That line keeps playing over in my mind; I know my brother wrote maybe once every two weeks or so (took him about a week to get the letter, a week for it to get back to her, etc.); yet every single night she would listen as the names were called off hoping to hear her own, hoping to get another letter from one of her kids. While maybe not that extreme, realize that your family would love to hear from you. Your situation is probably not the same as mine was with Mom over these past couple of months, but I promise you their desire to hear from you is the same.

Please don’t screw up like I did. I can’t go back and fix it, but you can go ahead and fix it right now.

I miss you, Mom.


Michael Martin

@mikemartinlfs on Twitter

[Author’s Note #2: From my recent experiences, I can easily tell you that paying for these types of things when a family member suddenly passes is incredibly difficult. You’re not ready for it from an emotional standpoint, and your bank account is just as ill prepared to deal with it. Steve had a fiancee and young ten-month old son, and as a parent of a young child as well, I can promise that they weren’t financially ready for this; babies aren’t cheap either.

While this article was originally written with the purpose of pleading with folks to do what I didn’t do and talk to their loved ones, the topic took a more personal turn for much of the community when Steve’s live was senselessly taken; I’m going to help the family out, and if you feel up for it, please do so as well. Obviously, you’re not obligated to contribute financially, and you can send your condolences to the family. Listed below is some information for Steve Kaufmann memorials and how to help.

From Steve’s brother, Joseph Kaufmann:

“In lieu of flowers, donations for my brother Steve’s son Sterling Kaufmann can be sent via PayPal to our brother Charles ([email protected]).”

There will also be a fundraising raffle at South Carolina States in Lugoff, SC, on October 5th.

Steve’s obituary can be found here.

If you just want to donate to help out, I think that you still can contribute through Charles’ Paypal. That is his email address as well in case you want to ask questions. No one’s asking you to give thousands of dollars; if you can even help out with five dollars, I’m sure they’d appreciate everything (remember, his fiancee still has to buy diapers, formula, wipes, etc. in addition to her four-year-old son’s needs.); in addition, if everyone gave a little, the family would be in a much better situation. You may not be able to solve all of their concerns, but all of us can help with some of the concern of money at least—because that really should be the least of their concerns right now.

Go hug your family.]