“If Only” We Could Stop Using These Words

Brian Thatcher
5 min readApr 16, 2021

About five years ago, my father-in-law was getting ready to leave the house he and my mother-in-law, Jane (name changed), lived in and wanted to kiss his wife before he left. She was in the middle of vacuuming the stairs and when she came up to kiss him, she slipped and fell down the stairs. The fall put her in a coma for a couple of days and ended up damaging some parts of her brain that control her motor functions. Since then, she’s needed assistance to walk and has a hard time controlling her hands and speech. After my father-in-law died about two years ago, my wife and I, knowing how hard it was for her to live on her own, asked if she wanted to live with us. She said “Yes” and moved in.

At first, everything seemed to be going well. However, after a couple of months, my wife and I noticed something. On almost a daily basis, Jane would call a close friend and complain about me, my wife, our kids, and about life in general. Her comments were hard not to hear since, due to her bad hearing, she speaks very loudly. This article isn’t about how we and our kids are dealing with her comments (that article will be written at another time), instead, it’s about a pattern I’ve noticed in her rantings. Many times, she’ll start a complaint with the same two words: If only. If only she hadn’t fallen down the stairs, if only my father-in-law hadn’t wanted to kiss her, if only he had died before the fall occurred (yes, as disgusting as it is, she has said that), if only her first husband hadn’t died in an electrocution accident, if only her second husband (who she despises because he abused her) would die, and so on. If only, if only, if only.

The more I heard her say those words, the more I thought about them. I tried to think of times in my life that I’ve used them in the past and currently still use them. For example, there are many times that I want to buy something non-essential (like a rare coin for my collection) or a gift to surprise my wife with before I remember that our budget is very tight and can’t tolerate such expenditures. “If only I made more money,” I’d think to myself. I may see a man around my age who appears to be very physically fit and think, “If only I exercised more or ate better, I might look like that.” When I’m tired, but my kids want to play, I sometimes think, “If only I were younger and had more energy, I could keep up with them better.” The more I thought, the more I realized that, I too, am not immune to applying these words to my own life. I also came to see (or hear) that…

Brian Thatcher

Husband, father, accountant, and article writer.