While enjoying one of my guilty pleasures, which is to watch replays of my favorite television shows over lunch, one of the characters made a statement that gave me pause with its simplicity and profundity. I had to repeat it out loud to hear it again. And as I heard myself say it, I burst into tears. She said, “Most things in life end before we’re ready.”
I've been changed
I’ve been changed. Profoundly. Death did it to me. Not mine, but my husband’s.
A few years ago, I sat by his bedside. He was a 52-year-old man who had been in the prime of his life.
Before getting sick, he had big dreams. He wanted to improve his golf game. Watch his sons marry and have grandbabies. He and I dreamed of traveling to the larger US cities. We planned to stay in each for a month at a time so we could explore at our leisure.
We were building our dream retirement house just a few miles outside of town in a gorgeous subdivision that butted up against a small creek where redwing blackbirds nested.
All of those hopes and plans disappeared with the diagnosis of cancer. A few months later, my husband was gone.
Five years later, on the exact day anniversary of my husband’s death, my eldest son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. I couldn’t believe it. Life couldn’t get any crueler.
So when I heard the television character quote, “Most things in life end before we’re ready,” I was undone.
I used to live for the future
Oh, how I know the painful truthfulness of those words.
I used to be one of those people who lived for the weekends and vacations. Each weekday, I’d hold on as I counted down until Friday. Sundays were the worst because that meant Monday was right around the corner.
These days, I don’t look at life the same. I savor it like I’m sucking the marrow from life's very bones, and I’m greedy for every precious second. The past doesn’t matter; it’s gone and can’t be changed.
When my son was receiving his chemotherapy treatment, I’d drive him. For those thirty minutes in the car, we discussed his future plans, we both knew the odds of him living a long life were low.
As we talked, I would keep one hand on the steering wheel while I would grip his hand in my other, savoring the moment.
Never be Enough
Honestly, I could spend a lifetime holding my son's hand, listening to the sound of his voice, or enjoying another afternoon hanging out. I will never say, “There, I’ve tucked away enough memories of being with him. I’ve saved enough to last me a lifetime.”
No, there will never be enough. Not ever.
I will always want one more hug. To hear his voice one more time as he talks about his job. Or to hear the sound of his laughter once again.
Facing the Fragility of Life
How do we live with the fragility of life? How do we keep from going mad with grief when we lose the ones we love?
Grief and I have become old acquaintances.
We met in a hospice's inpatient room where my husband lost his life to cancer.
My husband and I had enjoyed thirty-three wonderful years together, raising three boys. He had the oddest laugh. It was the kind that would erupt from his belly and bounce him off his chair. Its quirkiness made me giggle. I can still hear echoes of it if I listen to my memories closely enough.
I think I fell in love first with that man’s sweet scent. He said it was the same for him, and wished he could bottle mine and carry it with him.
It was also one of the first things I lost after he died. I clawed through his clothing, desperate to get one more whiff, but cancer that had grown in his gut had stolen it from me.
No, I wasn’t ready for the moment when I couldn’t find his scent anywhere in the world. I wasn’t prepared for the loss of him being by my side.
I often wish he was still here to find comfort in one another’s arms as we faced my son’s illness together.
Yes, most things in life end before we’re ready.
No Trick to Surviving Loss
I’ve been asked how I do it, how I get up and face each day.
I wish I had some secret to share.
There are no hacks to master. No hidden puzzle to decode.
The simple truth is sometimes all that gets me out of bed are the appointments on my calendar. I do it because I have to.
The last few days of my late husband’s life, I realized all of us have a certain number of days to live. Some will live longer, whereas others are shorter. Just as we all were born, we will eventually all die.
Arthur Schopenhauer, a 19th century philosopher in one of his six essays published in Parerga and Paralipomena (2007) wrote, “Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”
Learning to Live in the Moment
The present is what’s real.
The past is gone and cannot be changed. The future is an illusion that moves ahead just out of reach each time we try to grasp it.
It’s how we handle the middle part of those two events that matter the most. What am I doing with today with this minute?
As for me, I breathe, deal with what the day dishes out, try to show kindness to others where I can, and then go to bed so that I can wake up and do it all over again. That’s it. That’s my secret.
Some have told me I’m a survivor. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that I’m surviving.
Don't forget to savor life
My son has finished the last of his chemotherapy. He’s due to arrive at my apartment in a few hours. We are going to enjoy dinner while we watch a movie. He tends to sit beside me on the couch. Probably sometime during the evening, his hand will find mine. I’ll give him a sideways glance and smile, thankful for this moment. And, I will savor the preciousness of spending time with him.
That TV show had it right:Life is sacred. Irreplaceable. And probably will end before any of us are ready.
And I’m not going to miss one second of it.