“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”
~ L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl
Perhaps you read my post a few days ago, about my friend Julie who has been given a diagnosis of mere weeks to live due to end-stage inoperable ovarian cancer. No-one knows if she’ll have three months, less, or longer, but we do know that her remaining time is short. Precious, short and non-renewable.
We’ve talked a lot in the past few days. A lot! And in that time on the crazy roller-coaster ride of shock, denial, anger, grief and acceptance some big decisions have been made.
Truth is, Julie really is dying. This is the end game for her. There will be no miracle cure or last-minute reprieve. She understands that, and always the pragmatist, she’s been working out how she wants these weeks to look for her and her family. It is not chasing some possible cure in some remote part of the world, or filling herself with pills, tonics or juice fasts. Julie wants to spend her last weeks with the people she loves, to live life doing things that give her pleasure and that fill her up with love and gratitude, and to die a good death. One that is peaceful and without pain or trauma.
Day One after her diagnosis we began to get some care options in place and attended to all the legal stuff. Her mum, an ex-nurse who will be Julie’s primary carer, has spoken with the oncologist about what to expect, and contacted a local hospice for help and guidance, including the equipment and medications needed for home care. Julie will spend her last days back at the family property outside Brisbane, surrounded by nature, family and friends. There are still good places to go for coffee, and for tasty meals to be had if she feels like an outing. But there is also the comfort of familiar surroundings. Julie was clear – no hospitals.
She’s taken sick leave from work, checked all her insurances and contacted all the appropriate people. She spoke with her husband and then updated her will, and nominated a medical Power of Attorney. We’ve found some good counsellors for the family to help with this time of transition.
We’ve spoken to people about spiritual care for Julie and her family for this final part of her journey here on earth.
All of these things help Julie to have a sense of peace and control at a time when so many things are being stripped away from her.
Day Two we went shopping; for stationery, scrapbooking supplies, a decent photo printer and some journals.
Why? Julie has two little girls, aged three and six. Daughters she adores. Daughters she will never get to see grow up. Another of my friends lost her own mum when she was five, has many unanswered questions because of that loss, and has had many times when she’s wished for advice or support from the mum she never really knew.
Julie wants her loved ones to feel her love, support, guidance and encouragement – even if she cannot be here in person to give it.
So we’ve made a plan:
- Scrapbooks for each girl, to celebrate their time together, and for Julie to leave messages of love and support. Julie’s mum and sister love to scrapbook, and they have promised to help with this task, pouring all of their love into these albums
- Letters from Julie to be given to the girls and her other significant loved ones for important milestones in their lives
- Video messages for some of those same milestones (and believe me we brainstormed many possibilities, including the hard and sad parts of life as well as the usual celebrations) She’s recorded the first few already.
- A journal that documents Julie’s life, from her own childhood to the present day. This is a project just for Julie, to do in her quiet hours and until she can no longer write entries for herself. This is a place where she can glue pictures, talk about who is in the photo, what they were doing, and what that meant for her. A place that records Julie the way Julie knows herself and her interior world – as a person, not just as a mother, or a wife.
Day Three and Julie and her family began a whole weekend together, sleeping in, watching DVDs, baking cupcakes and reading stories. No work, no deadlines, no emails to answer or calls to return, no papers to write. Instead there will be lots of cuddles, snuggles and love. Some time to think about a bucket list. Some time to cocoon from the world for a while.
For now her pain and fatigue are manageable, and she can still live independently and with quality of life. We’ll reassess as things change.
Help is there for Julie and her family as they walk this part of the journey together. So much of it will simply unfold as it needs to. And of course, Julie has her plan of things to leave behind for those she loves. This is so important to her, it’s her last and most important project – and I know it will help with closure for her too.
In the next few weeks Julie also wants to take one last shopping trip, for a few special items for her loved ones.
She wants wine, cheese and chocolate with her best girlfriends – soon, while she still feels like getting dressed up and going out.
She’s got a romantic weekend getaway booked with her husband for next weekend.
She is going to plan her own funeral, with help from her husband, daughters, mum and good friends. She wants to go to that life celebration in person. She says it seems pointless to miss her own, best party.
My friend does not know how many good days she has left, but she wants to make the most of her time on this earth.
That’s a good lesson for all of us, don’t you think?