“Perspective is as simple as answering this question: If I had 5 months to live would I experience this problem differently?”
~ Shannon L. Alder
As you read this, my friend Liz and her young family are readying their bags. They are heading to the airport. They are flying to Hawaii for the holiday of a lifetime.
A lifetime that will soon be over for Liz.
Last week Liz was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Doctors think she has, at best, three or four months. They have told her that there is nothing they can do except manage her condition and pain. They have told her that the end, when it comes, will be a very sudden downhill slide.
But for now, Liz feels okay. She’s tired. She’s sore. She gets a little forgetful. But she’s upright and functioning.
After extensive talks with me last week, Liz and her husband decided to pull their kids out of school and take them on this family holiday. They want to make memories that will last a lifetime. They want these last days together to be good ones, and to make the most of these kinds of opportunities while Liz is still mobile.
Liz has already spoken to her employer, her union, her insurance company. She’s talked with the kids’ schools. I’ve helped her to access palliative care, and have connected her with an excellent social worker who is experienced with guiding people through these kinds of situations.
Why pretend life is normal when suddenly it’s not? Why cling to routine when soon it will be forever changed anyway?
While I was talking with Liz, she said something that resonated deeply with me. ‘I was living on automatic pilot, doing all the things you are supposed to do. Paying the mortgage on a big house. Paying the loan repayments on big cars. Paying off the credit cards. I was working so hard. So is my husband. We live in a beautiful new house we’ve never had time to enjoy. We run around all week doing jobs we hate, and then spend all weekend catching up on chores and housework. I really lost sight of what matters.’
‘What does matter to you?’ I asked her gently.
She burst into tears. ‘I was too worried about stuff. It’s all just stuff. What really matters is my husband and my kids. My mum and dad. My friends. Fergus, our dog. But I haven’t had time for any of that. I think we were actually happier in our old cramped home, where at least we had time for each other.’ Liz pulled herself together. ‘In the time I have left I’m going to teach my children that what matters is where your heart is. It’s your relationships and your family. It’s making memories and having experiences. It’s about slowing down enough to notice the world around you. It’s about doing things that make you happy, like cooking a meal together or working on a scrapbook, or singing Disney songs in the car with your kids, or picking flowers for the kitchen table.’
So now Liz is taking her husband and children to Hawaii, a place she’s dreamed of going ever since she was a small child. They’ll be there until just before Easter, after which they’ll come home to friends and family.
In the time left to her, Liz is going to work with her children on planning their 18th and 21st birthdays. She’ll make scrapbooks and write letters, and record some video messages. She and her husband will go on date nights. She’ll fill her life with the people she loves.
Liz has decided not to follow any last-minute anti-cancer diets, or to fly off and leave her family to search for last-minute miracle cures. She wants to enjoy good coffee, and eat her favourite foods, guilt-free. She wants to take the kids to the beach for fish and chips, or eat pizza and popcorn and ice-cream on the couch in front of a DVD.
In the time left her Liz wants to live, mindful of and grateful for every moment.
I think that’s good advice for us all.