The Things That Really Matter

“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.

 

19 thoughts on “The Things That Really Matter

  1. I burst into tears every time I read about your friend Liz. What a brave, extraordinary soul. My prayers are for her and the entire family. I feel an ernornous amount of compassion for her. This could happen to any of us at any time.

    Her story is another reminder in mindfulness, being present, being grateful, being aware of what’s really important. Thanks for the update Nicole. And Liz if your reading this, I hope you have a truly wonderful time in Hawaii. Xx

  2. Soo important!! We need reminding at least once a year before we buy more stuff that doesn’t matter in the end! I love her choices!

  3. Wow, thank you Liz and Nicole for the light bulb moment. I am also guilty of working to keep my big house and my nice new car. Ensuring our kids see us working hard for nice material things. I need to change this perspective and teach my kids “What matters is where the heart is”. Liz, have an amazing holiday in Hawaii. Even though we never met you have changed my (and my families) life for the better. Thank you

  4. Privileged to read Liz’s update. Sending love and prayers to her and the family – enjoy this special time together creating treasured memories ❤ 🙂 xx Hugs to you Nicole for all you do xxooxx

  5. I cried as I read this. For Liz and her family, for the short time they have left together. But I also resonated with every word and feel that she is doing exactly the right thing, and what we should all be doing every single day, loving the people we are with and making the most of what we have. So often we forget this in our busy lives. Liz may not have long but I pray she cherishes every minute left and makes memories with her family that will last a lifetime. Thank you for sharing this, Nicole. xo

  6. oh Liz, good on you for really living until you die. Getting your affairs in order and then living go Liz and enjoy every moment that you can. We can all learn a valuable lesson. Most of us don’t and won’t know when our time in this life is over we can all learn something from Liz. Thankyou Liz xxx

  7. I have bought 3 copies of the audio version of Dying to Be Me by Anita Moorjani to get that lesson. There is no guaranteed tomorrow for any of us. Liz is doing exactly what I would do in this situation.We are all terminal.. We just don’t always realize it. Everyday now I do what I love and let the rest go. Read, write, make things, tell those I love how much they mean to me. My heart could stop tonight. I’m taking a plane tomorrow to see a dear friend not seen for almost 6 years even though the money should probably not be spent. I will always find money, not always good friends. I live in a little manufactured home and find it very peaceful to be surrounded by family and my books and creative endeavors. I want to live every day like I’m dying because I am. You and Liz have reminded us all once again. My children’s father dropped dead at 42 one night after work. An unhappy man with no life left in him. He reminds me every day too when I look at his children. I am so blessed to have lived another 25 years.

  8. Beautiful! I reflect on this often: what really matters! Liz is an inspiration. The quality of our being and the time we spend with others is so much more important than the quantity, which we’ll never know for certain.

  9. This is so sad but in some ways knowing that the end is approaching can be a good thing, time to take that holiday and just kick back and enjoy life till the very end. It also means one can tell some people what they really think of them because guess what I will not be around to care, so but have to be honest if I knew I was dying right at the end I would spell out how I feel, ok what I would do is write a letter to whoever and have them sent after I am dead but I am a strange and weird person.

  10. This made me cry.
    When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer I thought to myself ‘oh Mum, I would not have wished this type of death for you’. However, in the end it was the best time of our lives with her. My siblings and I had ten wonderful months with her as a family and reuniting with cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbours. She had a wonderful send-off and we have fantastic memories to treasure.

  11. Lots of love, light and thoughts to Liz and her family and friends. And be confident, that people we love are always with us to take care of us.

  12. My heart goes out to this family and living in the is definitely the way to go. I admire her strength and her decisions. I will be sending, light and love and prayers for peace.

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