The feeling of clarity was such a gift to me after my cancer diagnosis. I knew exactly what mattered and had no interest in anything else. I was not concerned with money nor keeping up with the Jones’s. I was not worried about missing a practice or a game, if it interfered with what I wanted from life. I truly consider this a gift. I’m not sure I can put it into words, but I will try. The feeling was euphoric, but my hopes were not always attainable so it also had a downside. It’s the feeling I am trying to hold onto a year after treatments have ended. It’s that feeling of gratefulness and knowing, without a doubt, what is important in life.
During a book group at my church I answered a discussion question, “is there anything in particular that you struggled to overcome in order to be where you are today?”, with “I’ve been struggling with my own mortality”. The room went silent. Sometimes I can be too real, but fortunately my pastor spoke up with a moving story about her grandmother. She had noticed a picture of her grandmother when she was a young girl. It was a beautiful picture and uncommon to have in that period of time so she questioned her grandmother about its existence. Turns out that her grandmother was sick as a child and was not expected to live, the portrait was taken as a way to remember her. The grandmother continued to say that it’s wonderful that science and medicine have come so far, but she couldn’t help but think that we were missing something by not having to understand mortality. There is beauty in it and I have seen it.
How can we face mortality without having to go through fear and/or loss? I don’t think we can, but we can at least think about it more and discuss it more openly. None of us know if today will be the last day. Someone can be taken from us and life could change instantly. We don’t need death to be the end of life as we know it. It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day life. How often do you think about what things you want to do before you die? How would you answer the question, “before I die I want to….”?
Artist Candy Chang painted a wall in New Orleans asking this question over and over. This is NOT a sad question. This question is giving us permission to LIVE and to live with purpose. Some of the answers on that wall were “Before I die, I’d like to straddle the international dateline”, “before I die I want to be completely myself”, “Before I die, I’d like to hold my granddaughter” or “ Before I die I want to touch all the continents”, fulfill my purpose, see the world become a better place etc. etc. etc.
Death is the counterbalance. Can we live life to the fullest without contemplating death? Death is sad and it is loss and it isn’t the happy topic we sit around with friends and family discussing. Maybe tapping into that feeling of “what would I do if this was it?” could help us be more present. Could help us identify what truly matters? Help us understand what inner peace feels like? Would thinking about death relieve some of the stress we have in our daily life?
When I was diagnosed I wanted to sink my heart into my kids. I wanted to make sure they had all the advice and comfort and knowledge that I could give them and I felt like I needed to sink it all into them ASAP. Part of my drive to write this blog is to impart mama’s wisdom and perspective on them whenever they feel they need it or are ready to read it. My words will live on long after I am gone. I have some comfort in this in the event that I face another end of life experience.
The next emphasis is creating happy memories and truly enjoying our time together as a family. Creating those moments with my family starts with me. I need to be grounded and whole first. The perspective has changed. What does truly living mean to you? How will you answer that question? Will it change over time? Take a moment and think about it. Write it down and revisit it.
There are also virtual walls on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.