The other day while waiting to get in to see my family doctor I was reading an article in the waiting room and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. It was about a woman who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in her early 40s. The cancer had already spread and it was not treatable. She had 3 children ages 4, 6, and 9. She had a successful career, a husband who loved her and great friends but she was going to die. And likely very soon. They gave her 3-6 months from her diagnosis and told her the end would be "very hard". So, once she got angry and sad and terrified she decided to plan the next 30 days to be exactly what she wanted.
This is when the article turned from tragic to thought provoking. She posed the question, what would you do with 30 days left to live? Wow. How daunting. How terrifying. How do you sift through all of the fear and grief and get to a place where you can actually live your life to the fullest? Putting that aside for the moment, what would I do if I had 30 days left to live? Obviously she talked about the things she wants to do that take more than 30 days (see her children grow up, retire and travel with her spouse, become a grandmother). All of these things made me cry hysterically (yes, in the waiting room with a zillion other people) because those are exactly the things I would want to do.
However, because her time was so limited she wrote a list of all of these things in a letter to her family. All of the things she wanted to do but never would. All of the memories they would never share but how they could think of her on those days or during those times and know that she was somehow with them (at this point I was a blubbering mess). Then, she made a series of DVDs for her family telling stories, recounting memories, and expressing her love and regret at leaving them so early. All of this took her 2 days. She is down to 28 days left to live.
Maybe surprisingly she didn’t take a huge trip or try sky diving. She did quit her job and she threw a huge party for her colleagues before she left. And then she did something so brilliant. She brought all of the people whom she loved together and asked them how they wanted to spend her last days with her. This was incredibly touching and it was amazing how simple most of the requests were. Her 9 year old wanted to spend the day out shopping, having lunch and then going to a show. Her 4 and 6 year old wanted to go to the beach for the day, have McDonald’s for lunch and then sleep in a tent in their backyard together. Her husband wanted 2 things – one day and night alone together in the house and a weekend family sleepover where they brought all of their mattresses into their living room, told stories, cried, laughed, and ate junk food.
One of the most heart wrenching requests was her mom’s. She wanted to spend the afternoon and evening with her daughter. They would go out for dinner, for a walk together and then her daughter would sleep over with her in her bed like they used to when she was a child and got scared at night. Her dad took her to his favourite restaurant and to a baseball game like they did when she was young. Her sister and brother took her camping. They roasted marshmallows, skinny dipped in the lake and slept together in a tent.
She spent these 28 days visiting, chatting, and reminiscing with the people she loved the most. Why did she do this and not fulfill some of her own dreams? Because, as she said, she was going to be gone but they would be left behind without her. It would be their memories that lived on.
This is why she made one request of each of them. She asked that they all write a letter, story, or note about her for her children to read and keep. It could be a specific memory or simply a note explaining why they loved her. She wanted her children to know who she was and this was a way for them to see her through the eyes of those who knew her best.
I can not tell you how much this article touched me. I have been so affected by it that I almost wish I had never read it. I have not been able to stop thinking about how I would spend my last 30 days in order to really make them count. How about you? How would you spend your last 30 days?
Btw, the final few sentences of this article stated that exactly 3 months from her diagnosis she passed away but not before she had shared time with each and everyone she loved. What a great reminder to make ever day count.