Hearts and flowers and sweethearts and love are mentioned everywhere in February. I frequently have opportunities to see gifts of love highlighted by the stark light of loss. This week, a bright bouquet of sun colored flowers were featured on the table as I entered, and Liza told me her partner had brought the daffodils home, (those reminders of spring just around the corner), to cheer her. She had been taking care of business, her explanation to me, “I don’t want to leave things undone for my family to be burdened with”. The final plans were her funeral arrangements, which only 4 months ago had not been even a faint line on the horizon and now loomed in the near future. She wouldn’t be here when spring arrived.
Regardless of how many times I have heard people list the business of their dying in plain, ordinary terms, I am so often deeply moved by their acceptance of a life cut short, with the sudden crushing cruelness of a disease robbing them of the years that “could have, should have” been. There are no guarantees that a person gets 70 or 80 years in a lifetime. I had witnessed Liza’s physical decline just in the past two weeks with much of her day now spent lying in a recliner in the living room. Liza was sad and tearful at times during our visit, but there was a resolve and steadiness in her voice that I had not heard before. I asked her what was left on her “bucket list” and after a pensive pause she told me “Nothing’s on my list, but the time I have with my family. There was a time when Australia would have been my answer. But having my daughter here with me, the time we have been able to spend together; that’s all that matters”.
The term Bucket List was popularized in one of my “must see” movies with the same name. It’s a story about two men who both receive life-limiting diagnoses of cancer, who proceed to “carpe diem” the time they have left and complete a list of life-long desires… having some amazing adventures together, things that required a lot of money and energy… and in the end, recognizing the real “bucket list” was right in front of both of them: people they loved and that loved them.
I think about some of the things I would still like to do in my life, and realize, like Liza, most of those wish-list items would be swept away in a moment, if I only had a little time this week. I would hug my kids harder and love more, and want to squeeze every last drop of time to put into my relationships that I will have to leave behind. And as so often happens to me as I leave a patient’s home, I am thankful for the shared gift. The reminder to see what is right in front of me.
February is a month about Love. Don’t miss it.