muddy feet memoirs

The Chronicle of My Comeback

Month: November, 2013

Joie de Vivre vs. Bucket List

I have always loathed the notion of the bucket list – I’ve written this before.  All these things you’re supposed to do before you die, to feel like you’ve truly lived.  It’s my guess the only people who say “live like there’s no tomorrow” are too shallow to know what that means.  It’s trite.  It’s justification for being wild and self-centered.  By linking these impulses to our mortality they are supposedly elevated to what some think of as “really living,” but in reality linking them to death just creates a kind of consumer urgency.  It co-ops the fear of “there isn’t enough time” and translates it in our minds as “let’s go shopping!” (re: skydiving, traveling, drinking, gambling, etc.).  It confuses panic with joie de vivre.  It’s a lie.

Jay and I have spent nearly 4 years balancing the hopeful with the pragmatic.  This phase we’re in now is different only in that the finish line is closer than it’s ever been before (though not in sight).  We have an amazing group of friends who are helping us with simple things like meals, keeping Food Rescue afloat, gardening and animal care.  We have people who can think for us (even parent for us!) when our minds are too addled by anxiety, or congested with existential meditations.  We have folks who aren’t afraid to walk with us as we move forward towards the finish line.  Instead they visit, share meals, talk about their lives – continue the friendship.  They are nervous but willing to learn about their own mortality simply by staying beside us.  These are people with perspective and who know joie de vivre when they see it.  I’d be surprised if there was a single bucket list between them.

If it were my time I would not grieve that I had never been skydiving or seen the northern lights.  I would sleep-in with my head on Jay’s shoulder, have coffee in bed and work on crossword puzzles with him.  I’d wrap my arms around Stella, kiss the top of her head and inhale her scent.  I’d sit in the garden with my face towards the sun and listen.  I’d savor the love in my life and gather my courage to greet death, hopefully without an ounce of urgency or regret.  I do these things every day.

This is what I’ve learned with Jay, through the love of life we share:  You don’t need a list for what you already have.

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The Penulitimate Threshold

Ruth 1960Chagall Threshing floor

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” 

Ruth to Naomi, Ruth 1:16 and 17

We told the kids last night that we’re out of treatment options.  We held onto our October reprieve for as long as we could (calling it a chemo break) but November eventually found us and it was time to cross the next threshold with them.  Every threshold, every new phase, is charged with anxiety when dealing with cancer, but it is especially true when crossing the penultimate threshold:  no cure, no roadblocks or speed bumps – nothing to stop or slow the inevitable – just whatever time is left.  That will lead us to the hardest conversation that we will share as parents, the one in which we prepare them for Jay’s imminent death.  That is the ultimate threshold that this family of five will share.  After that, we’ll be a family of four.

Thankfully Jay’s ex-partner, Quinn and Mac’s mom Erin, is willing to co-parent with me.  Strange as the situation may seem, our love for our shared kids and our respect for each other will be the safety net our kids will rely on, including Stella.  I’m so grateful to her for her openness.

This morning Quinn asked me two “personal” questions:  When Jay dies will they (Quinn and Mac) still “hang out” with us here, and will I ever date anyone again?  What I said was this: This your home, baby.  You live here and we’re a family, and that’s not going to change.  Your mom agrees.  We’re all in this together.  I love you.  And no, I probably won’t date anyone.  There’s no topping Jay.  How could I expect  to find another man that’s a mom?  With that she gave me a brave smile and a hug and went to school.