We all have fears, many of which center around losing someone we love. We all hope it will never happen to us, even though we know it is inevitable. I know this is a heavy topic, but I promise it has a bright ending.
When my father was diagnosed with cancer, my greatest fear was not him dying—It was experiencing life after he was gone. How would we ever be happy again? How would we ever find joy in our lives? We all love our parents, and my dad was one for the record books.
I’m a very positive person by nature, but also extremely practical. I can easily see the downside or danger in any situation and I’m always looking to protect those around me. It took every fiber of my being to find the positives in life after my dad got sick. Where was the silver lining in all of this?
But a funny thing happened: After my dad was given a terminal diagnosis, the worst-case-scenario-no-one-ever-wants, the world became alive for me. My brand-new fiance was even more precious to me. Weekly family dinners were all memorable. Every holiday was the best holiday ever because Dad was still there. Candles were lit, favorite clothes were worn, china was used, long after-dinner walks were taken and photos were snapped. No opportunity missed. Each day was amazing because it was happening.
We never waited for another time. We never “saved our best for later.” Later was now because the “real” later might never come.
It would be easy to believe all of this came crumbling down once he did finally die. And trust me, it was as awful and heartbreaking as you would expect. But with all of the practice of being present and alive, we knew life must go on and continue to embrace every day. It sounds cliche, but it really is true.
I’d give anything for my dad to still be alive, but I am so grateful for this lesson he taught us before leaving. We aren’t saving any “good stuff” in our house anymore. We don’t crowd our calendar with activities that aren’t meaningful. Everything is used up and loved today because there is no better time than now.
I think Anna Quindlen says it best in her incredible book A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Her mother died of cancer when Anna was nineteen. She writes, “…Knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift G-d ever gives us … It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes … Unless you know a clock is ticking … [My mother’s death] was the dividing line between seeing the world in black and white, and in Technicolor. The lights came on for the darkest possible reason.”
So how do we want to spend our lives? With a house full of clutter and a schedule full of useless activities? I think we’d all prefer Anna’s route. I know I do.