Monday, December 19, 2011

Live Like You Were Dying

I get the majority of my ideas for articles from friends. Most are going through the same aches and pains, trials and tribulations that I find myself dealing with as a fifty-something. But every once in a while I have a conversation with someone outside my group that touches me so much that I have to write.

Two days ago, I ran into a woman I met when I worked at St. Mary’s Hospital at a pediatric home facility where families stayed when their children were hospitalized. More often than not, the child was having treatment for cancer. The woman I ran into had a son who came routinely for two years and was dealing with an extremely treatable form of childhood cancer. "Good news," she told me. The young man just turned 22 and is by every sense of the word cured.

We spoke briefly, but I could see something in her eyes. She kept looking down as she spoke. Finally I grabbed her arm and led her to the food court.

“Let me buy you a coffee.” I insisted.

If I’ve learned one thing in life it’s that you have to stop and reach out to others in their moment of need. Too often I let the moment pass and regretted my lack of consideration later.

We made our way to the food court and over coffee she opened up about her own cancer nightmare.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer some years earlier and going through treatment, she had made it to 4 years and eight months before coming out of remission.

“They say if you make it to the five year mark it’s a good thing,” she told me with a sad smile. She was going back into a treatment plan. But what she said next changed me more than anything. “If I knew then what I know now, I’d have spent more time living and less worrying about death.”

Her son had been sick for so long that even after he was better death seemed to hang around. His immune system was battered and she constantly worried about accidents and illness, about strokes and heart attacks. She’d seen so much illness so early that she spent her life looking over her shoulder at every shadow.

“Do you know the song, Live Like You Were Dying?” she asked.

I smiled, “One of my favorites.”

“It’s true, you should live each day as if it were your last, not give into that fear of dying. Every day, I get up and say to myself, 'It’s going to be a great day, cherish it.' I tell everyone I love how I feel. I take numerous moments throughout the day to close my eyes and just breathe. I look around and I am so grateful for all that I have.”

I wondered what the people in the nearby booths thought of these two middle aged women crying together in the food court at the mall.

We talked some more. We caught up on her other kids that were always in tow when the youngest was in for treatment. I hadn’t seen her for eight years and knew because of the distance between our homes, the possibility that I would see her again was minimal.

“If you need anything...” I said as we hugged farewell.

She smiled, “I’m good, and it was great seeing you.”

We parted ways and I knew that I should take her advice to live each day like the special gift that it is to each and every one of us. Cherish the relationships; appreciate my life, my surroundings, all of those gifts with which I have been so blessed.

It happens, you hear this type of story and for a couple days you try. You attempt to live in the moment, appreciating loved ones. But all too soon we fall back into that everyday routine where just getting through seems to be a challenge.

Maybe, I would fall back into my habitual way of just getting through each day. As I got in my car, I closed my eyes and took in a long cleansing breath and cherished the moment. Maybe not.

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