Everyone’s lives have been touched by cancer in some way. I don’t know of anyone who has not had a friend or a family member who has fought valiantly against the dreaded disease.
The Big C knows not race, religion or social class. I’ve known and worked with several cancer patients, and the most precious lessons I have about life and love have often come from them. There is really much that we can learn from people who are at the end of life. Ideally, the lessons they pass on to us we take to heart and live, and not wait until we are at the end of life ourselves.
I once read a story about the top five regrets of the dying and here are three of them. First, “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Happiness is a choice we make every day, and it’s useless to pretend that we are happy when we are not. Pretense saps the life out of you.
I also once came across a poster that read, “When I was younger and entered a room, I would often wonder if people liked me. Now that I am older, I enter a room and I wonder quietly to myself, will I like them?” Stay true, you only have one life. Don’t wait before it’s too late.
Next, people at the end of life regret not staying in touch with their friends. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our lives and forget to take time to nurture our friendships, or worse, make time for our loved ones. I’m occasionally guilty of this. It’s good to always carve time out for those whom we care deeply about.
The third and most common regret is this: “I wish I had not worked so hard.” Many patients miss their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Often people will think, “Oh, I’ll spend more time with them when I retire…” But what if retirement never comes and suddenly you realize that you have only a few months to live? Or worse, you are suddenly called Home? Work is important of course; it puts food on the table, it pays the bills. But one must know what truly matters, what life’s priorities are.
Lately, I heard of two young friends who passed away, both in their early 30s. Another friend of a close friend dropped dead while playing basketball. He was only in his 40s. All of these young people, at the peak of their lives, had no inkling whatsoever six months ago that they would be leaving permanently so soon.
I love what Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about a recent trip to Greece that she took with her mother. She says that neither she, in her late 40s, or her mother, at age 73, had the luxury of time to take a vacation because they were both very busy. However, they decided to drop everything and take two weeks off that was so worth every minute.
“Because we have no time, you guys. Period. We are here on earth in these bodies for an instant, and then we are gone. Someday, there will be a phone call, and that phone call will change everything. You will have those phone calls, I will have those phone calls. We will all have those phone calls. This is the reality of life. You might be the one who makes the phone call, or you might be the one to receive it. The phone call might be from you, or it might be about you. But there will be a phone call someday, and then you don’t ever get to talk to that person again.
“So make the time to spend some hours and days (and even weeks!) with them now, if you can. Leave the piles of mail unopened. It doesn’t matter. Be together. You may not be able to go to Greece. That’s OK—it doesn’t have to be Greece. It can be lunch at freaking Applebee’s for all I care. But make sure you connect.
“There is someone in your life whom you love so much that you can’t even bear it. It might not be your mother—that’s OK, not everyone digs their mom, I understand. But there is someone. And you are so busy, you don’t have time for them. Make time. Because I’m telling you—you don’t have enough time to not make time.”
The old folk have a saying for it—“Kung gusto, may paraan. Kung ayaw, may dahilan.” (If you want it, there will always be a way. If you don’t, there will always be an excuse.) Gilbert is right, no excuses. You don’t find time, you make it.