What A Dying Friend Taught Me About Living (And It’s Not About Making A Bucket List)


I saw her at a high school reunion picnic. I had remembered her from high school but we were not close at that time. We spoke that day and she was open with me. She had been diagnosed with cancer a few years before and she was told that she was cured. But some months before our reunion it had returned.

She was told that she had no more than eighteen months to live.

I don’t recall how far into those eighteen months she was when I saw her, but I knew that she did not have much time left. She candidly discussed her diagnosis and her limited time to live. Her course had been rough and she was limited in her activities due to illness but that particular day, she was feeling well. I questioned her on what she wished to do in the time.

She talked about how she loved her job and time with family and friends. I remember a trip she wanted to take. She wanted to visit family members who were living in Canada. She was angry with God but she was finding her way back to Him.

What struck me was that she did not have a bucket list.

I was also struck by the dispassionate way that she discussed her prognosis. There was no desperate rush to fit esoteric experiences in a short space of time.

I felt that there was a purpose of our meeting. I thought that I was supposed to help make whatever time she had left more meaningful. I invited her to an event with my family, which she could not attend. We promised to keep in touch. A few months later when I tried to contact her again it was already too late. Her sister texted me that she was in the hospital not doing well and within a few days of that message I heard that she had died.

I now realize that the purpose of us meeting was not for her benefit but for mine.

I realize that part of why she made an impression on me was her courage and openness even with such a short future; her willingness to continue to live her life in a normal way, not frenzied or bitter. The lesson was for me.

Perhaps it is not necessary to franticly complete a to-do list. Perhaps it is not necessary to overly focus on the future or even focus on the future at all. Perhaps it’s more important to live the moments, to look for the meaning in the simple day-to-day moments.

It made me take a closer look at my life. Was I happy with my work? Was I spending enough time with my family and friends? Was I fulfilling my purpose? If the answer was no, I know I would have to change.

It was not a matter of whether I would climb Mount Everest but rather was I happy when I got in my car to go to work or at least be happy when I got there.

Would I be too busy for those get-togethers with my friends or would I clear my schedule to make it happen? If my children desired a day trip or even a brief trip to the store would I make it a priority? Would I ensure that my husband and I would go the theater to see the movies that we had hoped to see? Would I make time for me?

Would I nurture myself such that I would be clear on not only what I wanted to do now but what I wanted my future to look like even if I only had a few months?

It’s funny how even spending a few moments with someone can change your life. It’s funny how quickly we can love someone. But I now realize that I loved her and now I miss her. I miss what our friendship might have been but I am grateful for the brief time we had.

I hope she’s in a better place and knows I think of her often.