There is a blog I've been reading since some time in February. (Is it only little over a month since I first encountered Jenni Ballantyne?) I met her through Jen Lemen, who posted about a question her friend was asking: What would you do if you knew you had only 12 months left to live? This was posted, not as some philosophical exercise, but as a genuine question, looking for answers that might help Jenni find the best and healthiest ways for her to approach the coming year, in which she has been told, she will die. She has stage 4 colon cancer, and no hope of surgical success. She's on chemo right now, and you have probably seldom (perhaps never) met a braver or brighter spirit than hers.
Some of her friends have started a project to raise funds to help. Bella explains that they want "...friends to come together to raise funds to help pay for her treatment and those forms of care and pain management that will not be covered by insurance: acupuncture, massage, naturopath, etc.., as well as create a trust for her son. We are calling on all of you to join us, to come together in solidarity, to cook up some magic and in the most practical of ways." Details of the project are HERE. (that is the important link in all of this). Jeni has two sons, one grown - Jamie, and she is lone parent to a sweet little boy called Jack. Here is what she says about overcoming her discomfort and embarrassment at accepting this help.
"We can all use help at some time in our lives, we are none of us an island and I would like to be an example of how to graciously accept and allow people to help me and my family during what is the most heart wrenching time of my life. I am choosing to listen to the parts of me that know that people want to help, normal healthy people like to feel they can do something to ease another's suffering, it is something within the human spirit that is compelled to reach out when someone is doing it hard, I love this quality that we possess, it is so human and so beautiful."
Although she had asked, I felt overwhelmed by her "What would you do...?" question. I didn't know how to answer. One day, during some down-time at work, I took a couple of pages and wrote by hand - for myself - a reflection on her question. I haven't re-read that until now. But now seems an appropriate time to post it, to honour her for her courage in asking the question, and in facing it for herself. This was my response:
A woman whose time in this life is short asked the question: 'If you knew you had 12 months left to live, how would you spend your time?' There is no quick answer. I have no way of knowing whether my answer would be really true. I can say what I'd like to think I would do, but if it came to it, maybe my pain would be such that I'd spend the time curled in my bed, weeping. Maybe my anger would be such that I would rage and rage, alienating all those with whom I say now I would want to spend that time.
So I ask myself instead - if my time was even shorter, if I had weeks, not months left, what would I be glad about from the past year? - What would I say "I'm so happy I got to do that!" about?
If my time was really short, and I was looking back over the past year, I'd be glad, glad, glad for the time I spent with people I love. I'd be glad I drove 10 hours to have lunch with my son on his 21st birthday. I'd be glad that when I went back to my home-town for weekends, tempting as it was to stay with sisters or brothers, I opted to stay with my Dad, have our predictable, quiet conversations, move about the house, each respecting the other's space, likes and dislikes. I'd be really glad that I was there for my nephew's wedding in July, and my sister's in September. I would be glad that I didn't react impulsively at times when misunderstandings arose with people I care about - that I managed to leave the space for talk, the space where we could meet and resolve the issue and go forward. I'd be glad for the grace that brought me release from feelings of bitterness over the end of my marriage. I'd be glad to think of my former husband, to hold the good memories of our marriage, and that I'd released the bad.
I would be so happy that I went to California, that I spent time with my friend Pam, that I didn't give in to the voice that told me not to be "a bother, an intrusion", but allowed myself to trust that her invitation was genuine, that ours is a friendship that is real. I'd be really glad that I gave myself the gift of time alone on that trip, that I adventured and explored to just a bit past my comfort-zone. I'd be glad too that I made so many great new friends.
I'd be really happy to think of the contacts I've made through blogging - the wonderful true, tangible connections between hearts that have been forged through opening up - letting my self appear, and trusting that what I say will be received in the right spirit.
I'd be glad I took my job, glad I maintained my integrity, spoke up for myself, held firm when I needed to. I'd be so happy that I'd had a chance to do this work - being with young people in times of distress, supporting them, letting them know there is a place where they'll be heard, and witnessing the miracle of change when it happens. The sense of privilege and honour would be with me.
I'd be glad I didn't worry about money. I'd be glad I spent some on making my home a comfortable space. I'd be glad I travelled. I'd be so glad, so glad, that I let SoulCollage be such a passion. The way in which it has helped me become more of my true self, become able to feel ok about the many parts of myself, has been the miracle of the past few years in my life. And the great gift was in my La Loba card - the gathering of all the bits in one ceremony that truly celebrated me.
If my life was ending soon, and I didn't have time left to plan anything else, I'd be so glad that this was the last year of my life: the year I had a birthday party in my own house, the year I let go of my woundedness, the year I made new friends and did what I could to keep up contact with old friends.
I'd be glad that I got to sit with my mother, to feed her her supper, rub cream on her hands, brush her hair, and tell her that I love her and miss her. I'd be glad that I've said prayers with her. I'd be glad for every prayer I've said, and every word of The Writings I've read. I'd be glad that I spent time at Feasts and Study Circle.
If the past year had been the last year of my life, I'd be glad to say that in that year, there's so little I regret. I'd be sorry I gave myself a hard time about my weight, hid in dull-coloured clothes, stayed away from the swimming-pool. I'd regret any moment of guilt I felt, and self-blame. I'd be glad for whenever I took responsibility, and really glad for the challenges to which I answered "Yes".
I'd be glad that I met Jen, and witnessed her courage, and that I heard her question. I'd be really glad that it led me to this answer.
What matters is the people: not the paypacket or the stuff, not even the places. I am one of the people, one of the special people in my own life. I'm glad, so glad for the friends who've been in my life, the meals we've shared and the books we've passed from hand to hand. I'm glad that in my family, there is no estrangement, no unresolved disputes: that we are there for one another. I'm glad that my son is ploughing his own furrow, making his own choices, safe in the knowledge that whatever he does, I love him. I love him unconditionally, and always will.
If you cannot answer Jen's question, can you answer mine? If this past year had been your last year on earth, what in it would have left you glad at the end?