Bucket List in Reverse



Most of us have heard of the term Bucket List. It’s a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket” or pass away.

Obviously when someone is handed a terminal diagnosis, the idea of creating a Bucket List may seem a likely thing to do. Trying to squeeze in all those life goals you thought you had years to accomplish, but suddenly find you don’t have as much time as you thought.

Tim McGraw has a song called “Live Like You Were Dying.” The lyrics speak to the question of how some handle a terminal diagnosis:

“I asked him when it sank in
that this might really be the real end,
how's it hit you when you get that kinda news,
man what'd you do?
And he said,
I went Sky Diving.
I went Rocky Mountain Climbing.
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu.
And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying.
And he said someday I hope you get the chance
to live like you were dying.”

I think you might call that a Bucket List. Life gets pared down to the real essentials of what’s important to you. For some there is an urgency to cross things off that List. To hold off death and it’s finality as long as possible. Experience life at full throttle. I think that’s a pretty normal reaction.

I know I’ve been giving much thought to living more intentionally ever since Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That diagnosis stripped off the rose colored glasses. I can see the many, many moments I’ve frittered away in the past. Without a Life List, or Life Goals, it’s easy to just coast through life, always planning to get to “the big stuff” someday.

For mom, her someday is here.

And so, I was surprised at mom’s response when my brother asked about her Bucket List. What Big Thing did she still want to do? Cross off her list? She paused and appeared to mull over the question and then shook her head.

“Nope. Can’t think of a thing.”

Then she smiled and said, “I’ve had the best life ever. I could die content today.”

Ok, we weren’t convinced. And we certainly didn’t want her dying that day or any day no matter how content she was…

And so began another lesson for us on a Life Well Lived. In this case we’re calling it the Bucket List in Reverse.

Over the ensuing weeks, mom began to share the moments of her 70+ years that led to her “Best Life Ever” decree.

Some events were more momentous than others, but these life accomplishments, in bits and pieces, wove together into a harmonious whole that breathed an air of calm over the devastating storm of her terminal prognosis.

It is her Bucket List accomplished.

If you would allow me, here’s a portion of mom’s “Best Life Ever List":

1) Married my best friend, the love of my life and spent 50 years building a great life together.

2) Was blessed to have 3 wonderful children (her words, not mine, but I cried when she cupped my cheek in her frail hand.)

3) Enjoyed the greatest privilege of spoiling 8 beautiful grandchildren and 2 precious great-granchildren. And then sending them back home to you (thank you mom, we knew you were feeding them chocolate and soda to keep them happy…)

4) Celebrated our 50th wedding Anniversary surrounded by all the people we love the most. (that was us, and I cried again when she shared this one.)

5) I had the great joy of pursuing a career I loved. (She was a nurse, and having the courage to follow that passion late in life is one of the things she was most proud of.)

6) I have seen the most amazing places all over the world… the breath-taking Grand Canyon, the Vatican and it’s Holy Splendor, the Panama Canal, mysterious Venice, Hawaii’s spewing Volcano, Alaska’s majesty, fish and chips in London, the awe-inspiring Hermitage, the romance of Monaco, and so very much more. Traveling with your dad has been a dream come true.

7) Loving the quiet afternoons spent with a good book, excellent music and dinner in the oven.

8) Enjoying sunsets and rainy days and yellow roses and purring cats.

9) ….

Mom’s List continued to grow until the last week of her life. It was a BucketList in Reverse of all the things that made her life full, rich and glorious. She was not on some stressed out quest to accomplish more and bigger while she could.

She did not rush out Sky Diving, Rocky Mountain Climbing or Bull Riding. Sorry, Tim!

With a wisdom that came from somewhere deep within, she left us a legacy of a Life Very Well Lived.

No Regrets. So very Content.

And perhaps that is the Gift of the Best Life Ever.

Return to Coping With Cancer from Bucket List in Reverse
Return to Home Page for the Pancreatic Cancer Journey