“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Two years ago a good friend of mine died of lung cancer. He was diagnosed in February and died one year, almost to the day, of his receiving this terrible news. It was a very aggressive disease that spread quickly to his brain and other organs.
Over the course of the year we would have lunch every month or so depending on how he felt. With a toxic combination of chemicals running through his veins he had, as he would say, good days and days not as good, but never bad.
I was and continue to be amazed at how upbeat he remained. We all have a 100% chance that we are going to die one day. He was living with the fact that he had a 90% chance that he would be dead in less than a year. But, given these harsh odds he remained happy for each day he could hug his wife and kids and eat a cheeseburger.
We had our last lunch together in December. He had to cancel in January, his immune system was just too weak to go out in public and he died in early February. By December he had wasted away to skin and bones, honestly I hardly recognized him. It was an unusually warm day for December but he was dressed for the arctic. He ordered his regular cheeseburger and curly fries but just nibbled around the edges. I could see in his eyes that the end was near, the battle was over. We had common business interest which is what we typically talked about over lunch, who was building what, who had moved to what company, and what projects were being planned or proposed. Today, our last lunch, the topic was different.
I am asked him how was he doing and he said okay. He had decided to stop all of his treatments, they weren’t working and the drugs made him feel like shit. He wanted his last days, however many he had, to be clear days, days that he could see and feel. I asked him if he was scared and he said not for him but he was worried about his wife and girls. This would be hard for them and that made him very sad. I asked him what would he miss the most other than his family and he smiled looking at his cheeseburger and said, “I am not afraid, I am not happy about this, I wish I had more time, but I am not afraid. Where I end up after this I got no clue but wherever it is I hope they have cold beer, cheeseburgers and curly fries.”
I walked him to his car, gave him a hug and told him that I loved him. Something told me that this would be the last time I would ever see him again and I am grateful for wherever that small voice came from.
I keep his obituary with me to remind myself that life is short. Each morning I have the power of either living in the past or making the most of the present. We can all live in fear of past regrets, slights, and hurts or we can live as if this is our last day, thankful for all we have. There are no guarantees. We can’t expect everyday to be filled with gumdrops and rainbows, but my friend would have traded one of our bad, healthy days for one of his good days. It would have given him one more moment to hug his girls, meet his new namesake grandson and eat a cheeseburger with curly fries.