Our future is unknown and uncertain
My good friend, Steve, died last week, 8 months after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I spent many hours with him over these last months, trying to provide him with support and companionship. It was very painful to watch him slide towards his death. At the end of his life, the cancer had stripped him of every ounce of muscle. He was skin and bones. He was able to die at home, surrounded by his family.
Steve died at 64--my age too. Last year, he happily retired from work. He was looking forward to spending more time with his young adult children, catching up on years of reading he missed, and having more kayaking adventures in British Columbia. Two months after his retirement party, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Very quickly, it became clear that his cancer had spread. There were no treatment options that would extend his life. He chose to let nature take its course. He was philosophical about his fate—but underneath I could see that he was angry. He had been dealt a bad hand. His golden retirement years, so cherished, had been stolen from him.
Over the years, I have talked to many adults who didn’t like their jobs anymore and were counting the years, months, and days to their retirement. They fantasize about sleeping late, pursuing hobbies, or travel. They think about all of the activities and adventures they have missed because of work. They are waiting for the moment they can hand in the keys to their office.
It is important to realize that our future is unknown and uncertain, no matter how old we are. And, as we get older, the likelihood of unanticipated health problems increases with age. So what does this mean? What can we do?
If you have something that you want to do, do it. Don’t put it off. I wanted to start writing a book that has been in germinating in my mind for a long time. Also, I wanted to spend a chunk of time living in Europe. With the support of my workplace, I took a two-month leave of absence last year and worked on my book in Spain. Surely, this could have been a retirement dream, but instead I made it a reality in the here and now. My book is launched and living in Spain was a wonderful, enriching experience.
Want to learn a foreign language? Take an art class? Learn an instrument? Climb Mt. Rainier? Take ski lessons? Find a way of doing it today, even if it is on a smaller scale. Perhaps you won’t be able to do everything you dream about, but get started. Are you dreaming of a vacation in Italy? Start saving today, even if it is just a few dollars a day.
Reflect—Am I doing what is important to me? It’s not necessary to be diagnosed with a terminal disease to consider—what is central to me? Am I living the life I want to live? Am I the person I want to be? Life reflection and contemplation can be a regular activity in your life, not reserved for a life crisis. This kind of activity enables you to make more frequent course corrections when needed.
Do you want to make a major life change? So many adults stay in jobs that are not for them or in unhealthy relationships. Of course, it’s scary to make a major life change. After much consideration and reflection, don’t be afraid to steer your ship in another direction.
Life can be short. Be prepared for tomorrow, but live today.