Shortly after Hubby died, I read a book by Eugene O’Kelly, Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life. O’Kelly was diagnosed with cancer and given maybe three months to live. His book is about what he wanted to accomplish and how he determined to live those remaining 100 days.
It reads like a business book because O’Kelly was CEO of one of the world’s largest accounting firms. I wanted more story, though, so toward the end of his life, when Eugene’s wife, Corinne, picks up the pen, I am more satisfied.
Corinne O’Kelly’s experience walking beside her husband through his final days was very similar to my own. A peaceful time, and yet some struggle at the end with worry and concern for the wife he was leaving behind.
She writes this:
“When you’re living your everyday life, with no sword dangling over you, it’s easy to get lost in your own orbit. When you’re living an extraordinary life … you come to understand awe. You come to understand strength, commitment, love, and most important, life in a way that humbles you.”
The extraordinary life she is referring to is that period of time from her husband’s diagnosis to his death.
Taking a closer look at Corinne’s thoughts, here are 5 ways to live an extraordinary life:
1. Come to understand awe. The awe I felt during those last few months as death was inevitable was for God and His explainable peace that permeated our home, our lives, even the Hospice House room where Gary took his final breath. It was a sacred time with kind acts and food and visits and gifts and daily designer beverages courtesy of the Porch Fairy, and Daughter Summer hovering over all and caring for me simply by being there. A box sign came as a gift in the mail during that time. It read: It is well with my soul, and yes, it was indeed well with our souls.
2. Come to understand strength. So many of us won’t understand what strength lies within us until it is tried. Which means we should probably be grateful for and less whiny about trials (preaching to me). But there was for us also the strength of all the people who surrounded us with love and prayers, who brought meals and showered us with so much giving of themselves to make our load lighter. Every thoughtful deed, every gift represented a person who loved us, who transferred their strength to us.
3. Come to understand commitment. The cancer diagnosis changed Gary. I wanted to know how I could help, how I could be more sensitive to what was going on in his head. But he was slow to let me know what was going on in his head — this quiet, strong man. He finally opened up about how he viewed himself a failure because he thought he was leaving me in a poor financial state, about how I might compare him in the declining stages of cancer to the successful men I see at work, how I might choose to stay late at work rather than come home to a sick, grumpy husband. “I need your heart to belong to me until the end,” he says. I cry. This is the man who has loved and provided for me and our children, who has kept me laughing all these years. I am in this — for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.
4. Come to understand love. My love deepened for my husband and I’m going to take a stab at explaining why: 1) Maybe it was knowing that I would not have him as long as I had planned; and 2) Perhaps it was because we were making more fun and adventures together; and 3) It might have been because the longer we were married, the deeper our love and friendship. Whatever it was, by the time he lost his energy, his appetite, became more childlike, by the time I finally accepted that he wasn’t getting better and although the caregiving required more energy and time, this was where I wanted to be. By his side. With this man who was still the love of my life.
5. Come to understand life in a way that humbles you. After Hubby and I worked through our initial fear and self-pity, cancer caused us to sit up and pay attention. To life. To time ticking away. To all the good that was happening in the moment.
During the last week of his life, this journal entry:
“There is this day of snow falling, of fireplace lit; of friends bringing the evening meal; this breath; one more day together.”
Because of cancer, we had come to notice and appreciate life more, which included each other.
It included our family, our friends.
It included the simple pleasures — sitting in a park alongside a river photographing geese coming in for a landing, homemade pumpkin scones fresh out of the oven, the beauty of majestic mountains as backdrop to our hometown, conquering those mountains in hiking boots, a Skype call with grandkids — Gary in Oregon wearing his Broncos cap, which sent the grandson in New Jersey scurrying off to find his Seahawks cap.
Here’s what I think: You don’t need a cancer diagnosis to understand awe and strength and commitment and love, to begin living an extraordinary life.
What about you? What do you need to come to understand about living more fully? How can you start putting that knowledge into practice?
In 2004, Marlys’ husband, Gary, was diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer and given two years to live. The couple established a non-profit — Cancer Adventures — and presented at a variety of venues across the country including the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, sharing what they were doing to live well with terminal cancer. During that time, Marlys also wrote a book, Cancer Adventures: Turning Loss into Triumph, featuring 28 cancer heroes who had established purpose and meaning, and found a way to give back.
Gary lived 10 good quality years with terminal cancer, much longer than the experts predicted. After he died in November 2014, Marlys took an early retirement from the St. Charles Cancer Center in Bend, Oregon, where she served as Survivorship Coordinator.
She is in the process of procuring a literary agent for her newest book, a memoir highlighting the lessons cancer taught them about living and dying well. While her story is one of setbacks, Marlys knows she has a greater purpose in life — a passion for showing people how to navigate life’s challenges, tenaciously and with heart wide open.
Follow Marlys on her website Cancer Adventures.
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