Last week, I found myself in the middle of two “social” conversations that featured death as the main topic of discussion. One chat involved a friend who is convinced he’ll be dead in seven years or less. If so, it won’t be from natural causes. Even his doctor can’t convince him that his recent bypass surgery was successful—and that he has a better chance of getting hit by a bus in the next few years, than dying of a heart attack. Another conversation involved a friend and her husband wrangling over the terms of their will. First they argued about which would be the first to die, and then they debated the length of time it would take the “survivor” to hook-up with a gold-digger. Both conversations surprised me. Death used to be off-limits (taboo) in social settings.
What do you say when someone announces their “imminent” death in seven years? Or when asked which partner you think will outlive the other? In both cases, I mumbled something about getting a drink and made a quick getaway. Perhaps it’s my upbringing, but I’m hard-pressed to find a more negative topic than death—at least none more awkward. Death is inevitable and sneaky. You never know when you’ll enjoy your last sunrise, or your last sunset. A mentor once told me, “From the day you are born, you’re on a journey toward death. It’s what you do in-between birth and death that matters.” That’s my point, exactly. Do we have to talk about it? In public? Apparently, we do.
I decided that if the topic of death were to remain socially acceptable, then I would try to put a positive spin on it—at least within my circle of friends. I put together a list of 15 things that I would like to do before I meet my maker. Some items are as simple as swimming with dolphins or seeing my favorite rock group in concert one more time. Others are more personal, private, and yes, harder to attain. Like that book I keep threatening to finish, or building that fishing lodge in Colorado. I also had fun with my list. I thought about joining the Mile High Club, and put it near the top of my list—much to my husband’s delight. My intent was to finish my list, print it out and then share it with family and friends. Before I could fire up the printer, my husband started a list of his own. Like mine, his was lighthearted and thoughtful, but much more enlightening. I’m not sure about the Hooter’s Girls at his next birthday party, but I was pleased to see that we both wanted to go on an African photo safari and spend time in a rainforest. Most of all, I was surprised that my husband—not known for his communication skills—expressed himself more on that notepad than he had in all the years I’ve known him.
My husband’s not what you would call a sentimental guy. He’s what you would call a guy’s guy. Hunting, fishing, golf—you know the type. Yet, on his list, he included our future grandchildren and how he would teach them to fly-fish. He also thought about my happiness—and how he would let me know how much he loves me. He wrote, “Tell my wife I love her one more time.”
The depth of my husband’s list touched me deeply. I thought of his mother who died last year…and recalled a comment she made a few weeks before her death. She regretted never telling her husband how much she loved him. I never knew my father-in-law, but I thought this was a nice sentiment. My husband, part of the inner-circle, took her comment very much to heart.
In his short “to do” list, my husband outlined his hopes, his dreams, and the life he wished for us, for our family, and for our friends. It wasn’t all about him—or material objects—it was about living life with no regrets. It seems that he had many pent-up emotions. Last year he lost his mother, battled cancer, and simultaneously watched a good friend succumb to a debilitating disease. Writing this list was a welcome (and healthy) outlet—a simple way for a non-communicator to communicate.
Since writing his list, my husband continues to challenge friends and associates to write a similar list. He laughingly tells his buddies about the Hooter Girls and the Mile High Club, but then he reminds them to think about whom, not what, is most important in their lives. “We never know when our last day will be, our last breath, our last word, our last hug, or our last kiss,” he says. “Make each a good one. No regrets, no fear.” He then adds, “Put it in writing so you don’t forget.”
Who knew? After all these years, my husband found his soft voice, and people are listening. We both hope that our friend who thinks that death is at his doorstep will take the time to outline his life…and start living it again. The couple that worried about future gold-diggers is doing fine. They both realized that they are by their partner’s side now, and that’s what matters most.
Well, I guess it’s time to get the phone book out. My husband’s birthday is next month. Should I look under “H” for Hooters or perhaps “D” for Dream on buddy?
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