Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Live Like You Were Dying" - Dying From Cancer

Terry Fox, Thunder Bay, Canada
Can you "live like you were dying, meaning having fun or doing "things" you wouldn't have done but you do them because you have a terminal illness? Some people say it depends on the situation. Some people say you can.  Some dying people become kinder and more loving. Some, like Terry Fox, do great things.  Do we truly know how they feel?  Do they honestly tell us what they think?

In the true sense of the phrase, I declare that most people who are dying do not try to live as though they are dying. They just live. The man who's given two weeks after a medical diagnosis cannot truly live as if he's dying.  The thought of dying probably makes him dead even as he laughs.  He has no control over his fate.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

I'm not saying that most dying people don't make plans and don't go out.  And maybe I'm even presumptuous to attempt writing about this topic. But I've seen much and I've heard many stories.
Dunn's River, St Ann, Jamaica
When my mother first realized that her cancer had spread, I bought the "live like you were dying idea."  I told her to buy clothes, travel (go to places she did not know), enjoy life, and cherish the last moments.  Being with her, doing all of those things felt weird because I knew and she knew--and I had never forgotten why we were doing certain things.

I now see some of those things she did as masquerades over feelings. Masks.  The masking of blank stares and sadness that her slow death did not reveal until the the cancer loomed over her like a hawk over carcass. Under the masks were fears and tears and pain and sadness, feelings too sad to express.

When my radio coach found out he would not get a lung transplant to save his life, he gave up living.  His soul died, I think.  I observed him.  Happiness walked out his door.  He lived for each moment he got.  When my sister's cancer returned like a tsunami, I saw unspeakable sorrow in her eyes as she waited to die.  When the doctor gave my mother three months, I saw life pulled from her.  She died before she was pronounced dead.
Washington, District of Columbia
Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm foolish, maybe I'm grieving, maybe I'm just trying to come to grips with my own mortality, but I don't think dying people live as though they are dying--in the true sense of the phrase.  Dying people live thinking that they're already dead because all eyes are on them as everyone waits to witness the last minute, the last second, the last breath, the goodbye ritual.  Dying people know we wait to dispose their bodies.
Please tell me I'm wrong, that I'm taking a simple approach about a complicated matter, tell me that what I'm saying--does not make sense.  Enlighten me.  Please.

Here's an article about dying: The Waiting 
Congratulations to everyone who completed the A - Z blog challenge.


  1. I think it's a question of perspective. I have a strong belief in an afterlife and resurrection, as does my family. When my father was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, this extreme serenity came over him. He'd been living his bucket list all along, and he had lived a good, albeit short, life. Those last days were spent making movies for future generations and just being together. I believe death is merely a separation from loved ones for this mortal existence. Yes, we were sad when he passed away. I still am when I think of him missing out on his grandchildren, but I'm also filled with hope and a desire to live a fuller life, one that will make him proud and one that will allow me to leave this life as satisfied with my legacy as he was with his.

  2. I have to agree with Crystal here. I know that when I die I'm going to heaven and I will see the ones I loved that went before me. I don't fear death I fear separation from those i love and the things I know. I fear the pain that I know will accompany my death. I don't fear death itself though. I'm at peace knowing that when that day comes there will be no more sorrow or pain for me.
    I don't know if that helps answer your question at all. You have seen to many people die of horrible things. I'm so sorry. Know you are in my thoughts an prayers.

  3. I think it depends on how you view "the end" too. I view it as a release from this mortal state. In a way, I'm envious of those who have passed on. They're done with this difficult temporal life and on to the next chapter of eternity. Lucky ducks! :)

  4. An insightful post. Having lost my husband to cancer when he was just 32 made me think that we never know when lives will be cut short. We kept on enjoying life together for how ever long it endured.

  5. Wow, Peaches. What a post! As I was reading it, I kept thinking about your earlier post about the dream. So now I'm trying to piece the two together (my family tells me I over-analyze things).

    Perhaps your mom came to you in the dream to show you that she really did want to play...have fun...on her final days on earth. Maybe she was trying to answer this question for you--do dying people live as though they are dying?

    During my mom's final years, she became a different person--eventhough she didn't know this because she was suffering from Alzheimer's. But she got up every morning and dressed up like she had somewhere to go. She started wearing t-shirts and eating pizza and just having a good time, in general...things she had never done in her life. Essentially, she started living as though she were dying.

    Personally, I think if I knew I were dying, I would try to enjoy my last days. I wouldn't waste my little time mourning my impending demise. Just saying. :)

  6. I'm back...

    I can't believe what just happened. As I was preparing to put Sunday's paper in the recycle bag, I came across an article about a man with a terminal illness who decided to live life to the fullest before he dies. You can read it here in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:


    Perhaps it will help answer your question. :)

  7. Hi, Peaches,

    I looked at the pictures and recognized Dunn's River instantly.

    I think this subject is gonna be taken by people individually. I know that if being diagnosed with a terminal illness is my lot. I'd swing between wanting to do some of the things I wanted to do but never did and I'd spend time sunk in misery thinking the usual why me. Hard to say how people react in this situation, but yes, I have to admit that close to the end, we basically wait for the moment of separation to come.

    I must add that keeping positive thoughts does so much good to the human spirit. The Bible does say it is health and healing to the bones.

  8. Like those who've already commented mentioned, it really does depend on the individual scenario. Live like you're dying can mean different things to different people. To some it might mean holding on to and treasuring every bit of life they can get ahold of. To others, it might mean processing and preparing for the next (big) step.

    I don't know that I'd go to Disneyland if I got that kind of bad news. I think I'd rather spend time with my family and in quiet contemplation. But, it's hard to say.

    I think it's our responsibility to experience life now, while we're alive, instead of waiting until we're going to die to try and squeeze it all in.

    I'm sorry that you've lost so many people who are close to you. That's really difficult.

  9. I think it depends on the person. Some people just give up. Others, who might want to experience more and do more before they go, will try to "complete their bucket list."

  10. I have a friend with Parkinsons. He has a bucket list and every time he reaches the end, he adds something new. If he is still able, he is going to Colorado to see his sister next year and we hope to go with him.

    So we can also check off "zip lines and white water rafting the Rockies" right along side him.

    He has been given his death sentence. For years he did nothing. Now, as there is nothing more to be done, he really LIVES.

    I have no answer to your question, but I suspect, lie most things, it's in the attitude of the person.

  11. I do think it depends on the person. My cousin (24 years old) was just diagnosed with an incurable brain cancer.

    You'd never know it. She bounced back from the surgery amazingly well and is living life like there is now end date given to her.

    She might not be living like she's dying, but she's definitely living.

  12. Very insightful post. I think a lot depends on the person and some may be able to live like there is no tomorrow, but I have to agree with you that for many, if not most, the knowledge of death, approaching and certain, means that they are no longer living at all. At least that is my observation as well and I wish I did not have to see it myself.

  13. I've always had a "live for today" approach, but I can't deny that I sometimes think about how I would handle a fatal diagnosis. I know that all of my treasure is in Heaven, and that this life here is only temporary; eternity with God is forever! :) I pray that when my time comes I handle it in a strong and encouraging manner so that I am not a burden to my family and friends (or myself!); I want to continue to be a positive and uplifting woman still "living for today"!

    Thanks for this message Peaches; lots to think about!

    Blessings and hugs,

  14. Peaches thank you for posting, I've never really thought about it, but what I do know that generally we all live as if we have all the time in the world, we always say, I'll do it tomorrow, I'll ring tomorrow, its always tomorrow, we put things off all the time. When I go away on holiday I always manage to fit all my 'to do's' in a short space of time because I have a deadline. We have to live life if there was a deadline, live to the full, and do all those things we not only promise ourselves but our children that we will do, go to the sea side, write that book!.... before we get too old or sick to do them, time is passing whether we do or not, we might as well enjoy ourselves in the process. Blessings, Amanda

  15. Great contemplative post and great comments on it, too! I really don't like it when doctors put a time limit and give people "6 months to live" or whatever. They often live longer than that. Or shorter. But sometimes a limit like that deadens their spirit and zest for life.

    And sometimes it spurs them into living life to the fullest. Like others have said--it depends on the person. Sure, living fully while dying may be a "mask" at times, but it's better than wallowing in the face of your own mortality. All of us will die someday--we all have this same choice. To live fully or just exist dully while we wait for the end.

  16. Crystal, you're right, "it's a question of perspective."

    Melynda, I like your stance on life and where you're going after this life.

    Emily, are you really "In a way, I'm envious of those who have passed on?"

    Cynthia, I'm glad you enjoyed them time you spend with your husband while he was ill.

    Linda, maybe I missed an opportunity to engage with her some more.

    "I think if I knew I were dying, I would try to enjoy my last days. I wouldn't waste my little time mourning my impending demise."

    Thanks for the web link.

    Joy, yes, I'm realizing that it depends on the individual.

    Sarah, I guess most people are saying it's all about the individual. "To some it might mean holding on to and treasuring every bit of life they can get ahold of. To others, it might mean processing and preparing for the next (big) step."

    Sherry, concurring again about the individual.

    Juli, bravo to your friend for his positive outlook. Again it's all up to the individual - her/her attitude.

    Kelley, wow. I see a pattern. INDIVIDUAL choice.

    E.D., "I think a lot depends on the person and some may be able to live like there is no tomorrow, but I have to agree with you that for many, if not most, the knowledge of death, approaching and certain, means that they are no longer living at all." thanks for the extension to the argument.

    Denise, for many Christians, the hope of eternity with God helps them to have a more positive attitude about death.

    Amanda, I like the fact that you are so focused and work with a list.

  17. Carol, sometimes doctors are wrong, but many times they are right. I agree too that "sometimes a limit like that deadens their spirit and zest for life.... And sometimes it spurs them into living life to the fullest."

  18. Your post is so heartfelt and honest. You've walked through a lot of loss. *Hugs*

    I think you have a point with the fact that an overriding sadness would loom over everything no matter how hard you tried to live it up. It's the death of a dream, of what was supposed to be. But I would imagine it's a mix of feelings, of making good memories and saying goodbye to them.
    Catherine Denton

  19. all i can say is how powerful your post was---i hear the pain and the many unanswerable questions---i certainly do not have any answers---but sometimes, i think if i knew i was dying, it could be a gift---i don't know if you are familiar with the beautiful harry chapin song, "taxi"--there is this one very high sung part, that says, "baby's so high that she's flying, yes she's flying, afraid to fall, i'll tell you why, baby's crying, cause she's dying, aren't we all"---wonderful poignant post

  20. I suppose it depends on the person and thier personal view of death. It's hard to know what anyone is truly feeling.

  21. I'm dealing with living with dying and have been for most of this year. What I find is a roller coaster effect. Some days my mom is in good spirits and upbeat. Other days she's terribly depressed. I'm on that roller coaster with her, so I'm getting a taste of this experience. I'll have to come down on the "complicated" side of this issue.

  22. WE are all dying.
    My father lived the last 7 years of his life for me. He was diagnosed with parkinsons and I used his illness as a way for us to get to know each other. I've written about this a lot.
    That being said, I just lost both my breasts to cancer. I am at the beginning of my healing. I keep thinking..."so glad I twirled fire topless" etc, etc. I have been living deliberately in honor of my son's death in 2002. It's a wonderful way to live!

    thanks for following/finding me. but... back to you!

  23. This is a difficult subject. I think that the only way to live as if you were dying is to practice it while you're still healthy. That way you'll have the memories and the experiences to help you to continue to live in that way for as long as your strength allows. Last year I watched my Mum die and she too was dead long before her last breath.

  24. Catherine, thanks for commenting. I do believe dying people may be sad because he or she did not fulfill some dreams they had and they have to say goodbye to them and create some good memories.

    Lynn, I admire your courage to see dying as a gift.

    Miranda, I'm coming to terms with understanding each person's view of death.

  25. cleemckenzie, sorry about your mom's illness. It's really a complicated matter especially when you observe the roller coaster emotions.

    Green Monkey, pictures lie. I stare at your profile picture and see a woman full of life, not knowing what you've been through with your father and yourself.

    I ask the universe to continue to provide you with more strength to maintain your positive outlook on life.

    Rosalind, I'll try to do as you say, "practice [living] while you're still healthy."

    Sorry about your mom. I think you are able to take a similar view as I did because you have experienced your mother's terminal illness.

    Cheers to a better tomorrow.

  26. I have come very close to dying many years ago in my early 40's. I discovered that I had no regrets and I had really lived life to the upmost. That was really a gut check for me.
    I view death as a new adventure, another or extended phase of a happy soul seeking adventure.
    Those that know me say I'll slide into heaven, hair flying all over, out of breath askin, "whats next?"
    Sorry about the death of your mom. That dream was to let you know she is very much apart of you but in a different way. Trust me on this. You will catch her fragrance in the wind, here her laughter somewhere on a crowded street, turn and can't find out where it came from. Your mom is not dead, she is just away. Peace and blessings to you and her. Thanks for finding my blog.

  27. I love what Debra Harris-Johnson had to say and believe that if you are living right down here, then the next phase is just an easy transition.

    Great post and I totally "get it!"

    Live like you are living.

  28. I really like the comments Rosalind Adam said. I think it all depends upon the person and their outlook on life. Of the few people I have known who have passed on, it seems as if each of them just gave up. I guess it depends on the severeness of the illness, their mental state and their own personal inner strength. It's an interesting topic and I enjoyed reading your well stated thoughts on the matter.

  29. I agree with all of those that pointed out choice. Just like we choose to live each day we have now, if you get this type of diagnosis you choose how you'll face it. I hope I would be like Kelley's cousin. Live!

    Hugs to you!

  30. Debra, so glad that you're not gone because now I get to know you. Bravo to you for you view on death... sliding into heaven. I like that.

    Crack You Whip, thanks for your insight - "easy transition."

    Julie, I'm understanding more about someone's outlook.

    Jenny, I guess everyone has to come to terms with what happens in life.

  31. This post is so insightful and it really made me think of my own mortality. I have had at least 4 people die who were really close to me in the past 4 years so this strikes close to home. One of those people was my beloved sister in law who passed away from brain and breast cancer. I watched her slowly lose her grip on life but she would vacillate between being hopeful and being depressed. It was like a tug of war. In the end she passed away but she fought real hard to live. I think we all think we know what we would do but until we are in the shoes of those who wore them we won't ever be sure. That is my opinion anyway.

  32. This is such a good post--you really got me thinking.

    It's so hard to know why people do the things they do. Maybe we're all just trying to get by--living the best we can whether we're dying or not. We all know we're going to die. In a sense, we're all living to die. . . .

  33. Lots of interesting thoughts here. I think it would be weird to go do things simply because I was dying too.

  34. Intense topic! I really don't have an answer. I never thought of it like this, but you're probably right.

  35. There is another perspective to this. What about those who have illnesses with symptoms that are just as impairing as those of potentially deadly illnesses?

    Such is the case with me. I fell ill 3 years ago and have constant symptoms, but no diagnosis (long story)

    These symptoms rob of mobility and the quality of life, yet doctors tell you to be happy because you aren't dying. Which is true, of course, but what do you do if the symptoms limit 90 percent of what you can do - is that living really?

    Not trying to take away from what you are saying, I get it all too well ... both my parents passed from cancer.

    Thank you for posting this poignant entry.

  36. I love what you said, "because all eyes are on them as everyone waits to witness the last minute, the last second, the last breath, the goodbye ritual." I think that's so true, and I think it greatly limits what a dying person is able to do. Most deaths I've been around have been sudden and unexpected, except when my best friend's mom died of cancer. I was shocked and appalled by the number of people who hadn't been part of her life in YEARS that came to watch her die. It was truly one of the most sickening things I have ever seen in my life. After that I can honestly understand not sharing with anyone if a doctor gives you a time frame for your death. I think that might be the only way to really live during the time you have left.

  37. When The song by Tim McGraw came out I weren't too wild about it. I also don't really know what it means. I was diagnosed with with heart issues at 43 yrs old. The mortality rate was 5-10 yrs. I was told they could put me on permanent disability. Financially that wasn't an option for me. It's been ten years and I have worked every day. I spose it really depends on where you are as to what it means. For me its work to support my family. I aint been sky diving but since have seen my kids born, graduate, married.

    1. Simply Southern, thanks for sharing your story. I'm so happy that you took your diagnosis and living your life the best way that you can. I'm glad that you're able to share experience and many milestones with your children.

      I hope you still have many, many more years ahead of you.

      As I read this post again, I realize that I had focused on people who did not have much time to live - the short time, 3 months or less, when it appeared as though death was inevitable.

      However, after reading all the comments or responses, I've been thinking of writing a part 2.

      Thanks for making me think.