I have a dear friend named Jenni.  She is just like me in many ways.  We both drive slightly beat up ’97 metallic blue Mazdas.  We both have sweet 6 year old sons that were born within just 48 hours of each other.  We are also both single moms.  We both love art and writing, and on many subjects of the heart we can finish each others sentences.  Our souls vibrate on the same frequency.  

In other ways we are different.  She lives on the other side of the world in Australia.  She is blond and I am not.  She is into scrapping, me… I’m more of a knitter. 

Oh…and she has stage 4 colon cancer.

Even though we have never met face to face, she has fast become a dear friend.  We talk almost every day via email.  Chatty gossipy emails, deep philosophical emails.  We talk about being single moms.  We talk about hope.  We talk about men, music and books.  Over time she has come to learn the secrets of my heart.  She is able to see right through my denials and tell me exactly what is going on even when I don’t want to admit it.  She is able to tell me how it is and she is always spot on.  She is able to raise the hard questions–the ones that get to the heart of the matter.  She gets me.  She is the real deal, this one.

The other day I got an email from her.  It was entitled “What would you do?”  She is so brave, my friend.  She is trying to make sense of some bad news after three delicious months of being cancer free.  She is reassessing concepts like time.

When Jenni asks me a question, no matter how hard it might be I answer it.  This time her question was terrible and beautiful and deep.  To paraphrase it…

What would you do if you knew you only had 12 months left?   

So, because I love her dearly,  after I put Max to sleep, I sat at the computer with a heavy heart and began to write.  Some 45 minutes later, with tears streaming down my face I hit the send button. 

Much to my surprise however, the tears, were not only tears of grief for her struggle.  They were also tears of joy and of relief.  Because in answering Jen’s email, I realized I had written the roadmap for getting out of my own petulant and silly winter funk.  

The last few years have been punctuated by too many sudden deaths.  A colleague’s husband had a massive heart attack and died unexpectedly at a very young age.  A guy I knew in high school took his daughter to the bus stop, got stung by a bee and never made it home for his EpiPen.  A college classmate was in the World Trade Center when the plane’s hit.   Another friend walked out into a street and was struck by a car and died instantly.

Each time I heard this news I stood shocked–baffled.  They were so young, so healthy, so vibrant!  Death cannot be so cruel–can it?  Each time the news rattled me to the bone.  And each time I breathed in a lesson that I promptly forgot because it was convenient to do so. 

We don’t get to decide when we die.  Just because I am (relatively) young, just because I am currently healthy, just because life may seem footloose and fancy free, does not mean that I can count on tomorrow or the next day or the next year. 

Time is not something any of us can count on. 

Not Jenni and those who are struggling with incurable cancer, but not me either.  In this way, maybe my friend and I are not so different afterall.

How often these last few months, have I caught myself feeling stuck and grumpy.  Banging around with a bad attitude waiting for something better to come along. 

Telling myself that it can all wait until the next day, tomorrow, when I feel better, when I am more on top of it.  Tomorrow I will forgive myself.  Tomorrow I will be more patient with Max.  Tomorrow I will laugh.  I will do it differently next time, but this time I will just stay stuck in my bad habit.  Next time I will tell them kindly how I feel but this time I will just eat it.  Next time I will listen more closely or pay attention or stay focused.  No wonder I have been feeling a bit…empty.  Too many days, hours or minutes I have been putting off my lovely life until a better time.   

Jenni and I made a solemn promise that night.  We declared that we would make our lists for what we would do if we knew we had only one good year and that we would live that way, every day for as many years as we had left.  That together we would each of us live fully and completely in the hope that it would heal pieces of our hearts and bodies that were broken.  At very least it would ensure that whether we had 6 breaths, 6 months or 6o years left we would leave this earth with no regrets.  That our lives, however long or short, would be full.

Jen recently posted on her blog that she wants to know how we would live if we knew–knew we had only one good year.  I want to whisper part of mine here too-to declare it openly.  If you have a moment, go over to her blog and leave her some of your ideas too.  And then join us in our quest to live them…

I would make time each week to write love letters to my son.  I would keep a journal for him of my favorite memories and I would tell him how I felt about him, even when he got in trouble or pushed my buttons, even when I seemed furious and disappointed.  I would write down our family stories for him to read later.  I would tell him about how I loved his dad the minute I met him and that I never stopped loving him, even though we divorced.  I would tell him about my crazy youth so that one day he could find humor and solace when his life took him by surprise.

I would make a list of all the crazy things I have always wanted to do and then find time to do them.  When appropriate, I would make Max my conspirator.  I would tell him that it has always been my dream to do this and we aren’t going to wait to make dreams come true.

I would spend as much time with Max as I could without taking away from the relationships he needs to build with other people -the relationships that will help him live without me.  I would facilitate more time with his dad, and help him build strong loving relationships with other adults and children who are kind to him.  I would help him feel loved and confident not only with me but in the world at large.  I would teach him to build community and I would teach him to be alone.

I would rest and take time for myself.  I would be with myself more. I would be quiet and still.

I would tell everyone I love that I love them, even if it scares me, even if they don’t love me too.  And I would find a way to show them that these words are not just words.  I would listen to them–really listen and think before I spoke. 

I would walk and dance and move my body every chance I got.

I would forgive myself over and over again for not living up to my own expectations.

I would eat healthy foods, and drink lots of water and do yoga and take long hot baths in candle light.    I would do this even though it takes time.  I would tell myself I am worth it.

I would forgive myself when I go to bed in a space of grouchiness or sadness.  I would allow all feelings to wash over me, gratitude, anger, joy, fear–all of them without judgement.  I wouldn’t beat myself up for not feeling grateful every damn second of the day.

I would buy myself a punching bag or a stock of cheap plates so that I could go at it when angry instead of stuffing it down like a good girl.  And then, when I was done punching or throwing I would laugh and laugh and laugh, maybe cry and then laugh again until my sides ached.

I would play my guitar loudly and sing at the top of my lungs even though I play in a way that can only be described as “flawed but authentic”.  And I would play in front of people and not apologize.

I would write and write and write for the joy of it, for myself, for the love of words and stories.  I would stop worrying about whether anyone read it or liked it or cared.

I would make these things, not the rest of the “stuff” my measuring stick.  I would give up worrying about position or role or whatever. 

I would breathe and pay attention and catch myself living over and over again.

18 Responses to “A Good Year”

  1. Jen Ballantyne Says:

    Just beautiful my darling friend. If I can make an impact on the people I speak to and connect with, to make each day count for something then I will leave the life I love behind just a little more easily.

  2. Marcia Francois Says:

    (came to Jen’s blog via Jen Lemen, and then to yours)

    This is SUCH a beautiful post, I am going to link to it and start living my life with more meaning too!

  3. GailNHB Says:

    I went to Jen Lemen’s blog which led me to Jen Ballantyne’s blog which led me back here. I haven’t read your blog in far too long.

    I’m so glad I came. I am the mother of two children, 11 and 14, so I weep for Jen who has been told that she doesn’t have long to live.

    Thank you, Meg, for your beautiful list. I need to work on my own list. I need to pray for Jen and her family. I need to remember you and Max and the special relationship you share. And I need to remember to live each moment to the fullest. To live with joy and grace and peace every moment.

    Thank you so much for these reminders this morning.

  4. Monica Says:

    This is beautiful. I would (will?) do these things too. I will pray for and light candles for your dear friend.

  5. bella Says:

    Joining you in feeling Jenn’s courage to live life freely and fully change the world.
    I’m in process of writing my own list.
    Yours made me weep.
    This is what we all want, however “healthy” we think we are, this living fully and with abandon, this opening ourselves to love.

  6. Jena Strong Says:

    Meg – with gratitude that you’ve shared some of this list, that you’ve opened connections in my life that lead me along this path with heart. I’ll be working on mine over the weekend.

    With love,

    xo J

  7. Jen Ballantyne « Toddler Planet Says:

    […] Her friend Meg wrote a wonderful post in answer, and other women have left comments for her on the topic.  It’s a hard topic, I know, and you’re probably all worn out from caring for me, and I can’t thank you enough.  But I’ve had such a hard time thinking and writing and seeing past the pain and horror of my surgery that I think I needed to meet Jen B today, and to share with her my answer to her question.  Now I share it with you: … one answer kept floating to the top:  Love my children. Play with my children. Whisper in their ears how very much Mama loves them, and teach them to read books and explore their world and make friendships. Teach them to treasure the important things in life, so that they will always know the answer to this question. For me, the answer lay in loving my children as much as I could, and in helping them find other interests that would help them transcend their loss. […]

  8. debi Says:

    I took a round about way here but I am so glad I did. I love what I just read. Its meaning is too much for me to take in all at once. I will be back to read more and again. And thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Karen Says:

    Well Meg, I’ve made my prayer into a post and dedicated it to this question, and most importantly, to the questioner. Love is the best we can do. Thank you for sharing it.

  10. phyllis Says:

    i too followed jen lemen to jen b to you….

    your list is so beautiful and inspiring and heartfelt….such strength in writing…thank you.

    i believe that i too will write a list…for my children, for myself, and for jen and her question.

  11. Jen Ballantyne Says:

    Wow Meg, this is wonderful isn’t it. The love and the connections are amazing. I have been an occasional ‘lurker’ of whymommy’s blog and just never commented as I felt she had enough people taking care of her and didn’t need anyone else and I also didn’t want to take away from her journey and troubles by telling her of mine and…you know what I mean, but this is amazing the way all the dots are connecting. I truly feel uplifted and a part of something huge. Thank you once again for your beautiful post Meg, you are a true and very dear friend that I believe I was meant to know. Take Care with Love Jen B.xx

  12. Kat Says:

    I found my way here from Toddler Planet (which I read daily) to Jenni’s and then to yours. Meg, this is a beautifully written post. So touching…and inspiring. As a breast cancer survivor myself, I know the importance of enjoying each moment that God has given us. To be thankful. To show love and forgiveness.


  13. Maggie Says:

    Thank you.

    (Just think about that, your beautiful words affecting people around the world.)

  14. If you’re looking for comedy, skip this post. « Okay, Fine, Dammit Says:

    […] I’m going to try to follow their lead here, clumsy though it may be. I just don’t know how else to rid myself of this […]

  15. GreenishLady Says:

    This is such a loving and wise post. I can see why it has been such a comfort and inspiration to Jen and others. Thank you.

  16. beth Says:

    Your post and your list made me weep….but with good healthy tears that needed a release.

    You write with honesty, love, kindness and purity which comes together in a beautiful chapter.

    And like I told Jen, I’m off now to work on my own list.

    Thank you.

  17. deb Says:

    I found your blog through Jen Lemen. Lovely post. You and Jen inspired me. Thank you for that.

  18. Eight for ‘08 (plus one for good measure) - Meg Casey Says:

    […] A Good Year:  The reappearance of my dear Jenni’s cancer called on both of us to question how we would live if we had only a year left.    […]