You know what I’m talking about. There are major events in our lives – getting married, taking ‘A’ levels, giving birth – that are so momentous it feels they will never actually arrive. After all, they are just normal, run-of-the-mill days for everyone else. Then, when you’re doing your grocery shopping, you realise that the ‘best before’ dates are beyond the major event. By the time you’ve eaten your Waitrose chicken and leek pie you’ll have a new baby in the house or you will have decided your destiny in some important way.
It’s hard for me to talk about but it I feel I have significant ‘sell by’ dates all over the place at the moment. I’ve just booked my Ocado Christmas food delivery (note to you all to check you have not missed out!). I have social events in my calendar through to late December. But will I still be around? I was surprised to hear Linda Bellingham talking about making it through one last Christmas. She seems quite certain she will have just a couple of months to live after finishing chemotherapy. None of us really knows though, do we?
At some point over the last few weeks I seem to have begun a new journey, one that has death as its destination. Well, this blog has been all about having terminal cancer, but till now it was more about living well. Sorry to be morbid but I admit that sometimes now I do feel like the end is imminent. Now I sense a fading. Physically I am struggling. And I can’t help feeling people are beginning to queue up to see me one last time. Organising my social calendar is becoming an issue. I find it difficult to socialise for too long but that’s tricky when people have travelled a long way. It is also hard to turn people down. I’m just muddling my way through, with depleted resources and my own demons. I’m not sure what is expected of me but I’m sorry if I have let you down. What do you do with your time when it is so limited and you don’t know how much of it you have?
Rather than focusing on death, I was thinking about what I have learned over the years about living well. Do the principles of living well apply equally to dying well? I admire Martin Seligman and he says there are five elements to wellbeing, summarised in the acronym PERMA: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. He means we should try to be optimistic and see the positive in the world around us; we should participate in activities we love that take all our attention and make us lose track of time; we should cultivate good relationships; we should look for meaning in what we do; and, finally, we should improve our skills and competence. I know I have been lacking in the positive emotion department. Life in a wheelchair can partly be blamed for that. I’ve just suffered the humiliation of getting stuck in a decorative basket in the Cook Frozen Meals shop in town (half in, half out, I think you had to be there!). Poor Bart did his best but I had to fight back the tears. It is only now that I can laugh. Which has reminded me of the importance of humour. I should definitely laugh more. We should all laugh more.
I’m on a new journey – a strange and sometimes frightening one. But I realise we are all, to some extent or other, on that journey. It’s not that I’m particularly special or significant but when someone is dying it is bound to raise issues for those around. I hope that you can find what you need – peace, hope, answers, meaning. And as for those pesky ‘sell by’ dates, let’s just ignore them, shall we?