US blogger Sam recently posted about the tragic sudden death of a very young and very dear friend. Quite by coincidence I had seen a trailer for a BBC documentary called "A Time to Live" which aired on Wednesday. It recounted the story of a group of people in the UK (around 12 I think - I didn't count) who had all been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and had been given XX number of months/years to live. While I'm sure to most of us that would be a horrific experience, the way the documentary unfolded, while it was indeed terribly sad, it was also thought-provoking and strangely uplifting.
If I remember right, the youngest person they interviewed was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at age 23. The oldest (that I remember) was a gentleman of 69. All were sad that they would not get more time with their loved ones, and some with younger children were very concerned about making sure they would be ok once that parent died. But the over-riding emotion that seemed to emanate from all of these people was gratitude for the chance to really live life to the full! Sounds weird I know. So I started writing down comments that they made to try to make sense of it all afterwards, and here are just a few (paraphrased as best I can remember them).
One lady, upon learning her diagnosis, talked to her children and with their agreement left her husband of 28 years to travel, indulge in her passion for art and learn salsa. It wasn't quite as "clinical" as it sounds and she and her husband both moved on but ....."It allows you to do things instead of just dreaming about doing them"!
Another young woman was asked if she would like to go back in time with the possibility of "eternal life" (well, as "eternal" as any of us have it). She thought for a minute and said "if 'eternal life' meant going back to how I was living before then no, I don't want it. All the stress and rushing around just living to work, and so on - no, I don't want it. Not now I really know what it feels like to be alive"!
One man who was naturally devastated at being told that his illness was terminal "started to shuffle", like the sick person that he now was! He was "a sick old man" so he knew he had to "shuffle". And then he decided that he bloody well didn't have to shuffle - or indeed have his behaviour conform to any particular way of being just because he was sick! So he started running constantly. I get the impression he was a runner anyway, but he explained how wonderful and "full of life" he felt when he ran despite being "terminal". I don't remember the proper name but he entered "the great desert race" not knowing whether he would still be alive when the time came. He was and he completed it! To him, the fact of enrolling was the important thing - finishing it was very much secondary.
Another lady said it was a blessing knowing that her time was "finite" because it allowed her to put all her affairs in order - but more importantly sort the children's photos for them and slip little messages on postcards in amongst their photos for when they would feel sad or lonely.
There was an overriding positivity to them all. "Knowing how long you have gives you a game plan/clarity, and reinforces the gift of life when you realize it is finite"!
And lastly, an older lady who had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease, seemed like she had been a heck of a character during her life, a frequent traveller and a "grab life by the horns" kind of person. So after diagnosis she joined a group of solo-travelling women and continued to travel as long as her health would allow. Then she met up with them in the UK in her wheelchair when she was no longer able to travel. She said she had "no intention of seeing this disease through to the end" but would be travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland when the time came to end her own life. Her sadness was that she would have to do this "before she was ready" because after that she would no longer be well enough to travel. Her final comment was that she would have liked to have remained in her own home and "do it here" (in the UK) but sadly it is not (yet) legal.
As I said, very sad, thought-provoking, but incredibly uplifting too.
The narrator's final words were that all these people had made the choice to live life to the full knowing that their time was running out. And she (the narrator) had also made a choice to not tell her audience the names of those who had died since the documentary had been filmed. The right decision I think. RIP those who have passed!