I recently watched the movie “The Bucket List” for the 5th time. Each time I watch the movie, I see another lesson about living life. For those who have not seen the movie, I don’t want to go into detail but it’s about two men who are diagnosed with cancer and became unlikely friends while sharing a hospital room. At one point, they start a “bucket list” of things they want to do when they complete their treatments. The movie’s message is invaluable and I believe we all can learn from the lessons that the two main characters teach us about life and death.
I remember the first time I watched the movie I was really struck about the concept of a “bucket list.” In some ways, the list is comparable to goals we set for ourselves or a “wish list of things we want to do.” But most importantly, I think we need to ask the question “what do I want to do with in my lifetime? How do I want to be remembered?”
A few years ago there was a television show about a lawyer who returned to his home town and purchased the local bowling alley. In addition to managing the alley, he ran his law practice from the alley. One of his clients was an artist who was dying and wanted to find a way to make sure his artwork would be “immortalized.” He wanted the saying on his marker to read “art was my life.” As the lawyer tried to help the artist understand that he couldn’t control some things from the grave, the attorney began to think about his own mortality and how others would remember him. As he made his own pre-arrangements, he thought about what he wanted his marker to say about himself. After some time he decided that he wanted his marker to read “my life was a piece of art” as he hoped people would reflect on his life and remember him as someone who lived life to the fullest. He wanted to be remembered as someone who was defined by the life he lived.
Both of these shows are reminders for us to live our lives to the fullest and to have experiences that paint a beautiful canvas about our lives and the impact we have on others. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves when we do a life review, “do I have more memories or more regrets?” “Did I experience life as it was happening or did I put off experiencing life until it was more convenient?” “How will my family and friends remember me?” “How do I want to be remembered?”
The lesson that we learn from those we loved and have died is that there is never enough time. Learning to live in the moment and to acknowledge the moments that take our breath away are the experiences that will paint the picture of our lives. Being able to sit with a loved one and admire the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, to hold a baby in our arms and feel their calmness, to allow the laughter of a child to bring a smile to our face, to enjoy the refreshing coolness of an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, to provide comfort to an aging parent or a dying relative, these are the moments that help define us. There are so many adventures that await us if we are willing to take the time to enjoy them.
Being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness or experiencing the death of a loved one often redefines what one considers to be important. Values change and the joy of simplicity becomes more important. Perhaps grief can help us realize that we have a second chance to make changes in our own lives and to find joy, not only in the memories we hold but in the life that is yet to be experienced. Remember, we are a work in progress.
So I need to ask myself, “what’s on my bucket list?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jan Borgman, MSW, LISW-S, FT, is the Clinical Program Manager for Bereavement Services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a Fellow in Thanatology (FT) through the Association of Death Education and Counseling. Jan has been providing bereavement-related services and programs for over twenty-five years. Jan facilitates bereavement support groups in her community. She is a frequent speaker on the topic of grief and loss in the community and has been a presenter for national organizations such as the Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), the Association for Oncology Social Work (AOSW) and for the Society of Social Work Leaders in Health Care (SSWLC).