Recently I was contacted by an acquaintance of mine, a former colleague whose cousin had just been diagnosed with late stage cancer. The prognosis was not good, he said; they might have a year with him, maybe a few months, they weren’t sure.
Having heard about the work I do, he asked about my availability to sit down with his cousin, who was apparently a man with many fantastic stories to tell. “He’s lived quite a life,” he said with a smile that showed how much joy those stories brought to his friends and family. I couldn’t help but smile too. What more can we ask when our time comes to a close than to have those we love remember us for the full life we lead? To have our stories bring them joy and comfort as they move through life?
He and I spoke about options, including that of personal interviews and the creation of a narrative transcript, foregoing a full book production. Often, especially in situations with an element of urgency, this can be an expedited process that captures one’s story with the same level of compassion and focus, but without the wait to see a final product. This, he thought, might be the way to go.
I gave it some time and reached back out to see if he had given any more thought to a possible project, and was told that the family was still unsure how to approach what is clearly an end of life narrative with someone who may not be ready to accept that final chapter. Hope can be the greatest of gifts not only for the ill, but for those whose love surrounds them; I certainly felt for their need to preserve that. Trust your gut, I told him, and I’ll be here if you need me.
Two weeks later I got the heartbreaking news. His cousin had passed away, the cancer taking him far more quickly than they had anticipated. In my mind, I saw the smile on my colleague’s face when he spoke of this beloved man, and I knew this loss was a brutal one. If only we had had time to connect.
Death is a part of life. As we get older, this is proven to us with increased frequency, nudging the idea of our own mortality along with it. Hopefully, this knowledge compels us to live our best life; to be true to ourselves, find the good in others, help wherever we can, and have a heck of a ride. Then perhaps we can be that memory that brings a smile before a tear, a laugh before an ache.
If you know someone whose stories do that for you, capture them while you can. Jot things down, record a note on your phone, anything to hold on to that little bit of magic they hold within them. You’ll never regret it.