The details: I want bagpipes at my funeral. I want to donate all my organs. I have (almost) decidedly decided to be cremated, (which will come as a tremendous surprise to my husband.) I want my children and friends to speak at my service. I want people to remember all my accomplishments and excuse all my failures. I want to be missed. Not just for a period of time, but forever. I want to leave big shoes to fill. I want to have been on this earth for a reason larger than myself and my family. I want to have done something that means something to more than just me.
I have been watching "The Big C." It has forced me to start reflecting on what I would do if I were terminally ill. The main character, Cathy, is married with a teenage son. She finds out she has stage 4 melanoma. Although her doctor has not given her a specific timeline, it's clear that she is dying in the near future and without other options. Prior to the news, Cathy is an uptight control freak. She is calculated in all her decision making. She is orderly. She owns and ferociously guards a beautiful white couch. She has settled into a boring and predictable marriage. She is going through the motions of living her life without much thought as to why she does what she does. The news rocks her. She pours red wine on her couch, flips the cushions and then burns it. She builds a pool within inches of her back step so she can leap into the pool with no hesitation and teach her son to dive from the edge. She buys a red (of course) stick shift convertible with all the bells and whistles (which she quickly realizes she is unable to drive because she doesn't drive stick.) She becomes impulsive. She gets naked. She frees her spirit.
And she triggers a feeling of discomfort and regret in me.
I always wanted to get married. I always wanted a family. I promised myself if I didn't find a wonderful life partner, I would go at parenthood alone. I knew I would adopt. Beyond that, I didn't really know. I didn't really think about it. Now, don't get me wrong. I am not some, "yes dear" subservient wife. I don't hang my identity on my being married or a mom. But, family is at my core. I studied Psychology, which was not that shocking. My dad is a therapist— people interest me— I'm decent with human interaction. Slightly shocking might have been my going on to get my masters in counseling, since I really detested school. I still have those anxiety dreams about missing a test and staying in school forever. But I don't believe I ever took the time to procure a life plan. I was too afraid. I just kind of went through life.
I travelled a little. I lived in Israel for a year. This came about after 5 years of private school tuition at two liberal arts colleges. I proudly announced that I was going to live in Boston and be a bartender, where everybody knows your name. My parents gave me the "blink. blink." stare. About a week later my mom said they would pay for me to go to Israel, but I had to stay for a year. I said OK. I never really wanted to move to Boston and bartend. I had never really wanted to do anything. I did not have a vision beyond someday having a family.
I came home from Israel and started working for a Jewish organization. I was not overly passionate about the work, but it was convenient. I met my husband. I quit my job. I got married. I went to graduate school. I started a job. I quit graduate school. I went back to graduate school. I graduated from graduate school. I quit my job. And weeks later, my first son was born and I became a stay-at-home mom.
I went on to have three more additions— two more biological sons and one adopted daughter. I point this out so that you can see I achieved my two goals— family and adoption. I'm not a total slacker. But now, here I sit. In my house in the suburbs. Great husband. Four wonderful kids. Two dogs. The fortunate opportunity to be at home and raise my kids with full support from my spouse. But now, with all of that, I wish before it, I had lived my life differently. I always wanted to travel. But I never knew where to go. Now I know. Austrailia! Vietnam! Ireland! Italy! Spain! I want to travel by train around Europe! I want to join the Peace Corp. Now, with four young kids, it is completely and utterly impractical. Impossible. And I fear for myself that that I will die unfulfilled. And all of this triggered by a God damn TV show. I'm like a poster child for the influence of our media.
But, really. At some point, don't we all look around and take notice of where we were, who we are, and compare it to where we want to be? Where I am, I love. But if I were dying today, my life would not have been fully realized. Not because I am merely 38 years old— too young (objectively) to kick the bucket. But because of the perspective I have now, all these years later. I'm lamenting at the possibilities that remain unrealized, and at this point, possibly impossible. It's easy to lament, regret and accept what we haven't done as the end. For now, I am planning a romantic trip to Italy in the spring.