Monday, November 3, 2014

Bucket List - Brittany Maynard Shows Us the Way to Live

I've followed the Brittany Maynard story for a couple of weeks now.  I've read about her terminal brain cancer and her quest to die the way she wants to die.  I've read how she has campaigned for "Death with Dignity" and listened sound bites from Compassion and Choices.  I've seen pictures of her life before the Diagnosis and how she moved from California to Oregon to have prescribed to her the drugs she would need to end her life the way she wanted to end it.  I've read both sides of this combustible issue, the converse of the abortion rights issue.  Some people have called her heroic, some people have called her selfish.  And I've heard her decision in her own words.  All I know is that it is tragic that someone has to die like that.

Maynard - In a Happier Time
I've also read that part of her story that brought us pictures from the Grand Canyon.  Family pictures, pictures of Maynard and her husband and of Mother and daughter.  It didn't matter, pictures from that getaway showed a somber crew, with an expectation of passing.  After seeing those pictures, you knew that the end was coming.  A statement that she was reconsidering her date of death was merely a way to keep her story fresh to add more exposure for her cause.  She was ready to end her life; you could see it in the pained looks on every one's faces in those pictures.  The story of her quest to knock one more thing off of her "bucket list" was one anecdote that brought some lightheartedness to the grim story.  But it was reading about her simple trip to the Grand Canyon that it dawned on me.  The media and Maynard herself was thinking about the end, rather than the way that she got there.  Simply put, most of Maynard's coverage has focused on her death, rather than her life. 

Back to that Grand Canyon part of the story.  We were told that it was part of her bucket list and she was able to finally cross that visit off of her list.  When I said to myself that I wanted to see what a bucket list of a person who worked at orphanages in Nepal and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro looked like, i decided to see what else was on her list.  I couldn't find it.  Does it exist?  Is it a private part of her husband's and family's legacy to keep this to themselves?  Most likely.  But the fact that she had the bucket list at all was an even more tragic story here. 

Many people wait until it is too late to live their lives.  We get stuck in our mundane day to day lives.  Teddy Roosevelt's quote - quoted in Maynard's obituary - to "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" doesn't apply for most of us on most days. Our personal bucket lists get larger and larger every year because we make the time to dream about going somewhere, doing something, but we never take the time to actually do it or go there.  We always take time to fill the bucket, but we never take time to take things out of that bucket list.  We wait until we are ill, or too old to enjoy it, to start thinking about taking some things out of that bucket.  That's no way to live.  Maynard showed us that. 

My Father died of an aggressive esophageal cancer.  He was given months to live after the gold standard of care could not help him.  He was not the kind of person to have a "bucket list;" he was just happy to clean up his garden and have enough energy to mow his yard.  He was pissed that he could not dictate his life any more and he wanted something different.  That's why he stopped the treatments that clearly were not helping him.  And what the end of his life showed me was that we all want to live our lives the way we want to live them, or not live them.  While they thought about the end of their lives differently, Maynard and my Father shared one thing in common.  They wanted to live and die on their terms.

Maynard also showed us that even at the age of 29, we should be thinking about the things in our bucket list. That list can include a lot of different things - traveling, getting a new job, having children.  It just matters that you try to empty that bucket out of tasks when you are still young.  You never know when you aren't going to have enough time to see them all through.

Rest in Peace.

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