I had a moment last Christmas when I looked around at my family and thought, “I have at least ten more years of holidays just like this one with my parents.” Two months later my dad was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Three words and our lives changed drastically in a very short amount of time. Family dinners full of laughter were swapped for shared calendars for oncology appointments and scans. The articles my dad used to cut out of the paper to mail us were replaced with a giant binder full of medical information and personal directives. As time sped up, I thought of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while you could miss it.” For me, this meant looking at what I have more than what I am eventually going to lose.
I am incredibly proud of how my dad is navigating this transition in life, he has so much hope. The cancer is in his bones which makes them brittle. He broke his hip and is currently in a rehabilitation facility relearning how to walk after surgery. Every night he calls me, and we talk about going to South Africa to see where his mom grew up. He tells me about the train trip he wants to take across Canada with my mom. My dad is making new friends and he shares their dinner conversations and how they joke about planning a great escape. There are times when he is sad and teary, wanting to go home or sharing his pain thinking of never seeing his family again once he dies. These are heartbreaking conversations. In them I am so honoured to hold space for the emotions that the world told him and the other men of his generation not to have. In those moments we allow ourselves to sit with and be connected in our grief. I know I will be hanging on to these memories for a long time to come.
As I watch this all unfold my perspective on life is changing. I am learning about what is most important in life. No one reaches the end of their life and says, “I wish I had worked more.” People who are facing death often talk about regret in their lives which led me to seek out a better understanding of the term. Brené Brown explained that we feel regret when things do not go as we planned and it is often a result of neglect of expressing kindness, especially kindness to oneself. Further she said, “Regret is one of our most powerful emotional reminders that reflection, change, and growth are necessary.” This
is the part that sits with me, regret as a change agent. In full honesty I do not want to reach the end of my life with a list of unaccomplished goals or experiences. The problem is too many of us prioritize work, money, and success and sometimes by the time we fully realise just how short life is, it really is too late. I have yet to figure out time travel so instead I offer you this. Say yes more. Say yes to the things that scare you. Say yes to that adventure you have always wanted to take. Say yes when your friends ask you to have tea. Say yes to music festivals to discover your new favourite band. Say yes to the things that bring you the most joy, and no to the ones that do not. Live a life that you look back on and think, “well that was pretty great, wasn’t it?”
The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.