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It’s Time To Live Like We're Dying


The Written Word
Developing Our Humanity

The Bucket List may not become a classic. But this recent film has inspired me to begin a special project this Lent. It’s a task that will take the rest of my life to complete.

In the film, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson portray elderly terminal cancer patients who write a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.” Then they start taking action on the items.

Their list constantly changes, as they add new entries and cross off those completed. Their sense of satisfaction as they draw lines through entries and see how many of their goals they have met shows how useful a written list can be.

Screenwriter Justin Zackham explains that the inspiration for this film came during a crossroads in his own life. Not only did he write his bucket list; he’s also working on a book on the topic.

The Bucket List is reminiscent of Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying.” Both the film and the song include men facing the end of their lives who go skydiving and mountain climbing—things they want to do. They also decide to love deeper, speak sweeter and reconcile—things they should do. At the time Tim McGraw recorded this song, his father, Tug, was dying.


The Written Word

Writing our bucket lists and taking action on the entries is one way to prepare for our death, which may come without warning. St. Paul warns us “that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

Whenever I attend a funeral, especially an unexpected death, I mentally compose my bucket list and have good intentions of acting on it. But a written list would serve as a constant reminder, especially if posted where it would stare back at me and nag me to get moving before it’s too late.

It’s probably easy to come up with a list of things we want to do before we die. But compiling a list of things we should do could be more difficult. That should-do list is the one that seems appropriate to focus on each Lent.

Making should-do lists during Lent would give us the opportunity to see what we’ve achieved, how we’ve changed and what we’ve been putting off for too long. Last year’s overdue items should become this year’s priority.

The should-do list reminds me of spiritual spring housecleaning. We ask God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but we need to follow that up with asking someone we’ve injured to forgive us.

Such a list also reminds us of what our priorities should be. I always have great intentions to visit, phone or send cards to sick relatives and friends. But unless I have a written note that keeps staring back at me, I often fail to take action.

Last summer my two sisters and I cancelled other plans so we could visit an aunt who was near death. Although our aunt slept during our entire visit, we spoke softly to her, recalling good times together. Our aunt died the next day.

After my older son, Tim, died, I received several sympathy cards weeks and months later from people who had just found out about his death. Most of these belated expressions included notes explaining their connection. That taught me that it’s never too late to express sympathy, even if I only have a casual connection to the deceased. In some cases, I’ve sent e-mails through the funeral home: The most personal expressions of sympathy I received were in e-mails.

Another should-do item is to thank people who have made a positive impact on our lives. I was in my 40s when I graduated from college. A few years later, someone told me that my achievement influenced her to enroll in college.

In The Bucket List, there’s a scene in which the main characters laugh until they cry: That’s an item on their list. Laughter is good for our health and can be contagious, so we should laugh more often, either alone or with others.

Developing Our Humanity

Sadly, a serious illness is often the impetus that finally motivates us to focus on the things we should do. In a recent AARP Magazine, Edward Readicker-Henderson writes about how Crohn’s disease brought out the best in him: “Not only was I going to be pleasant to everyone I loved; I thought I’d try something radical and be nice to myself.” He made up his mind that no pain or illness “would ever again stop me from taking care of the people I love. Whatever energy I had, I would give to them, as they had done for me.”

His wife’s reaction to this change was, “Being sick made you human.”

Laughing, loving and forgiving are good ways to be human, to live like we’re dying.—M.J.D.

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