September 25, 2014

My Father has a few Days, Weeks or Months… If he’s Lucky. ~ Marla McMahon, PsyD

Photo: Dr. Marla McMahon

What if you were given just a few weeks to live?

If you were faced with terminal illness and didn’t have much time left?

This week, my father was given this devastating prognosis: days, weeks, a few months if he’s lucky. After struggling against and battling cancer for the last 12 years, the doctor asked if he had any final wishes. Any place that he’d like to visit?

As he lay in his hospital room, I asked my father if I could take him somewhere. Maybe the ocean or mountains? Perhaps to Lake Tahoe or Yosemite? I would have driven him wherever he chose.

Instead, he sadly shook his head. “No, I can’t leave the bed. If I could, all I would want is to take my dogs on a walk around the neighborhood.” He just wanted to be outside walking with his two cocker spaniels, working in his garden, making his famous salsa; doing the other ordinary things that he used to do. Doing those simple things he often took for granted. Being present to the fresh air, the trees, and the aliveness of the day. Being out of the hospital bed and back to normalcy.

He just wanted his life back.

I guess one can only speculate about what they’d like to do during their last days. Some request traveling to places that they’ve always wanted to visit. Others request doing something completely adventurous like jumping out of a plane. Given this circumstance, I think I’d want to run away to the sea and go visit those places on earth that bring me the most peace. Be surrounded by my loved ones.

I guess without being faced with this decision, we don’t really know what we’d want. Perhaps, like my father, it would be the opportunity to do those ordinary things, the things we often take for granted just one more time. Like watching the kids play soccer, eating ice cream on a sunny day, and walking the dog around the neighborhood.

Having worked with terminally ill patients, I know my father’s choice is not unique. But what would it really be like to live these ordinary moments one last time? Could I even face those ordinary moments that make life so extraordinary? What would it be like to take a shower, make breakfast, commute to work, or put the kids to bed knowing that I would not be physically capable of ever doing these things again?

After reflecting on this, I appreciate the wisdom of my father’s choice. Perhaps, I would not run away to the ocean. I would like to believe that I too had the courage to live those ordinary moments again for the last time.

I’d like to think my life now with all of its stresses, complexities, and ordinary moments would be the life I would choose again.

Thanks to my father for reminding me to live each day to the fullest by appreciating the ordinary, extraordinary moments. As I walk my own dog around the neighborhood, I will always appreciate how lucky I am that I can do this ordinary act.

In this I will forever be reminded of my father.

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Apprentice Editor: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: courtesy of the author

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Dr. Marla McMahon