What I learned from my late sister’s battle with cancer

I’m just going to come out and say this straight…2019 has basically been the worst year of my life. Whenever I say something along the lines of “God, this day sucks” or “This is the worst day ever,” it’s usually an exaggeration.

This time I really mean it.

My little sister passed away after battling cancer this year. And that honest-to-goodness sucks. You never figure that you’re going to bury family members who are younger than you. It’s been a rough few months for the rest of my family, and this whole experience has me rethinking several of the things I used to think were true.

You don’t always have more time

We never honestly believe that our number’s going to be up tomorrow. Sure, we know “intellectually” that we probably won’t live forever, but we never think that our last day is going to be this day. Or the next day. Or next month. Or even next year.

To many of us, death is an abstract thing that we believe is so far in the future that it’s not even worth thinking about.

Maybe it’s worth thinking about it.

After all, when it comes to the things we want to accomplish, we might say that “I’ll figure it out someday”. We’ll put it off and leave it for our future selves to accomplish. Unfortunately, you never know how many “somedays” you really have. I’d wager most people who died today thought they had at least a few more “somedays”. If there’s something that you want to get done, then make it a priority or it may never get done.

For example, my wife and I always wanted to go to Disneyworld. For years we’ve never taken the time to sit down and make it happen. Maybe I always figured that it would somehow get done on its own. I finally realized that it wouldn’t happen unless I made it happen. So, in the beginning of 2018 my wife and I sat down and the two of us sketched out a plan to go to Disneyworld this summer.

As @stevenmuff puts it…

https://twitter.com/stevenmuff/status/1034518080796405762

(BTW, that isn’t me. But it did make my jaw drop in awe when I read it.)

Some things absolutely do matter…

So, we’ve established that we have a limited amount of “somedays” ahead of us…and that number might be lower than we think. That being said, it’s important to get clear on the things that absolutely do matter. Otherwise you might find yourself waking up one day wondering where all the time went and regretting all the things you never got done.

One of those things that absolutely matter is your human connections with others. No man is an island, and your relationships are one of those few things that truly matter in this world. Give your family and friends a call. Mom, dad, brother, sister, even that one friend you haven’t seen in a while but used to hang out with.

Because you never know when it’s your last chance to talk to them.

We live in a world where being overworked is almost like a badge of honor. In the end, though, no one ever regretted not putting in more hours at the office or felt that they didn’t work enough overtime. It’s the other way around. People regret working so hard that they missed out on all their relationships, just like that old song “Cat’s in the Cradle”.

One of the few other things that matter is what you stand for in this world. How is the world going to be different because you were in it? Do you exist merely to deprive other people of oxygen? Or, are you going to leave the world a better place than you found it? And how?

(By the way, if you couldn’t answer those questions right off the top of your head…don’t worry about it. What you stand for in this world isn’t something you decide overnight. It can take years or even decades to find your life’s purpose. I’m in my late 20’s and I only kinda sorta know what impact I want to make in this world.)

…and some other things absolutely don’t matter

Fame, money, fortune…having it all doesn’t make you immortal. Nor will it fill a hole on the inside where your relationships should be. I learned this when my wife and I took a trip and lived for a week on only what we could fit in a car trunk.

To me, money is a means to an end rather than the end itself. Once you start to have a vague idea of what you want your life’s purpose to be, earning more money can be a great way to help you get there. Earning money just for the sake of earning money, on the other hand, is an endless treadmill that will get you nowhere.

When it comes to relationships, many of those petty disagreements just don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. One of my friends is extremely outspoken when it comes to politics and his views clash with mine. A lot. And I’ve tried to calmly and rationally explain my point of view to him. But to him, his belief in the rationality of his beliefs is just as strong as my belief in the rationality of my beliefs. And that’s just something I’ve come to accept.

He’s not a bad person. He’s just someone doing the best with what he has and who’s just trying to do right by the people he cares about.

(Also…and I can’t tell you exactly why I think this…but I’m pretty sure he has ED. Just saying.)

On the other hand, sometimes you’ll find a relationship that’s just not worth saving. I’ve had a few of these. Over the years, I’ve been backstabbed by several people who I thought were my friends. And—out of some misplaced and naïve optimism—I tried to reach out and repair those relationships…only to receive a bigger knife in the exact same spot. I’ve learned my lesson.

Finally, always remember that many of our problems aren’t as bad as we think they are. Especially when they revolve around those unimportant things such as money, fame, and fortune. I’ve had many bad days at my job…and sure, they feel absolutely terrible in the moment…but I’m sure my late sister would love being able to experience those problems again.

Living an honest life

This year has been terrible so far, and I think it’s safe for me to say that it’s been the worst I’ve ever experienced. It’s also made me rethink a lot of my life. After all, we don’t always have as much time as we think we do. Because of that, it’s important to ignore all the things that don’t matter and get clear on the things that do.

If you’re not 100% sure on what matters or what you want your life to stand for…that’s okay. I’m not completely there either. Getting to that point takes years and years. Decades even.

And that makes today a great day to start moving in that direction.

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