Did you make New Year's resolutions? I didn't. Not new ones, anyway. Instead, I simply reminded myself of the decisions I made just about two years ago, after my husband's death from pancreatic cancer.
At the time, I was asked what advice I might have for someone facing a similar situation. I hesitated. I'm no expert at cancer caregiving, and I'm certainly not a grief counselor. But I did, ultimately, come up with what I call five "dos" -- five ways of living that I make a conscious effort to maintain all year, and then recommit to at the New Year. They're not the typical lose weight, get more exercise variety type resolutions; but rather an approach to living a life of joy that grew out of the painful preparation for my husband's death.
I share these five "dos" (and a do-over I've since added because really, everyone deserves at least one do-over!), now, at the start of 2013, only with the hope of giving hope and helping someone else find the courage and strength to believe that, while life as they know it is over, the road they're embarking on can be beautiful, hopeful and happy. Life can still be filled with sunny days, love and yes, laughter.
You know the expression "Sometimes you've just gotta laugh?" My feeling is, most of the time, if not all of the time, would be better.
The Five "Dos"
1. Love. Never miss the chance to tell someone you love them. Your mom, your kids, your spouse, the hair stylist who fixed the dye job you thought you could do yourself, the friend who de-skunked your dog so you wouldn't come home to it after a long day at the hospital. Life is short. If you love someone, tell them.
2. Listen. The little voice telling you to buy the shoes and the bag, get the Goth black manicure and learn to ride a horse? That's the one to listen to. You can always take the shoes and the bag back, the polish will last ten days, tops, and as long as the little voice isn't suggesting your ride bareback (and if it is, I suggest you stop putting Bailey's in your breakfast coffee), go for it.
3. Leap. Maybe you've always wanted to see the Amalfi coast or try stand-up comedy. Maybe you're itching to ditch your corporate gig to run a tiki bar or write the great American novel. It doesn't matter what you want to do, just that you do it. Don't wait for the time to be right, for someone else to give you permission or for all the pieces to be in place. The stars will never be a hundred percent aligned so leap, as the saying goes, and build your wings on the way down.
4. Let go. Anger, guilt, resentment, perfectionism, and shame are all crippling, soul-sucking emotions. Forgive others. Forgive yourself. And for Pete's sake, stop trying to be perfect. Flaws are the new black. Pass it on.
5. Laugh. If you can't fix it, kill it, cure it or eradicate it from the face of the earth, you can laugh at it. And you should. People who laugh a lot tend to live longer. It helps. It heals. It makes the whole "life's a bitch" thing more bearable. Trust me on this.
And One Do-over...
Not laughing, loving, listening, leaping and letting go sooner. It took my husband's illness and subsequent death to make me realize how little time we really have, and how crucial it is to be present and thankful for each moment. I don't regret not getting to this point sooner (particularly since regret is one of those aforementioned soul-sucking, crippling emotions I urge all of us to kiss off). I'm just happy to be here now.