“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
“Life’s a journey, not a destination”.
These were exactly the kind of quotes that I used to roll my eyes at. For me, they belonged on a laminated poster, peeling off the wall of my Matric guidance counsellor. Throw in a picture of a beautiful sunset, a black and white portrait of a sports star, or a mountain range covered in snow, and you’re pretty much describing one third of the first year students’ rooms I saw at varsity.
But that all changed on Saturday.
On Saturday my wife said goodbye to her stepdad for the last time, after a year of fighting Leukemia. I say stepdad, but this is the man who raised her. He made her school lunches, taught her how to ride a bike and – I’m guessing – reacted to her first boyfriend like an over-protective bear. The man was enormous and I know he scared the shit out of me when I first met him. (Nothing a homemade butter chicken and a few beers didn’t sort out though.) Our relationship went from strength to strength from there. Indeed, when I proposed, it was his house that I drove to to ask for permission.
For a year I have watched my wife and my mother-in-law suffering. They have been victims too. That’s the thing about this fucking disease; it affects far more people than the patient. It affects everyone they know. Everyone they love. Both women have been as strong as possible. Both are not strong enough. Not yet, anyway.
Over the last few weeks, as things deteriorated, I have had lots of time to reflect. Hospital cafeterias aren’t good for much but they’re good for thinking. And those same cheesy expressions, previously meaningless to me, suddenly took on new substance. The exact phrases that used to sound so lame now carry the weight I need. Because there has to be a silver lining to this agony. Surely?
The only one I can see is to stop taking life for granted.
If you have an overseas trip that you’ve always wanted to go on, book it. If you have a bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion, drink it today.
Today is that special occasion.
Tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Take an extra 30 minutes in the morning to play with your kids. Walk your dogs on the beach. Phone your parents. Hike up a mountain. Enjoy the views. Dress up and book the fancy restaurant. Eat the second piece of cake. Drink the second beer. Worry less about work. Worry more about family.
I’ve learnt a lot through this thing. I’ve learnt that humans are stronger than we realise. And I’ve learnt that humans are weaker than we realise. Nobody should have to endure what I’ve seen two generations of women go through over the last year. But they have each other to lean on. If you have that person, make sure they know it.
We lost a great man this weekend. But hopefully with that loss we can gain some perspective too. Life is there for the living. I drained two pints at Den Anker and ate as many mussels as I could on Sunday. I’d normally be starting to plan my work week, worrying about deliveries, deadlines, clients, orders and basically how I’m going to carry on making enough money to keep a start-up business afloat. Instead, I had a drink. And a laugh. Another cliche crossed my mind… “It’s what Ron would’ve wanted”. Finally, finally I think I know what people mean when they say that. You need to feel it to understand.