14 November 2014

Living with an Expiration Date

After reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS over a year ago, I promised myself that I would never read another "cancer book." Too difficult. Too personal. Hits a little too close to home. But Julie Murphy's SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY was too intriguing to pass up. The story of a girl who, upon being diagnosed with leukemia, makes (and completes) a revenge bucket list, only to discover that she's not dying after all? That would absolutely be my luck, if I ever tried to do the whole revenge thing. (I do have a bucket list - started when they discovered my brain tumor - but there's nothing even remotely revenge-related on it.)

So I broke my self-imposed rule and read the book. And of course it set me thinking all kinds of thoughts and pondering life. As books like this are bound to do.

The one part of the story that really stuck with me (not an exact quote - I didn't think to mark the passage at the time, and I know I'm not quite strong enough mentally to read back through to find it in the novel) was when Alice makes an off-hand remark about living life with an expiration date. I absolutely understand this sentiment. I feel this way a lot. I can't count the times I've lay in bed at night, staring at the ceiling and wondering if my family will be okay when I go. Most of the time, I know they will be. They're strong. They're amazing. And even when I go, I don't plan on going far. We're a family forever.

Still, that "expiration date" is scary sometimes.

A couple of months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I didn't turn on the light, because I never turn on the light when I wake in the night. I've never had to. In fact, my nighttime senses have always been sharp enough that I can find my way around in the dark even when I'm not in my own house. And as soon as there's any kind of light shining, my brain decides sleepy-time is over for the night, even if it's only one in the morning.

So turning on my bedside lamp? Yeah, that thought didn't even cross my mind.

Until I took a wrong turn and fell over my writing area in the corner of my room. I landed on my "writer's block" - the pencil holder where I keep my sharpened pencils standing at attention ready for service when I'm writing a new manuscript - and then I and the entire contents of my little writing table went crashing to the floor.

My husband woke up at the sound of the crash and was immediately concerned about the injuries I'd sustained. A valid concern, especially since I had a couple of good-sized gashes in my leg from those broken pencils.

Me? I barely thought about the physical injuries. Instead, I was all shades of nervous about my brain. "I've never lost my way in the dark before," I kept saying. "That doesn't happen to me." And of course, I started imagining all kinds of worst-case scenarios. (Let me just say, I'm REALLY good at worst-case scenarios.)

My sweet husband, always the voice of reason, finally convinced me after two days of fretting, that I was getting too worked up over this. "It was dark. You tripped. That happens to people. A lot. Even people without brain tumors. Because people don't see very well in the dark."

I finally conceded that he was right.

Took a deep breath.

And promptly walked straight into a wall. In broad daylight. Because my feet simply decided to turn and take me on a path perpendicular to the one I was trying to walk, and it had nothing to do with being tired or losing my balance or getting distracted. My brain just had a blip where "walk straight" got totally mixed up with "turn left," and even though I could see that I was walking toward the wall instead of down the hall I intended to walk down, I couldn't make my feet move in the direction I wanted them to. Or even stop moving when I saw the wall approaching. (I did put my hands out and stop myself instead of crashing into the wall face-first.)

Yeah. Sometimes my brain does some stupid things.

And sometimes, it's terrifying.

Sometimes, I worry about that "expiration date."

 Because unlike the canister of chocolate milk mix in my pantry, I don't have a "best if used by" date stamped on my backside. I have no idea when my "expiration date" is coming. It could be tomorrow, or next week, or twenty years from now. And while I hope it's twenty or thirty or more years away, that little "what if?" monster keeps whispering "it could be tomorrow."

But isn't that the point? None of us will live forever. That's the nature of life on earth. We all have an expiration date. And none of us knows when that date will be.

So instead of worrying about that day when I might not be there to kiss my kiddos goodnight, I'll give them extra kisses tonight and every night, as long as they'll let me. Instead of worrying about what might happen if I'm not there for my daughter's senior prom, I'll celebrate every Princess Dress-Up moment with her now. And instead of hiding from the camera because I'm not as thin as I once was, or I'm having a bad hair day, or I didn't put on any makeup, I'm going to ham it up and leave as many memories of laughter and fun as I can.

I have no plans to die today. But if I did, I want my family and friends to know that I lived every moment up until the last. And that every moment, for better or worse, was totally worth it.


  1. This is such an amazing post. And what good advice--don't worry about that end date, just fill all the dates you DO have with amazing experiences.

    Thank you so much for sharing!