You have a terminal condition. Now what?

You’ve just been diagnosed with a terminal condition. I’ve just diagnosed you.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I have no knowledge of your medical history, and possess only a scant understanding of my own, yet I know this: You’re going to die. You might have six months or six hundred, I’m not sure. So what do you do with the time you have left?

That’s the question I struggle with, not just at this moment, but continually. Continuously, really. Yet, for all the reflection, as the sun sets on each day I’m stuck for a satisfactory answer.

I’m not passing this off as an original concept. Recently, an episode of one of my favorite television shows posited correctly that “each life comes with a death sentence.” That message has been underscored in books ranging from the supernatural fiction genre to self-help tomes to, I’m certain, a surfeit of “classics,” yet the answer on how to translate this truth into important action eludes me.

In addition to struggling to pay bills, fretting about a lack of adequate retirement savings and being vexed by brand-new yet still somehow out-of-round tires, I’m troubled by my own ability to “get on with it.” At this age, I believe I should have figured things out by now, right?

I mourn the money, education and time I’ve squandered, but mourning has to be restricted to a defined period. It can’t last forever. Each day you, and certainly I, must resolve to spend the majority — if not the entirety — of our days doing only those things that make us the people we want to become. You’ve got to fight fear, indolence and a legacy of self-defeating habits and, to quote John Paul Jones, I have not yet begun to fight.

But our time on this planet is coming to an end. We’ve just been diagnosed with a terminal condition.

Now what?

4 thoughts on “You have a terminal condition. Now what?

  1. You write about things I think of every day, especially as I go to work at a job that’s as good as it can be, but isn’t what I really want to do. What I really want to do is retire, do highly satisfying volunteer work, decorate my house, cook meals that don’t involve microwaving because it’s fast, read a book for more than 15 minutes, and exercise. Instead I must work to pay student loans (because returning to school late in life was going to get me a better paying job – right), and save more for retirement. So that’s the state of things and since I can’t change that, I work hard every day to be positive and try to have some fun. This upbeat attitude works. But if I die before I get to retire, I’m going to be very angry.

    • Debby, check out Krysten’s One Fun Thing A Week concept (in the reply below yours). I’m also wondering whether you could somehow combine your yen for meaningful volunteer work with your current postion: Lot’s of companies have a charitable giving arm or some such thing; what if you identified something you care about and see if you could spearhead some sort of corporate sponsorship, service day or whatever (like Sterling Hager, Inc. did with the Fragile X Foundation road race)?

      I agree, though, that attitude is, if not everything, at least 90 percent. Thanks for your thoughtful reply!

  2. Hi FJ,
    Great blog for thought. It’s so hard sometimes to look past the daily drag that you lose sight of the fact that minutes are ticking away like a time bomb.

    One way around this dilemma is what I refer to as the One Fun Thing of the Week (TM). If you can come up with your OFTW, then at least you are spending time the way YOU want to on your terms — beating the clock, per se. For me this weekend, it was cycling the Eastern Trail from Kennebunk to Saco, Maine with Mike. It could be painting a room you’ve neglected (in my case, for years), renting a movie you’ve always wanted to see, or even writing a blog.

    It also means turning down those time sucks that you think you shouldn’t. I chastise myself repeatedly for watching TV repeats I don’t care about, engaging in overly lengthy phone conversations, and blindly surfing the Internet in search of really, nothing. But I also don’t feel guilty about turning down baby shower invitations, or invitations to anything, really, that will eat up my time.

    • Krysten, I like the OFTW concept and do try to observe that, even if only as an exercise to shake myself out of my comfort zone. Thanks for reading and replying!

      Also, don’t feel too guilty about watching reruns … apparently they can be rejuvenating. I don’t know if you take the Boston Sunday Globe, but check out this week’s “Uncommon Knowledge” column.

      Essentially, the piece says that watching reruns helps refresh one’s mental faculties in the face of a difficult task or puzzle. So give my regards to Mr. Roper next time you stumble across “Three’s Company!”

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