Posted by: Kate | August 27, 2008


So, long day at work, woeful about working when my kids are home on their last day of summer, angst-filled about this week containing back-to-school and back-to-dentist-for-me, tired after a busy weekend, kids jittery and spazzed about school, everybody talking just a little too loud… just a jarring evening.  And I finally sit down to check my email, and I have this waiting from my mother:

Hi Kate,

I had to share a diagnosis and its short-term prognosis (2- 6 weeks) with a client I took for a CT scan yesterday and her family today. The client (my ECT lady) is unable to understand anything except that she doesn’t feel well. The sister who lives locally cried then went to meet her friends for lunch and the other sister who lives in Texas doesn’t know if she should cancel her travel plans for a month vacation in Hawaii. It’s not my place to judge their actions. They each need to do what they feel is right for themselves. I’m curious. What, if anything, would you do if you were told you had a month left to live?


Heavy stuff.

As quickly as I could, because I didn’t want it to be rehearsed or overthought, I replied:


A month left to live.

Well, I start writing letters and lists for the kids and Willem – all the little things I want them to know about but don’t want to have the talk about just yet.

Telling Emily that she doesn’t have to dress provocatively to get boys’ attention and that the girls who are seen as the smart ones get an easier time from the professors than the girls who seem lazy or party-obsessed. Reminding her that being a good listener is even more important than being smart. Asking her to smile at strangers, without telling them her life story. Telling her, over and over, how much I love her.

Telling Jacob to always hold the door open for his dates and that it’s always OK to just watch for a while instead of always diving in head-first. Assuring him that everything matches with blue jeans, and that taking care of your clothes and looking like you didn’t sleep in your hamper and just crawl out in whatever fell on your body shows people that you care about yourself. Hoping that he’ll be as sweet and involved with his kids as his dad is with him. Telling him, over and over, how much I love him.

Reminding Willem to keep bringing home flowers on random days just-because and to get everyone in counseling post-haste and long-term. Assuring him that our marriage is one of the smartest things I ever did. Begging him not to let his mother get too involved with the kids just because I’m out of the way. And telling him, over and over, how much I love him.

Other letters will get written, too – my right hand will be twice as big as my left hand by the end of the month – to my family members and closest friends.

Then I quit work, taking a moment to politely inform everyone of their precise impacts upon me – positive and negative.

And if we’re still living in this house, then I go rent a beach house on the Cape or Martha’s Vineyard, in a credit card under my name only, to spend as much time as possible just being with friends and family in a leisurely, comfortable, beautiful setting. The house will be big enough to let people stay in a guest room or crash on the couch if they want, and keep it all very open and as relaxed as possible. If we’ve moved by then, I hope that my next house is big enough and beachy enough that I won’t need to rent a beach house.

I don’t have regrets. I’ve seen some amazing places and done some fantastic things, and of course there’s always more I want to do. But I have no nagging wishes or lingering doubts about my life.

I’ll still be batshit pissed, though, getting cheated out of the rest of my life. Not seeing my babies become big kids, and not seeing my big kids become gawky teenagers and then, someday, reasonably functional adults? Totally unfair. I’ll cry a lot, because I’ll have earned it.

But I won’t pack my days full of last-minute activities and trips and events. I don’t need that.

Your turn.

Love you,

So, yeah. Intense.

What’s on your list?


  1. I like your list. But what I like more is that you whipped it off right away.

    I’d have to ponder on this one for a while.

  2. For not being rehearsed or overthought, that is an amazing response.

    I would definitely write everyone letters – one for each birthday if I could manage it. Then I’d pull the kids out of school and husband away from work and spend the month with my family and our friends. It wouldn’t even need to be at the beach, but that would certainly be nice.

    That’s my non-rehearsed answer.

  3. I think I may err in the direction of thinking about this sort of thing a little too much just all on my own, sometimes… so while I didn’t have a script at-hand to fall back on, I did have some ideas that have percolated already. Morbid, or well-prepared? You decide.

  4. What’s weird, is I was just thinking about this. I have a morbid streak, but I also think it’s common to think about when you have little ones.
    I too, would write letters for my children. Sean wouldn’t remember me, and even Ryan might not. Tommy’s memories would fade over the years, too, and I wonder what he would remember. So I would write them, and tell them that even though they wouldn’t remember me–I would always be a part of them, and to always remember they were loved–intensely–by their mother. I would stay in my home, though. It’s so awful to contemplate.

  5. I, too, have thought about this already.

    There would be the tears, and the instructions, and the brazilian I Love Yous.

    I would definitely write letters, because I think there’s something so intensely personal about them and the care the relationship created by the author and the recipient, and I’d want people to have that.

    I’d also record videos so my son could get a different type of experience of me than he could glean from letters. And though there would be some personally directed messages, there’d be more silliness and family fun and togetherness than life instructions.

    There would be anger and regret and pride and contentment and frustration and joy and, hopefully, peace.

    And there would be the legacy of my life that is my son, and that is the love I’ve had with my family and friends.

    I’d much rather know than not know.

  6. I’d write letters too (I already wrote 1 just in case something crazy happened and I never got the chance to say good-bye.) I would also love to take TONS of pictures of me with the kids & hubby, doing fun and amazing things. I would want a few pictures of all of us together andsmiles on ou faces for them to cherish my last times with them a they grow older. I would also find something special to give them to carry and remember I’m always a part of them and they know what I would say because I am there too.
    From there on I would wing-it. I felt sorry for myself in other “mishaps” of life so I would try to not cry too much but embrace the moments for those left behind.

  7. A Month? I wouldn’t waste my time on anger. I’d do the Cape thing too and I guess I’d let the Y chromosomes come. I’d have a very long talk with Riley because he will listen and it’s stuff he’ll need to know through college and his 20’s.

    I’d invite my 15 blog friends from the NE area to come visit in person. And my cousin from Ontario.
    (all related kids welcome)

    I’d forgive any lasting grudges I hold for my dad, SIL, brothers.

    Walk on the beach, enjoy the ocean, visit Universities in MA I’ve always wanted to visit. Die among friends. Go see Brennan in heaven. 🙂

    I too am morbid, it’s the nature of deep thinkers.

  8. Montana

  9. Holy crap. I’m having a mini-freakout, b/c you know from my blog last week that this issue has been fresh in my mind lately too. I read stuff like this and think, “OMG, what if this is a sign?” And then I talk myself off the ledge, feeling dumb for even having the thought in the first place … and even dumber for admitting it here.

    The exact thing happened recently to an ex’s mom (who hated me while we were dating). She didn’t feel well, put off going to the dr., and by the time they did, she had cancer so far advanced that they gave her 2 wks to live. I think she lived 5 or 6.

    Letters for me too. That’s what I’d do if I got the unthinkable news. Lots of letters, in my own handwriting not typed, so that Maggie could one day read for herself how I feel about her.

  10. I really like your response to your Mom, Kate.

    I’ve been thinking about this topic recently, too. The thought of being given weeks to live proves almost too much to bear for an incessant worrier like myself, but I’ve always been the type to expect the worst in hopes of being pleasantly surprised by a positive outcome. I guess that’s why sunny optimists always piss me off – how can they go through life being so unprepared?! ! 😉

    Anyway, in my “goodbye” box, I’d want to include handwritten recipe cards. I’m an inveterate recipe and cookbook collector, and in my family food=love, so I’d want to ensure that part of my legacy to my daughter would be the ablity to enjoy making the same dishes for her family that I make for her, my mom made for me, and so on. Along with the stories of where the recipes came from and when they were enjoyed, they’re just as much part of her family history as her genes.

    My husband John (a fan of your blog who thought I’d enjoy it too, and I do!) bought me a book a couple of years ago called “The Story of a Lifetime” – a sort of keepsake journal with hundreds of pages of prompts in which you write out your life story. I’ve been reticent to start it, but it’s one thing I’d also certainly complete for Una if I knew I wasn’t long for this world.

    Now, I’ll just have to try and calm my “well, what if you go in a car accident tomorrow and haven’t done anything yet?!” voice. Unh. Where’s my favorite pen?

  11. […] Less Regret August 30, 2008 — BeThisWay Kate at One More Thing wrote a thoughtful post about what to do if you discover you have only one month to live, and one of the things she said […]

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