I have a complicated relationship with the idea of a bucket list.
Okay, so, first? The name ‘bucket list’ kind of bugs me. I can’t really pinpoint why. It feels a little disrespectful, I think, but that doesn’t make sense as I am PERFECTLY willing to make all kinds of jokes about my condition and I’m notorious for not taking it as seriously as some people might like. Maybe it just feels a bit…man, I don’t know. Whatever.
Everyone seems to assume that the moment you are told you’re terminal, the first thing you do (after you cry a lot) is run out and make a list of things you want to do before that happens and start working to check things off. I’ve had a LOT of questions about the sort of things on my bucket list. But here’s the thing – I DID NOT HAVE ONE. I did not immediately start figuring out what life experiences I wanted to have before I died, I was FAR too busy figuring out how I’m going to LIVE. I have a lot of plans to make, and I’m still dealing with that whole “my life is suddenly very finite” idea. Figuring out grand adventures was honestly the absolute last thing on my mind. I had research to do, and people to tell, and disability to work on, and medical appointments to go to, and a house full of chaos besides. I have no time at work to think about these things. The idea of setting aside some time specifically to think about “what would I like to do before I die” is bizarre to me, and I’m not the sort of person who thinks about that as a matter of course. A lot of people have some vague idea, or have that one thing they want to accomplish – my main babe Danielle wants to see Australia, badly. I didn’t ever really have things like that. There’s been a lot of “this would be really cool to see” but there’s never been a primal PULL to accomplish anything before I die. Nothing I need to have done so I can consider mine a life well-lived.
The idea of a bucket list has brought up another major point: I really suck at accepting nice things. Whether it’s a compliment or an extravagant gift, I am easily overwhelmed and hesitant to accept. It’s likely a combination of growing up extraordinarily poor and having crushingly low self-esteem for most of my life (and still, to a large extent). There’s a large dose of “I don’t feel like I deserve this”. There’s a large part of “there are other people who definitely deserve this more than I do.” So when people have asked to help make some bucket list items come true, I’m like a deer in headlights. One friend has offered to fly me to Maryland to see her and then daytrip to New York for an honest to God Broadway show and fancy dinner. Another was asking how I’d feel about an international trip, because she is totally willing to take me on one, do I have a passport? And I’m overwhelmed. Because that’s a lot of money. A lot. More than I would probably ever justify spending on myself, even if I had it. So I’m very tempted – it is in my NATURE – to politely decline.
My friends know me very well though, and I was preemptively asked to consider their position. They have a friend who is dying, they want to make one good memory with her before that happens. And they have the means to make it an extravagant memory. So that, when she dies, they have no regrets over time lost and opportunities wasted. Do I really want to deny them that? Won’t I consider how they feel, and realize this is as much about them as it is about me?
…And I can’t fault that. If it were anyone but me, I’d totally be on board, I get it. But being on the receiving end of that feels strange.
I certainly don’t feel like I deserve magical golden presents. And though I’d love to see Italy and Japan and New York, it’s not likely that I’d travel there, even if I had the rest of my natural lifespan. So why do I suddenly get the option to do these things just because I’m going to die sooner? Why does ALS equal a ticket to New York when there wasn’t going to be a ticket to New York in my future otherwise? How does THAT work? Consolation prize? SORRY ABOUT THE SLOW DEATH, HAVE SOME PASTA IN ITALY.
There’s also a battle within me of pragmatism. Part of me wants grand adventures, yes, but there’s a large part of me that just kinda…wants to continue to live life normally. Take a vacation occasionally, sure. But nothing so extravagant. And otherwise stay the course. Go to work. Be as normal as possible for as long as possible. Maybe that’s a form of denial, but ALS has already completely disrupted my life and I feel like I need to mitigate that disruption. So, suddenly becoming a jetsetter is weird for that reason, too.
So no, I didn’t really have a bucket list. I was given that as a homework assignment Wednesday, and whaddyaknow, there’s a website for it. So I made one, and I’m continuing to add to it. I was told specifically to only include fun things. “sell the house” and “work out disability benefits” do not go on that list; there’s a separate ‘shit I gotta get done’ list for that stuff. This was to be a list of everything I can think of that would be awesome to see/do/make/have before shuffling off this mortal coil, no matter how unlikely. So, here it is so far:
I’ll keep adding to it as I think of things. It’s a work in progress; it’s hard to think about this for too long without spiraling down, for one, and there’s so so so much cool stuff to do, how do I figure out what should be on this list? The next step will be to figure out what’s actually feasible, and then sort that smaller list in order of physical demand so I can do that shit first, before it becomes too problematic. I was told I should make that list public, so that friends of mine could sign up to be buddies for adventures – like, “You want to go to Yellowstone? Awesome! I do, too! I’ll go with you and that way it’s definitely going to happen!” And they can choose the events that would be most meaningful to them to participate in. Not everyone gives a shit about being there when I get a tattoo, but for other people that might be a meaningful moment to share with me. Maybe one of my friends has also always wanted to learn how to pin insects.
Annnnnnnnnd then there’s the idea that’s been floated by me by a few friends of putting up some kind of donation thing, so that friends can outright sponsor a bucket list item, or donate towards one. And that also feels weird. Again, there’s the “I’m not worthy” part, and there’s a chunk of “your money could be spent making YOUR life more awesome, you should do that” or “ALS research needs the money more than I need a new tattoo”. But it’s not about ALS research, or potential vacations, or any of that. It’s about the crushing sense of helplessness they feel, and this is one thing they can do. Something solid. Something concrete. Something that makes their friend’s life a little brighter for as long as she continues to have it.
Mehhhhhhhhhhhhhh if I keep talking maybe I’ll convince myself. I’m still not buying it. I’m hardwired not to. I’m trying to be more gracious about accepting help when I need it. I’m trying to teach myself to see that accepting these happy things will make me better at accepting help for the not happy things. If I can get over myself and accept a trip to NYC, I can get over myself and accept a hand taking a shower later.
But overall, I am grateful. So, so grateful, that I have friends who want to do these things for me. I’m grateful to the universe that they’re in a position to be able to. They’re lovely people, and I’m glad they’re doing well. I’m grateful that these people were put in my reality and that they remained in my orbit. And I’m overwhelmed with the love and support everyone’s shown me in their enthusiasm to make this list happen.
I know the best, most awesome, most generous, most loving people. And I adore them. I am a lucky girl.