Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More on the Bucket List

I wear the chain I forged in life! I made it link by link and yard by yard! I gartered it on of my own free will and by my own free will, I wore it! — Jacob Marley
Since I first posted on the Bucket List (BL) topic, I’ve discovered that some of my perfectly-healthy friends are trying to discover what might be on their list. While it is possible, I suppose, to guess some of the items (e.g., disown the children, burn the diaries), a person not playing in the End Game is merely guessing, and doing so from a healthy-person mindset.

Give it up. The BL doesn’t work that way. It isn’t something you create but is rather something you’ve spent your whole life creating, like Marley’s chain. It comes to you in its own time and in its own way as part of the process of accepting inevitable death. Items that you are sure today will be on the BL (e.g., that trip to see the pyramids) may not be on the list when it reveals itself to you.

In my case, the List tends to be limited to what it thinks I need to do next but, then, that’s the way my nearsighted mind always worked, so you might be presented all at once with a longer list.

The BL comes to the dying in response to the universal desire for peace of mind, the wellspring of all religion. If given time and ability, working on the BL will provide that peace. Of that I’m sure, because the BL consists almost entirely of that which robs us of peace of mind.

The items come to us not because we want to dispose of them but because we have avoided doing so. Few will be easy. Some won’t even be possible (e.g., too lengthy for the time left, a person involved is dead, resources are lacking). Items are resolved in one of two ways: either by doing what needs to be done or accepting that what needs to be done can never be done. Either way dismisses the item from the BL. Intuitively, a list item is better resolved directly than abandoned as impossible, but either way one can have peace of mind. Either way, the item comes off the BL.

Peace of mind can come only through acceptance. If you have a problem with forgiving yourself, it is not too soon to find a therapist to help you even if you are decades away from dying. I suspect that when the BL appears is not the best time to wrestle with the stern, unforgiving superego of your childhood.

I gave you an example in my first post on the subject, My Bucket List, of something I have had to give up: making peace with my children. Reconciliation may be something I strongly need, and which many may recognize to be important, but it is clear that my children do not want peace or are unable to risk it. So the item comes off my list. If I kept working it, refusing to accept the reality of the loss, other important items necessary to my peace of mind would not get done.

There may also come a time when the bucket list presents "one last time" challenges, some of which are doable, some not. I, for one, in a high-dose steroid fog, wanted to relive the greatest triumph of my Halcyon days, the years when I led a talented team in solving a major problem in practical artificial intelligence for the Department of Defense. I wanted to give an unclassified kick-ass presentation to my favorite defense contractor in the hope that it would resurrect the idea from the hole in which it lies today buried. Much later, after a drug holiday cleared my head of steroids, I realized that a project so highly secret could never be briefed unofficially, and that getting official approval would be an impossible nightmare. Something only a sick, foolish old man, or a BL, would think was reasonable to do: A King Lear fantasy. Ashamed, I called it off and gave it up.

Dealing with the items on the bucket list changes how one sees the world. For example, my house is filled with a lifetime’s accumulation of books. Now, when I see one, even one of my favorites, I ask myself, “Will I ever read this again”? If the answer is no, the book goes to the donation pile (except if it’s one of those I truly love, I’ll keep it to the end regardless). The BL is telling me to simplify my life, jettison the baggage, cut out the already morbid parts, in order to concentrate on the essential.

There is also the relief of giving up lifetime goals. Accepting the unacceptable by giving up a dream does free up psychic energy to do what still can be done. I, for example, want to finish my book but am coming close to giving it up because, without a period of remission, such as I might get from aSCT #2, I may lack the endurance to finish it. Writing is damned difficult: any writer who says otherwise is lying. Giving it up will free up my psyche, removing a source of guilt. The decision may come soon.

But perhaps I can take a last trip to Yellowstone, my favorite park. The bucket list didn’t tell me I needed to go to Yellowstone, but my remaining life is not limited to items on the BL: There is no prohibition against doing what I want to do just so long as I do what I need to do. However, peace of mind comes from resolving the needs, not the wants, so priorities are clear.


  1. Hello, Lon -- Although I am not on a "Bucket List" journey across the country, I have made it a point to see something worthwhile each day so that the day's drive doesn't have any burden to it. (Some of the places I've been you might find interesting.) But since I was making the trip in order to take a leap of faith, I also have had to cull my books, divest myself of "things" I could not possibly fit in the car, and be realistic about what I might or might not either need or use again. It has been cleansing and was prompted in part by my participation in yours and other MM blogs... whether it is an 'end game' determined by an illness (MM or others), none of us really know at what time we will be called to the door, and it has been useful for me to read what you have to say.
    So I thank you... and encourage you to even do those whimsical things, whether on the list or not, because you never know where it might lead you. I have had some interesting adventures during the past two weeks.

  2. Amen to writing being "damned difficult." Yet, you do it so well your blog is always a joy to read.

  3. Somtimes your profound insight makes me take a step back. Thanks for reminding of things like this.


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