This has been going around social media for a while:
The images here of Holly Butcher don’t convey what’s happening inside her body. Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, is killing her. At 27, Butcher was facing the end of her life. Before she died, Butcher wrote a letter explaining what she was experiencing. When she died last week, her parents published her letter.
“It’s a strange thing to realize and accept your mortality at 26 years young. It’s just one of those things you ignore. The days tick by and you just expect they will keep on coming; Until the unexpected happens. I always imagined myself growing old, wrinkled and grey- most likely caused by the beautiful family (lots of kiddies) I planned on building with the love of my life. I want that so bad it hurts.
“That’s the thing about life; It is fragile, precious and unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right.
“I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life. I am happy.. I owe that to my loved ones. But the control is out of my hands.
“I haven’t started this ‘note before I die’ so that death is feared – I like the fact that we are mostly ignorant to its inevitability … Except when I want to talk about it and it is treated like a ‘taboo’ topic that will never happen to any of us … That’s been a bit tough. I just want people to stop worrying so much about the small, meaningless stresses in life and try to remember that we all have the same fate after it all so do what you can to make your time feel worthy and great, minus the bullshit.
“I have dropped lots of my thoughts below as I have had a lot of time to ponder life these last few months. Of course it’s the middle of the night when these random things pop in my head most!
“Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months), just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is annoying but try not to carry on about it and negatively effect other people’s days.
“Once you do that, get out there and take a freaking big breath of that fresh Aussie air deep in your lungs, look at how blue the sky is and how green the trees are; It is so beautiful. Think how lucky you are to be able to do just that – breathe.
“You might have got caught in bad traffic today, or had a bad sleep because your beautiful babies kept you awake, or your hairdresser cut your hair too short. Your new fake nails might have got a chip, your boobs are too small, or you have cellulite on your arse and your belly is wobbling.
“Let all that shit go.. I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go. It is all SO insignificant when you look at life as a whole. I’m watching my body waste away right before my eyes with nothing I can do about it and all I wish for now is that I could have just one more Birthday or Christmas with my family, or just one more day with my partner and dog. Just one more.
“I hear people complaining about how terrible work is or about how hard it is to exercise – Be grateful you are physically able to. Work and exercise may seem like such trivial things … until your body doesn’t allow you to do either of them.
“I tried to live a healthy life, in fact, that was probably my major passion. Appreciate your good health and functioning body- even if it isn’t your ideal size. Look after it and embrace how amazing it is. Move it and nourish it with fresh food. Don’t obsess over it.
“Remember there are more aspects to good health than the physical body.. work just as hard on finding your mental, emotional and spiritual happiness too. That way you might realise just how insignificant and unimportant having this stupidly portrayed perfect social media body really is.. While on this topic, delete any account that pops up on your news feeds that gives you any sense of feeling shit about yourself. Friend or not.. Be ruthless for your own well-being.
“Be grateful for each day you don’t have pain and even the days where you are unwell with man flu, a sore back or a sprained ankle, accept it is shit but be thankful it isn’t life threatening and will go away.
“Whinge less, people! .. And help each other more.
“Give, give, give. It is true that you gain more happiness doing things for others than doing them for yourself. I wish I did this more. Since I have been sick, I have met the most incredibly giving and kind people and been the receiver of the most thoughtful and loving words and support from my family, friends and strangers; More than I could I ever give in return. I will never forget this and will be forever grateful to all of these people.
“It is a weird thing having money to spend at the end.. when you’re dying. It’s not a time you go out and buy material things that you usually would, like a new dress. It makes you think how silly it is that we think it is worth spending so much money on new clothes and ‘things’ in our lives.
“Buy your friend something kind instead of another dress, beauty product or jewellery for that next wedding. 1. No-one cares if you wear the same thing twice 2. It feels good. Take them out for a meal, or better yet, cook them a meal. Shout their coffee. Give/ buy them a plant, a massage or a candle and tell them you love them when you give it to them.
“Value other people’s time. Don’t keep them waiting because you are shit at being on time. Get ready earlier if you are one of those people and appreciate that your friends want to share their time with you, not sit by themselves, waiting on a mate. You will gain respect too! Amen sister.
“This year, our family agreed to do no presents and despite the tree looking rather sad and empty (I nearly cracked Christmas Eve!), it was so nice because people didn’t have the pressure of shopping and the effort went into writing a nice card for each other. Plus imagine my family trying to buy me a present knowing they would probably end up with it themselves.. strange! It might seem lame but those cards mean more to me than any impulse purchase could. Mind you, it was also easier to do in our house because we had no little kiddies there. Anyway, moral of the story- presents are not needed for a meaningful Christmas. Moving on.
“Use your money on experiences.. Or at least don’t miss out on experiences because you spent all your money on material shit.
“Put in the effort to do that day trip to the beach you keep putting off. Dip your feet in the water and dig your toes in the sand. Wet your face with salt water.
“Get amongst nature.
“Try just enjoying and being in moments rather than capturing them through the screen of your phone. Life isn’t meant to be lived through a screen nor is it about getting the perfect photo.. enjoy the bloody moment, people! Stop trying to capture it for everyone else.
“Random rhetorical question. Are those several hours you spend doing your hair and make up each day or to go out for one night really worth it? I’ve never understood this about females 🤔.
“Get up early sometimes and listen to the birds while you watch the beautiful colours the sun makes as it rises.
“Listen to music.. really listen. Music is therapy. Old is best.
“Cuddle your dog. Far out, I will miss that.
“Talk to your friends. Put down your phone. Are they doing okay?
“Travel if it’s your desire, don’t if it’s not.
“Work to live, don’t live to work.
“Seriously, do what makes your heart feel happy.
“Eat the cake. Zero guilt.
“Say no to things you really don’t want to do.
“Don’t feel pressured to do what other people might think is a fulfilling life.. you might want a mediocre life and that is so okay.
“Tell your loved ones you love them every time you get the chance and love them with everything you have.
“Also, remember if something is making you miserable, you do have the power to change it – in work or love or whatever it may be. Have the guts to change. You don’t know how much time you’ve got on this earth so don’t waste it being miserable. I know that is said all the time but it couldn’t be more true.
“Anyway, that’s just this one young gals life advice. Take it or leave it, I don’t mind!
“Oh and one last thing, if you can, do a good deed for humanity (and myself) and start regularly donating blood. It will make you feel good with the added bonus of saving lives. I feel like it is something that is so overlooked considering every donation can save 3 lives! That is a massive impact each person can have and the process really is so simple.
“Blood donation (more bags than I could keep up with counting) helped keep me alive for an extra year – a year I will be forever grateful that I got to spend it here on Earth with my family, friends and dog. A year I had some of the greatest times of my life.
“…’Til we meet again.
I have never, thankfully, faced a life-threatening illness. (Unless my 1983 appendicitis would have failed to have been diagnosed, my appendix would have burst, and no one would have done anything about it.) It’s undeniably tragic to die before you have had a chance to live, and it’s even more tragic to be the parents of someone who dies that young. (Long-time readers know I had an older brother who died before I was born.)
Perhaps because of my apparent lifelong effort to interject “yeah, but” into everything, I have to disagree with a lot of this. (Why do I feel compelled to rebut something a terminally-ill young woman wrote? Because I’m that way, I guess, the explanation why, in addition to being a journalists, for the headline.) For instance:
“Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months) …” (I assume the G in “whinging” is silent) is a variation on the title of the Richard Carlson self-help book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and It’s All Small Stuff. That phrase is comparable to sports statistics, which, if you think about it, show what did happen, but do not show what is going to happen. Perhaps bad traffic or something else that delays you makes you late for something. Being late is a sign of disrespect for whoever or whatever you’re going to see, and is a bad example. As someone whose irritation level with things has grown as I age, I observe that maybe tomorrow, or later today, some irritant is a small thing, but you don’t know that at the time, do you?
She did, however, note: “Value other people’s time. Don’t keep them waiting because you are shit at being on time. Get ready earlier if you are one of those people and appreciate that your friends want to share their time with you, not sit by themselves, waiting on a mate.” Perhaps the terminally ill value time more than those who are merely irritated by someone else wasting our time.
Here’s another example specific to my line of work: If someone’s name is misspelled in something one writes, that indicates at least sloppiness on your part, not caring about the quality of your work, or not believing that person is important enough for you to get his or her name right. (Or perhaps a combination of all three.) Someone not happy about your misspelling his or her name will be even less happy with your advice to not sweat the stuff, like his or her own name.
I suppose that flies in the face of her suggestion we “Work to live, don’t live to work.” But as I’ve written here before about how and why Americans take less vacation time than those in other countries, we are on this earth to work, and to serve others by our work. (That’s in several places in the Old and New Testaments; she may not have been religious.) My advice, as you know, is to never love your job, because your job does not love you back, which is not synonymous with doing a lame job with your work, the minimum to get regularly paid.
My two favorite quotes from Vince Lombardi (other than the all-purpose “What the hell’s going on out there?”) are:
- “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while… you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.”
- “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
A lot of what’s wrong with this country (outside of politics) is the result of what a college basketball coach acquaintance of mine calls “settling” — in his case for a lower-percentage shot instead of working harder for a better shot, and elsewhere, I think, doing the minimum necessary (something I have been occasionally accused of, and not without reason sometimes) instead of doing something as well as you can. (And, as I learned from my music experiences, doing something well whether or not anyone notices.) We disrespect those around us — those paying us to work, our coworkers and our customers — by doing shoddy work.
She wrote something half-correct in telling us “Don’t feel pressured to do what other people might think is a fulfilling life.. you might want a mediocre life and that is so okay.” The half that is correct is the first part, to make decisions on what is best for you and not based on what someone thinks you should do. (If I didn’t feel that was wise advice I wouldn’t be writing this and risking the condemnation of those who think I’m heartless.)
With my present employment I have become known for a lot of coverage of police and courts. One reason is that I think people should know who the bad people in their neighborhood are. I guess I might be engaging in public shaming as well, though it’s questionable if that works anymore. If someone wants to screw up his or her own life, fine, but that person doesn’t have the right to screw up someone else’s life, regardless of the so-called root causes of that criminal’s lawlessness.
The writer didn’t appear to be writing about the scourge of the 21st century, taking offense at everything, especially third-party insult (for instance, being offended at American Indian-derived sports team nicknames when you’re not one) or hypersensitive outrage at so-called ______ privilege. To borrow from the author’s language, that just shows you’re a hypersensitive humorless asshole who can’t figure out what is actually important in life.
One tragedy of the writer’s tragic death is that she never got to experience the most humbling and maddening experience of a lifetime — parenting. I cannot imagine someone with a large ego being a parent, because it is the most ego-deflating experience possible in life. There is nothing that can make you feel more personally inadequate as having to apologize to your child when you overreact to something he or she did, or when you don’t do something you told your child you were going to do.
Had she been a parent, she would have probably not included this advice to “Say no to things you really don’t want to do.” That list for parents could include changing diapers that could turn your house into an EPA Superfund site, cleaning up other messes your child made but can’t clean up, going to parent–teacher conferences where you may not hear good news about your child’s schoolwork, not alibiing for your child when he or she does something he or she shouldn’t have done or didn’t do what he or she should have done, or other activiies that would not ordinarily rank high on your list of things you’d like to do, except because they involve your child you have to do them. (When you are a parent you gain insight into the vast numbers of things your parents did for you for which you probably didn’t thank them. My advice: Don’t wait until Mother’s Day or Father’s Day to thank them.)
This observation is sadly ironic: “I tried to live a healthy life, in fact, that was probably my major passion.” It sounds flip to note that life is unfair, and yet life is unfair. I assume she didn’t go around making other people’s lives worse, unlike some of the people I get to write about in my profession who are alive when she is not. This doesn’t mean to eat dessert first, or eat nothing but desserts, but you should eat desserts you like. In the past week there have been deaths of a nine-day-old baby and a two-week-old baby, and recently a 17-year-old high school student died in a pickup truck crash. To quote the late Harry Caray, who certainly followed his own advice until his own advice degraded his own health, “Live it up, boys, it’s later than you think.”
It’s nice that she apparently got to spend the last year of her life basically doing whatever she wanted. That is not probably the reality for most people with terminal diseases. The same can be said for her advice to “remember if something is making you miserable, you do have the power to change it – in work or love or whatever it may be. Have the guts to change. You don’t know how much time you’ve got on this earth so don’t waste it being miserable. I know that is said all the time but it couldn’t be more true.” Maybe it couldn’t be more true, but it’s not as easy as that sounds, as the mother of a mentally-ill 26-year-old daughter pointed out in the comments. Parents don’t get to walk away from their children.
The piece of advice that probably should be engraved on my gravestone except that there’s no way it would fit comes from my one-size-fits-all graduation speech. To quote from myself:
You may be sick of where you are right now, ready to get out of school; you may think to yourself that, if I could only get out into the work world, or if I could get a higher educational degree, then my life will really begin. And then you may find your first job out of school is not only not what you really had in mind upon graduation, but that this job of yours is clearly beneath you, and you may think to yourself, if I could only find a better job than this, then my life will really begin. Or you may be dissatisfied with your social life, and you may think to yourself, if I could only meet a special someone, then my life will really begin. Or you may not really like where you live, and you may think to yourself, if I could find a bigger and better house, then my life will really begin.
I hope you can see where this point is going. Your life is what is happening while you’re waiting for your idealized life to begin. There’s nothing wrong with self-improvement, with looking to better your circumstances. But ultimately your circumstances should not define who you are or how you feel about yourself or your life. And if you’re determining your overall level of contentment based on your job, or your status, or how much stuff you have, I predict that you will have an ultimately unfulfilling life.
She wrote a lot about appreciating what you have. I admit to being terrible at that. In my four-month experience of doctor’s offices, surgery and hobbling around trying not to fall on my surgery-mangled foot, I could at least see, in every doctor’s office waiting room, people who were obviously worse off than myself.
The ugly truth is that we should probably abandon seeking happiness, even though the pursuit of happiness is one of our inalienable rights endowed by our Creator. It’s not clear that God really intends for us to be happy, but it certainly seems true that doing things just because you think they make you happy probably isn’t going to make you happy. I suppose if I ever actually did get a Corvette, one of which I have wanted as long as I could remember, I’d love it until it stopped working, needed expensive parts, was drivable only during nice weather, or whatever reality intervened in my dream of Corvette ownership.
At least she did admit, “Anyway, that’s just this one young gals life advice. Take it or leave it.” I would write that too, but as an opinionmonger I expect readers to follow my own wise counsel, except that I’m unlikely to know whether or not you do.