What comes to mind when you hear the word bucket list? How about skydiving, taking a romantic trip to Paris, horseback riding at sunset, visiting the Grand Canyon, taking a hot air balloon ride, or bungee jumping? What about running a marathon, hiking to the top of Mount Everest, retiring at age 55, visiting the Great Pyramids, taking your family on an epic mission trip, or swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean? The list could go on and on, am I right?
Some people have a bucket list before they’ve barely left the nest. Some begin drafting a list in their 20s when life feels full of possibility. Others crack open the idea book when they’re pushing retirement and they’re finally free to do the things they’ve been waiting to do. Others never think a second about a bucket list until the reality of mortality hits home. And then there are some who never dream, never allow themselves to think beyond the here and now, never once write a single item on their so-called bucket list.
Whether you have a bucket list or not, we all know what a bucket list is. A list of activities and experiences you’d like to have before you die. Bucket list items are typically fresh, novel, exotic, unusual, unique experiences you’ve never had before. The assumption is that once you’ve completed a bucket list item, you can check it off and move on to the next one.
Today, I’m going to break the bucket list myth. Perhaps it’ll inspire you to think differently about bucket lists. Perhaps it’ll inspire you to actually MAKE a bucket list if you don’t already have one. Perhaps it’ll free you to add something (or many things) to your list you never thought of before. I don’t know exactly what this post will do for you, but my ultimate aim in sharing is to help you think differently about living and dying well.
Since my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic uveal melanoma 11 months ago, I’ve experienced the whole gamut of thoughts and feelings as his wife of nearly 21 years. Fairly early on, I felt like we should be making a special point to do special things. Maybe not bucket list items, per se, but special activities like local outings and adventures with our kids. Every time it was a weekend, I’d ask my husband if there was anything special he’d like to do. Want to go to the glass gardens? Want to go to Leavenworth, a Bavarian mountain town, for an overnight with the kids? Want to go skiing? Want to take a ferry to an island? I don’t know. I was up for doing something special as a family, something to make memories. Maybe I was trying to create a bucket list FOR my husband? Dare I say YES?
The odd thing is that my husband would just keep responding to my random bucket list inquiries with “No, I just want to stay home, lie low and do the things we’d normally do as a family.”
I’ll be honest. This kind of bothered me at first. It still kind of bothers me. But when you’re 11 months into a stage 4 diagnosis, you start to understand things you never thought you’d understand. For some reason, I’ve BEGUN to understand my husband’s thought process. I’m not fully there, but I’m beginning to understand, I’m beginning to see the beauty in it. And THAT’S exactly why I’m sharing today.
You see, he didn’t WANT to check off a bunch of bucket list items in light of his diagnosis. In fact, I’m not sure if he really even had a bucket list! Several months after the diagnosis and several months of asking him “Do you want to….,” “How about we….” “What do you think about….” and him continuing to respond with “No, I just want to stay home, lie low and do the things we’d normally do as a family,” I finally decided to get more pointed in my questioning. After all, it seemed weird that he didn’t want to do ANYTHING and I wasn’t convinced he wanted to just sit at home ALL the time! So I asked again, a little differently this time, “Is there anything specific you have on your bucket list?” “Is there anything you REALLY want to do?”
And that’s when the answer came, a simple, two-point bucket list. “Well, I guess I’d like to go whale watching and take another Disney trip.”
So when my husband’s brother was visiting in early April, we went whale watching and completed bucket list item #1! It was fabulous and oh so good to see him smile. And I got to see the promise of a rainbow and clear skies just as we were about to board the boat, despite a forecast of nearly 100% rain.
After whale watching, all that remained on the two-point bucket list was take another Disney trip! Yay! Disney! Yahoo!!! The most magical place on earth. So exciting! So fun. Awesome trip for the kids. YES. All yes.
(But here’s where we’re breaking the bucket list myth.)
You see, we’ve had the blessing of going on MANY Disney trips. In fact, if you look back on our near 21-year marriage, the one vacation we’ve returned to time and time again is Disney. Our first trip to Walt Disney World was when we were on our honeymoon. Then a one-day visit to Magic Kingdom in 2002 when I was pregnant with our first child. Our first family-of-four trip was to Walt Disney World in 2010, and we loved it SO much we went back and did it all over again in 2011. In 2013, we joined my husband in Los Angeles for a big work event and added a couple days at the end to take the kids to Disneyland. 2015 marked our first trip to Walt Disney World as a family of five. In 2016, right before my dad had a lung transplant, my husband and I snuck away for a short Disney cruise preceded by a single day at Magic Kingdom. And in the summer of 2017, when my husband was laid off, he won a weight loss competition and a free trip to Florida. We had one magical day at Magic Kingdom that summer before moving to Seattle.
So here we are. About to embark on yet another Disney vacation. This time, it’s an official bucket-list vacation. It’s not about the novelty at all. This is my husband’s grandest version of “I just want to stay at home, lie low and do something we’d normally do as a family.” Okay, we’re not staying home, we’re not going to lay low, but we ARE very much doing the thing we’ve done as a family since this family was established in June of ’98.
What is the lesson? What is the point? You might need to revamp your bucket list. You might need to rethink that bucket list of yours. If you aren’t inspired by the standard bucket list, if you’re not the bucket list type, then maybe you’ve been thinking about it all wrong. What if the thing you’d really want to do most if you were dying is the thing you love and have been doing forever?! What if the thing you’d really want to do if you were living your very best life was that one amazing thing you’ve already done? What if that bucket list item is something you’ve done 25 times, but you’d really like to do it ONE. MORE. TIME because it was SO incredibly good?
So what’s it going to be for you? What’s going to be added onto your bucket list now that we’ve dismembered the whole concept of bucket list? Going to visit your granddaughter one more time? Visiting that special beach one more time? Going to Mexico one more time? Reading your favorite book one more time? Running a marathon one more time? Going to lunch with that awesome friend one more time? Enjoying a chocolate bar one more time (or 550 more times) because it’s so incredibly satisfying? I don’t know what it is for you. But this I know for sure. We must live well AND die well. Live AND die well, my friend. Every day like it’s your last, or at least as much as you can muster. Whether you ride wild horses, coo with your grandbaby, or take another moment to put your feet up on the couch and count your blessings one more time, your story is going to be awesome.