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I Died Today (from the Gather with Jim blog)
Well, that was one helluva ride. I’m pretty sure Hunter S. Thompson would gleefully pat me on the back for following his edict: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”
From the moment I first found out I had terminal cancer, I’ve understood that I live a full life, a life with few regrets, and a ridiculous amount of adventure, and an equal amount of love, gratitude, and friendships galore. So I’ve never been afraid of this day, nor should you of yours.
It’s that simple. Live. Love. Laugh. Repeat.
Or as my Mom said to me on her deathbed: Be nice to others, laugh every day, and, most importantly, remember life is pretty simple, so don’t overcomplicate it.
Live. Love. Laugh. Repeat.
I got lucky in life. Well, it felt lucky, but I’m pretty sure karma had a lot to do with it. You get back tenfold what you put out in terms of goodness. But it still felt lucky all the way along.
I was born into a family that believes the same motto our family presently holds: family first. My parents—albeit completely different people in almost every imaginable way—were able to raise four lads that loved each other like no other. Our mutual respect is as deep as the Mariana’s Trench. My brothers have done anything and everything when needed, and that’s not just with my health situation; it’s been like that from the beginning. Ours is an unbreakable bond.
So much of who I am came from this family unit and I consider myself the luckiest gal in the group (they always called me the girl in the family cause they are Neanderthals and I could navigate the emotional side of our family angst). Each of my brothers married up in quality, and as a result, the nieces and nephews and their children are all incredibly beautiful human beings. Each so unique, yet each possessing a “family first but still let’s start with sarcasm” gene. Our family gatherings consist of a lot of noise, competition, and laughter—all baked in a pile of mutual love and respect.
This family machine has been such an incredible gift for my kids. There is absolutely no doubt that Jack, Amanda and Tracey will always be surrounded by a loving supportive family. Including the incredible family I married into.
When you marry someone like Tracey, who is without a doubt the most capable human being on the planet, you have to wonder how someone can be so smart, talented, creative, kind, funny, and tenacious.
She can do anything. And I’m pretty sure it all started with her parents and was enhanced by her great sister, who married an awesome lad I am happy to call brother-in-law. Tracey’s family is kind and generous while also highly dynamic and operating at a seriously high level. They welcomed me into the family in 1993 and I’ve considered them friends and family ever since.
Live. Love. Laugh. Repeat. Family first.
Over the last 59 years I have amassed—no, collected—the most incredible and unique assortment of friends. Some collect Star Wars figures, others collect beer cans, some collect stamps. I collect people. I’ve been collecting my whole life. And while it’s not something Guinness Book of Records could, would or should measure, it is something that has been in my soul since Day One. It has been one of my greatest gifts along the way.
I love my friends. I love them so very much that I make every effort to stay in touch and be connected as much as possible. Outside my family, my friends are my greatest joy. While it can be a lot of work to keep dragging their asses out to get together, I know the outcome has been worth it. Because I make that a priority, there’s been a steady flow of incredible energy back and forth from every single corner of my life. When you love deeply, and give fully, the respect, followed by chuckles and adventure, are all you need to make your day complete.
Live. Love. Laugh. Repeat. Family first. Collect and nurture deep friendships.
In my lifelong habit of prioritizing family and friendships, I have always chosen careers and projects that put everything else before money. Money never motivated me, except as a means to provide for my family and to obtain more experiences with those I share a bond.
Instead I feel I’ve led a life of purpose. And in large part I really doubled down on pursuing projects, companies and people that are also driven by purpose. To be honest, a lot of this drive showed up when I met Tracey and we had children. I have been so incredibly fortunate to have realized how much more you get back when you give freely of your time and effort. By making your community stronger, you in turn make yourself better. And happier. And if you get sick, then watch out. Those people turn everything around and make sure you realize it was all worth it.
As a parent, you want to teach your kids the important things in life. The really important things. It truly becomes a mission, and the last number of years have been a beautiful teaching experience for my kids, as they have seen what happens when you genuinely give to others without expectation of anything in return. It all comes back in ways that astound you.
My children certainly understand that building communities builds your soul. And that makes me profoundly happy. They have been witness to a cancer journey full of openness and sharing. Through open dialogue, on GatherWithJim, on stage, and of course at home through example and conversation, my family has been an ongoing part of the journey. That will make a significant and healthy difference during the ensuing grieving process. Especially, since it’s being done together. (Everything is always better when done together). When the final words are said, I know they will be about love, dreams, respect, simplicity, gratitude, joy, adventure, communication, hilarity, purpose, and importance of family.
Live. Love. Laugh. Repeat. Family first. Collect and nurture deep friendships. Build community.
As you can see in this final post I adore my wife and children. They are my world and will continue to be my world through eternity. I believe my spirit will live on in the most simple of ways, like when they listen to Beck play “Where It’s At,” or when they see a fast-moving river they’ll hear me talk about the sounds of the waves or how it’s higher/lower than usual, or if they have French fries, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, lemon Greek potatoes, roast potatoes, baked potatoes, well, you get the message. Each moment (and potato) will ring a memory, and I’ll be there. I believe this is the energy that keeps someone in your heart. Not sure what the next phase really brings, but I certainly believe I’m sticking around in their hearts for eternity. That’s all one can ask for.
I have written each of them five years of birthday cards. While they have each other and family and friends, I want the cards to interject little pieces of joy and delight. Not because I’m concerned with their sadness, but because I’ve always been focused on the joy. The lesson all along has been to enjoy each day not by fretting about what bad may come.
But I know there will be a void. And grieving. You can’t skip the various stages of grieving. But grief is experienced differently by everyone.
And this is where I ask for a favour from the Internet. Please be aware of what my family is going through and know that while it’s been a very public cancer journey, I want to protect my family’s privacy, time, and space. It’s my request from the other side: If you were close before, be close again. If you have been cheering us on from afar, please know we all appreciate your good wishes. As an albeit deceased but protective husband and father, I ask you to give my family space.
I have loved receiving the incredible volume of calls, conversations, emails, and texts from around the world as a result of this blog. So many great moments of mutual support, recounting memories of lost loved ones, dialogues on mindfulness, and even, surprisingly, a robust interest in unicorns. It’s felt good to help others, as they either follow behind me or lead in front of me. I started this blog so my friends could come here to find out how I was doing. I knew I would be asked a lot about my health, and I didn’t want to always have to talk about my cancer so I started writing this blog as a communications tool.
What started as a tool for me, ended up being a catalyst for a change I wanted to make in society-- that is, our inability to look at death and disease. We avert our eyes. We gloss over it completely in the hope that it’s not standing right in front of us. And that causes so many problems. So in writing for these past years, I found a purpose--a deep and unexpectected purpose. How do you normalize death and disease so people can be more comfortable with the process and the person?
Along the way the most amazing thing happened. I realized how much I love writing. Yet another one of those strange gifts cancer gave me. So now I’ve helped people and opened my mind to an area of enjoyment that I had never pursued, even feared my whole life. Good comes from the strangest places, doesn’t it?
And now it’s my final post. I want you to know how much my family has appreciated your love and support (including the kind man in Belarus) as we rode through this adventure. Keep being kind to each other; don’t let the negative stories online take up space where nice stories could reside; put down your phone and have deep conversations; go for a walk and let Mother Nature feed your soul; find a way to build a stronger community; and enjoy each and every single day to the hilt cause you ain’t promised tomorrow.
I died today. But I fucking lived fully each and every day.
And that’s what counts.
Celebration of Life to be held Monday, February 27th, 2023 at 4:00 pm at the Jack Singer Concert Hall (225 8 Ave SE).
In lieu of flowers, if friends so desire, memorial tributes may be made directly to:
Donate to Jim Button Community Builder Fund, through Calgary Foundation.
Donate to Rosedale Hospice (Please specify Rosedale Hospice, in the “I would like my donation to go to” bar, on the donation page).
Donate to support the Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology Cumming School of Medicine UCalgary.
Photo Credit - Colin Way
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