It's a hypothetical question that causes tears to flood my eyes whenever it passes through my mind, no matter how fleetingly -- what would I do if I couldn't see my children grow up? Mom Susan Spencer-Wendel faced that very real question when she was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, and her answer to it has been brave, heartbreaking, and inspiring.
After learning that she had the neurodegenerative disease that causes paralysis and ultimately death, she didn't wallow in sadness. Instead she devised a bucket list so that she could soak up every minute of life with her husband and three children, and to do so with great joy.
She documented the first year after her diagnosis in her recently released memoir Until I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living With Joy, which she typed entirely with one thumb on her iPhone, as her hands have been crippled by the disease. It's full of so much wisdom and so much inspiration, but it was one of the items on her bucket list in particular that I found especially powerful.
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According to Today, she took her daughter, Marina, to New York to try on wedding dresses at Kleinfeld Bridal. She was 14 at the time. She wrote:
I wanted to see my beautiful daughter on her wedding day. I wanted to glimpse at the woman she will be. A moment I will never share.
Those lines give me chills. I just can't imagine how difficult it was for her to do that knowing she'd never be there when her daughter actually walks down the aisle, but what a gift for both of them. She also took her son swimming with dolphins for his 9th birthday, and took a trip to an island with her 10-year-old daughter, in addition to various journeys with her husband and friends.
Through it all, her biggest goal was to leave them with lasting memories and to live each day with joy. Even when she got to her lowest points, she said it was her family's well-being that came first.
I thought of suicide about as often as you see a butterfly. It would flutter into my mind, and I would study it, marveling at its symmetry. Then it would flit away, and I would forget, for it was only a passing thing. Until it returned the next day, and the next.
I do not think my death will ruin my family’s lives. But I realize the way I die may affect their ability to live with delight. To live with joy. A suicide would teach my children that I was weak. When I am strong.
How very strong she is, and what an incredible inspiration. Every day we take so many moments for granted, and it's stories like this that remind us how fleeting our time is on Earth. To do anything other than embrace it and live it with joy is a shame.
In the closing pages of her book, she acknowledges that things didn't always go as planned on her journey, but they were "perfect memories nonetheless." She wrote:
I guess that's a lesson, if there must be one. Accept the life that comes. Work and strive, but accept. Don't force the world to be the one you dream. The reality is better.
What things would you want to do with your children if you knew you wouldn't see them grow up?
Image via Today