Monday, December 15, 2008

Journeys and Journals by Dying Folks

In the movie The Bucket List (2007) "two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die."

But what if they wanted to do was blog about dying, that is, write a public daily journal about their progress and reactions, good or bad -- what would they say?

One man's statements are found in a Dying Man's Daily Journal, which began on September 26, 2006, with a statement about the author's situation and his intentions:

I am dying, so why am I on the internet telling the world about my problems? After all a lot of people are dying and in a lot worse shape than I am, being in pain or severe discomfort.

I have a bad heart after 4 heart attacks and in congestive heart failure. According to the doctors I could go basically any time. * * *

[It] is my hope that by journaling my experiences, I can maybe help others when they are faced with the same issues. I have prepared myself and right now have no fear. * * *
After more than two years, he was still writing:
I am a 54 year old male and my doctors have told me I am dying. It is my hope that by sharing my experiences, I can encourage others faced with the same situation. I hope to also help the families of those individuals to have an understanding of the process and deal with the fear or dread of being around the dying.

I am not a doctor, not a man of the clergy, I am not a therapist. I am just me, Bill Howdle, I am merely sharing my thoughts and ideas. I write of death and dying, understand this is my personal prospective, based on what I am encountering.
Since Bill began his online journal, his site counter recorded over 170,000 hits, while he soldiers on, surprised.

But neither wild antics nor writing can shield us from suffering and death.

Another man, Leroy Sievers, a blogger, podcaster, & commentator for National Public Radio, made public his fight with cancer, beginning a few months earlier than Bill.
In May 2006, Leroy Sievers began a Morning Edition commentary on his fight with cancer by saying, "My doctors are trying to kill me."

For more than two years since, Sievers contributed a monthly commentary to Morning Edition, wrote the daily "My Cancer" blog on and voiced a weekly podcast. * * *
Then one day after his wife, Laurie, noted on Leroy's Blog, "Leroy is planning to be back next week," NPR sadly announced on August 16, 2008: "Leroy Sievers passed away on August 15, 2008, at the age of 53."

I'm so sorry to bring you this news. Leroy passed away last night. It happened very quickly.

You will hear from Laurie later. In the meantime, please let me tell you something all of you already know, how much this blog and all your comments have meant to Leroy. He felt all the affection and good wishes and strength you sent him every day.

He told us that of the many things he had accomplished, he was proudest of My Cancer. The connection he felt with all of you made such a difference in his life. * * *

I had followed his broadcast commentaries. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the announcement of Leroy's death over the radio. I, among millions of others, had lost a long-distance friend, a fellow journeyman.

What is most extraordinary is the continued posting, by Laurie, of almost daily entries on his blog, which now has become his and her "My Cancer" blog.

Instead of contemplating his deteriorating physical illness, she ponders her permeating grief after his death.

Both degeneration and loss rob a person of peace. Yet, in journaling, we can explore pain, distill lessons, form faith, and create healing, if not in the exact way we might have hoped at the outset.

The writing need not be public, but it must be personal to be helpful. And if a journaling writer is strong enough to post thoughts publicly, then others can share and learn too.

It is that desire to teach lessons personally experienced that motivated Professor Randy Pausch, of Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, PA, to record a "last lecture," as described by Wikipedia:

He gave his "The Last Lecture" speech on September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon. Pausch conceived the lecture after he learned that his previously known pancreatic cancer was terminal.

The talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical "final talk", with a topic such as "
what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?"

The talk was later released as a book called
The Last Lecture, which became a New York Times best-seller. * * *
What would your "Bucket List" include, your blog entries describe, your "Last Lecture" say?

* * *

"It's not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life.
If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."

-- Randy Pausch