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Making Every Marble COUNT~ Finding Gratitude in Grief

As published in Island Gals Magazine, 2013

A glance into the corner of my living room reveals marbles, about 1480 marbles to be exact.  They fill almost half of a tall glass cylinder and are meant to represent approximately how many weeks I may have left, if I live to 81 years old, the average age for a Canadian woman.  To some this might seem depressing or daunting, but for me, this very visual reminder serves me well. It encourages me to take care with each week, to live it wisely, to spend it carefully, and to cherish every marble.

In 2004, in our ninth year together sharing a home and having celebrated his 80th birthday, my father was given a ‘terminal’ leukemia diagnosis. The specialist’s visit revealed that there was little to be done, and that he might live another year – 52 marbles. For my father, whose dream it was to live to 100, it must have been devastating news, yet he remained quiet and calm. He thanked the doctor for her time and returned to work the next day for another full shift as a fairways cutter at the local golf course. He told me he planned to continue to live and then to die at home, surrounded by family.  And he did just that, he ‘lived’ and shared his ordinary life for another 11 months and then passed away in peace and with grace, at home with his family.

The year we spent with my almost 60 year old mother-in-law, helping her die at home in Ontario, was a beautiful and grace filled seven months.  Her 30 marbles and mine were spent mostly with hospital visits, chemotherapy clinics, in bed and in pain, and without complaint.  She too, made a conscious decision to die the way she lived, with a sense of humour, quietly and unassuming, grateful though weary, and loving to those who cared for her.

For me, living with dying was a gift and a blessing.  I felt honoured to be a part of such a personal and meaningful time, the end of time.  I felt so lucky to have known them both and grateful to have been asked to share in the gift of spending their final days in such good company.  What I learned during those difficult times I have kept close.  I lean into the memory of those lessons when I need to, and I use them to help me ‘live’ and to remind me of what matters most: that time is truly fleeting, that most of us will enjoy less than 100 years, that family, love, support, friendship, and care are what sustains us, and that we are all here to be of service, to everyone and especially to those who need us, who want us, and who deserve us.  At some point, we all need to be held up, to receive an outstretched hand, and to be available for someone else.  My hope is that when you are called, you feel as fortunate as I do, to have participated in the lives and the deaths of those I held dear; worth every marble indeed!

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