Living Every Minute

Having now returned from Australia, the primary reason for making the trip at the time we did was to see my grandfather for the last time, and for him to meet our daughter. I say “last time” with some sureness because he is in the final stages of surviving lung cancer. Now eighty-six and a half (you start counting half-years again when you hit eighty!) my grandfather is proud to say that he outlived Pope John Paul II.

When I left Australia for a new life in 2000 as a single 25-year-old I thought that maybe that was the last time I would see my grandparents. Shortly afterward my grandfather was diagnosed with a slow-moving lung cancer, courtesy of 25 years of smoking 60 cigarettes a day – a habit he quit in his mid fifties.

After a few rounds of radiotherapy and an operation to remove the cancer, which took half of one lung he continued to battle on. Two years ago I returned to Australia with my wife and I was absolutely sure that that would be the last time we’d see each other.

Wrong again. In February, 2006, when the doctor gave him six to twelve months to live I didn’t have a trip to Australia planned, and I wasn’t sure I would get to Australia in time to see him. But I made my mind up to go and he waited on Earth for us.

What I found most amazing was how good he looked for someone heavily affected with poor health. Indeed other than his terrible cough that takes his breath away, and the fact that a three quick steps around a table has him catching his breath, he was in good shape. The cancer had caused him to lose about fifteen or twenty pounds and he was now fitting into his old suits.

And he loved his youngest great-granddaughter. I think he fell in love all over again. And our one-year-old daughter was more than happy to spend time with him.

But what was most interesting to see was how he was making the most of every single minute of life. During the day he cares for his wife, now visibly affected by Alzheimers, and when she goes to bed at 9 o’clock every night my Grandfather stays up reading and learning. It was like he was studying for an exam that loomed. Time was running out and knowledge had to gained. He just bought himself his first digital camera a week before we arrived, and he was reading each and every word of the manual to learn how it works. You would ask yourself, what’s the point at this stage, he only has a few months to live?

Indeed, what’s the point then at any age?

It was very special to see how he valued every single extra minute of life, and he made sure he was putting it to good use. Time is something many of us take for granted when we’re not told our funeral could be held on a date on this year’s calendar.

If you’re not putting your time to good use then you’re just killing time until death… waiting for the Grim Reaper to raise his scythe.

Both my grandparents came with us and my parents to Melbourne, a place they hadn’t visited for many years, and while we were there my grandfather was talking about going to Darwin, at the northern coast of Australia on the historic Ghan train. All from a man who is living well into his twilight years.

I have learned many lessons from my grandfather, but this one he didn’t even know he was teaching me…

Every minute of life is a gift. It should be treated as such.

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