Catherine Anaya

What it means to really “live” your life

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Live like you’re dying.

I’ve loved that Tim McGraw song for years, and the words about his father’s reaction to learning he had inoperable cancer:

“I went skydiving; I went Rocky Mountain climbing; I did 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu; I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter; and I gave forgiveness that I’d been denying; and then he said, some day, I hope you get a chance to live like you’re dying.”

Live like you’re dying. That was how my brother-in-law lived up until the last few days of his life. We lost him this past March to cancer. I didn’t say “former” brother-in-law, because, even after my marriage to his brother ended, he let me know that he would never refer to me as his “ex” sister-in-law. He told me I was family for life.

He loved life. Jim was one of the strongest people I knew, not just physically, but in spirit. When he was diagnosed with skin cancer three years ago (a melanoma the size of an eraser head), we had no doubt he’d beat it. And it seemed he did. But, this past December, the cancer had returned,  with multiple tumors in his stomach, and, in the span of just three months, it spread to his brain and then his bones. 

Even with that devastating diagnosis, he asked the doctor with the utmost optimism, “So it’s fixable, right?” 

Even as he started losing mobility on one side of his body, he insisted on getting to the gym (we shared a passion for exercise). In the last week of his life, his friends would take him there and strap his weak side into an upright bicycle so he could manage even a few pedals. He didn’t want sympathy. He wanted to live.

One of the most competitive people I’ve known was, sadly, not going to win this challenge. He’s not the first person I’ve loved and lost to cancer, nor likely the last. 

So, as I sat at his funeral service, looking at his smiling face staring back from the slide show, listening to his best friend Todd recite those Tim McGraw song lyrics in his eulogy, describing the way Jim lived – I wondered to myself how I could honor his life.

Todd answered that with the final words of his emotional tribute:

“As you one day meet your Maker and are standing in line at the pearly gates of heaven, Jim’s going to be there with a clip board in hand with a list of questions that he’s going to ask before letting you through. And, you better be careful how you answer them, because he’s going to ask you:

Did you ever go skydiving? Did you ever take the time you said you would and go Rocky Mountain climbing? Did you ever have real fun and go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu? I’m hoping you loved deeper, and definitely spoke sweeter. But, most importantly, did you ever give forgiveness to those people you’ve been denying? And I’m truly hoping that after I passed away that you took some time to realize what was truly important to you and lived the rest of your life like you’re dying.”

I’m going to live like I’m dying. That’s what Jim would want.  

Catherine Anaya anchors CBS 5 News weeknights at 5, 5:30, 6 & 10pm. She is a mother of two, marathon runner and motivational speaker. Reach her at canaya@kpho.com, connect with her on Facebook, twitter and at CatherineAnaya.com.

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