by Tina Firesheets

I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately.

That’s because three people whom I’ve known at different times of my life died earlier this year.

All of them passed away very unexpectedly, leaving their loved ones bewildered and completely lost. And all of them were younger than I.

These weren’t people that I knew terribly well. I didn’t even see them regularly. I hadn’t seen one of them since high school, more than 20 years ago. The other — a former colleague and fellow journalist — I saw only in bylines and on social media. But my friend’s wife — I had seen her before the holidays, about a month before she passed away from a rare form of ovarian cancer.

The thing that I can’t stop thinking about is that their families had so little time to prepare for their absence in their lives. Some of them didn’t get one last date or one more phone call. Or one more normal, very real, everyday kind of moment. The kind of moment where you’re going about your day as usual, and they do something that completely annoys the heck out of you and you wish that that one thing were different about them.

They were just — gone.

People always talk about bucket lists. Things they want to do before they die.

Things like climb Machu Picchu or see the Grand Canyon. Travel the world or jump out of an airplane. Maybe it’s to see the great masterpieces of the world or beat Serena Williams at tennis.

What is it they say — “YOLO” — you only live once? So do it already.

But I don’t know.

Sure, it would nice to be able to return to Hawaii for a couple of months or to visit Tokyo again. Or eat my way through Italy.

But I think what I want is more attainable. I want as many real moments with my family as we can have. For as long as I can, I want to come home to my son, shouting, “Mommy!” and sounding completely thrilled to see me. Although at the end of the day, I struggle with wanting “me time,” I know I’ll miss his wanting me to lie down with him for just one more minute at bedtime.

For as long as I can, I want to watch how patiently my husband teaches him how to draw and read and catch fish.

I savor the way they feel and the way they smell, even when they’re being stinky boys. I am happiest when we’re all piled up on the couch in the living room watching a movie.

I don’t even care if it’s the 18th time I’ve seen a particular “Shark Week” episode. I delight in our legs wrapped around each other like linguini. Our heads are pressed close as pancakes. We’re so close in those moments that even our breathing is synchronized.

Friends who have lost spouses say one of the things they miss the most are all the little inside jokes they used to share. Jokes that make no sense to anyone else, but that will have you laughing so hard your eyes water and your belly hurts.

We have those moments. Sometimes it’s just the way we say a certain word that will incite hysteric shrieks. It makes no sense to anyone but us.

These are the moments I want to collect in my bucket.

Of course, I have dreams of our traveling to Europe together or of celebrating our son’s engagement in our backyard. My husband frequently says I’m always somewhere else. Somewhere in the future, thinking about what we should be doing or where we should be going next. He’s right. I do struggle with being present and in the moment. I like to think that I am ambitious or a good planner. But I realize that when I’m not present, I’m missing those real moments. I’m missing those nonverbal cues that tell me what they’re feeling. I’m trying to work on it.

The other side of the conversation around death is often about regrets. Perhaps I would regret not seeing more of the world or having more money in savings. One thing is for certain, though — I don’t want to regret that I didn’t spend more time with my family. I don’t want them to ever doubt my love for them.

So my bucket list looks like this:

Sunday brunches at home.

Family movie nights and board games.

Cookouts in the backyard.

Bedtime stories.

Laughing until our bellies hurt.

Over and over. And over. Again.

You only live once.

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