When time collapses. When a terminal diagnosis enters stage left, it can feel oddly as if the sweetness of life is condensed. Or as one woman put it in A Time To Live, (a British documentary about 12 people, mostly in mid-life, who have been given a terminal diagnosis): ‘The colors are brighter, the trees are greener, I notice the color of my girls’ hair. I try to drink in my husband’s face.’
Something rather beautiful and extraordinary emerges in the documentary. These people, who have no future, say they are happier now with time running out, than they have ever been before. One middle-aged man sitting next to his wife says: ‘Since the diagnosis we’ve actually had some of the best times of our life. The gift of life is suddenly reinforced when you realize it is finite.’ I know with Laura, in her last few weeks, we became experts at extracting little sips of sweetness out of the everyday. A smile, a very tiny touch, just being together was bliss.
Astonishingly, one woman says she would rather live like this for a brief moment than go on living as before. ‘If my choice had been to live longer and not have cancer and not have the insight I’ve got, I wouldn’t take it. I was wasting my life …It was crazy how I was so busy, always wanting to be the best and worrying what people thought and now realizing none of that matters.’ Many of the people in the documentary said they worked too much.
Annabel, 51, said she is ‘stronger’ and ‘more interesting’ now. Before her terminal diagnosis she was ‘a dull person’. Now she is ‘outrageous and naughty’. The first thing on her ‘bucket list’ was to ditch her husband. Then she took up painting, salsa dancing and travelled the world.
Terminal illness also seems to have the power to heal major soul wounds. One woman, Paulette, who had been brought up in a care home and longed for the presence of her birth mother, found they reconnected over her illness. ‘We’ve spoken everyday. I can’t believe how much she loves me. I can’t imagine my life without her. And I won’t have life without her now.’
Here’s a link to extended interviews with some of the people in the documentary