How would you spend your final days if you were given only six months to live? For Brittany Maynard, it was spending time with family, seeing the world and living each day fully in the moment.
At 29, Brittany was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. In the months following her diagnosis, she bravely went public with her decision to end her life via Death With Dignity.
Her hope was that the option to end one's own life will become available to all Americans who wish to reduce suffering and die with comfort and control in their final days.
On November 1, 2014, Brittany chose to end her life on her own terms, surrounded by family and friends.
I believe Brittany’s decision to end her life or continue suffering through her diagnosis was no one's business but her own. Maynard's experience was hers and hers alone. No one can possibly know how it would feel to have an expiration date put on his or her life due to an incurable disease unless it were to happen to him or her.
What’s most significant and touching about Brittany’s story is the way she chose to spend the days leading up to her death, and why there is a lesson in her journey for us all.
Relationships Matter Most
Brittany and her husband both said the diagnosis helped them realize the importance of valuing people, rather than things.
At the end of your life, you won't wish you spent more time on your new iPhone 6 while at the dinner table with friends. You will never regret buying that plane ticket to surprise your mom on her birthday, instead of buying that expensive watch.
Meaningful relationships with the people you love are the most important part of life; they are what instills a genuine sense of happiness and fulfillment in our hearts.
We often get so preoccupied with the distractions of life that we forget to focus on the people and relationships that truly make our lives worth living. As Brittany said, "Don’t miss a moment." Tell your family how much they mean to you; write that apology letter you’ve been meaning to write, or pick up the phone just to say, "I am so thankful for you."
Traveling Makes You Feel Alive
Brittany’s bucket list was full of travel and adventure. Since the diagnosis, she visited the Yellowstone and Denali National Parks, as well as kayaked to the Glaciers and took a boat trip to Juneau, Alaska just to name a few. Last week, she checked off the last destination on her list by visiting the Grand Canyon.
Traveling makes us reevaluate things, gain new perspectives and gives us a sense of clarity. Falling in love with a new place can have the same effect on our souls as falling in love with a person. It’s a feeling of euphoria, discovery and adventure.
Travel also helps us appreciate what we have. Often, seeing parts of the world, and people who are less fortunate, gives us a new perspective on life and makes our problems seem insignificant. We tend to get lost in the chaos of our daily lives, and when we step out of our routine, we are able to see the big picture.
That picture is usually a lot more beautiful than we originally thought.
Speaking Your Mind Can Make A Difference
Brittany’s story was controversial. In the midst of the most difficult time in her life, she bravely chose to speak publicly on an issue she was passionate about, despite the criticism she knew she would receive.
In the wake of that criticism, which included hateful emails, tweets and Facebook posts from people passing judgment on her choices, Maynard remained confident and unapologetic about her stance on the Death With Dignity Act.
In a short amount of time, Brittany was able to make significant headway on the issue. On October 22, she posted:
I want to thank you all, for resonating powerfully with my story. Because of the incredible reaction, something monumental has started to happen. Last week alone, lawmakers in Connecticut and New Jersey came forward in support of DwD bills, and promised to put them back in the spotlight.
It’s hard to stand firm in our convictions, especially if they are different or unpopular. Receiving criticism about our beliefs is difficult and frustrating, and it often seems as if staying silent is the easier, more peaceful option.
But, voicing our opinions and being heard on issues important to us is what makes us unique, and ultimately what ends up making a difference. Never be afraid to take a stand on something you feel strongly about. You never know what kind of impact you could make.
Pursue What Matters; Forget The Rest
What makes you happy? At the end of your life, what’s important is that you did the things that brought you joy and pursued the things that inspired you. You have the power to live the life you have imagined. Figure out what it is that’s going to keep you up at night, energized and excited about the possibilities, and do that.
Whether or not you agree with Brittany's decision to end her life, one thing is for sure: She lived her final days in a way that we should all aspire to live daily.
We should all spend more time with the people we love, explore our beautiful planet and focus on the simple joys that make us happy. Don’t wait for trauma, tragedy or for a life-threatening illness to start living the life you were intended to live.
Seize the day; it's yours to take.