Lessons from a Life Well-Lived

Beth VanWinkle was one of the “neighborhood Moms” when I was growing up. She and her husband Jay were trusted and cherished friends, sharing the joys and sorrows in life and becoming more like family in the way that good neighbors do.

Four years ago, Beth was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. At first, she and Jay cried and shouted and grieved. And then they got busy. Beth made a short ‘bucket list’, things she wanted to do before she went to the place she called “the cave,” the time when she would be in her own BethWorld and would no longer recognize the people and things she held most dear. She wanted to “go, go, go” while she could.

And so she did. In addition to becoming vocal advocates for Alzheimer’s awareness and working to raise funds and create support programs, they traveled the country, seeing sights they’d planned to visit later, after they retired. They knew there wasn’t likely to be a “later.”

And there wasn’t. We said goodbye to Beth on Saturday in a memorial service that was both teary and joyful. This tiny woman with an effervescent spirit and contagious laugh didn’t want a “gloom-filled room“, and I think she would have appreciated our efforts, even if we didn’t manage to completely block the tears.

At the end of the service, someone shared this video, a tribute by Neal Moore who had interviewed Beth and Jay earlier in their fight. In it, they discuss a bit of their history and we all get to share Beth fulfilling one of her bucket list items.

We’ll all go to our “cave” someday, in whatever form it takes. Or maybe some of us are already there. I lived in a cave I created for myself, and while it wasn’t nearly as dire as the cave Beth faced, it wasn’t a life fully lived. I allowed obesity to keep me from reaching my goals and dreams, from ensuring that I grabbed all the glory and richness that life offers. I still have areas of my life I want to explore, but I’ve let either fear or motivational lapses hold me back.

But not anymore. I’m taking my cues from Beth and Jay, and should you need them for any area of your life, I urge you to do the same:

“This is your shot.”

We have the opportunity today to achieve some measure of our goals. All we have to do is grab it!

“Our time is now.”

Push aside the worry about the future; stop fretting about what’s past. Our actions in this moment are what matter.

“Never give up.”

There will be struggles, set-backs, and problems. Life is like that. We can cry, shout, grieve if we must. But then it’s time to get busy.

“Let’s go.”

My new mantra for each morning. And throughout the day when I’m tired. Or scared. (Unlike Beth, it will neverbe shouted by me just before jumping out of an airplane.)

What will you do today to grab more from life? What dream or goal have you been deferring out of fear or lack of direction?

For a more in-depth interview with Beth and Jay, see this CNN iReport. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, including the 10 Warning Signs, click HERE. (There are early-stage treatments available that amy slow the disease’s progression, so it’s important to see a doctor if you or someone you love is exhibiting any of these symptoms.)

19 thoughts on “Lessons from a Life Well-Lived

  1. When that bucket list movie came out a few years ago I first thought about what I might want to do… and realized I did not have a bucket list. I know there is traveling I want to do, but not sure what else I would have as goals in life. I could use some!

  2. Oh Cammy, what a wonderful but heartbreaking story. Thank you for sharing it. We have good friends and the husband was diagnosed 6 years ago. I think you’re right that we sometimes all go into our caves when we really need to fight hard to “do” and to “go” for the things we should be doing.
    Re next Sunday–I can’t wait!

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  4. I still have areas of my life I want to explore, but I’ve let either fear or motivational lapses hold me back… Me too Cammy!

    What a wonderful post & a horrible disease. My grandmother on my mom’s side died from this…

    Dr. Oz also had a show on this that I watched & more info can be found on his site too.

    You had some great points for all of us to live by.

    Thx for sharing Cammy & bog hugs to you for your loss!

    PS: Shows no posts for me but I have a Monday post….

  5. I’m so sorry about your friend, Cammy. What a wonderfully life-affirming woman she was. You know how sometimes you read a blog post and know it was meant for YOU to read? Yeah, this one was it for me today. Thank you :)

  6. Cammy, what a lovely tribute for a lovely woman. I am sorry for your loss. Situations like these really do help pull what’s really important into sharper focus. Thank you for the reminder.

  7. I couldn’t agree more!! This is such a lovely story. I too am all for living in the now and not putting our dreams and goals ‘on hold’ .
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story Cammy – sorry too for your loss of a lovely friend. She has left a beautiful legacy.

  8. I really loved this post. My grandmother has Alzheimer’s and I’m scared that most likely one day I’ll get it too. This is a wonderful reminder to live life while we all have the chance. Thanks Cammy.

  9. Okay, this one is almost too much for me to process today. It’s such a beautiful and sad story. I always wonder what kind of courage i might have in a similar situation..
    But then you’ve turned it into such inspiration. It’s so true about what we can do right now!
    I live in California and earthquakes usually get me really focused for a while. Something about the earth literally quaking under you that sets things in order in your mind.
    Thanks Cammy!

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