The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 11, 2008

An ethical will

A little more than two years ago I received a diagnosis of lung cancer, a diagnosis profoundly unfair and dire – dire because, despite the best medical cancer care in the country, fewer than 30% of patients survive longer than three years after diagnosis. Unfair because I had only just turned 50, I had never been a smoker, and felt I still had a lot of useful production, and I have never worked around toxic substances (unless you count other lawyers). Although death happens to everyone, all of us think we’re too young for the visitor with the hood and the scythe to arrive at our door.

With this diagnosis my thoughts as a lawyer naturally turned to having my “official” papers in order. Like a cobbler’s family not having their heels on straight, we did not have our heads on straight. We did not have a will and it was far from clear who would be inheriting my diamond engagement ring, my ruby and diamond mother’s ring and my diamond wedding ring. It turns out that the easy part was dividing up our estate so that everyone we cared about was treated fairly. College expenses had been painstakingly saved for. Choosing the sibling to take custody if my husband and I were both dead – no matter how much advance notice, a difficult word to say about oneself – was also not so difficult.

On the Green Line, on my way to my first meeting at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, I ended up standing next to one of those raving-in-public men in need of a shave. Regular readers of the Mosquito realize this is not that unusual for me; it could be my husband. In this case, the scummy-looking co-traveler who had been babbling to the car abruptly turned toward me and said lucidly, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Then he turned away and started babbling once more to the Green Line in general.

At that point I realized that what I really want to leave to my family is not financial, or material goods, but what I have learned over the last 52 years. What are the real lessons in life that I could leave after I leave the world?

Always count your change; return what’s wrong. Leave the right tip. High quality food is worth it. Don’t litter, cheat, or buy lottery tickets.

Sit longer at the table than your kids think is necessary. Show your children your love for your extended family, get together often and have fun. Listen to your kids; give yourself and your husband a hearing.

Spend time with your kids – you won’t regret it, and you actually don’t know how long you’ll have each other. Politics and posturing aside, I urge mothers if at all possible to take full advantage of the mommy experience. My grief would be much greater now if I hadn’t been an at-home parent until my youngest was in first grade at Carlisle Public School and had then discovered that my time with my children was cut short.

Speak your heart to the people in it.∆

Phyllis Zinicola is a writer for the Forum and a former member of the Planning Board.

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito