Playing the Cards We Are Dealt: Reflections of a Granddaughter
By Meghan Mirsch
Saying our last goodbyes to those deepest in our hearts is a day nobody hopes for. And, too often, we don’t take the opportunity to say a proper goodbye before it is too late. As Randy Pausch stated in his memoir The Last Lecture, “Time is all you have, and you may find one day that you have less than you think.”
When acting as a caregiver for a loved one or family member, especially under hospice, time seems to tick away faster than ever before. Plans once made become lost, the questions we never dared to ask remain unanswered, and we struggle to make every moment count at a time when there are so few moments left. But during these times, one thing we often overlook is opportunity—opportunity to create one last memory, opportunity to answer the questions we always had, and opportunity to say those last words to our loved ones we may never have had the chance to say before.
For those who are unfamiliar with Randy’s story, he was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon when, at the age of 46, he was given an unfortunate diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, with an estimated three to six months left of healthy living. For many, this diagnosis would be as disheartening as it is frightening. But Randy took a different approach. He chose to look at his diagnosis as a gift, and found luck in the fact that he knew just how much time he had left to leave his legacy and accomplish the goals he had set for himself his entire life. Randy’s infamous last lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” and the book that followed shared lessons that inspired others nationwide.
As caregivers, it is our opportunity to view our time of caring as a gift. While we would prefer not to lose a loved one to illness or to face the end of life, it is the most precious gift of all to be able to share and show our love during those final weeks and days. Caring for my own grandfather two years ago during his last few days of his battle with prostate cancer, I cherished each moment we shared and embraced the opportunity to share those final words I had always held back saying. Looking back, I will never regret that the final memories we shared were holding his hand by his bedside, assisting the nurses in small tasks to maximize his comfort, and being able to tell him one last time that he will always be my hero.
We spend our entire lives sharing stories and creating memories without even realizing the everlasting impact this leaves on our loved ones. In my grandfather’s final days, we cherished these blessed memories and made every remaining moment with him count. Although saying goodbye may have come quicker than anyone would have hoped, and time ran out faster than we would have imagined, it was our ability to accept the fate and maximize our remaining time with him that helped comfort our family and friends during a devastating time of grief.
It is never easy to accept the seemingly unfair fates we all face. But, as Randy also shared in The Last Lecture, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” As a caregiver, recognize the hand you have been dealt, and never lose sight of the fact that you are in control of how you play that hand. Your heartache can be eased by making the final moments count and saying goodbye, knowing that no words were left unsaid.
Meghan is the daughter of Terre Mirsch, Administrator for Holy Redeemer Hospice. She attends Marymount Manhattan College in NYC.