Only a day before she died of cancer. 27 year-old Holly Butcher of Grafton Australia, posted a message on facebook that has been shared around the world in countless forms and forums.
The death of someone young is less common, and the novelty and risk in hearing that news captures our brain’s attention like rubberneckers passing a car accident. That’s helpful, because it slows us down to focus more closely.
Fortunately, our attention is rewarded by focusing on Holly’s message. There’s nothing like dying to help teach a person deep lessons about life. Her message, shared below (and fortunately almost everywhere), is indeed very wise.
The reason I want to discuss this is because almost every reaction I’ve seen in articles, posts or comments, has described her message as wise, as I did But…
Where we differ is that every other case I saw described her story as sad, tragic and unfortunate. This obviously true in many very important senses. But it is nevertheless misleading in another important sense.
Of course virtually everyone would love it if she could still be alive. But by turning her death into a tragedy we threaten to miss her central point. The entire reason life is so valuable is that death is a guarantee. It’s common, but we think and act like it’s not.
Animals can’t think a future into existence. They always live ‘now.’ But we time travel all over the place in our thinking. Depressed people are thinking about what’s happened. Anxious people’s anxiety exists completely in their mental predictions of the future.
Meanwhile a very limited life is happening. That’s how we waste life by thinking we have unlimited time. In her message she’s telling us to pay attention. To the little things. The things that go unappreciated even as actual things.
John Lennon said, “Life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Holly is saying that we should pay attention to “what happens” much more than the “plans.”
Life isn’t big peaks or huge achievements or awards or titles or credit or money. Life is moment by moment existence. And far too many people are chasing those other things to ever really treasure just being alive to experience anything.
Death comes to us all. Sooner than we’d like. Far sooner in some cases. But by accepting its inevitability, we supercharge our awareness for the important act of being. In doing so we can transform an ordinary day, that might have been given over the depressed or anxious thinking, and instead we can invest that lifetime in recognizing our life and our day for the wonders that they truly are.
A bit of life advice from Hol:
“It’s a strange thing to realise and accept your mortality at 26 years young. It’s just one of those things you ignore. The days tick by and you just expect they will keep on coming; Until the unexpected happens. I always imagined myself growing old, wrinkled and grey- most likely caused by the beautiful family (lots of kiddies) I planned on building with the love of my life. I want that so bad it hurts.
That’s the thing about life; It is fragile, precious and unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right.
I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life. I am happy.. I owe that to my loved ones. But the control is out of my hands.
I haven’t started this ‘note before I die’ so that death is feared – I like the fact that we are mostly ignorant to it’s inevitability.. Except when I want to talk about it and it is treated like a ‘taboo’ topic that will never happen to any of us.. That’s been a bit tough. I just want people to stop worrying so much about the small, meaningless stresses in life and try to remember that we all have the same fate after it all so do what you can to make your time feel worthy and great, minus the bullshit.
I have dropped lots of my thoughts below as I have had a lot of time to ponder life these last few months. Of course it’s the middle of the night when these random things pop in my head most!
1) Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months), just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is annoying but try not to carry on about it and negatively effect other people’s days.
2) Once you do that, get out there and take a freaking big breath of that fresh Aussie air deep in your lungs, look at how blue the sky is and how green the trees are; It is so beautiful. Think how lucky you are to be able to do just that – breathe.
3) You might have got caught in bad traffic today, or had a bad sleep because your beautiful babies kept you awake, or your hairdresser cut your hair too short. Your new fake nails might have got a chip, your boobs are too small, or you have cellulite on your arse and your belly is wobbling.
Let all that shit go.. I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go. It is all SO insignificant when you look at life as a whole. I’m watching my body waste away right before my eyes with nothing I can do about it and all I wish for now is that I could have just one more Birthday or Christmas with my family, or just one more day with my partner and dog. Just one more.
4) I hear people complaining about how terrible work is or about how hard it is to exercise – Be grateful you are physically able to. Work and exercise may seem like such trivial things … until your body doesn’t allow you to do either of them.
I tried to live a healthy life, in fact, that was probably my major passion. Appreciate your good health and functioning body- even if it isn’t your ideal size. Look after it and embrace how amazing it is. Move it and nourish it with fresh food. Don’t obsess over it.
5) Remember there are more aspects to good health than the physical body.. work just as hard on finding your mental, emotional and spiritual happiness too. That way you might realise just how insignificant and unimportant having this stupidly portrayed perfect social media body really is.. While on this topic, delete any account that pops up on your news feeds that gives you any sense of feeling shit about yourself. Friend or not.. Be ruthless for your own well-being.
6) Be grateful for each day you don’t have pain and even the days where you are unwell with man flu, a sore back or a sprained ankle, accept it is shit but be thankful it isn’t life threatening and will go away.
7) Whinge less, people! .. And help each other more.
😎 Give, give, give. It is true that you gain more happiness doing things for others than doing them for yourself. I wish I did this more. Since I have been sick, I have met the most incredibly giving and kind people and been the receiver of the most thoughtful and loving words and support from my family, friends and strangers; More than I could I ever give in return. I will never forget this and will be forever grateful to all of these people.
9) It is a weird thing having money to spend at the end.. when you’re dying. It’s not a time you go out and buy material things that you usually would, like a new dress. It makes you think how silly it is that we think it is worth spending so much money on new clothes and ‘things’ in our lives.
Buy your friend something kind instead of another dress, beauty product or jewellery for that next wedding. 1. No-one cares if you wear the same thing twice 2. It feels good. Take them out for a meal, or better yet, cook them a meal. Shout their coffee. Give/ buy them a plant, a massage or a candle and tell them you love them when you give it to them.
10) Value other people’s time. Don’t keep them waiting because you are shit at being on time. Get ready earlier if you are one of those people and appreciate that your friends want to share their time with you, not sit by themselves, waiting on a mate. You will gain respect too! Amen sister.
11) This year, our family agreed to do no presents and despite the tree looking rather sad and empty (I nearly cracked Christmas Eve!), it was so nice because people didn’t have the pressure of shopping and the effort went into writing a nice card for each other. Plus imagine my family trying to buy me a present knowing they would probably end up with it themselves.. strange! It might seem lame but those cards mean more to me than any impulse purchase could. Mind you, it was also easier to do in our house because we had no little kiddies there. Anyway, moral of the story- presents are not needed for a meaningful Christmas. Moving on.
12) Use your money on experiences.. Or at least don’t miss out on experiences because you spent all your money on material shit.
13) Put in the effort to do that day trip to the beach you keep putting off. Dip your feet in the water and dig your toes in the sand. Wet your face with salt water.
14) Get amongst nature.
15) Try just enjoying and being in moments rather than capturing them through the screen of your phone. Life isn’t meant to be lived through a screen nor is it about getting the perfect photo.. enjoy the bloody moment, people! Stop trying to capture it for everyone else.
Random rhetorical question. Are those several hours you spend doing your hair and make up each day or to go out for one night really worth it? I’ve never understood this about females.
16) Get up early sometimes and listen to the birds while you watch the beautiful colours the sun makes as it rises.
17) Listen to music.. really listen. Music is therapy. Old is best.
18) Cuddle your dog. Far out, I will miss that.
19) Talk to your friends. Put down your phone. Are they doing okay?
20) Travel if it’s your desire, don’t if it’s not.
21) Work to live, don’t live to work.
Seriously, do what makes your heart feel happy.
22) Eat the cake. Zero guilt.
23) Say no to things you really don’t want to do.
24) Don’t feel pressured to do what other people might think is a fulfilling life.. you might want a mediocre life and that is so okay.
25) Tell your loved ones you love them every time you get the chance and love them with everything you have.
26) Also, remember if something is making you miserable, you do have the power to change it – in work or love or whatever it may be. Have the guts to change. You don’t know how much time you’ve got on this earth so don’t waste it being miserable. I know that is said all the time but it couldn’t be more true.
Anyway, that’s just this one young gals life advice. Take it or leave it, I don’t mind!
Oh and one last thing, if you can, do a good deed for humanity (and myself) and start regularly donating blood. It will make you feel good with the added bonus of saving lives. I feel like it is something that is so overlooked considering every donation can save 3 lives! That is a massive impact each person can have and the process really is so simple.
Blood donation (more bags than I could keep up with counting) helped keep me alive for an extra year – a year I will be forever grateful that I got to spend it here on Earth with my family, friends and dog. A year I had some of the greatest times of my life.
..’Til we meet again.
It is a gift she gave us. A gift of insight; of vision. She sees our future. If we do as well, it will lead us to live our lives more fully, and with less time spent criticizing ourselves, others, and the world. And considering her unique perspective and wisdom, why not take one thing off of Holly’s list and commit to doing it today? It would do our lives good. (And why not give some blood while we’re at it. 😉 )
(Rest in) peace Holly, s
To read Holly’s original post, you can find it here.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.