“My husband died of brain cancer 6 months ago and I’m continuing the bucket list we wrote together before he died”. I looked up suddenly and had to quickly hide my surprise. “So that’s why we want to go paragliding – I know we’re a bit old but anyway Haha!” Carol (we’ll call her) and her friend Susan were 73 & 74 respectively and were two of the guests I was looking after in my hotel in Lake Garda. “He was ill for 18 months before he died and the very day we were told he only had a year to live – we sat down and wrote a bucket list together.” I caught a sudden lump in my throat. “It was the saddest day of our lives but from that day forward we never wasted a minute.” By this point she had put down her bright orange beach bag and was now sitting down in the seat beside me. I was a bit hot and flustered from my cycle up to the hotel and the main thought buzzing around my head had been whether or not I’d remembered to close my balcony door. Well this was a thump back down to earth. “Do not waste your life working too hard for no reason – the biggest regret we had was devoting too much time to work and not enough time to doing anything else.” Her flamboyantly saronged self then proceeded to tell me about some of the things they’d done together for a good 10 minutes. The Eiffel tower at night, a trip across America including a visit to the grand canyon. There were a few more travel related ones – and then she said; “But the best one – one of the best nights of everything we did, was when we asked a friend if we could borrow their hot tub. We sat in there on a cold evening – one when you could see all the stars- had a cold beer each – and just laughed. It was wonderful.” There was a pause. The lump in my throat had come back and Carol needed a moment too. She collected herself. “The funny thing is when I wrote the list, I never thought that would be so significant – what with all the places we went to - but it was one of the best.” Then, looking at me, suddenly serious; “Sophie, what are you 21? 22? (yes yes 22 - that is me – I didn’t correct her) - you have to get specific – when you write your bucket list think about what it is that you really want to do. It doesn’t have to always be big fancy trips or jumping off mountains – it’s the small stuff too. You’re young and you have time, if we could have our time again and write a list the day we married, we would have renovated a beach house, or learnt a language together, and we definitely would have bought our own hot tub instead of building that silly conservatory! He’s died now – but paragliding was on our list and he made me promise I would continue it after he was gone. So now look at me having to drag poor old Susan along instead!” She laughed and I laughed with her – but the lump in my throat was still there.
Later on, as I cycled home from work in the Malcesine sunset, Carol’s words were still in my head and I felt my heart break slightly for her loss. This was near the beginning of the season and little did I know how many people I would meet with a similar story and similar advice.
There is a lot of inspirational stuff out there – YouTube videos, Pinterest quote, blogs – and if you follow me I am no stranger to watching and sharing these things on my own social media channels! This was different; someone had looked in my eyes and told me how important it was to not forget to live. I’d seen the sincerity and regret staring right back at me in real life. A couple of weeks later, a similar thing happened and sitting at my marble table in my hotel again, an incredibly sweet lady had come to me to book a trip to Venice; ‘The trip runs Mondays and Fridays and we do an extended trip leaving Venice at 10pm at night which is on Tuesday’. “Oh no I don’t think we can do that one – my husband has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he’s been told he only has 6 months. We haven’t told anyone – and please don’t mention it if you see him. We’d both been married before and only met when we were older. I’ve been to Venice before but I want him to see it before…you know.” Then her voice croaked and I could see her eyes filling up with tears. “I met the love of my life at 59 - and now I’m going to lose him. I’ve only had him for 4 years. How is this fair?” There was the lump again. All I could do was listen – and of course I hugged her silly. They went to Venice on Friday, after he had the chance to rest, and I saw her after. “It was wonderful.” and there was that bloody lump again!
So, how to write a real bucket list. After my conversation with Carol I completely began to re-write mine and got honest about what I really wanted to experience on this planet in the years I have here. Do I really want to go to Grand Canyon? Not really no...if it comes up yes ; but it’s not really a priority for me. But I do want to be snogged (yes I said snogged!!) somewhere under the northern lights - and I do one day want to successfully (this being the key word here) cook Christmas dinner for my whole family. I hope I find love again but this is something we can’t control but I can definitely have a go at writing a blog – or even a book. I crossed off a lot of things which when I asked myself ‘do I really want to that?’ 'hmm nahhh’. So here are the rules for writing a real bucket list.
1) Get specific. When you think of a place or a trip, what is it that you’re really envisioning? ‘I want to go to Italy’ You’re saying this because you have an image in your head of that experience. Put that image on your list.
2) Don’t limit it to experiences. Maybe you secretly want to learn Russian, or want to be able to triple back flip on concrete. I wanted to ski a black slope with ease. I’m not a daring skier at all but I did happen to do this by accident– I got to the bottom thinking it was a red and then saw a black post. What? Did I just do that?! Woohoo!! Most seasonnaires would be massively unimpressed with this but I was cheering inside. Keep it personal and remember the small victories are important.
3) Use it as a guide rather than an absolute. Some of the best moments of your life won’t be found on any recommended ‘top 10 things to do before you die’ lists. It’s easy to fall into the trap of making a massive check list and being determined to cross it all off. When I started to look back at my own life, I remembered my time living in Australia when I was 18. I’d always dreamed of riding a horse along an exotic beach and was determined to do this during my time there. When I did come to do it I only remember feeling a bit like ‘well that was a nice way to spend an hour’ – it was a completely unremarkable experience. However - living on an isolated farm in some random outback town and driving a quad bike back up to the farmhouse every evening at sunset – usually with haystack hair and probably smelling of cows - now that was amazing. Was this on my buckets list? Nope. So stay flexible – you never know what’s around the corner and if you stick to a list too rigidly you may miss out.
So there you go, who knew there was so much depth to writing a bloody bucket list!? I actually saw Carol later on that week after her paraglide and she said; “Well he better be proud of me because if he wasn’t already dead I’d have killed him for making me do that!!”