To My New Friend

DEAR SEAN:

My 49th birthday was spent in the hospital where I was diagnosed with stage four neuroendocrine carcinoid tumors that had invaded multiple organs.

I have survived this ugly disease for 20 months now. I have good days and bad days. Some days I’m happy; some nights I pull the covers over my head and cry myself to sleep.

I find myself feeling alone and struggling. Not struggling with how to die with dignity, but with how to find the purpose to live the last part of my life for however long that may be. What do I do? Where do I go? How do I fill my final days and nights that are passing too quickly? I figured if anyone could share some heartfelt words it would be you.

Sincerely,
LOOKING-FOR-MY-FINAL-PURPOSE

DEAR LOOKING:

I am the wrong guy to talk to. I have no words because I am severely unqualified. In fact, I am so inept that in many circles I used to be known as “Critter,” and any guy bearing such a piteous nickname probably knows jack squat about life.

You know who I wish you could talk to? My friend Martin. Sadly, Martin is no longer alive. Martin would have known just what to say here.

Oh, you would have loved Martin, which was not his real name. He was a mess. He was loud, outgoing, sturdy-built, with a unique New Jersey accent. He was the main attraction of every party.

And I’m not exaggerating because whenever people invited me to parties, I often realized it was only because I could bring Martin.

These people would always remind me, “Hey! Don’t forget to bring Martin!” Which made me feel about as interesting as underprepared bratwurst.

Years ago, Martin had skin cancer that moved from his shoulder-blade region to his organs. He went through the medical care gauntlet. This drew out for months, then years.

One morning all Martin’s friends received an email saying that he was terminal. Martin pretended to be upbeat, but something was off. Martin was always a jocular, animated guy. Now he seemed sullen.

This was a tragedy. Because Martin was the kind of guy who was always joking around. Once I saw him drink Wild Turkey out of his own sock at a birthday bash.

He lived for laughs. He knew millions of jokes. He could tell you the classic joke about Mister Rab-BIT and Mister Buz-ZARD. Likewise, he could tell family-friendly jokes fit for the company of children and practicing nuns. Such as one of his most famous jokes:

“Late one night a Baptist preacher was driving on a country road and had a wreck. A farmer found the preacher in his wreckage and said, ‘You okay, preacher?’ The preacher answered, ‘Me? I’m always okay, I have the Lord riding beside me.’ The farmer replied, ‘Well, let Him ride with me from now on because you’re gonna kill Him.’”

It was better when Martin told it.

When Martin announced he was dying it was like being kicked in the sternum. In his email he also announced he was going to complete many items on his “bucket list.”

This was a long time ago, back then I didn’t know what bucket lists were. Martin explained that some people had a list of adventures they wanted to do before they kicked the “bucket.” Hence the name.

So that’s what he did. Martin’s wife took him to Europe, Japan, and South America. Martin went for a ride in a hot-air balloon with his kids. He even went to Vegas, but not to gamble. Martin paid a ridiculous amount of money to drive an actual race car for 15 minutes.

The reason I tell you all this is because after he had done these things, I can never shake the memory of what Martin said about it.

“Bucket lists are stupid.”

I wish I had Martin’s exact words right now, because he always had a special way with the English language. His staccato streetwise accent sounded like a submachine gun and he could make anything sound brilliant.

So I’m paraphrasing his remarks here because I think this is what he would say if he were alive. Keep mind, he said this a few months before he passed:

“Hey, listen, man, you wanna know what life is about? I’ll tell you. Nobody lays here and says, ‘Gaw, I wish I woulda seen Rome or Jamaica, or gone hang gliding, or done something really important.’ And I don’t give a [bad word] about my career anymore.

“You lay here and you think about one thing. ONE thing, man. People you love. You wish you coulda spent more time with them. You wish you woulda kept up with old friends instead of losing touch. You wish you woulda worked less hours. You wish you could just hold your kids for 24 hours a day until they mesh right into your body and become part of you forever.”

Then he started to cry. Not sad tears. Reflective ones.

“I ain’t afraid of dying, man,” he went on. “I’m afraid I didn’t tell my people just HOW MUCH I love them.”

Then Martin held my hand, which is something we guys never do. He said to me three small words. Special words. Words that, even if we said them every second of every day until the end of infinity, will never convey the full depth of their meaning. His words to me were: “Love you, Critter.”

Right now I’m saying three similar words to you, my friend. And I mean them with all my heart.

32 comments

  1. Leigh Amiot - March 17, 2021 10:03 am

    Prayers for peace were just sent up for this precious soul. The book of Psalms addresses all the human anguishes and joys; perhaps solace might be found there. That was quite a question, how to fully live until one dies. Martin did an exemplary job of answering it.

    Reply
  2. JVP - March 17, 2021 11:25 am

    Great advice for anyone. Everyone will pass away sometime. Tell your friends that you love them before you do.

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  3. Robin George - March 17, 2021 12:36 pm

    Brilliantly said Sean!

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  4. Marilyn - March 17, 2021 1:00 pm

    Amen to what Martin figured out. May God be with this man who wrote you, and all who read your column today. And you too, Sean. Your writing is meaningful to us and a bright spot to go to each day.

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  5. Debbie g - March 17, 2021 1:02 pm

    Also to your friend that wrote you. I love you and to you Sean be sure to know I love you too

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  6. Donnie Walker - March 17, 2021 1:07 pm

    Sean thanks for sharing this post. If we really look at life we are all terminal. All of us are going to die some sooner than others but the end of this life is death of our physical body. I had a medical emergency last April where I came close to death and am living with the result for my remaining life with that emergency. But my sanity and hope rested in the fact that I know that when this life is over then I will live w Jesus Christ forever. There is only that peace in this life that can give us comfort. Like her there were nights I would cry myself to sleep because I knew my life would never be the same and there are things the doctors have said could happen. But I know all is well and for that I have peace in my soul today. Like your friend said there is no joy in temporal things just love in family, friends and having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Donnie

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  7. Kate - March 17, 2021 1:28 pm

    Sean, this probably will make no sense to you, but I never could remember how to spell your last name, and then I realized it was Diet Rich. So now it is easy Dietrich. But what I think of when I see your last name (Dietrich) is really Diet Rich, I think of how rich my diet of good things is most every morning because I read what you write. You connect with the goodness of things and people and help the rest of us remember good things, special things, and help us feel more love, kindness and compassion. Thank you.

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  8. Debbie Taylor - March 17, 2021 1:37 pm

    I love you, Sean❤️ This was one of your most special stories … and you’ve told some really good ones over the years. Thank you!

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  9. Jan - March 17, 2021 1:49 pm

    Perfect! I love you, Sean! Love to each and every person reading Sean’s beautiful words and especially to Looking!

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  10. Becky Kaufman - March 17, 2021 1:51 pm

    and I love you.

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  11. Christine - March 17, 2021 2:01 pm

    Thank you Martin for giving your special friend, Critter, these words of advice.
    Love and Prayers

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  12. Frank Simon - March 17, 2021 2:04 pm

    I learned to say “I love you” to my friends just like Martin’s lesson in today’s post.

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  13. joan moore - March 17, 2021 2:36 pm

    We all need to do this, for we are all dying,we just don’t all have a diagnosis. God bless you, Critter!

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  14. AlaRedClayGirl - March 17, 2021 2:59 pm

    A good take-away from this would be to live everyday like you are dying.

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  15. Frances Floyd - March 17, 2021 3:09 pm

    Sean, what you wrote today is genius. Thank you! I plan to take this to heart.

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  16. Mary Louise - March 17, 2021 3:17 pm

    Oh Sean. How hard on your loving heart to receive some of our letters to you. Yet, you answer them with thoughtfulness, compassion, characteristic humor and gentleness. Sometime I suspect you have to brush away some tears, gather yourself up and reach down deep for your response. Thank you for always doing that. And Sean, we all love you. 💚

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  17. Dee Thompson - March 17, 2021 3:37 pm

    Beautiful. I was diagnosed with stage 1 endometrial cancer about 5 years ago. Made me really think. Lovely column.

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  18. Bar - March 17, 2021 3:46 pm

    Geez, Sean, you’ve been reading my mind. I’m an 83 year old widow; I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon and take a Mississippi River cruise. But after this reading, all I want is for my family and friends to know they are loved.

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  19. Linda Moon - March 17, 2021 5:06 pm

    I would like to meet LOOKING-FOR-MY-FINAL-PURPOSE. Those tumors have invaded me, too. Heartfelt words and good medical care for those and other malignancies that I’ve survived for 16 years have given me purpose. Professional “Critter-Gitters” removed a critter that had fallen into my chimney and spent Christmas with me. It died and decayed during the Holiday Season when no other exterminators were working. I loved the “Gitters” for removing its stinking carcus. I’ve done the list before cancer and later with more tumors while visiting a family ranch near a major Cancer Center. Here’s love from my heart to yours, Critter Sean. And I mean it.

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  20. Susan - March 17, 2021 6:29 pm

    Great, inspiring column, Sean!
    And don’t forget Mr. Tur/TLE! 😍

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  21. Fred - March 17, 2021 6:48 pm

    Martin was a wise man

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  22. christina - March 17, 2021 6:55 pm

    Lots of love to your new friend

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  23. Christopher Spencer - March 17, 2021 6:57 pm

    Matthew 22:37-40
    New King James Version

    37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
    38 This is the first and great commandment.
    39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
    40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

    The second greatest commandment God has given us is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And it does not matter one bit if we even know our neighbors. He did not say to love your neighbor after you have gotten to know them well and can trust them. He did not say that our neighbors were only the people who lived next door to us. He did not say to love only Democrats or Republicans, or only people of a certain skin color or religious denomination.

    He just said we are to love them, no matter what their sins may be or even if they live on the other side of the planet from us. Because He created us all and loves us all, and we are to love one another as He loves us. We are to see others not with our eyes or our heart, but with His eyes and heart.

    And Sean, and everyone reading this, I love you all and pray for God’s blessings on each of you.
    Chris

    Reply
  24. Tim House - March 17, 2021 7:16 pm

    Your friend Martin was a wise soul…

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  25. Bill - March 17, 2021 7:25 pm

    I say that to my wife every day. Also, to my 3 sons when we talk. Now I’m saying it to you, Sean and all your readers. It’s a shame the rest of the world doesn’t utter these words. Maybe then this world wouldn’t be so messed up.

    Reply
  26. Dawn Dyar - March 17, 2021 10:09 pm

    Sean, I read your articles everyday but this is the first time I am responding because this is personal to me. I have a dear friend from church that lost her young husband last year after a hard fought battle with this but only lasted about 12 months. In the beginning of his diagnosis I found this Facebook page for her. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1920986924817967 The lady that runs this page lost her first husband to the disease and she is VERY informative and compassionate and has dedicated her life to helping others and their families who suffer from it. I would really hope that you could pass this on to LOOKING-FOR-MY-FINAL-PURPOSE where he might could find comfort and help sharing with others going through the same. I know that Susan Meckler talks to you on the phone to help if needed. She was such a great support for my friend so I highly recommend her. I thank you for all you do that helps so many. Actually, I just bought one of your books for my friend who lost her husband. He was also 49 and they have 3 children that she will be raising alone now. Anyway, I sure do enjoy your writings. Hoping you are truly blessed for what you do.

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  27. elizabethroosje - March 18, 2021 1:45 am

    oh man. that is a hard thing. I agree Sean, making peace, telling everyone you love that you love them is super important. And knowing that God loves them and will never forget them as He made each person. God bless those preparing for that last big day of their lives…. Lord have mercy on them and comfort them…

    Reply
  28. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 18, 2021 2:40 am

    You know how you read something and you just decide it’s for you and you get something out of it so different from what others do? Well maybe that’s me today. I’m 49… one more day away from 50. Ive always loved St Patricks day and had plans to be with my grandkids today and enjoy the wearing of the green and some good natured shenanigans. But I’m under the weather today and so was the weather. Snow?? In Oklahoma on St Patricks day? Not completely unheard of I’m sure we sometimes get an “Easter spell” but it was 80 and beautiful yesterday while I was at work of course. Anyway I look forward to the green everywhere because as I’ve mentioned so many times before in so many comments I miss my Dad who I lost 2 1/2 years ago to liver cancer. He was diagnosed in March of 2018 and Green became our color for the battle and for the remembrance of him. To see the world in green I feel they’re all celebrating my Dad and not just the chance to be honorary Irish for 24 hours I missed that being home and sick today. Last year we missed it because Corona took over and everyone was out fighting for toilet paper and green was set aside and forgotten. I had the test today. Pretty sure it’s just allergies but gotta make sure. I have that big bday to celebrate and grandkids I want to see soon. Anyway the whole point of my long comment is the very end of your blog. It’s not an official Nick name of mine but I do sign correspondence as Critter. (My first initial and my last name) and boy today of all days did I need that I love you…. both of them in fact. Love you too. Hope you saw some GREEN today.

    Reply
  29. Pingback: Thursday Throwback to the Bucket List – The Write Side of My Brain

  30. Chip - March 18, 2021 1:22 pm

    Excellent!

    Reply
  31. Julie RN - March 18, 2021 3:04 pm

    “LOOKING-FOR-MY-FINAL-PURPOSE” would benefit from the services of Hospice. Their toll free number is 1-800–467-7423 to connect with a nearby agency. God Bless✝️

    Reply
  32. Lisa Adkins - March 19, 2021 6:04 pm

    Dear Looking, You are not alone. I too have stage 4 neuroendocrine tumors (NET) cancer and have lived with it for many years. This disease is supposedly rare, but I have found that there are quite a few of us fighting it. There are Facebook groups where discussions are held daily dealing with treatments and surviving the feelings like you have right now. Many of us have been given incorrect death sentences by doctors unfamiliar with our cancer. There is hope. There are neuroendocrine specialists across the country that can help. There are many tools in the toolbox to fight it…monthly sandostatin injections, surgery, PRRT (targeted radiation), and more. By reaching out and writing to Sean, you may have found a purpose. Awareness of this type cancer is needed and you have raised awareness by calling out its ugly name for all of Sean’s readers. You do not have an expiration date stamped in a medical chart somewhere. Take heart and know that you are needed in this world. Please look up https://www.thehealingnet.org. Dr. Eric Liu is the co-founder of The Healing Net organization and is an excellent warrior for those of us with NET cancer. Bless you in your journey.

    Sean, you have my email address if “Looking” would like to make contact with me. Thank you for writing the story.

    Reply

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