Neither one of us is getting out of here alive

Someone suggested (as a joke) that we all share a piece of wisdom.

It was Thanksgiving at my in-laws’ house. Dinner was over. A dozen of us had gathered in an impromptu circle of conversation at the end of the day. My husband’s cousin’s husband, who is always joking, suggested we go around the circle and share a truth we would tell the world. So we did.

The wisdom varied from unserious (YOLO) to pessimistic (don’t expect any of your plans to work out) to earnest (tell the truth).

Eventually, my brother-in-law had his turn.

For the past two years, he’s been dealing in one form or another with cancer. And on this holiday, his abdomen was swollen with tumors and a liver inflamed. He’d been awake for Thanksgiving dinner, but much of the day, he’d needed to sleep.

I did not feel surprised that the wisdom he gave us went something like this:

People say we’re all going to die someday, but they don’t act like it. Everybody walks around as if they’re going to live forever. They argue with each other as if they have all the time in the world. But when you’re really, truly looking down the barrel of that gun, you realize: not one of us is getting out of this alive. So we might as well be cool to each other.

I’ve been thinking about that all December.


Christmas Eve morning.

My daughter woke me up early and wanted an orange.

In the kitchen, I didn’t grumble at how early she was awake. (I’m more apt to do this than I like to admit.) I paid attention to the sound the peel made when pulled away from the fruit. My brother-in-law’s cancer had nearly overtaken him and he’d come home for hospice care to make peace with the end of his journey. I handed my daughter the orange segments and her mouth opened in a smile.

When someone you love is dying, every moment seems worthy of notice and appreciation.

In a few hours, we would bundle up and drive to my brother-in-law’s house, where his family planned to celebrate Christmas a day early—before his mind or strength slipped even farther away. But at this moment, before the sun came up, my daughter and I sat at the table, just eating an orange together.

I’ve written and deleted and written and deleted what I’m trying to say about this a dozen times—casting around in all seriousness for a piece of wisdom to hang onto. But perhaps my brother-in-law already said it best.

Neither you nor I is getting out of this life alive.

In each moment, let’s be as good to each other as we can.