Bucket List or Legacy List?
The bucket list. The phrase hasn’t been with us for long, less than 10 years in fact. The eponymous, 2006 Jack Nicholson film and the second series of An Idiot Abroad :The Bucket List have fixed the words into our everyday use.
For those of you who are not familiar with it a bucket list is, simply, a list of things to do, places to visit and experiences to have before you die. (I think we used to call them dreams, aspirations and life goals.)
Rather like setting up a private pension, it seems that the optimum time to make a bucket list is in your late teens or twenties. The benefits are obvious, set out your to-do list when time and energy are in great supply. The reality is that it is often the discovery of a life limiting or terminal illness that prompts a desire to create a bucket list.
There is no denying the psychological benefits of creating and achieving goals at a time when it can be difficult to feel positive about anything. The idea of the bucket list is not the problem – there is a plenty of anecdotal evidence that it has given many people something good to focus on during gruelling treatments and periods of ill health. It is the media portrayal of ‘The Bucket List ‘ that I have issue with.
We are encouraged to include increasingly extreme and outlandish goals – the ubiquitous swimming with dolphins, skydiving, parachuting. Creating the list has become a competitive sport in itself where our ambitions have to be bigger and better than our peers. If you are Googling the words bucket list to get ideas of what to put on it then what’s the point? By going along with this perception of what a bucket list should be there is a danger that people end up setting themselves unattainable goals, and ultimately have a sense of failure when they aren’t achieved. Is a relentless pursuit to tick boxes the best way to spend those last few months?
There are, obviously, practical implications to consider – travel insurance is prohibitively expensive for many people who have a terminal illness. Your state of health can change very quickly – you may feel well when you book your cliff diving session but may not on the day you have to do it. Marketing the bucket list is big business – there are companies making a lot of money from offering these ‘unique’ experiences as a package.
There is also an argument that focussing on the completion of a bucket list can be a way to deny or avoid thinking about death – a diversion from the reality of the situation. Chatting to friends and family about planning a list of exciting activities would, for most of us, be easier than discussing end of life care wishes.
The truth is that most of us live our lives in a smaller way where the focus is on our relationships with our partners, children and friends and these are our greatest achievements.
If you were a fly on the wall at your own funeral how would you like to hear yourself described by a friend to someone who was a passing acquaintance?
I would much rather hear myself defined as a good wife and mother than the person who abseiled the Grand Canyon, dressed as Wonder Woman while juggling live scorpions! (I exaggerate but you get the point.)I would like to make it clear that I am in no way suggesting that people with life limiting illnesses should not have goals just that our goals can’t be prescribed. They are supposed to be personal, individually tailored to our lives and personalities.
My mother had a very simple list of goals in the her last few weeks of life – she said she would be happy if she could live long enough to celebrate her granddaughter and husband’s birthdays. She did. No extreme sports necessary.
Wouldn’t it be nicer to read about all the things we have achieved in our lifetime instead of the things we haven’t?