In Lieu of Flowers

We have been living in our Sandwich Days, my wife and I, with the two-sided strain of raising our kids and also caring for our aging parents. We’ve lost a few of those parents in the last month, a process which is simultaneously stressful and relentlessly busy with the logistics of closing out someone’s life. There is a ton of paperwork to complete through the grief. There are photos to leaf through and keepsakes you realize you just can’t keep.

My wife’s mother died quietly on a Tuesday. Brain tumors. We knew this would happen. We knew it would be soon. We held our breathes and waited. It is quite a thing to hear a hospice nurse tell you it would only be a few days and have that be right. A hospice nurse can tell you a lot about life, and its opposite, I’d guess.

I went through this a few years ago with my father, and then shortly after, with my brother. I learned a lot. At the time of my father’s death I wrote this:

When my dad was working out the final turns in his personal maze, preparing to exit life’s constant stream of choices and consequences, I tried to make sense of it. “This is my life,” I thought, “and that must mean something.”

As he left his behind, I thought the lesson was that I’d better get busy living mine.

The Only Way Is Forward

My wife’s stepmother died about three weeks ago. The obituary packed her whole life into a neat graph, listed her remaining family, and also something about her collection of seashells. At the end it said, “In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the American Cancer Society.” She’d been a lifelong smoker. It was something nice, nicer than a bunch of flowers, to ask people to do; as if the family had said, “We all have to die, but not this way.”

And I thought to myself, “In lieu of flowers, go outside. In lieu of flowers, understand the clock is ticking. In lieu of flowers, love each other a little better, a little more.”

If you’re riding your bike today, in lieu of flowers, maybe stand into the pedals just once, and go as fast you can. Feel the thrill, maybe even a little fear. As you lean into the ride, feeling your legs grow heavy and tired, feel grateful that you can be there in whatever low-level pain you can manage. In lieu of flowers, just be glad you’re alive. The end is coming, but not today.

The Cycling Independent is sponsored by Shimano.

Join the conversation
  1. limpest.hypos-0q says

    Thanks for this… I lost my older brother to brain cancer this fall and had very similar thoughts. Thanks for the continued awesome and relatable content both on TCI as well as the Revolting podcast. As I said in an email to Stevil a couple of months ago, I appreciate the honesty and willingness to share.

    Hang in there.

  2. Jeremy Land says

    So well said! This experience of seeing my children out of the house and parents out of their days has been interesting to say the least.
    Think I’ll go for a ride now… Condolences Robot.

  3. khal spencer says

    Or as Warren Zevon said when he discovered he had incurable mesothelioma, “Enjoy every sandwich”.

  4. trabri says

    As I type this I sit between my beloved Uncle Cliff’s death and burial. Up until his departure I struggled to ride as most of my energies and focus were spent on his care and enjoying his presence. I will ride now and contemplate his life lived and mine left to live.
    An excellent and timely essay. Thank you for this.

  5. Ransom says

    Well said, and thank you.
    I knew too many people who’d otherwise still be here, or at least left a lot more recently. I’m grateful for the reminder that as long as we’re here, there’s so much to appreciate, and I know a lot of those I miss would be the first to urge us on.

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