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Ruminations on an “Open Ended Life”

By January 16, 2020Purposeful Living

This was my view, earlier this week, from a bed in a small examination room in St. Paul’s United Hospital E-R. It was about 5 am. I had a blood pressure cuff wrapped around my upper left arm like a boa and EKG leads tacked all over me. Nothing like a little chest pain, dizziness and cardiac palpitations to get you into an ER, wondering if indeed you’re in midst of a heart attack or on the doorstep of having one. I was driving to work on a dark and snowy morning when all of this unfolded. Instead of driving to work, I drove myself to the hospital.

I rarely talk about any medical conditions or maladies I might have. That’s boring. I’ll only say that the right people are doing the right things to find out what’s going on with me. I’ll also admit that in spite of my comfort in talking about death and dying, when faced with a potentially deadly situation, I got a big, cold slap upside the head by the Universe and was reduced to a trembling puddle of fear. Of all the thoughts whipping through my head at the time was the realization that I haven’t done enough living. I mean REALLY living. I’m super busy and in constant motion and I’m damned tired. If I’m honest with myself, I’m in motion but only going through the motions. How many of you do that? Do you even realize it? That kind of auto-pilot living has got to stop.


As I was trying to relax (doctor’s orders) at home, I was watching the “Jeopardy: Greatest of All Time Tournament.” Host Alex Trebek is living with late stage cancer. I was struck by something he said in a recent interview and it came back as I sat in my recliner. Trebek said “Most of us have open-ended lives. We don’t know when we’re going to die. Because of the cancer diagnosis, it’s no longer an open-ended life, it’s a closed-end life because of the terrible statistics, survival rates for pancreatic cancer.” 

I have to remember, we all should remember, that the open-ended life we think we have does have a “use by” date on it. Nothing is permanent, especially us.


  • Mary Keyes says:

    Dear Cathy,
    We worry about you! For years, we have said, “How does she keep it all straight?!” Please, take care of yourself! Sit and look at the Big Sparkly (Superior). Walk slowly and look around. Learn to say no, sometimes. Sending you much love,
    Mary and Joe Keyes — in Hibbing

  • Let me know if there’s anything I can be for you! I am an excellent relaxer 🙂
    Much love,
    Open-ended Joan

  • Mary Madill says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Cathy. Nothing is more important than learning to live each day to its fullest, and it is a challenging lesson to learn! I also resonated with your experience of being comfortable talking about death and dying, but experiencing absolute fear when your own demise was brought into the picture. Perhaps the Universe was just adding this up-close and personal experience to your repertoire to enhance your connection to the groups you speak to? Wishing for you healthy and balanced days ahead. Thanks for the great work you are doing!

  • Cheryl Hagen says:

    As a long time MPR listener and Almanac watcher, I was distressed to hear of your recent experience. It is so difficult to follow our own advice , especially about life and living, really living. Like what does that even mean? Of course each of us is called to answer that question for ourselves. After the death of my wife two years ago, I still struggle with that question. But I am making progress. It seems to me that you are a curious adventurer, so I’m pretty sure you will find your answers too. Please take care.

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