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How my skydiving mother gave me a new perspective on terminal illness

In 2014 I was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cirrhosis. I had no symptoms, felt pretty good for a 71 year old guy and I was optimistic about the future. I didn't drink, I'd never had hepatitis C. I was one of the growing number of Americans with NASH, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. The reasons for it are not fully understood, but there is no cure, short of a liver transplant.

My dad, who died a decade ago, had liver disease, so I knew that this is one nasty way to go. For the first time in my life, I fell into the ugly beast of depression. 

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A few months after my diagnosis, when my spirits had reached rock bottom, my 91-year-old mother asked me and my sister to go with her to see an oncologist.  She had been coughing a little and a scan showed a suspicious mass in her lung which had been biopsied. 

The doctor was calm and supportive as he explained stage 4 non-small cell carcinoma.  Sadly no, not operable. How long would she have? Hard to say. Probably not too long.  Chemo is really hard on older people, he told us.  Think about the quality of life.

The experience was a heavy weight as we drove home.  Finally, my sister asked our mother what was on her bucket list. 

The answer came without hesitation.

“I want to go skydiving,” she declared.  (Hint here is her video)

We were dumbfounded.  As far as we knew, she'd never wanted to do anything like that. Why now?

Life was for living, she told us,  and there was nothing to be gained by moping around.

Besides, she had always wanted to know what it was like to fly like a bird.

On Oct. 10, 2014, Geneva Eskridge went skydiving. Her tiny frame encased in a jaunty red flight suit, she jumped out of the plane with her tandem partner, not a trace of fear evident on her smiling face. Actually, she looked like an excited girl about to discover something amazing.

Her example of joyously embracing her life inspired me.  My own depression receded as the future once again became a thing of possibility, not doom. 

It's been two years (and one more skydive, this time with her daughter and granddaughter), and my mother is still with us.

Every now and then, I watch the video of her first skydive. I know of no more magical tonic to help me remember her lesson in why being positive in life is its own reward, regardless of what the days bring.