LIFE CHANGING STORY | A Healthy Perspective for Relationships
This inspirational article tells a true story about how a deeply depressed man found a perspective for living that completely transformed his life.
I guess that the one commonality we share is that the minute we’re born, we all start this journey called life, which at some point is going to come to an end.
For some of us, life can end suddenly and unexpectedly or even after years of declining ill health, but it’s going to come and like our birth, we don’t have any choice about when it happens. We can completely ignore this fact, but whether we do or whether we don’t; it’s not going to change its inevitability.
An unknown Google poet that I found a number of years ago wrote these words which have stuck with me ever since:
“Life comes equally to us all as does death, and when that comes, it makes us all completely equal.”
This may seem a little bit doomy and gloomy, however it’s not my intention here to depress, so I’d like to focus on the middle section, which is where our life happens.
This middle bit, the years between where we start and where we end is the dash that is found on our gravestones. For some of this, this dash can be brief, but for most of us, this dash can last for many years from our childhood right through to late adulthood.
Now that’s the introduction over, I’d really like to take this opportunity to share with you a story about a phenomenal friend I once had called Sherrie.
So to set the scene: a number of years ago I spent some time living overseas in Australia and New Zealand, then in September 2009 I returned home to Scotland, where I first met Sherrie in a Frankie and Benny’s restaurant after exchanging messages for a few weeks via an online dating website. When I first met her, I had done so within a few months of entering back into the UK as I had mentioned, at this stage of my life, I knew very few people back in Scotland and hadn’t yet made any friends.
I guess that upon initially meeting Sherrie, I wasn’t too interested in who she was, or even in the details of her life to date, but was fundamentally selfishly motivated by the potential relationship I could have developed with her in that I’d simply hoped would make me feel less lonely.
When I first met her, I didn’t know that she had an illness that was killing her, so in this restaurant she was strangely quiet, even though I’d taken into account that it was a first date!
Now, I’ve got a reputation for being able to talk, but after five to ten minutes of me completely dominating the conversation I began to notice that Sherrie hadn’t even got her breath back from just simply walking in the door of the restaurant.
This was a first date, and I was actually quite nervous which provoked my tongue to do more of the talking than what I was being matched with! When I finally stopped my nerves induced rant and finally got round to asking Sherrie a bit about herself and about the story behind her life so far, she began to tell me all about the journey she’d been on in her life with cystic fibrosis.
As I found out, this had been quite a troublesome and arduous journey for her.
Very quickly I grew in awareness of this illness she had, although I still wasn’t quite sure what it was or even what this meant. I learned that Cystic Fibrosis is an inherited lifelong condition that mainly affects the lungs and pancreas.
Sherrie’s symptoms caused a persistent cough and wheezing, constant chest infections and general ill health. She shared with me how three years earlier she’d had a lung transplant which had initially been a success, but she explained to me that a year or so after her operation she began experiencing difficulties with her new lungs until one day her body rejected them. Other than pain-relieving medication there was nothing the specialists could do for my friend, and I began to realise that Sherrie’s life expectancy was very limited.
Until now, I’d never met anyone who seemed to value life more so than Sherrie. The medical professionals would tell her to take it easy and not to physically push herself too hard or do the things that ‘normal people do’, but what Sherrie really, really wanted to do with the rest of her life, was to live.
She didn’t want to be stuck at home waiting to die as that wasn’t who she was, so a week before Christmas of 2009, having learned of Sherrie’s passion for all things theatrical, I took her in her wheelchair to the local pantomime, Snow White. After about 5 minutes I was bored totally witless, however Sherrie absolutely loved it and watched eagerly, with what were to become, tears of joy in her eyes. She sat there for over two hours with the largest smile on her face, and upon the show’s closing, a tear rolled down her cheek as she shared with me that she had doubted she’d ever get to see a musical of any form again.
This little trip, which seemed of so little significance to me turned out to be the beginning of our adventure together, and the beginning of a phenomenal friendship. Until now, I could have never imagined the depth of impact that I could have had on another human being.
In the start of 2010, as we started spending more time together, it became apparent that Sherrie found it difficult to walk long distances, so any time we went out together in the initial stages of our friendship, I would push her in her wheelchair, sometimes around the local shopping center or even during visits to the cinema.
She hated the wheelchair, as would become so frustrated with herself and her physical restrictions but it was the only way that we could get out together at this early stage of our relationship.
In 2007, over two years before we even met, Sherrie’s health had taken a turn for the worse and in what her Mum believed to be a miracle, Sherrie was offered and given a double lung transplant which she jumped at the chance of receiving.
Although the operation had been a great success initially, within the twelve months that followed, Sherrie’s body rejected her new lungs and her health began declining rapidly again.
Despite really wanting to walk, sing and dance, her body was in a constant battle with her spirit. In her younger years she’d won medals and awards for dancing and she’d reflect upon how she was back there and compare herself to her current abilities, which was the major root of her frustrations and grievances.
One day in early spring 2010 I took Sherrie to a local Park, where I suggested that she get up and walk. I was immediately faced with the doubts and fears that Sherrie was struggling with, but she wanted to get up and do this, so eventually after about ten to 15 minutes of procrastination and complaints, she got up, she stood still for a few moments, she gained her focus and she went for it.
So from this short journey, other journeys began. Some days we went for a walk in the local shopping center, and although we never actually bought anything, we’d go from shop to shop, Sherrie walking in, clinging onto clothes rails for dear life while she got her breath back, and when she was ready to move on again, we’d go to the next shop.
Each outing would end with a trip to the Pancake Place and a Starbucks before I’d take her home, where she’d be physically exhausted and ready for bed.
I don’t think that I’d ever felt this way about another human being before at any other stage of my life. It was kind of as if I was now primarily driven by making a difference in her life, in encouraging her, in supporting her, and in actually getting to know her. In virtually all my previous relationships, until now I could not have remembered any other point of my life where I’d truly cared about the other person in a relationship I was in, more so that what I would have done about myself.
Through these trips and outings of ours, we began to build up a bit of a momentum, which led to further trips to the cinema amongst other places without the use of her wheelchair. We even travelled around the country to attend church healing meetings; such was Sherrie’s desperation to try anything that may make her physically better and lengthen her life.
Autumn brought about a series of chest infections that landed Sherrie in hospital for a few weeks, and she saw this as a huge setback, knocking the confidence achieved from all the progress we’d already made. She became involved in a local crafts group after coming out of hospital, but this never matched the leaps and bounds of progress that we’d made in the earlier months.
One afternoon in late summer 2010, when Sherrie’s breathing was relatively stable (as I’d previously been a physical training instructor in the British Army) I put my physical trainer’s hat back on and suggested that we go for a drive.
Now when I say I put my ‘hat’ back on, the old soldier came out in me and I adopted the attitude (with Sherrie on side) that “pain, is just a sign of weakness leaving the body” So we drove down to the promenade in Kirkcaldy, a place where she told me she spent time as a child, and I suggested we get out of the car and go for a short walk.
Now just to get things straight here, the doctors and specialists had warned Sherrie that all physical exercise was out of the question and that she should be careful to even leave the restraints of her house. Although they were generally governed by a) fear, and b) covering their own backs, Sherrie wasn’t. She fundamentally wanted to live, and all I wanted to do was help her.
So as we began this short walk. She produced a few whines, a few moans and complaints, but as we walked and talked, I suggested and provoked her, that we keep on going, to break through her discomfort and potentially achieve the impossible together. She followed my orders.
Although she wasn’t particularly happy with the way in which I was ordering her (military style), she kept on going. Each bollard we walked past brought about a whole new series of complaints and moans, and at one point Sherrie cried out “I think I’m going to be sick!” to which I replied, “Well, stick your head over the wall, get it all out, and keep your ass moving’!”
We eventually we made it back to the car. Despite the doctors and nurses saying this would never be possible, a dying girl with cystic fibrosis had walked a mile and a half. Without her wheelchair, without being carried, without being pushed, and I didn’t even hold her hand.
Upon getting her home this day, Sherrie wasn’t just angry with me for making her do this completely unimaginable task, but she was literally completely out of breath in exactly the same way as what she would have been if she’d only walked ten or twenty meters.
Over the next hour or so once she’d eventually calmed herself down, she began to see the extent of what she’d just experienced. As I mentioned, I hadn’t held her hand, I hadn’t pushed her and I hadn’t carried her. We didn’t take the wheelchair as a back up in case Sherrie got into difficulty; she’d done this entirely on her own.
A month earlier upon getting out of hospital with a chest infection, she could barely walk, and if I’d shared my plans with her that day prior to our activities commencing, I doubt that she’d even have come with me. But this day, late summer in 2010, my friend Sherrie, the dying girl with cystic fibrosis who’s body had rejected her own lungs, achieved this ‘completely impossible’ and ‘entirely unimaginable’, mile and a half walk, entirely on her own.
Over the next few months, my perspective and personal values had changed. We started to see each other less as I started a new job in car sales, allowing the job to completely consume my life. I went on a journey to make money, which I believed to be highly important to me at the time.
The time that I allowed this new sales role to demand from me, I sacrificed much of the time that I would have previously spent with Sherrie.
I was working in Perth, Scotland one morning in mid-December 2010 when I received a phone call from Sherrie’s dad, who asked me if I could make it round to their house with urgently. On checking my phone, I realized I had 23 missed calls and one text message from Sherrie that read:
“Kain, please come, I want to live”.
My heart sank.
I got in the car and broke the legal speed limits getting back from Perth to Lochgelly where Sherrie now lived with her parents. I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right and could barely see the road see through my tears and the glares of the winter sun.
As I arrived at Sherrie’s house, her family was all there, red eyed and subdued, with the doctor and local pastor just about to leave after being there for the last couple of hours. Sherrie greeted me with what seemed to be the very last of her energy, every last ounce that she had: “Heeeeyyyyyyaaaaaa”
Sherrie had taken a steep downward spiral and within moments, I realized that my friend, who I was now barely even able to recognize, was dying. For the next seven to eight hours I sat with Sherrie’s family, as she drifted in and out of consciousness, refusing point blank to take any painkillers because she didn’t want to feel sedated in what she seemed to know would be the final hours of her life.
Each minute felt like an hour until about eight o’clock at night when Sherrie wrestled with her last breath, and spoke out her final words. She looked me, her mum, her dad then her sister and said, “God is good”. Upon this, we all fell apart unable to understand what she meant.
Sherrie’s life ended in my arms and in the midst and company of the four people that she knew, loved and cared about the most. I felt lost for words, mentally and emotionally crushed.
I was sickened with myself. Disgusted even. I had spent the last few months of my friend’s life selfishly sacrificing our friendship for selling the cars and making money for a greedy Scottish car dealership.
What I found so difficult to understand was how until Sherrie’s final moments, she seemed to unconditionally accept me, whilst loving me completely, as she had done since the day we first met, despite my selfish change of focus and the reduced amount of time I had been spending with her.
If for a moment we could return to thinking about this journey we’re all on, even if we may not even see it as a journey, it can be very easy sometimes to lose perspective of the things that are truly important in life.
So often we can get caught up in the most insignificant garbage, and I don’t think I stand alone in sometimes becoming so consumed with my own immediate problems and worries that I lose perspective of what’s truly important in life, and of the value found in relationship.
For some people, life can seem like a constant series of struggles to merely survive, whereas other people find themselves with all the money and materialistic possessions they could ever want, yet still remain feeling unsatisfied, empty and unfulfilled.
For the last three months of my best friends life, I prioritized making money for myself, over spending time with my dying friend. Although I had been completely inconsistent for her, her love for me didn’t falter for a moment.
When Sherrie died in my arms on 21 December 2010, my perspective of life changed. The financial and materialistic things of the world that I had once placed so much value upon, no longer maintained their levels of significance. This was to become the first time in my life where I fully understood the value of life and relationships.
I chose that day to commit the rest of my life to being the best me that I can be for others, for anyone that needs me to simply be myself for them. This had always been enough, and perhaps even quite impacting, for Sherrie.
I’ve grown to realize since Sherrie’s death that there’s many people on this journey through life that allow themselves the opportunity to step out of the ‘busyness’ of daily routine for long enough to simply reflect upon the journey that they’re on, the journey they’ve been on, the final destination they’re trying to reach, what they even want to achieve in their lives or why they want to achieve these things.
For some of us, life’s journey can be stained with heartache, neglect and hurt through our relationships, where we can always hope for something greater, but knowing how to achieve these goals being nothing more than a confusing uncertainty.
I’ve spent years of my life asking the big questions such as; What’s the purpose of living and how do we go about fulfilling this purpose? But it wasn’t until Sherrie’s death where I began finding some answers.
I believe that no matter where you’re at, who you are or what road you’ve been travelling on in life so far, absolutely everything can be different, and you’re only going to get one shot at this journey so why not make the most of it.
This short story ends with a transformational life principle that I hope will provide you with the same perspective for life that I now have.
No one needs to be a professional life coach, a therapeutic counselor, qualified specialist or NLP practitioner to change the world of another human being; we simply need to unconditionally love.
I made a mistake, I spent the last few months of my friend Sherrie’s life pursuing money, and when she died, I was crushed. But what crushed me more was the guilt and shame of pursuing something that bore so much of a lesser value than that of my dear friend’s life.
On that day in December 2010 before Sherrie died in my arms, she found her life. On that day in December 2010 after Sherrie died in my arms, I found mine.
Without relationships, there can be no meaningful purpose for living. And making a significant difference in the life of another human being will demand from you lots. However, what making this investment offers, is something more rewarding and more valuable than gold.
Life is a gift, and a gift is a present that’s meant for living right here, right now.
There is nothing more valuable than relationship.
Life Balance Coach, Scotland, UK