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Live your dreams before you die- the story of a woman who didn't

I was working day and night to save money for my next trip.
It was in 2004.
I had returned from a trip to Africa, where I had travelled through several countries, and when I came back, I started planning my next trip, which was gonna be a very long one, including several south east asian countries and then a first visit to India.
So I spent days, evenings and night shifts, working and saving money.
This means, in the nature of my job, that you meet certain individuals several times a day, and you become part of their daily routine, as this is what I do: I help people with their daily life, in their home.

Initially, this lady had just a little bit of help. I was mostly there in the evenings, helping her get to bed. There were always two of us staff, and we always had a great time with her- she was really friendly and funny, always laughing and joking, despite her serious condition.
This lady suffered from ALS.

"Persons with ALS have a loss of muscle strength and coordination that eventually gets worse and makes it impossible to do routine tasks such as going up steps, getting out of a chair, or swallowing.
Breathing or swallowing muscles may be the first muscles affected. As the disease gets worse, more muscle groups develop problems.
ALS does not affect the senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch). It only rarely affects bladder or bowel function, or a person's ability to think or reason.
There is no known cure for ALS
Over time, people with ALS progressively lose the ability to function and care for themselves. Death often occurs within 3 - 5 years of diagnosis. About 25% of patients survive for more than 5 years after diagnosis."


She had basically been diagnosed with a slow, nightmarish death, where she would most probably be choked to death by her inability to breathe.



Over time, her need for help increased, as her limbs weakened and her breathing got heavier.
We usually stayed a few minutes once she was in bed, and just chatted about life and stuff.
I had noticed her very sparse bookshelf in one corner of the room, where she had a few volumes of standard classic books, but at the front, with the cover visible, there was a guidebook to Provence.


One evening I asked about the book. Had she been there?
She replied, with a little regret in her voice, that unfortnately she never had gotten to Provence.
She had ben dreaming about going there for many years, but, she explained, life seemed to pass so quickly during the years when her son was young, and also during his teens, and she had this dream at the back of her head, and she kept postponing it, thinking she'd do it when her son was an adult.
She bought the guidebook in the mid 90's, when she was in her late 40's. I'm guessing her son was way past what is considered the acceptable limit of adulthood.
Still, she kept postponing her dream-trip.
And then she fell ill.
It started as little tiny, worrying events, where she sometimes lost control of her whole body, and just fell onto the ground. This happened a few times a year in the beginning, and could not be diagnosed as anything in particular.

At the front of the guidebook she has written: "The most beautiful place on earth"
She kept her dream alive, thinking, one day she would go to this place of her heart.


But the illness started developing, and her everyday struggles took over.
Most days, all she could do, was sit in her wheelchair, smoke cigarettes, and watch TV.
I used to feel a sharp pain for her as we walked to her door- on the way we passed her living-room window and I saw the frail, thin shadow of a woman sit there, in her wheelchair, slightly hunched at the back, head hanging down a little.
She was always happy to see us though, and we chatted away every time.
She knew I was travelling a lot, and she knew I would be going on a long trip soon again. We both knew she would probably be dead by the time I got back.

One night we mentioned the Provence guidebook again.
Suddenly she said: "Take it, please. I know you are a traveller. Please take the book. I will never be able to fulfill my dream and see this beautiful place- but you can. You are young, you are healthy. Please take the book, and go to Provence one day for me."


I hesitated. Provence wasn't exactly on my dream-list. But could I say no?
Could I say no to inheriting the lost dream of a woman dying?
I made up my mind quickly, and I recieved the book, with the promise to go there one day.
This was in 2004.


I still haven't fulfilled my promise.
The lady died when I was in India. I never bothered to find out the details of her grim death. Tis may sound cruel, but is in fact a curiosity of this job- the fact that we meet so many people, who all are destined for death, and it becomes part of the job, and it's not possible to dwell on the details. Had we done that, the job would soon be crushing us. Too much sorrow and pain. Better to focus on life and learn from other peoples' stories.

The book, however, has been with me since. I contemplated throwing it away numerous times- I like throwing things away that I don't use- and this book has been very close to garbage many times.
But something keeps it with me, and makes me put it back in the box or whatever bookshelf I happen to be temporarily occupying.
Maybe it's those letters that she carefully has written inside the cover. "Mitt smultronställe på jorden"- meaning something like "my personal hideaway on earth" (but actually in Swedish the expression is very sweet and childlike.)
How can I throw her dream away?

The answer is- I can't.
I have to go there one day, and fulfill my promise.
Bring the book with me, and bury it there, so her soul can rest in peace, in her personal hideaway, the most beautiful place on earth; her dream-place. May her soul rest in peace until I get my ass to Provence, and may we all have the courage, inisght and strength to live our dreams before it's too late.
We only live once, as far as we know- life isn't a repetition. It's the grande finale, so smile,  get out on stage, and just do it.

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