Life Lessons on What Really Matters from a Dying Man

All We Need Is Love

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

You know how you can remember exactly when you found out that Michael Jackson died? I think it’s called flashbulb memory. It’s when something traumatic happens and because of that, you remember everything else that was occurring at the time. I was on a bus in Santorini after watching an amazing sunset in Oia.

The day I found out my boyfriend was dying was just like that, but worse. I remember everything.

Let me digress.

We spent the week leading up to the surgery that was his last chance at life at Vancouver General Hospital, where we passed the days planning our casual beach wedding in Tulum.

We pictured it down to the last very last detail. I would walk down the aisle (barefoot of course) to Bob Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” and a mariachi band would serenade us at dinner. It gave him hope and something positive to think about when the pangs of hunger threatened his usually calm demeanor.

They made him fast for days as we waited for a surgery room to finally open.

According to the doctors, the likelihood of him surviving the surgery was only 50 percent. We savored each moment as best we could, enjoying each other’s company and focusing on love.

When the nurse came to tell us it was time, I was taking a very rare moment in the hospital cafeteria, as I didn’t want to eat in front of him. I rushed up the elevator and made just in time to accompany him downstairs.

It was one of the only times I cried in front of him. I didn’t know if I should say goodbye, just in case.

I looked into his brave eyes. I told him I loved him. I held his hand until I was no longer allowed. The doctor told me not to cry.

I made my way to the family room where my best friend and our families waited. I felt loved. And scared to death. I remember thinking that this is what it means when they say “blood curdling fear.” I got it and I thought it was fascinating.

The surgery was supposed to take about five hours, so my best friend took me to my dad’s hotel so I could take shower and a break. I lasted about fifteen minutes before I needed to go back.

That’s the way it was in those days. Every cell in my entire being simply needed to be there. When I returned, I noticed a bridal magazine in waiting room. I flipped through and found my most beautiful dream dress. I hoped it was a good omen.

Two hours later, the doctor came in. He looked defeated. I could barely stand up.

He sat down and with a tremendous amount of compassion (and tears in his eyes), he told me that they had found Benito’s liver completely covered in tumors and therefore a resection or transplant was not possible.

I remember the moment when courage and fear collided. I asked, “Is he gonna die?”

And, I remember the doctor’s answer, “We’ve done a bit to make him more comfortable, but there is nothing else we can do.”

I curled up into a tiny ball on the hospital chair with my head between my legs and sobbed.

The doctor assigned me the task of telling Benito. He said it would be better coming from me.

I remember sitting in the corridor holding his mom’s hand. Waiting. Doctors rushed passed with patients on stretchers. I thought of my mom. At the time, she was MIA in Costa Rica. She didn’t even know he was sick. I didn’t even know she was alive. I wanted her to hold me.

When I saw him, lying there like a helpless child covered in tubes, my breath escaped me for a moment. But I told myself to stay calm. This next part was about him. It was all about him.

He was groggy from the anesthesia, but he looked at me. With jolt of last minute courage, I put my hand on his boney shoulder and I told him everything. He was too high to really get it.

He went in and out of consciousness. Each time he woke up, he asked in almost a joking way, “Am I dying? Am I really dying?” I retold the story, barely holding it together. He told jokes. One time, much to the nurse’s amusement, he even belted out an AC/DC tune while attempting a feeble air guitar. He was awesome.

But two things he said that day, while moving in and out of drug-induced sleep, have shaped my life forever. The first was, “If I only I had ten more years, just think of all the good I could do.” And the second was, “I feel sorry for you.”

I was shocked, so I asked him why. He said, “Because your boyfriend is dying. We were supposed to get married and adopt babies from Peru” followed by a joke of course, just to cheer me up.

He said, “Now don’t go dating any of my friends while I’m gone. You’re hot and I know them. They’re gonna try.” Like I said, awesome.

I think of these two things often in my life—that compassion for others and that strong drive to make a difference in the world.

Turns out, when a thirty-one-year old party-boy finds out he’s dying, compassion for others and making a difference is the driving force. And, making the entire recovery room laugh of course.

This is a lesson I’ll never forget. I got my ten more years. And perhaps you will too.

What can you do today that will make a difference?

How can you have more compassion for others?

How can you bring in laughter?

Perhaps this is what it’s all about.

Photo by Bethauthau

About Nicky Jones

After losing her boyfriend to cancer and her mother to suicide within a 13-month period, Nicky felt desperately alone and unable to grieve authentically. She is now on a mission empower women who are grieving in the most self-loving and holistic way possible. Please visit her website for your free copy of her e-book “6 Steps to Soften the Symptoms of Grief.”

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  • Meghna Israni

    amazing story. thank you so much for posting

  • Moon

    I cant imagine what you must have been through 🙁 Thank you for posting…it was an eye-opener to say the least! I feel more inspired.

  • so sorry about your loss.. 🙁 You’re incredible for sharing and to give hope to others who are also grieving…

  • Loui

    Thank you, eye opener indeed. I needed to hear this today.

  • Wow, I am so sorry for the loss of your mom and your boyfriend. Thanks so much for sharing your story, I am sure that it will help others to live their life like they are dying.

  • Oh my goodness. Your story moved me. I don’t know you… but I feel that through your words I have taken a glimpse into your heart. Life has a crazy way of beating us down, but challenging ourselves to never give up and make a difference somehow is rare to find in someone these days. What we don’t realize when we go through something traumatic is how strong we really are. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you all the best on your future endevors to making a difference and living the life you love every day. 🙂

  • Jamie

    WOW… your story is incredibly sad but truly inspirational. Thank you from the bottom of my heart 🙂

  • BellaForStar

    That how I felt when I finally lost Carlos after a seven-year-long fight. It followed hard-upon in the wake of the sudden passing of Peter, who was going to be my new life companion. But their live taught me just how precious and delicate life is. Their lessons taught me that the simpler things are often the most profound. (RIP: Carlos DeLeon & Peter Lagos)

  • DE

    Nicky, It is a touching article, I cried while reading this. I can relate to your experience. I am glad you open up here.

  • Melinda Csikos

    Thank you so much for sharing, you are an amazing woman. He’s legacy lives on in you and in all the wonderful things you do for everyone. Much love to you, beautiful soul.

  • Nadir Vardar

    Your story incredible sad, thank you for sharing …

    P.S. Your boyfriend was right, you are hot and we know it … 🙂

  • JamesSimon

    It’s quite possible this is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. I am infinitely sorry for your loss and blown away by your courage. I cannot speak of the others who have read this but I am honored to have been able to read this and will save this to remind me that each moment is precious. Peace.

  • Andrea

    I lost my party boy at 43 he was in liver failure. Losing my mother 8 months prior to that I can relate to you Nicky. Its been 4 years and yes it taught me so much more about love and compassion. Hugs to you.

  • Shawn Lowe

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have often thought that I’m tired of losing people I love, either through death, or them simply deciding they can’t be in my life any longer. That tiredness comes from a deep, deep sense of sadness that I have no idea how to heal. I will be buying your book.

  • Amalia

    This was nothing short of breath taking; if I wasn’t at work I’d be in full blown tears. Thanks so much for sharing your story and for being so brave. His spirit in his last moments is truly moving and his lessons are a true gift on what it means to live with purpose.

  • Nicky,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for your loss, and admire your courage to help others through your experiences with grief. This article moved me to tears, and for that I thank you immensely.


  • Wendy

    Thank you for sharing your story. I lost my best friend, soul mate and husband 6 months ago, so I share your pain and feel for you. I lost my mom in ’06 and my Grandma 4 years later, I remember so desperately wishing I could have a hug from one of them and to have them tell me it was going to be ok when he died. This is the hardest road I’ve ever been down and most days I just want to give in to the depression I feel. I hope one day I’m able to be strong again on my own.

  • Nicky! This is such a beautiful story! I was so into it and really feeling for the girl. Then I got to the end and realized that it was you <3 <3 <3

  • Mary

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I didn’t realize I was even crying until I blinked and felt tears streaming down my face. Thank you for not only the beautiful reminder of how precious life is, but also for being an example of the incredible endurance of the human spirit. You are truly an inspiration.

  • Such a sad story. Thanks for sharing it, Nicky.

    I still haven’t experienced loss of any kind but maybe the first loss will be the loss of my life. Before that happens, I’ll be sure to develop myself so I might have something to tell when I’m dying one day.

  • Stephen Fraser

    “The trouble is we all think we have time.”
    My younger brother died of cancer at 44 yrs old. He declined rapidly and was gone within 2 months. He had been driven in his last ten years of life, growing his business, “making up for wasted time” he claimed..once impatient and reactive…before he died he told me “remember all those things that I thought were big deals….they aren’t” … He had 2 regrets: that he hadn’t travelled and done the things he wanted to do and hadn’t made his relationships a priority. He left a wife and a 9 year old son.

  • allison

    This was very powerful, I’m in tears reading it. I love the questions you have us asking ourselves. Grief has become so foreign to us as people and it’s sad we don’t feel like we can let go. I’m going through a grieving process still today of my mothers death 4 years ago. The one thing in life that’s definate is death, so I say enjoy life, love people, and be vulnerable to your feelings! Thank You for this!

  • Nicky C Jones

    Thank you for your kind words. I’m am deeply humbled and appreciate you hugely 🙂

  • Nicky C Jones

    Thank you for sharing bit of your heart. I’m sorry sorry for you loss. I love the words your brother shared. I’m grateful to you for sharing <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    You are very welcome 🙂

  • Nicky C Jones

    You are so welcome. I’m glad you feel inspired. Big Love your way 🙂

  • Nicky C Jones

    You are so welcome. Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate you hugely. Big Love <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    Yes…they sure do… Thank you for your thoughtful words. Lots of Love your way <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    I’m so sorry for you losses. I’m glad you can also see the gift. You inspire me <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    You ae so welcome. I appreciate you from the bottom of mine <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    Wow…kindred spirits. I’m so sorry for you losses. Sending you much Love <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    Thank you for your love and support. I appreciate you 🙂

  • Nicky C Jones

    You are so welcome. You are so loved <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    Thank you. I really appreciate you <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    You are so welcome <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    Thank you for your kind words. I am so grateful you took the time to write. Huge Love your way <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    You are so welcome. I’m so with you… Love and Healing thoughts your way <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    You are so welcome <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    You are so welcome. Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate you. Big Love <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    heehee that’s so funny. Big Love to you Susan 🙂

  • Nicky C Jones

    I’m so sorry for your losses. Yes, it is a hard road indeed. Please be gentle with yourself…You are doing beautiful healing work. And, please let me know if there is anything I can do to support your journey <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    You are more than welcome. Thank you for your kind words. Huge Love <3

  • Nicky C Jones

    Thank you for this. I love thinking about how his spirit can live on through my writing and work. I appreciate the reminder <3 xo

  • Nicky C Jones

    Thank you. I have a free book on my website at I hope you find it useful. Huge Love your way <3

  • BellaForStar

    Thank You. There’s a reason we’re still here.

  • Atenea Acevedo

    A very powerful and moving piece, thanks so much for posting it. Death is merely the other side of the coin that we call life, but we’re culturally trained to avoid this truth. Experience has its own both painful and illuminating way of making us know better, and you’ve chosen to shine through experience. On a side note, I wonder why this (and other) blogs don’t have proofreaders… articles such as this one would be even more enjoyable!

  • Erika Sontyme

    Thanks very much for sharing. You must be an emotional SuperWoman.

  • Tammy

    My friend Tash recommended your website to me after losing my dad to cancer. Thank you sooooo much for all that you do. Your wisdom on grief helped get me through some of the really hard days. I can really relate to this article, as I too remember the exact second when finding out my dad wouldn’t make it. The trauma of diagnosis, illness, pain and death are subsiding now and I am better able to remember my dad when he was his happy healthy self. Please keep on with this Nicky. You are a blessing.

  • Andrea Leda Wilborn

    Wow. Thank you for the courage it took it write this. And thank you for turning his message into such a powerful lesson. We know that compassion, giving, and helping others is the path to joy and we still get wrapped up in petty things. 10 years IS a gracious gift..every day is.

    Andrea Leda Wilborn, CLC

  • Wow …. looks like your boyfriend was the Iron Man 😀 I’ve never heard that someone could be that positive before dying. This really touched me, and I hope you regain your strength to strive for happiness, after all you’ve been through.

  • Mary Ann

    Nicky you are a true beacon of light in this world. You are deeply loved and your work is so benevolent and powerful. What a wonderful piece of writing this is.

  • One of the biggest lessons that stands out in this story is what he said about having ten more years. I imagine that it’s common for young people to want to live into their ripe old age…a length that spans well beyond one decade, yet, here is a man dying of cancer who is envisioning all that he could do with only ten. That right there goes to show how it’s important to be grateful for what we have — in time, possessions, health, resources, relationships and other things that make each day a gift.

    In wanting those ten years, he embodies what it means to create abundance with what one has. In telling this story to use your experience to teach us about compassion and making a difference, I think that you also allowed him to remind the living to not be greedy. What we have is plentiful and wanting more, or rather, desiring more takes away the glory of what’s already in front of use.

    Also, it’s really moving how he spent his last days and moments making those around him feel at ease. Now when people (the nurses, doctors, family, friends, etc. who were there) remember him, they will do so with a smile and fond memories. May he rest in peace with the knowledge that he made a huge difference in giving his loved ones some light in the face of darkness.

  • Mahesh Sahu

    Nicky, I was crying while reading the article. I am so sorry for your losses. But I admire your courage for sharing your experience. I will appreciate each moment of my life and try to make positive difference in other’s life.
    Thanks for sharing so beautifully.
    Love 🙂

  • My god. I have never heard of such a story about human Courage and Compassion.
    God bless you Nicky. And may his soul and courage be an inspiration for all of us.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  • This is one of the most inspiring stories ever written… Thank you for sharing, Nicky.

    As we lose people we love… as we move through “5 stages of grieving” what is there left for us to do, I ask myself sometimes? How can we honour their life by carrying on living?

    I guess the answer is – to wake up in the morning feeling blessed to get yet another day = yet another chance to do something amazing, to make a difference… to do something that would make them smile proudly at us. I think about it every day…

  • Katie Day

    So beautiful. This hit close to home and I want to thank you for the reminder. My dad died ten years ago, and all I remember is his crinkled mustache and how he always was so nice to everyone he met. Always a joke or smile. I love your article, so true. You are so brave and a courageous young woman, your boyfriend lives on through you. The three questions at the end, I’ll start asking every day. Thanks for a beautiful article 🙂 In the end, it’s always about compassion.

  • Gingerninja

    Wow sometimes in life you just need to read a story like this…..just to reinforce the feeling that indeed life is so precious and so short. I try hard to live my life as if I don’t know when it will end, sometimes this is easy, sometimes incredibly hard but stories like this make me want to live each day cherishing every breath I take. You’re an inspiration, thank you for sharing your story xxx

  • Affiong Ntekim

    I’ve reread this article several times over the last few days and each time I’m floored. Thank you very much for sharing. Namaste.

  • David

    Amazing. Thank you, dear, for sharing this. It’s very helpful.

  • lv2terp

    Thank you for sharing such an important message! Your story telling in written form is truly amazing, I was right there with you feeling it! I am sorry for your losses, and amazing how you are sharing the lessons and helping others through tragic experiences! HUGS 🙂

  • StuckintheMuck

    Death reminds us to live…. my mom once said “You never see a Hurst pulling U-Haul!” Simple but true…. Losing loved ones is hard, but we do honor them by living a life they would be happy to be a part of. In his dying, your Benito, passed on his strength, and in your living, you honor him. Having lost family and friends in my lifetime, what helps me, is, when I find myself thinking of them….where the memories come in waves, I chose to believe, that is when they are thinking of me. Sure the tears are there…but there are smiles too. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Leora Tee

    Wow amazing and heartwrenching to read You are very inspiring and courageous having dealt with two major traumas in such a short period of time. You are an inspiration

  • darren white

    thank you so much for sharing your story with us.i like to think that i have years left in front of me to make changes and keep putting so many things off after finding this great site and reading so many powerful story’s i have discovered what is important in life and that every breath i take is important just like everyone i meet which has help me to develop my compassion for all
    thank you Nicky for sharing this and deeply sorry for you loss his wise words will help so many

  • Dear Nicky,

    What a powerful post. Thank you for sharing yourself and sharing your journey. A great learning experience for all of us who are struggling with our own challenges from time to time.

    Thank you

  • Scott Morris

    Where to start… Firstly thanks for sharing, it really is good to hear of good coming from a bad situation. As someone that has given this topic (how precious life is) a great deal of thought for quite some time now, I feel that it is infinitely more complex than it can appear. I have considered all ends of the spectrum, from making the most out of life through nature and the admiration of the wonders that the universe has produced, to contributing to our present day system via the glorification of money in order to make our current civilization the best it can be. I guess this spectrum is more the pondering of our existence more-so than how to make the most out of life but, in my opinion, the two are intertwined. Don’t get me wrong i am not an educated man in this field at all, just curious.

    Anyway that aside I’d like to say it’s good to hear of others giving thought to what is most important in this world and it’s also good you have people talking and thinking on the subject. Keep up the good work and all the best with your own endeavors.

  • Benny

    That was as powerful as it was moving. Thank you for sharing the story of his courage

  • Jodelene Weir

    As soon as I saw the word Benito, I knew it was Mike. I still remember him, bartending at Wiley Coyotes in the late 90s. He was the most popular guy in the room, his personality was electrifying. <3