The Book Groupies’ Bucket List

Posted by Susan Bernhard

The Book Groupies gathered in September 2012 on Cape Cod to talk about The Last Policeman by Ben Winters and specifically, the idea of The Bucket List. We started by accepting the inevitable: Life is terminal. That was hard enough.

“It makes it sound like life is a disease.”

Of course life’s not a disease. Except it kind of is. Once you get it, you get the same prognosis as everyone else. “You’re going to die.” The question is what do you do if you know death is not only inevitable, but also imminent? It could go one of two ways. It’s just you who’s dying. Everyone else carries on and grieves and learns to live without you. Or you and everyone you know and love goes at the same time. There’s nothing to leave behind—no legacy, no fond memories. “Well, that’s just too depressing.”

So we made two lists—the L-List for Legacy, if it’s only you who’s dying and the A-List for Apocalypse if we all die at once.

Everyone had hours to write down either A-List or L-List items on slips of paper then drop them into our bucket. The plan for the day was to go to the beach, go kayaking, cook Indian food with our master chef, Sarita, then sit down and drink and eat and talk. And, as a special treat for the night, Ben Winters had graciously agreed to meet with us via Skype to talk about Hank Palace and The Last Policeman.

But life got in the way, as it so often does. Beth had been complaining about stomach pain all day but waved us off every time we suggested it might be more than gas. “I’m fine,” she said and went to the beach with us. “I’m fine,” she said. “Really.” And went kayaking. “All I need is a shower and I’ll feel so much better,” she said. “A shower and a nap and I’ll be able to party with you guys. I know it.”

When she woke up shivering in a warm room, yammering on about being too hot and how she’d be better if she could just get a blanket because she was too cold, it was obvious what she needed was a trip to the emergency room. And just like that, the group of women mobilized and every person shifted into caretaker mode. Eliza needed to drive; she knew the way. Jen needed to go with Beth to comfort her and quiet her; Sara went to help talk to the docs. The rest of us stayed back at the house, cleaned up, called families, drank wine, worried about Beth, waited for a call from the hospital.

Turns out Beth had acute diverticulitis and was in serious risk of a ruptured colon. Beth’s a selfless person, always helping others. She didn’t want to “put us out” or “ruin the party,” so she didn’t tell us how bad it was. At the hospital, she told the doctor that she wanted to go home. He told her she would probably die if she left.

“You don’t want to die, do you?” he asked her.

And there we were. Back to the question of the night. What’s important? What would you do? In that moment, what was important was taking care of our friend, helping each other. Nothing else mattered.

We all wondered what would have happened if Beth had been at home, taking care of her own family, as she always does. Would she have let them know how much pain she was in? Beth had a close call and her mother-hen friends were glad we were there to help her and support each other. It was a reminder to us all that, what really matters is love and friendship and family.

This group of women has been gathering once a month to talk about books since 2000. Together we have experienced wrinkles, gray hair, depression, pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, relocation, surgery, travel, illness, the death of loved ones, and the mania of motherhood. Quietly, we’ve battled all sorts of demons and we’ve taken solace in our company of women even if we didn’t choose to share the fight.

In the end, our Legacy List looks an awful lot like our Apocalypse List although there’s definitely way more sex and drugs pre-apocalypse (even for a bunch of post-40 women).

The L-List:
Go helicopter skiing.
Go to Paris with my daughter.
Find peace and peacefulness to let go and feel calm and serene.
Make videos of me talking.
Move to the Vineyard and sit by the water.
Live in Venice for 12 months.
Eat what I want and not look in a full-length mirror.
Publish a book dedicated to the people I love.
Live in the French countryside and learn the language.
Go to a costume ball in full period costumes.
Listen to music all the time and books on tape since I may not have time to read everything I want to read.
Play with my kids.
Quit work, write, meditate, do yoga, be with the ones I love.

The A-List:
Read, walk, sing, listen to music, eat well.
Go dancing all night
Have more sex.
Smoke pot at least once.
Spend a lot more time with my kids, parents, spouse and in-laws.
Maybe I lack imagination, but I think I would change little in my current life. Just more time with family, friends and by the ocean.
Sit on the beach with a good book, a Corona, and my family.
Move to Hawaii (Kauai) and hike the entire Napali coast and live on Kauai with my family until the end.
Smoke pot once more.
Listen to books on tape.
Become a Buddhist.
Stop cleaning the house and doing mundane chores if I don’t want to.
Listen to music that I love all the time and do a lot of singing and dancing.
Try to get in touch with people I think about and tell them how important they were to me.
Have more sex with my husband (and other people, too).
Take my family to the quietest, most serene place I could find.
Be extra nice to everyone and look people in the eyes.
Find a remote place to be with those I love.