A top ranked inspirational read a few years ago was the book The Last Lecture,based on Randy Pausch's actual last lecture to his students and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University. Only in his forties, Pausch had long been a favorite professor whose influence spread beyond the classroom walls into the technology world of such places as Disney World and other cutting edge businesses. At the time he delivered his speech, he had already undergone surgery and chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, all the while knowing all efforts would only buy him a few more months. His inspirational lecture challenged everyone there to live each day to its fullest, a sentiment we've all heard at graduations and other important life moments, but Pausch's call was different. It so inspired the audience that the speech was soon posted on YouTube and Pausch became a celebrity to the greater world. Soon all the talk shows wanted him to appear, and he was encouraged to parlay his speech into what would become a best selling book.
A great success story, except for that awful ending. Randy's pancreatic cancer returns within months and despite every attempt to fight the disease, he dies in July 2008, leaving behind a young wife and three young children. Dream New Dreams is a frank and equally inspiring story of the woman who was always at his side, Jai Pausch. As she says early in the book, we make a marriage vow in just seconds, but we spend a lifetime living it. Jai certainly expected to have years to live out her vow to Randy, but she was called upon to love and honor in the deepest darkness of illness and impending death. At the same time, she needed to be the nurturing mother to three scared children under the age of five. She reveals the complex and competent medical world they encountered, but also points out the great gaps which exist in preparing and supporting the main family caregivers. Most often these caregivers are spouses, or perhaps parents, who at the same time they are trying to give the best support and care they can, are also taking on new family responsibilities (i.e., being in charge of finances) and daily preparing themselves for the inevitability of the approaching grief.
The couple's intellect drove their early decisions - where to live, who to ask for help, where to seek treatment, when to quit working, what to tell the children, but not even intelligence and education could prepare either for the emotional turmoil that accompanies the decline of Randy's health and energy. All of us have been touched by cancer or some other devastating illnesses. If it has touched you directly, and you are a survivor or you were a caretaker, you will appreciate Jai's story. However, it may be at times almost too painful to read. If your experience has been from a distance, as mine has, reading this book will touch your heart. You may, as I did, develop a better understanding and appreciation of the sacrifice that caretakers make in love's name.
Jai also gives us a window into her private world of the "firsts" that followed her husband's death - the first Christmas, the first Valentine's day, and more. It is from those days that the title of the book springs. The life she had planned with her mate is gone and with it are gone the old dreams, but she is not gone, her children are not gone, and she must dream new dreams. Just as
Randy challenged all of us to live each day to our fullest, she challenges all caregivers to find their own new dreams, to continue the quest for a well lived life. I highly recommend this book.