Death. Yes, today we’re talking about living before you die. Not your thing? Ok, look away. But let’s be honest, it’s something we will all experience. It’s also something we will watch others experience. Death is one of the main reasons to travel more, because death is inevitable. We have such a short time to live and we often forget death is an ever present factor. We rarely think about it…unless it’s making up crazy ways in which we predict our death such as “oh that spider right there could definitely kill me” or ” I may fall down these stairs to my doom.”  Just us? No? The fact of the matter is, thinking about death sometimes helps us start living now.

Don’t wait to start living now

Some people wait to really live until it may be too late. A few months back, in Taos, New Mexico, we met a woman that had saved for 30 years to RV full-time with her husband. Her husband was the biggest advocate of “work hard, than retire well.” He worked hard for 40 years, retired at 65 and bought their first RV to travel. Two months later, her husband passed away unexpectedly never to see the world in his new RV. So she set out to do what they planned their entire lives, alone. Her story was certainly a reminder to live now, because tomorrow is never guaranteed.

learning the meaning of life from those close to death

But that’s not who we want to talk about today. We want to talk about the most loving, inspiring, genuine couple we’ve ever met: Jennifer and Ray. Once we met this couple we never wanted to stop talking. They’ve been RVing all over Europe (a huge dream of ours), have been traveling for years, are small business owners, and simply awesome.  They smile more than most, laughed at our stupid jokes and exuded warmth with every word shared.

So what’s all this death talk about, you ask? Well, see, Jennifer is dying. She has a rare genetic disease that only 70 people in the world have, and the average life expectancy is 35. Her disease, known as GATA2, was named only four years ago: it’s that rare. Her first 45 years were spent with a disease that had no name, doctors that didn’t know what was wrong, and people telling her she was fine. But she wasn’t fine. She was very, very sick but on the outside she looked healthy.

What do we learn from people who face death?

When we discover their story we asked to interview Jennifer and Ray and they welcomed us with open arms. The first question exchanged came from them: “Do you want some hot churros? We woke up at 6am because this place sells out every morning.”  Hot churros. Really? This is how we started the discussion about the meaning of life-we even considered that hot churros may just BE the answer…but we continued. We asked them how they do it. We asked them where they think happiness comes from. We asked how they were such genuine, caring people. Here are few highlights we wanted to share with you:

1. We all suffer

Two years ago Jennifer was on her last leg and Ray was by her side. She didn’t have much time left, which lead to an experimental bone marrow transplant that was so experimental the doctors had no idea if it would work or any stats around success rates. The doctors literally killed her body for 7 days, removing all of her bone marrow, only to replace it with marrow that was half-matched. Her writing during the event was mind blowing:

During my experimental bone marrow transplant, my physical pain was so intense that it hurt to move my eyes…I was losing me – all of me was leaving time. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to my old self…

When talking with them we would often say things like: “we’re struggling with “xyz”, but that’s nothing compared to what you’ve been through.” Jennifer would kindly respond: “As humans, we all suffer in different ways- your suffering is no better or worse than mine. It’s just different. If I were to expect others to relate to my pain, or to even understand my pain, I would be forever lonely. It’s not about who has got it worse. It’s about sharing our journey with each other so we are a little less alone.”

These people are our spirit animal.

2. Find friends that don’t judge you

Ouch. Okay, we have to be honest-the first thing we did was judge Jennifer and Ray. They had an Idaho license plate which instantly put up our “queer be ware” senses. We thought they wouldn’t be interested in talking to two lesbians. Well, touché universe, we’ll chalk this one up to a good ol’ life lesson.

But really, how rare is it to find people that actually encourage you? Most of the time people tell you why you can’t do something, why you shouldn’t do something, or have an undertone of calling you an idiot for doing something different. Jennifer and Ray’s point was, no matter what you’re doing or how you’re doing it, there are people that are going to put you down. If someone is breaking you down instead of building you up, move on. Haters are gonna hate and life’s too short.

On the other hand, find people that say “Yes. I support you and I’m here for you.” We all have different experiences that lead us to where we are. Find these people and become like these people because you and others deserve to be built up. We can all use an extra dose of positivity, dammit. Unless you’re hurting yourself or others, do what you love.

3. Keep it lighthearted

Ray and Jennifer laugh…a lot. And you can tell they’ve been madly in love for over 30 years. Ray is a hilariously witty dude that cracks jokes at everything.

Jennifer: “I was puking into a garbage can all last night.”

Ray: “I was just grateful it didn’t get into my hair!” (he’s bald)

During our conversation they talked about how it’s ok to laugh even in the worst of circumstances. Everyday they try to find gratitude and positivity in the simple things. And laugh. As they say, laughter is one of the best medicines.

4. Do what you CAN do

Sure, who wouldn’t want to wallow in the misery of what you can’t do because life can be hard. Here’s more of Jennifer’s writing during her transplant:

There were so many things I wanted to do but I couldn’t because I was chained to the IV drugs that kept me alive…I’m was alive but I felt sad, I was alone in this challenging GATA2 journey and I asked “why?”

Today, just two years later, Jennifer and Ray try not to put energy towards the things they can’t do. Instead they try to focus on what they can do.

I can only eat baby food but that’s pretty good because it keeps me alive! I can walk and ride my bike, so I do that. I can go camping, so we go often. I meditate daily. I bring light and joy into peoples lives when and where I can.

After our conversations we’ve decided Jennifer and Ray may just be the reincarnated Buddha. They truly live what they speak. One could tell they weren’t putting on a show. They were genuinely sharing their experience with us and helping us live with more love and less judgment. These people inspired us in profound ways.

Jennifer's Story - Don't wait, Start Living Now

LIVE, LOVE, Don’t Judge

When we set out on this journey to live in a camper and travel the world, we were selfishly hoping to meet people like Ray and Jennifer. We wanted to meet people that validated our desire to travel now. We feel we were meant to meet Jennifer and Ray and also to share their story with you. They inspired us to try and make changes in our own lives.

To summarize, this is what they said to us: “It’s time to take the leap with 2/3 reckless abandon and 1/3 calculated risk. Don’t wait until it’s too late to start living, whatever that means for you.”

Live now, love now, and judge less.


If you would like to follow Jennifer and Ray’s story you can like their Facebook page here. Show them some love!


 

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15 Comments

  1. This is beautiful 🙂 I’ve been learning to live in the present, as well. If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting the rest of our lives.

    • Valerie Reply

      It’s totally true! Of course, planning is important but sometimes 80% planned out is ok.

  2. Isaly Holland Reply

    Live now, love now and judge less. I think is a great motto for the new year. Its super important to live in the now.

    Isaly Holland

  3. Great article! I’ve known Ray and Jennifer most of my life and they continue to humble me and remind me to focus on the good stuff in life! You captured their spirit for sure!

    • Valerie Reply

      So glad! It was a hard article to write bc although there’s sadness we wanted to capture their joy. Thanks so much for your kind comment 🙂

  4. I went to high school with Jennifer and she’s always been an amazing soul. Thanks for sharing her story.

  5. So inspiring. This is something I think about ALOT! (Especially every morning when I wake up at 6 for work…) Reminds me a lot of my parents -They’ve been working for 40+ years and are finally retiring this summer. Thanks for sharing their story!! Xx http://www.thecarlycollective.com/

  6. My wife and I just keep asking: how do they do it? Job/money-wise, how did you work it out? Excited to learn more!

    • Valerie Reply

      Hey Jen and Amy! Have you read How to Make Money Traveling? Jessi works as a graphic designer from the road but the article goes into what else you can do to make money while traveling 🙂 Hope that helps!

  7. So close to home for me! My parents owned an RV and were planning to retire and travel but my mother passed away in 2009 and my dad sold the RV to change course for awhile. He’s saving up for another one and already subscribes to work-camp magazines. Glad to see there are more wanderers out there making it work and being happy!

    • Valerie Reply

      Aww, thank you so much for sharing…life is a precious thing and I’m so glad to hear your dad is thinking about hitting the road again!

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