To Lead a Life Worth Living

Written 5 August 2010 (Note hyperlinks in orange)
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk with entrepreneur Ben Huh, of I Can Has Cheezburger, Fail Blog and other memes.

When I asked him about his ambitions, he responded without hesitation: “I want to lead a life worth living.” And since that day, his comment has continued to resonate in my mind.

Recently our oldest son, Andrew, was home from Germany to spend time with us before his one-year deployment to Afghanistan begins next month. It was a joy for all of us to be together.

Whenever he’s home, we make a pilgrimage to Hood River, Oregon, the breathtakingly beautiful place where my paternal grandparents settled after they immigrated from Japan in the early 1900s. As a teenager, Andrew spent summers working in the orchards during the cherry harvest. He is the only fourth-generation (yonsei) kid in the family to do so.

Beside learning the ways of a new country, my grandparents' early days were physically tough—clearing land, planting trees and growing strawberries between rows to earn money until their orchards were mature enough to bear fruit. "Nakamura Ranch" grew cherries, pears and apples. My grandparents built the small home where they raised three sons and lost two daughters. They endured internment at Tule Lake during World War II and were met with bitter hostility when they returned after the war ended.

My two uncles worked alongside my grandparents, and now, decades later, it is a third-generation farm, owned by one of my cousins.
Van Cherries

Van cherries are not commercially sold.

Whenever we visit during cherry season, my aunt and uncle send us home with a large box to share with family and friends in Seattle. This year they included two types of cherries: Lamberts, and my personal favorites, Vans.

Among the people we share them with are our long-time neighbors across the street. Kathy, like me, also is a breast cancer survivor. But unfortunately, after years in remission, two years ago she was found to have bone cancer that had metastasized throughout her body.

She went through chemotherapy and became so weak and sick that I was sure she wouldn’t make it. But somehow she rebounded, and on sunny days I would look out the window to see her tending her beloved gardens.

So you might be wondering how this relates back to Ben Huh?

Today I stopped by to visit Kathy and drop off some cherries. I knocked on the door and there was no answer. I was about to set the bag down in a shady spot when she opened the door.

About two months ago Kathy underwent surgery for necrosis of the jaw bone, a condition where the jaw bone dies and becomes exposed, sometimes caused by drugs used in chemotherapy or for treatment of osteoporosis. Her surgery was extensive and left a great deal of pain in its wake.

She looked thin and frail, but she invited me to sit and visit with her on her front porch bench.

We talked about her family, her health and her prognosis.

She spoke with some difficulty, but told me she has only a few months to live, and at some point soon will be receiving hospice care. For those of you who don’t know, hospice is palliative care for the last leg of life’s journey. I asked her how she felt about dying, and she told me she is ready. She’s been ready.

She took a cherry from the paper sack and put it into her mouth, savoring its sweetness. It was a small act, but it represented the fruit of my grandparents' struggles and made me mindful of how the simplest of things can give a moment of joy.

As I said goodbye, I offered to help in any way a neighbor can, and walked away feeling great sadness about what lies ahead for her.

But I knew one thing:
She’s lead a life worth living.


Kathy passed away Thursday, October 21, 2010, surrounded by her family.


  1. What a poignant and well-told story. Let me join in the neighborly offer to do anything I can for Kathy. Will you let me know?

  2. @ellies582:04 AM

    What a Beautifully tender, but sad, story! And how lucky/fortunate you must feel Terri; having survived this disease yourself!
    We all should live each and every day to the fullest. And be grateful for each breath that we take! Be mindful of others and all things!

  3. Beautiful story, sweet and sad. You gracefully cover a lot of ground from the Japanese Internment to Kathy's front porch, and the cherries become a small symbol for the bigger picture.

  4. Dear Larry, Ellie and David,

    Thank you for reading and for your comments. From one day to the next life can take a sudden turn — or as in Kathy's case, a gradual one — that can stop you in your tracks.

    She impressed me to appreciate the good and bad as well as the past and present. In the end, it's all of those things that make up a life worth living.

  5. Mariannne2:28 PM

    I was at the annual "Picha Picnic in Puyallup" yesterday and I listened while the few surviving members of my parents generation told stories of their youth and wondered where the time had gone. They still see me as a child. And I'm reminded that we are short-term guests here on this Earth. As Mary Oliver said, the best thing to do is love what you love. I try to make sure that the people I care about know they are special and why. That's a well-led life to me.

  6. Like little planets, each of us has an orbit in life. The greatest things occur when the orbits intersect with one another. Thanks for sharing these thoughts as our orbits crossed. All the best to Kathy and Andrew as their orbits move them away, at least for now.

  7. Deer Peek,

    I'm among those who still think of you as a child, since we met in about 1988, when you were just a kidlet. :-)

    How cool to listen to stories shared at the Picha Picnic in Puyallup. I hope someone recorded them so they can be remembered and enjoyed by future generations.

    Re: the Mary Oliver quote — I saw it on your Facebook page, and felt it was definitely worth sharing with others.

    Thanks for being such a great pal. Love ya, Nak

  8. Hi, Terri -
    It was so cathartic to read this post. It brought me right to the place and people you were writing about and I felt immediately close to Kathy - and you. My family also has had many brushes with breast cancer so I understand that dread and fear of learning it has touched another life, but have to admit I do not know what it would be like to personally go through it. Your post was thoughtful, perceptive and insightful. Keep writing! I've bookmarked your blog so will be checking in!

  9. Paula3:58 PM

    Very touching piece on so many levels. You did manage to bring it all home, with much heart. Keep writing, T!!

  10. Thank You Very Much for sharing this wonderful post Terri!

  11. Dear Harry, Midge, Paula and Daniel,

    Thank you so much for taking time to read this, especially with so many things competing for your attention.

    I'm fortunate to have been dealt the life I've lived so far, and I'm very, very grateful to have you all in it.

    Love, T

  12. This is a sad but also lovely post. Most people struggle with the idea of death yet it is the one thing that is for sure in our life - we all have to die at some point. It's good to hear that you're friend has come to terms with that and is ready to welcome and embrace it. I am sure the pain is what she's more afraid of at this point, I hope they will make this last path as pleasent for her as possible. ;(((

    To lead a life worth living is also what I have in mind for myself with all the good and the bad that comes with it. I think we all have good moments and not so good moments when it comes to living up to our own standards, but what counts is that we always get back on track and keep on trying.

    Thank you for sharing this Terri!
    Big hugs from Germany,

  13. Beautiful Terri, we never know what lies around the next corner.

    Sometimes it's hard to see past all the trivial rubbish that life throws at us but your words remind us that we really must try!



  14. Terri,

    Very touching, beautifully written -


  15. Incredibly touching post Terri. I am glad you're taking the time to cherish moments with Andrew while he's home and spend time with your friend Kathy. I'm sure they both appreciate it. Many blessings to you and yours.

  16. Dear Nini, Tony, Jack and Deb,

    Many thanks for your reactions and comments. It's been surprising to see what happens when writing from the heart.

    Nini, hugs to you in Germany - where Andrew will be for another two and a half weeks; Tony, hugs to you in the UK and yes, I'm still working on a guest post for you; and Jack and Deb, Hugs to you in SF & Seattle.

    Wishing you all the best.

  17. Terri,

    Truly touching story my dear friend. I also got to know your family history whilst reading and enjoyed it thoroughly. I liked the way you fused everything together..

    Although we can't help but feel sad for her, don't be. She is leaving this earth and going to the most beautiful place in the universe. A place where all her dreams will be a reality.

    In fact many people of different walks rejoice at the passing of others. Instead of funerals they throw singing parties.

    Don't get me wrong here, but she will finally be at peace. God Bless her soul.

  18. Your beautifully written words touched my heart and I'm very grateful you shared such an important part of your life. Despite the sad and difficult struggles your grandparents endured, they lovingly and graciously provided for their family and future generations. Deep gratitude, appreciation and thanks to Andrew for his extremely brave service to our country. May Kathy find peace and be free of pain. Terri, you are an exceptionally compassionate, talented woman and I'm so fortunate and thankful our paths crossed to become friends. Much Love & Hugs, ❀♡❀ Bebe

  19. Dear Ahad and Bebe,

    Thank you taking the time to read and comment.

    I'd like to believe Kathy will be going to a better place where she will find peace and be free of pain.

    There is an Australian proverb:
    "We are all visitors to this time, this place."

    I'm grateful to know you both in this time, this place.

    Love, T

    PS. Bebe, I'll pass along your thanks to Andrew <3

  20. Nicely done. A good weaving together of unrelated topics and a nice design element that wove thru the story ( the cherries).

    But then I know you have even more resonating stories to tell: your relatives military medals, your relatives interment, your hoarding neighbor ( before the behavior became grist for a reality show) your magazine cover, I could go on and on.

    I, like everyone else that has read your blog look forward to more


  21. Anonymous12:08 AM

    T, thanks for reminding us all that each day is a gift we can share with others. DF

  22. Dear Mike & DF,

    Thanks for taking the time to read & comment. And Mike? Don't go telling all of my secrets!

    Looking forward to blog 101 with you, M, and DF, hope we can snag a lunch date soon.

    Love, T

  23. Anonymous7:30 AM

    Dear Terri

    It's what we hold close that feeds us ... fiendships & cherries. Beautiful reminder, appreciation of liniage,

    " planting of strawberries between the rows until the orchards bear frit" is what we all do to thrive in our short lives. Amen Kathy


  24. Thank you, Terri, for sharing the stories of several connected lives so worth living.

  25. Dear Richard and Mike,

    Thriving during our time on earth and appreciating those who do — both seem like worthwhile endeavors.

    Thanks for reading and for your support.

    Big hugs, Terri

  26. Thank you for sharing this Terri. My mom's greatest gift to her 5 kids was her ability to accept people as they are, and gracefully accept life as it was thrown at her. Like your neighbor Kathy, she had the ability to accept the reality of life and to be ready for death. Reading your story I'm reminded of her beautiful example. I really look forward to reading more of your reflections.

  27. Sue, I loved hearing about your mom. Having met her once, I didn't have the chance to know her — but I knew she had one heckuva cheesecake recipe :-)

    As we age and see family members and friends leave us, we must be continually mindful of "the moment." After someone is gone, it's the moments that stay with us.

    Love, T

  28. If I was ill, there is no one that I'd rather see at my door than you Terri. Your sensitivity, both as a person and a writer, is a gift to all of us.
    You're definitely one of my role models for "leading a life worth living". It was nice to learn more about your family, too. Thank you for a beautifully written story that's stayed with me.

  29. Hi Terri,
    I just read your post and I adore it! There is such a wonderful melody of sensitivity floating ... Thanks!

  30. Anonymous2:52 AM

    Dear Jennifer and Friederike,

    I'm very grateful that you found time to read this post, and thank you for your kind responses.

    Hugs, Terri

  31. Life is fragile, we are not promised tomorrow. It is a reminder that we must always be thankful for each and every moment. Rose

    1. Dear Rose,

      As life goes on, it's more and more apparent how your comment is so true.

      Not only must we be thankful for each moment, but I think it's important to focus on people who bring positivity to our lives and purge those who try to bring us down.

      Deep gratitude for reading and commenting, and my thanks for our long connection on Twitter and other channels. Is it possible we've now been connected for nearly 4 years?

      Wishing you all the best life offers, and sending warm (((HUGS))


  32. my compliment to you, Terri, for this compelling and inspiring piece...and my sincere sympathy for the loss of your close friend & neighbor, Kathy - may God rest her soul, and bless you !

    1. Dear Michael,

      Thank you SO MUCH for going to the trouble of commenting. I really appreciate the effort it took, and again, thank you for reading this post. Of all the things I've written, this one means the most to me.

      Isn't it amazing our paths have crossed? I don't know how it happened, but I'm very grateful!

      Wishing you safe, happy and interesting travels as you make your way around the world.

      Warm regards,


  33. Anonymous4:16 PM

    It IS amazing how our paths have crossed, Terri, like so many others in Twitterville, I guess. I recall trading tweets about coffee with you, that got us started, remember ? :-D And I've thoroughly enjoyed our communication here since. Having you along vicariously, aboard the M\V Alliance Norfolk, for the trip to\from ports in the Persian Gulf over the past 3 months, has been fun for both of this was the first time I've put it out there to everyone. I've certainly enjoyed reading your interesting and inspiring articles, (persisting and finally succeeding at getting my first comment posted ;-)) and look forward to much more informative writing by you. Thank you so much for your genuine are not just one of my favorite 'tweethearts' but you really are a sweetheart, in the true sense of the word ! All the best to you always, Terri.


    1. Dear Mike,

      I definitely remember the coffee tweets! Often it starts with something silly like that, but if one bothers to dig even a tiny bit below the surface, there are treasures to be found in each and every person.

      It's been fun traveling virtually with you as you've made you way through distant corners of the world. Whenever I see you in my timeline, it's like running into a friend in a restaurant or store, only in our case, it's in this magical, other-worldly place called Twitter.

      My gratitude for not only reading some of my posts, but for persevering to comment! I remember how nervous I was the first time I left a comment on someone's blog!

      My well wishes are indeed sincere. I'm counting on you to report your whereabouts as you traverse the waters!

      Thank you again, Mike!

      ((HUGS)) Terri

  34. Thank you for sharing this lovely story. The connections between people and generations are the most important part of life, it is good to be reminded of this.

    1. Hi, Julie and thank you for taking the time to read and comment here.

      This post reminds me of so many things — my grandmother, son, neighbor, and how fleeting life can be.

      Here's hoping your life is going well, and again, my appreciation to you.

      Kind regards, Terri

  35. Terri thank you for your story. I am deeply touched.

    1. Hello, John!

      If my story touched you, you have just given me one of the greatest gifts and compliments possible.

      Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read this post, and even more for the effort required in posting a response.

      Wishing you all the best, and thank you again!

      Kind regards,



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i'm a graphic designer who loves words. - terri nakamura