Our Real Bucket Listsam
by Joyce and Barry Vissell
Once in a while, a person will have a defining moment — an experience — a bit of wisdom or inspiration that pops into their heads and hearts and changes their lives. I had one of those moments recently on the Rogue River in Oregon. It helped to change in a very positive way my relationship with Barry, my beloved of 46 years.
We had floated the Rogue River three other times. Each time, we had been with our three children, who are all excellent river guides and had earned money guiding while in college. I never felt afraid on trips with them. This year, due to a new baby and other plans, none of our children could come with us. So we decided to go alone.
The Rogue River is not an easy river to guide. There are many class three rapids as well as some tricky class four. The most dangerous class four rapid of all is called Blossom Bar. The reason this rapid is so dangerous is that people have died not going through the rapid correctly. Three years ago when we showed up at the ranger station to get our permit, we were told that just the day before a woman had fallen out of her boat and had drowned at that rapid. The fast-moving water is very powerful. You have to start on the left side to go around a few huge boulders, then cross to the right side to go through a chute. If you stay left, or fall out of the boat on the left, you can hit the “picket fence” which can trap you and your boat. That year, two other people had died there. There were other deaths during other years, as well as boats that sunk by not going through correctly. Because of the death that first year, Blossom Bar holds a particularly ominous feeling for us. Three times, though, our children guided us perfectly through without any problem. This year we were alone and this was to be Barry’s first time guiding it. To make matters worse, the water level was higher than it had ever been for our past trips, and a river ranger admitted that the river, and especially Blossom Bar, was definitely more “pushy.”
Several evenings before approaching Blossom Bar, Barry and I had had a very deep and wonderful talk around our campfire by the river. We talked about our “Bucket List.” This phrase was made famous by the movie of that name, in which Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman played characters that were both dying of cancer, and set out to do all of the things on their wish list, before they “kicked the bucket.”
Since Barry and I are both 65 years old, we decided that this was a good time to start looking at our own “Bucket List.” We both listed places we want to visit and I mentioned that getting the important message of our new book, A Mother’s Final Gift, into more hands was on the top of my list. We went to sleep that night feeling close and excited to fulfill these Bucket List wishes.
The morning of the run through Blossom Bar, Barry told me that he hardly slept that night. He admitted to being nervous about taking the boat through by himself. His nervousness was contagious and soon I was nervous as well and even our 6 month old puppy, Rosie, starting shaking. She even refused to get in the boat when it was time to go. We said a multitude of prayers asking for protection and then it was time to go and face this rapid. Rosie trembled the whole time in the boat, after being quite calm all of the other days. I wondered if she knew something we didn’t.
We decided that the safest thing was for all of us to scout the rapid and then for Rosie and me to wait down river and not go through the rapid with Barry. He would be better able to do his guiding without having to be concerned about us. As we walked over the rocks, neither one of us could forget the three people who had drowned there just three years ago.
Barry brought Rosie and me to a little rock almost completely covered with willow branches immediately below the rapid. We said one last prayer together and had a long and loving hug. He told me to give him 15 minutes to walk back to the boat, 5 minutes to check everything and 5 minutes to get through the rapid. I looked at my watch wanting to time everything, then he took off. Would I ever get another chance to hug him again?
I sat on the rock, clutching Rosie’s collar. The river was raging white water all around me, and no one else was around. I felt very vulnerable and scared. Thoughts started racing through my head: “What if he doesn’t make the turn? What if he falls out of the raft and the water traps him on the picket fence like it did that woman? I will be helpless to swim out in this fast moving water to help him! With each scary thought, my stomach tightened more. I got to experience what fear and worry can do to the body. I was feeling absolutely tense with fear, when I felt that I simply must put Barry’s life into God’s hands. As I did this, my whole body relaxed, and Rosie stopped shaking for the first time all morning.
While I waited in this state of calmness, I thought of our bucket list. None of the things we had thought were important to do were really that important. I realized that the only thing important for me was to love Barry with all my heart. Also important to me was to love our children and grandchild, our friends and all of those who come to us for help. All I wanted to do was to love, and nothing else was important.
With this thought, I checked my watch and realized that I still had ten minutes to wait for Barry to come through the rapid. Looking up from my watch, there he was, earlier than expected, with a huge smile upon his face. Tears flowed down my eyes. I was going to get that chance to hug him again. And…my life had been put into proper perspective.
As we wrote in our new book, A Mother’s Final Gift, I found a dairy of my mother’s after she died. In it she had written, “My special mission on earth is to love all people and to serve whenever needed. God, who has been so good to me, wants only that I show this love to others. I dedicate myself to this mission.”
I also dedicate myself to the mission of loving fully, knowing that there is no higher calling or use of my time and energy. The trips and special things to do are of such a lesser priority on my Bucket List of life. May we all be grateful for every moment that we can express our love to others, knowing that this is why we have come to earth.
Barry pulled the raft up to the shore where I was sitting and hopped out. He couldn’t let go of the raft because the current was too strong, so I ran into the shallow water and into his waiting arms. He saw the tears flowing down my cheeks, and soon his tears were flowing. In this tender joy of reuniting, I said, “Barry, loving you is the most important thing on my bucket list!”
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and just released, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family.
Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.