Do you have a bucket list? Turns out there's huge power in recording your intentions. As it turns out, there can also be incredible gifts in fulfilling somebody else's.
More than a decade after her father died, Laura Carney was given a treasure that would change her life forever. It was a list, penned by her late father, filled with dreams and aspirations that were waiting to be realized. Little did Laura know, this bucket list would become her guiding light, igniting a journey of self-discovery and transformation. It's a story of inspiration, courage, and spirituality and the surprising impact that comes from living out your dreams...or even someone else's.
Laura Carney is an accomplished author known for her book, "My Father's List: How Living My Dad's Dreams Set Me Free." In this captivating memoir, Laura shares her experience of discovering her late father's bucket list and embarking on a mission to fulfill his dreams. The book has been recognized as one of the best books of 2023 by Real Simple magazine. Laura's story has received widespread attention, with appearances on CBS Sunday Morning, the Drew Barrymore Show, and NBC Nightly News, among others. Through her journey, Laura not only gained a deeper understanding of her father but also learned valuable lessons about surrender, spirituality, and personal growth. Her inspiring narrative serves as a testament to the power of embracing our own aspirations and finding fulfillment in life. Join us as we delve into Laura Carney's remarkable journey and discover the transformative power of a bucket list.
Living out these bucket list items was helping me to not be afraid anymore, and it was an incredible emotional transformation. -Laura Carney
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Learn more about Laura and her book here: http://www.bylauracarney.com
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Jessica Fein: Welcome. I'm Jessica Fein and this is the “I Don't Know How You Do It” podcast, where we talk to people whose lives seem unimaginable from the outside and dive into how they're able to do things that look undoable.
I'm so glad you're joining me on this journey and I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Welcome back to the show. Here is my question. Do you have a bucket list? I don't. But after talking to today's guest, I'm probably going to change that. I love the idea of spending time thinking about what's important to me, what I want to do, where I want to go, and writing those things down to serve as a reminder and inspiration.
My guest today spent several years completing all the items on a lengthy bucket list. The twist is, [00:01:00] it was not her own. Laura Carney found her father's bucket list more than a decade after he died and decided to complete it herself. She wrote all about it in her book, My Father's List, How Living My Dad's Dreams Set Me Free, which came out last June and was chosen as one of the best books of 2023 by Real Simple Magazine.
Now, you might have seen Laura and heard her talk about the book on CBS Sunday Morning, the Drew Barrymore Show, NBC Nightly News, or any of the other many places her story has been featured. It's not surprising that Laura learned a lot about her father as she completed his bucket list. But she learned even more about herself in the process, and also about the concept of surrender, strengthening her spiritual connection to her dad, and so much more.
And we talked about it all. Without further ado, I bring you Laura Carney.. Welcome, Laura. I am so happy to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.
Laura Carney: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.
Jessica Fein: So let's start at the [00:02:00] beginning of this story. How old were you when your father died and how did you find his bucket list?
Laura Carney: I was 25. I'm from Delaware and I had just moved to New York for an internship at an art magazine and my brother was the one who found out and called me. And when we found his bucket list, it was also via my brother. He was now 36 and I was 38 and he was moving into his first house.
Jessica Fein: So, it was 13 years later that you found the bucket list?
Laura Carney: Yep.
Jessica Fein: And did you know what it was? Did it say, like, a bucket list on the top? Did you guys have any idea what it was?
Laura Carney: Well, he wrote it in 1978, so I don't think that term had been invented yet. But at the start of it, it said, things I would like to do in my lifetime. And my brother had actually had it since my father died.
He'd had it for those whole 13 years, but it was in a box, so we didn't know.
Jessica Fein: That's amazing. This whole notion of things that we find well after people we love died is so interesting to me. My father died as [00:03:00] well, and I found a sealed letter he had written to me eight years after he died. It was the same kind of thing.
It was in a box. Yeah. I feel like it was in a way more meaningful than if I had found it with all the other stuff that I found because it felt like a gift from above in a way because it was so many years later. Did you feel like that?
Laura Carney: Yeah. I don't know what the timing was like for you, but I really do believe that I found the list at exactly the right time because I had just gotten married and I've always looked at the list like it was a wedding gift.
Jessica Fein: So you get this list, what inspired you to say, okay, these were things my dad wanted to do. I'm going to do it?
Laura Carney: As soon as I saw it was when I knew I had been an activist at that point for a couple of years because my dad died because of a distracted driver. And most of the activism I was learning about involved someone talking about the way the person died.
You know, they would stand in front of a classroom of children and teach them about distracted driving and a little bit of the science behind it, what it [00:04:00] does to your brain, which as a journalist, that's what I was really interested in, that I wasn't really talking to people in a way that I was shaming them or lecturing them, but rather educating them about what actually happened to that driver's brain that day when she was making a phone call.
So that's what I had been involved in, but it always felt to me like something was missing in the activism I was doing. When the list appeared, it finally occurred to me what it was. And what it was was that I was meant to talk about my dad's life. You know, I was meant to talk about who he was as a person.
He was such a multifaceted person. I mean, anyone who writes a list of 60 things they want to do when they're 29 years old is a jack of all trades kind of person. And it struck me that if I could finish these for him and write a book about it, then that would be like the best form of activism I could possibly do, because it would be truer to who he was.
Jessica Fein: So it's shifting from the circumstances of his death to how he lived his life. Sixty items are on the list when you find it. How many of them [00:05:00] had been completed by your father?
Laura Carney: He checked off five himself and he marked one as having failed at.
Jessica Fein: Ooh, let's talk about that one first. What one did he fail at?
Laura Carney: It said pay my dad back a thousand dollars plus interest.
Jessica Fein: Did it seem like he was doing them in any kind of order? So he had done five. Was it like the top five?
Laura Carney: I'm happy you asked that. No one's ever asked me that before, because I did them pretty randomly as well. And his were not in order at all. I think it was probably just the ones he liked the most.
Jessica Fein: Did you do them by the order of which you liked them the most?
Laura Carney: In some ways, yes. You know, just like if you're doing homework, right? Like, I, I used to always put off the hardest thing till the end. I know you're not supposed to do that. Yeah, in some ways I did do it like that. I also, you know, at one point realized I had to get organized.
I think it was at the end of year one. I sort of took out my Google calendar and I just started mapping out. We'll probably go to Vienna here. We'll probably go to London here. Like. I tried to make some sense of it and have a pretty flexible way of looking at that [00:06:00] schedule. However many years it would take me.
I hoped it was only going to take four years because his first list item said he hoped to live until the year 2020.
Jessica Fein: And how many years did it end up taking you?
Laura Carney: Well, then COVID happened. So it actually ended up taking me six. But even that feels to me like it was meant to be. I mean, there are so many elements of this project that were really about accepting a lack of control that were about kind of leaning into surrendering to whatever the list needed from me and required.
Jessica Fein: Can you say more about that? I mean, obviously you weren't in control of what was on the list, but in terms of surrendering, were there any, for example, that you were like, Nuh uh. You know, so there were 54 things left on the list, right? Were you like, these 50, okay, but those four, there's no way?
Laura Carney: Some of them were harder than others.
I mean, I'm at a point now where I don't even like using the word hard anymore. Someone told me recently, you should never use the word hard, you should use challenging. Because challenging implies that whatever the [00:07:00] obstacle is, is flexible, and you can move past it. Whereas the word hard implies like that's just a concrete definition, you know, and it's going to be difficult no matter what.
So even the fact that my language has changed is an example of how looking at these more challenging ones changed me because things like correspond with the Pope and talk with the president, go to the Super Bowl, own a large house with our own land, own my own tennis court. What else? The wine one was a little daunting to me too, actually.
Own a cellar of fine wines. So yeah, there were several of them that I definitely was like, I don't know how I'm going to do that one, but it's going to be an adventure when I figure it out.
Jessica Fein: Well, what was the greatest adventure? When you think about all the things that you did, which was the one that was most, and I love saying challenging instead of hard, and I'm going to try to adopt that too.
It's great. Yeah. Which was the one that seemed that it was going to be most challenging and that turned out to be the biggest adventure.
Laura Carney: Oh, wow. I want to say make my spouse feel happy, [00:08:00] healthy, attractive, and young every day of their life. I want to say it's that one because it did seem challenging and it has been an adventure and I sometimes I feel like that one's ongoing and probably will be forever.
Jessica Fein: Yeah, if it's every day of their life. All right. Well, so let's talk about some of the items that were on the list. What was most surprising to you?
Laura Carney: Hmm. Type 40 words a minute correctly? My dad couldn't type, apparently, which is not a good trait to have when you're a writer. And he was.
Jessica Fein: So that was most surprising.
What was the scariest?
Laura Carney: The thing that seemed the scariest to me right off the bat was surf in the Pacific because I just wiped out so many times. And eventually I learned it was a game of persistence. If I kept trying to stand up on the board, eventually by the 20th or 30th time it was going to happen.
But again, it was a thing about surrendering. That was a situation where I really just had to surrender to nature and stop trying so hard and instead just kind of feel like I was one with it in a way. And [00:09:00] embrace that, you know, either it was going to make me drown or it was going to lift me up onto this board.
But then once I did it and once I did wipe out, I realized I had faced the scariest part of it. And that was of course, when I finally stood on the board. after I wiped out pretty badly. The other one I think that ended up being scary but didn't start out that way was beat a number one seed in a tennis tournament, which I thought I was going to do in one day because I played on my high school tennis team and it was my best sport.
And I sort of didn't notice the word tournament. On it. So I thought all I have to do is beat someone and my husband's best friend is a tennis coach and he said he's going to go easy on me and he didn't and I tore a tendon in my foot and later had to get foot surgery and I couldn't walk for a couple of months.
I had no idea until I wasn't able to walk. How much movement mattered to me and how much the ability, you know, I'm a runner. So just the ability to be mobile and just go wherever I needed to go when, when I wanted to, and, you know, living just outside New York, I'm used to walking everywhere [00:10:00] that was really rough.
It forced me to slow down long enough. I think to sit with myself. And actually deal with my emotions, which I imagine people who live in big cities like New York, who can just go wherever they want, whenever they want, maybe, maybe that's a common issue. I don't know for me, I probably was too caught up in the cult of busyness in a way.
And that was the month when I wrote the most difficult part of my book. When I was stuck on that couch and it helped my marriage a great deal because it helped me to rely on my husband and to let him help me and not try to do everything myself all the time. So that one I think was scary in a way that mattered in a more long term way than surfing, but both were scary.
Jessica Fein: You know, it's interesting because even in the couple of items we've talked about, It seems like they were so transformational for you. So surfing taught you about surrendering and the tennis accident taught you about slowing down and being present. What other kinds of major shifts did you find in yourself from doing this [00:11:00] list?
Laura Carney: Oh, yeah, I mean, every item was like that. It was for other people, too. Like, that's one thing I found really interesting, is whenever someone would help me, which was most of the time, I did require help for most of them, they would experience some kind of a shift in their lives, and I think it was the act of doing something so charitable.
And authentic to celebrate someone they didn't even know. I think it would shift something in them so that later they would come and tell me like, Oh, usually it would start out bad, like some bad thing happened to them. And then afterward, it would be like their life was better than it had ever been before.
And I thought that was really fascinating because that's what was happening to me over and over again. My father died in this tragic way. And then 13 years later, I found a list of his dreams. And as I chose to go after his dreams, It's almost like I'm just actively taking these steps into the future, and I'm no longer living in this moment in the past when the worst happened.
Certainly, number three on the list, write and have a few novels published, was the one that did that the most, I [00:12:00] think, just because I was a writer who had a book in me, and I couldn't get it out for 13 years. And my father also had a book in him, and he published it the year I was born. And that was the thing I turned to the day he died.
He had written about death, and he had written about just all of his thoughts about life, really, and it was so valuable to have that. For me to try to honor him and write a book at all, period, was really difficult for me, and it required a lot of faith, and it required a lot of trust. And myself and in my voice, and I think I really struggled with that for a long time, mostly because of being a woman and knowing that when women make that choice to put their voice in the world in a public way at all, there's going to be some kind of scrutinizing that happens.
And here I was going to do about something so incredibly personal. And, you know, sometimes when I was doing the list, I felt like a crazy person. So I would be dealing with that judgment and a fear of being [00:13:00] misunderstood. Would people even think the story was good enough? You know, all kinds of gremlins were some of the things I was dealing with.
So the thing that really got me through it was just this conviction that I had that this list entered my life when I was ready to write that book. And that I needed the items on the list so that I would have something in present day that I was doing that I could be describing, almost like a travel writer or sports writer, which is sort of how my dad was with his writing too.
And that somewhere in living out these items, I was now experiencing some kind of fear exposure. So with each one that I accomplished, it was helping me to not be afraid anymore of not only what happened to my father, but that it might happen to someone else. in my family. So even though it seems like surfing and conquering that is almost like a mundane kind of thing, for me it was an incredible emotional transformation that was helping me to feel like, oh, I can handle, like I can live a life where my father died this way.
If that makes [00:14:00] sense.
Jessica Fein: Yeah. One of the items was talk to a president. Yeah. When you saw that one, were you like, I don't know.
Laura Carney: Yeah. I mean, it wasn't my favorite president who was in office and I was a little nervous. Like how do you even do that? I did a lot of research for every list item and some of that made it into the book much less than I originally wanted, which is for everybody's betterment.
There's way too much research in there initially, but you know, like one of the things I learned was that used to be a thing you could just do, like, I would say probably the first 100 years that we were a country, they would let people just walk into the White House. And there were just so many assassination attempts that they had to stop doing that.
It's not easy to get a meeting with the man in the Oval Office. Eventually, someone saw me do an interview on Inside Edition, and it was a man who lived in Alabama. And he said, you know, if any president will do, you should know Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school still most Sundays of the year. And, you know, he was, I think, 93 at that point.
And, you know, still writing up this 45 minute lesson [00:15:00] himself and reciting it from memory the next day. And so, you know, just trying to be a good journalist, I tackled it that way. I reached out to his presidential library. I wanted to find out what did he do with safe driving? Does he have anything in there about that?
Like maybe I could write an article about that. I don't know. I needed to have some reason to go to that library. He did a lot of stuff with health and he always said he wanted to live long enough to see, I believe it's Guinea worm disease. It's in Africa. He wanted to live long enough to see that be eliminated completely.
And he did. So I got to meet the woman who helped him with that, who was his health liaison. She gave me a tour of the Carter center. And she just gave me advice. She said, you know, there's this one inn in town and everybody who goes to the church for the lesson, if you stay in that inn, you're guaranteed a seat.
Because it could be anywhere between 300 and 500 people. And when, when that happens, you end up in another room with a big screen TV and you don't actually get any access to him. So all I could think about was like, I don't want to be one of those people in that room. Like I'm not just [00:16:00] going there to see this guy.
Like I have to actually talk to him. I didn't say meet the president, I said talk with the president. So, I got myself to a point where I had a guaranteed pew, but not because I was staying in that hotel. That hotel ended up being completely booked. I had to stay in a different one. I actually had a friend in Georgia who was able to guarantee that I would get in.
So, I got to have a few words with him at the end. And the thing that was so amazing about that experience experience, I think, besides it being this thing where I had always been told that these lists my dad made of the famous people he'd meet someday were evidence of him sort of not living in reality, that like, these were grandiose, impossible dreams.
So besides this feeling I now had, I mean, I remember saying to my husband as we left the church, I just checked off the most impossible one. So it gave me this incredible momentum for the rest of it, because it's like, I did that in year one. Like, I'm actually going to do this thing. So that was really great.
Jessica Fein: Do you think that just the act of writing it down and taking it from this kind of fantasy [00:17:00] in your mind of, oh, wouldn't it be cool to talk to a president, but writing down, I want to meet a president. I want to talk to a president. Do you think that that moves it into another area that makes it more realistic?
Like this is going to happen. I'm acknowledging this goal that I have. I am writing it down. Do you think that that's what makes it achievable?
Laura Carney: I mean, it's almost chilling that he was writing my future when he did that and didn't know it. And yeah, I do think that there's an energy shift. When you choose to live with intention.
And a couple of people have told me that they think I actually was preparing myself for finding the list. Because I wrote a list like that a couple of years before I was given, my brother was the one who found it before it was given to me and it was a list of my values and I did it because I was working for a good housekeeping and there was an article about, it's kind of silly, really, there was an article about how they had these two groups of women.
And they had them sit down and write all of their, like, whatever values they could think of for like 15 minutes. And the women who actually did it, they ended up [00:18:00] losing five pounds, like, in a month long period. And the women who didn't do that, but had some other, you know, like placebo assignment handed to them, they didn't lose the weight.
Both of them were groups of women who had wanted to lose weight. And I thought that was really fascinating that writing down what you care about in life could have an impact on your health. in that way. The article didn't really explain why that happened, not in a way that I can remember, but the best I could come up with was the reason that might happen is because maybe if you don't know what you have, what you're made of, what's inside of you, you might feel like there's a hole, there's something missing.
And a lot of times when people are emotional eaters, they're trying to fill that hole that they're only sort of vaguely aware of. inside of them. Like it's like an unending need and they take things from outside of them and in their external environment to try to fill it when really the only way you can have that feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction in your life is if you're going from the inside [00:19:00] out.
You know, if you're looking for who you are and love and, you know, acceptance in here. And then when you work on what's in here, you can radiate it outward, and then you change your life. Like, that's how it actually works. There isn't, like, some magic thing outside of you that you can take in that's gonna fix that.
So I think that that probably primed me to approach my life in a different way, because I kept the list. That's what the article said, you know, it's not enough just to write it. You have to actually keep it and you have to look at it from time to time. And in a sense, I think that's what my dad's list was too.
He wrote it after I was born. And I think having a child was help making him take stock of what his life meant to him and what it might mean to me, what it might mean to someone else. I think that's the reason that he took that step to write down things he intended to do.
Jessica Fein: So a couple of years before you are given your father's list, you write this list about things you care about.
And first of all, what an interesting challenge, and I love how you describe why it might have the impact it [00:20:00] does. Having now completed your father's list, does that change your own list of things you care about?
Laura Carney: Oh yeah, I've written a couple more. I update my values list every couple of years. I'm probably due for another update.
It's good to do because you're changing and evolving over time. It was 2020 when I realized, okay, this isn't done yet. You know, like this might take a little bit longer. I didn't know it was gonna take two years longer because the pandemic hadn't happened yet, but I was actually just cleaning out my apartment.
I had a box from my old job. I ended up losing my job at Good Housekeeping in the second year of doing the list. I just had my office just sitting there and I wasn't dealing with it. And on top of that, I also had everything from my wedding that I wasn't dealing with still. So as I cleaned through all of this stuff, I mean, there was, there's something about doing that in general, that's gonna free up your energy a little bit, right?
So I'm finally facing these blockages from my past and things I didn't want to accept were over. And as I did that, I started freeing up energy [00:21:00] to finally write my own bucket list. So that was really when I started doing it. And not only did I write a bucket list, but I also wrote a letter to myself of my goals for my life.
Not just what I value, but what I hope to do. And that's the one I took and I folded it up and I put it in a box. And I thought, I'm not going to look at this one at all. Because I think there's also something magical to that. When you write down an intention and then you put it away. Because what you're sort of doing is you're saying, you know, this doesn't need me looking at it every day.
Like, I'm giving this to the universe and you do what you want with it.
Jessica Fein: I wonder if you learning about the idea of surrender is what then made you feel like I can put this in the box and put it away. So again, it was a gift from your tabs list.
Laura Carney: I think surrendering to someone's untimely death is really tough, especially if it's a violent death.
And there's a lot of survivor guilt. That goes into that, and I knew that he wanted me to have a happy life. I was a young woman [00:22:00] when it happened, you know, I couldn't be someone who had almost like a shrine to him for the rest of my life. I couldn't stay stuck on this awful day when this awful thing happened.
So I think I needed to learn how to surrender. I needed to learn how to believe that everything that happened was for my greatest good. That I had faith in a God that was doing that. Actually, it was Jimmy Carter's Sunday school lesson that helped me a lot with that. He was quoting something from Philippians.
He built the whole lesson around this one Bible verse, and he was talking about how around that time, there were a lot of people trying to take down statues in the United States, and it was like this big debate. Can we keep up these historic statues, or are they really offensive, and you know, what do we do?
It was also a time period where we experienced a lot of division. And people's worst selves were coming out, in a way, in our country then. And he was trying to send the message to the people in the church that day that the kind of [00:23:00] person you choose to be is not out of your control. And he basically said, the day that you're born, like, that's the day when you begin to shape that.
That it's actually your responsibility, what kind of person you choose to be. What are you going to do with your life? And what a privilege that is, what a gift that is, that you get to choose that. And the thing that really affected me, I think, was when he started going through this laundry list of your spouse can't live your life for you.
Don't choose things to try to please them because you can't do it. And you can't live their life for them either. You know, and your parents can't live your life for you, and your kids can't live your life for you. Like, you just went through all of these possible influences you could have, and who you might consider to be the force shaping your life, and telling us why that couldn't be, and then eventually coming to the conclusion that God is the only thing that can help you shape your life.
And I mean, for your listeners, I know not everybody has faith, so maybe like, you know, the universe or just some force that's bigger than you is helping you. And that brought me so much [00:24:00] freedom when I heard him say that because it occurred to me I had permission to do this list because I was only about five or six items in at that point.
I had permission to write the book about it. That what had happened in my discovering that list and choosing to do it, it wasn't anything anybody else really wanted me to do necessarily. And a lot of people were very scared for me that I was making this choice. It was something that God wanted me to do.
And that really, that's the choice we can all be making all the time. And I always had that choice, I just didn't know it. And I felt so much comfort in that surrender, in that faith, that as I was walking down my own path in life, that God was walking with me, and the choices I was making, I would have help with sometimes.
And honestly, like so many of these list items, I would be able to figure out maybe the first 20 percent of it, and something would come up. you know, I would get injured on this tennis court or I wipe out 20 times while surfing. But then something else would kick [00:25:00] in. Something else would show up. And a lot of times I would get some kind of a cue that something else was at work.
Like, for example, after I wiped out so horribly in the ocean, suddenly I thought, well, I just need to get a little further out. And maybe get a little bit further away from my surfing instructor and just be quiet and just like believe this one's going to be the one. And I saw this really fat seagull just like floating by itself, which is unusual.
They're usually not alone. Usually there's a couple of them, but it was just this one that showed up out of nowhere. And it really reminded me of my dad just like back floating in the middle of the ocean. And there was just something about seeing that seagull. It was like a cue for me, like, Oh no, like I'm here.
I'm watching, I'm checking this out, you're going to be fine. And he's given me messages like that the whole time. And I think anybody who's grieving for someone, even in addition to the grief, they're struggling with that surrender. They're struggling with, I can't accept that I live in a world where this could happen.
I think if they can get themselves to a point where [00:26:00] they can at least just open their ears and eyes and look for signs like that, they're going to find them. That's just my belief now that our loved ones are around us, giving us little pats on the back and encouragement all the time.
Jessica Fein: I sure hope so. You talk about the fears of writing the book and how it was going to be received and how you would be scrutinized.
And yet it sounds like when you found the list and when you had the aha moment that this was the list, you kind of knew I'm going to do this list and I'm going to write a book about it. Were those two things always intertwined?
Laura Carney: I mean, my husband works in book publishing. And he said it out loud. He said, this is your book.
You have to finish this for him. And it was like this incredible lightbulb moment in my life that, you know, you have these certain moments in your life that shine a little bit brighter than the others. And that was a really life changing moment for me because I knew he was right and I knew I had to.
And I think I knew I was ready to. I had wanted to write a book for 13 years and I had instead been a magazine journalist and kind of honed my [00:27:00] writing in that time. I actually think that number is sort of a magical number. For my dad, because I realized later that he wrote his book about the 13 years since John F.
Kennedy was killed and how his generation had changed in that time. And that number 13 comes up multiple times in his book. Like he had 13 chapters. He had 13 poems in between the chapters. Like, I think he was mildly obsessed with that. And he also, he published his book two years after he got married. So he started working on it when he got married.
So I was seeing these synchronicities happen. You're like, Oh, now I'm 13 years since someone important died. And I also just got married and now I'm going to write a book. And you know, it's like history is sort of repeating itself. And I couldn't get past this idea of legacy that. I always was upset when my dad died that he didn't have a will and he wasn't leaving us anything concrete, you know, that we could see.
He probably wasn't thinking about dying very much. He was only 54. And this [00:28:00] feeling of something being unfinished. You know, like, there's no goodbye in that situation. So, to now have this opportunity arise, where I'm getting to see that I'm actually his legacy, he did leave something behind on this planet, and I could choose to listen to him finally.
Instead of just still kind of inhabiting this early 20 something persona of, oh, my dad doesn't know anything and oh, he died young anyway. And, you know, I had a lot of resentment that I was going through with him at that age. And I think in order for me to move forward into what my life was going to be, I had to learn how to deal with that.
You know, most people I think go through that as they get older and they start developing an adult relationship with their parents. But because he died at the age that he did, I didn't get a chance to do that. So I think that was part of it too. Like I'm having to do that with his spirit instead of with his actual human form.
Jessica Fein: How did you feel connected to his spirit [00:29:00] as you were going through this list?
Laura Carney: Oh, I would hear him talking sometimes. Like when I found it, I saw him in the back of my mind. Like I saw him smiling and I was like, whoa, like what was that?
Jessica Fein: Do you think he was like, what took you so long? It's been 13 years?
Laura Carney: No, I don't think he was impatient with me.
I think he was protecting me that whole time. And I think he left that. Right where I needed to find it when I needed to find it and was probably just thrilled that I was listening and agreeing to do it. I had never experienced communication like that. I mean, all I had experienced up to that point was he died on August 8th.
So I guess it was around the first year after he died. I just kept seeing the number 88 everywhere and it was driving me crazy. You know, like it was like a lot and eventually I just decided, okay. This is you saying, hi, got it. You know, and like, that's how I started looking at it from that point forward.
What started happening a lot a few years after that was songs. Like my dad was a singer. He had a lot of songs that I associated with him. So I [00:30:00] would hear those and think, Oh, maybe he's connecting. But I'd never actually seen his face like in my mind. And then as I actually started doing the list, I would have these moments where I would hear like a thought would appear in my head, two or three words.
And it would occur to me, that's not my thought. That's not something I would say. Like, that's not a phrase I use. Oh, you know who uses phrases like that? My dad did. You know, it was stuff like that. Like, that sounds exactly like something he would say. Usually it was when I had just accomplished a list item.
You know, or I was in the throes of one and I was feeling discouraged. It was usually those situations. And that happened mostly with the first four or five list items. It didn't continue quite so intensely. But I did start to learn that I could talk to him anytime. seek his guidance.
Jessica Fein: What kinds of things did you hear him say to you as you were doing the list?
Laura Carney: The first instance of it was actually right before I found the list. It was when I had published a story about getting married without my [00:31:00] father there. And it was in the Washington Post, which was a big deal to me. And it was about the thing that I never talked about with anybody. I mean, it had been over a decade and I didn't tell people about my dad's death.
So to get to do that was a big deal because now suddenly I had everybody I ever knew writing to me and telling me they had read this thing and telling me they were sorry about my dad's death, which was really weird. Because when he died, it was like I was in this in between stage in my life. I had just moved to New York.
I was 25. I wasn't really going back home. I didn't ever feel like I had this community of people that I was talking to. So now I had people who'd known me my whole life but had no idea that this terrible thing had happened. And that night as I was getting in the shower, what popped into my head was changing history.
That was the phrase. Well, the light just flickered a little bit when I said that. And that's definitely something he would say. And it's interesting because what I felt very early on when I was writing the book was that I never felt comfortable with the [00:32:00] story. I didn't like the story of my dad's a victim.
I didn't like the story of he's unlucky, strange, fluky things happen to him. And that's just how it is. And we all just have to move on and not dwell on it. I just never liked that story. I didn't even really like the story that as a divorced dad, you know, he wasn't paying child support and he wasn't living up to certain things that you would hope that your dad would do.
And how much resentment I felt about that still were fears that he died unfulfilled. That his dreams as a creative person were things that never fully came to fruition for him. And that, that might happen to me too. That was a story I really didn't like. So for me to be getting to finally write my story and my version of who he was and what he meant to me and what this whole experience was like of going through that kind of a complicated loss and living my own life.
Not despite what happened, but because of what happened, which means I was embracing the authentic truth of what my [00:33:00] experience had been. That to me was just flipping the script or reframing what had happened in a way that I needed to. So yeah, it was changing history.
Jessica Fein: I love that. Let's talk about your bucket list.
First of all, now that you finished his. You said you wrote your bucket list. Have you started doing the items on it? And is that the next book?
Laura Carney: I hope so. I probably need to stop writing mine because I'm up to I think like 130 items. That's a lot of items. It's dangerous to have it on a laptop because then it's like you can always just keep adding to it.
I've done 20 of them at least, like maybe 25 at this point.
Jessica Fein: If somebody else were to find your list at some point, how would you feel about somebody else completing your list?
Laura Carney: They're going to have a pretty wild life because there are some adventures on there. I would be honored by that and, you know, part of the way I let go of my dad's list and that was not a very easy thing for me to do because in a way his list almost became a surrogate for him because when he died it was so [00:34:00] sudden and when that happens that way it feels like the person's almost been like, Snatched from their body, and now I could have a slow, gradual process of letting go.
And as I got towards the end, it was starting to dawn on me, like, okay, well, now I'm gonna have to let go of this list, too. And pretty soon, I'm also gonna have to let go of this book. And one of the really cool things my dad did before I was born was he went out to Napa Valley, and he got a bottle of wine.
And he was a liquor distributor then, and he was also a wine connoisseur. And he wrote on the wine that it was the finest wine America had ever made. On the bottom, he wrote, to open on Laura's wedding day. Because I was a baby when he found it. And we saved it. My mom kept it in the basement for 38 years.
And we drank it on my wedding day. And by the time we found the list, that had already happened. Like, that had just happened. And I felt like, That was the best way that I could check off own a cellar of fine wines because wines plural could just mean two And we had his all we drank his [00:35:00] already I still have the bottle but my cellar for his wine for the week before our wedding was my closet So I just went and I bought the 2018 version of that same wine, which by the way, he was right It really was the finest wine America had made.
It was a 1974 vintage of a Cabernet And that was the first wine that ever beat the French wines. It was called the Judgment of Paris. The first American wine, like it basically changed the reputation of American wines overnight. So he knew what he was talking about to have that reminder on my wedding day.
And my mom's like, Oh, I don't know if it's going to age well. And, you know, I was like, God, I hope it doesn't make everybody sick. It turned out to be stunning. Like it was the best wine I'd ever had. And I was kind of nervous about, you know, here I'm getting married. My dad doesn't appear to be here because I wasn't having any spiritual connections with him yet.
And I'm older than I thought I'd be. I got married at 38. To find out that the thing he put aside for that day was better after 40 years was so cool because it was like, that's what [00:36:00] he's telling me to like, cause I know I was better getting married at 38 than I was at 20. I felt like for me, that would be the best way to let go of the list and the book was to be able to pass that down.
So now I have this 2018 bottle. It's considered the best. Same brand, Mondavi's, best cabernet of this century, and I'm saving it for my niece's wedding day.
Jessica Fein: Well, I think that a lot of the listeners here are going to finish listening to the episode, and then they're going to want to write down their list of values or things they care about.
If for no other reason than to lose five pounds, I might do that. People are going to start writing their own bucket list. And I think that maybe a lot of people are going to buy the wine that you just recommended. It's such a gorgeous story. And I love how you take it so much beyond the actual doing of the items, but how that brought you closer and some closure and how it transformed you.
What a remarkable story. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Laura Carney: Thank you. You're a great interviewer and, and honestly, all I can think right [00:37:00] now is my dad was a great salesman. And if I had his salesmanship, I would figure out a way to bundle my book with that wine to be enjoyed together. Yes.
Jessica Fein: I love that.
Thank you so much.
Laura Carney: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jessica Fein: Here are my takeaways from the conversation with Laura. Number one, try substituting the word hard with the word challenging. A slight language shift can make your obstacles feel much more manageable. Number two, there's an energy shift when you identify and write down your intentions.
Number three, writing down what you care about can even make a positive impact on your health. Number four, when we set down our illusion of control and surrender instead, amazing things can happen. And number five, if we're open to it, we might just find that our loved ones are giving us signs that they're still with us.
If you like this episode, please share it with a friend, and I'd be grateful if you take the time to rate and review the show. Thanks so much for listening. Talk to you next time.