Losing someone from your life is hard, whether the person is a family member, a close personal friend, or even someone you are not currently close with but whom you shared an important, personal connection at some point in the past.
I have lost people in sudden, unexpected ways (heart attacks, accidents, Sept 11) and through the long, painful process of terminal illness (cancer). Either way, the finality of death sucks. The bond that you shared with that living being (mostly human, but I for one would include family pets in this category too) ends, and you are left to carry that bond in your heart and your memory until the time when you too cross over to the otherside, leaving your own, Earth-bound bonds behind you.
Yesterday marked the twenty-third anniversary of the death my Grandmother Del. I lived with her (along with my mother and sister) from the age of 4 until I went off to college at 18. So my bond with her was probably somewhat different – not quite parent/child but definitely not the the typical grandparent/grandchild relationship. Like other anniversaries of this sort, it snuck up on me. And kicked me in the balls.
I’d been giving some thought to this subject recently, prompted in part by the death of the brother of a former teammate/roommate of mine. I hadn’t seen Anton (my friend’s brother) in more than 20 years. But on hearing of his passing, my heart grew heavy with sadness. Sadness for Anton (who I fondly remembered as “House” as in “he’s as big as a . . .”). Sadness for his family – because I knew how difficult it would be to lose the youngest of four sons/brothers from a family. And sadness for the world, because the light of someone whom I recalled as having immense energy and joy for life had been extinguished, leaving the world a little less bright.
He had died after a long battle with cancer. Which had me thinking about my paternal Grandmother Ida (whom I called Nana). Unlike Grandma Del, who passed suddenly and unexpectedly, my Nana succumbed after her own long and often painful battle with cancer.
I thought about the last time I saw her, in her hospital bed in a small town in Canada, about a 3 hour drive from my home in Michigan. She knew, and we all knew, that the end was near. And that after nearly 23 years of sharing the joy of life together, this would be our last time to share that connection alive, together, in the same room. Through it all she continued to crack the familiar, self-deprecating jokes about herself. When the time had come for us to leave, I wept uncontrollably as I told her how much I loved her and said goodbye for the last time.
The one solace in my Nana’s death was it was not unexpected. There was time to “say our peace” and have nothing left unsaid. I thought about this recently as a friend posted something about learning that “it is horrible to lose someone and have it mixed with regret.”
I think I’ve already said all I have to say on the subject of regret (here and here). The deaths of my two grandmothers were a stark contrast, one drawn out over a long illness and the other a complete and utter shock. In the end, both were painful loses. But in both cases, nothing was left unsaid. They knew how much I loved them. And I knew, with absolute certainty, how much they loved me – and I’m still convinced it was just a teensy bit more than they loved my sister in both cases ;-).
Watching someone you love go through a terminal illness is a horrible experience. We should never wish that kind of pain and suffering on anyone. Getting that “advance warning” to “put your house in order” is not worth the price. Better to live as if anyone you love could be taken from you at any time (or you from them) and to make sure, as much as possible, that they know how much they mean to you.
Easier said then done, I know. A few years ago, I missed attending a reunion of my college football teammates – there was no direct flight and I concluded the time/effort involved in getting to/from the reunion vs. the time actually being at the reunion made it difficult to justify going. Afterwards, one of my teammates “Fang” told me about the passing of one member of our freshman team named Chris. Even though Chris didn’t stick it out through the full four years of playing ball, we all nonetheless had a bond, forged in that crucible of sharing the experience of being away from home for the first time as freshman football players. And it saddened me to hear about Chris’ untimely death – from a terminal illness that he did not disclose to anyone else.
To paraphrase Fang, he then figuratively smacked me upside the head, saying, “You know Kenny, you’ve GOT TO make the effort to be there in the future. Life is too short and we’re not getting any younger. If it means anything to you, then do whatever it takes, but get your ass there.”
I’ve taken that advice to heart and will make the effort to be physically at such events in the future (and in fact did so at a high school reunion last fall). At the same time, with modern technology, there is no reason to wait for some designated “anniversary” of one sort or another to let the people in your life who are important to you know that that is the case. We’re all busy going 100 miles an hour down the highway of life. But it doesn’t take that much to send a text message or email (preferably not while driving 100 miles an hour on the highway of life), call and leave a voicemail, or post a comment on Facebook or some other “social media” communication tool. Just to let the people who have shared some portion of this great journey we call life with you know that you were thinking about them and that you love them (I’m not sure you even NEED to use the word love, if that’s too much for you – just making the effort to connect implies the emotion). And when your time or their time comes, you’ll have nothing left unsaid.