Wednesday, August 31, 2011


This has been a year of loss—many losses. From Dad’s death on January 3 through the loss of my mother on July 26, and so many others in between and since, the year seems to be whittling away friends, family members, and the families of friends. I had counted 28 of those deaths before the end of February, when I stopped counting. But it didn’t end then. There’s been at least one a week since.
Losing those I love provided some powerful reminders for me.

Don’t take anyone for granted. My father died when I was seven. I went to second grade one morning, and when I came home that afternoon, he was gone. Forever. It was a powerful lesson I never forgot: People die. You never know when or how.

This is the reason that Larry and I tell each other, “I love you” on awakening each morning. We try never to part without a kiss, and reunite the same way. And we can’t go to sleep without another kiss and the words, “I love you.” When Larry traveled, he’d usually call home just to say goodnight. On a couple of occasions when he didn’t, I’d call him. If we couldn’t get through or were unable to make contact for some reason, we didn’t sleep well.

Youth doesn’t insulate you from death. People can die at any age. My father’s death taught me that one, too. He was thirty-seven. His mother was twenty-three. His grandmother, thirty-eight. And my maternal grandfather was fifty-four. All far too young. 

This point came home last year when our dear friends’ daughter died very suddenly at forty-two. Erin practically grew up in our home. I used to tease her that even though her parents thought she was theirs, she really belonged to us. On my birthday last year, among many other notes was one from Erin which said, “Happy Birthday Mama! Have a great day!” It told me that she knew she was loved. What a gift that was the next day when we received word that she was gone.

I was creating a movie for her folks’ 50th anniversary this week and added family photos including Erin. I wept when I saw them. I miss her very much. But at least I knew that I loved her. And she knew it as well.

Tell the people you love that you love them—often. Years ago, another daughter of dear friends died at thirty-one after an illness of a couple of years. Several months before her death, I saw Peggy. Our conversation ended with a hug and my saying, “I love you, Peg.” She stepped back, looked me in the eye, and said, “I know you do.” What a gift!

Far too often the people we genuinely care about either don’t know it or don’t believe it. I keep hoping the repetition of the words will eventually reinforce the very genuine affection I have for the people in my life.

Many years ago now, another dear young man died in his early thirties. Looking at the large assemblage at his memorial service, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had any idea how many people cared about him. I doubted it. John just never seemed able to accept that others cared about him. And that has always made me sad.

There is a ritual I indulge in with many of the people in my life. Whenever we part, I always tell them I love them. I mean it. I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my father or to tell him I loved him. As long as I have breath, I want my loved ones to know without a doubt that I do.

My niece and goddaughter both caught on to this early. Whenever I talked to them on the phone, I’d end with, “I love you.” And they’d answer, “I love you, too.” However, as they got older, both of them would try to sense the end of the conversation so they could say the words first. They still do, and I love it that it still matters to both of them.

Life goes on. Even with the pain of loss, life continues for the survivors. Hopefully it is richer for the presence of all the special people in our lives—including those no longer living. My personal belief is that we will see them all again when we join them and that the love we shared in this life will remain between us. In those moments of grieving and sadness, this confidence is a great comfort.

Everyone suffers loss. Everyone grieves. The only way we can honor those we have lost is to live the remainder of our own days well. And that’s what I’m attempting to do now.

Remember, friends and family, I love you.