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For years I have scribbled short notes to myself regarding life lessons learned along the way. I have a box that is full of those notes. They are the reminders that even in the worst times there are important lessons to be learned.
Many of us had the luxury of spending our childhoods and young adult years not thinking about losing people. I imagined that the people in my life would always be there. I only remember one funeral before I was thirteen. I’m sure that I lost other people I knew before that time, but death was not a real concept. I lost my grandmother then, my favorite person in the world. Death became very real and my luxury of ignorance was gone. It is one of the hardest lessons for us to learn. We have to tell our loved ones every day what they mean to us while we still have the chance.
It was a Tuesday when I lost my beloved wife, Laramie. She was out running errands and had called to see if I had any special requests for dinner. We had talked for a few minutes, mostly about a friend of ours that was again doing something stupid with his life. I was busy, so I tried to keep the call pretty brief. We were going to talk more that night. Tuesday night was our date night, and we looked forward to spending it together.
It was only forty-five minutes later when I got the call that forever changed my life. Actually, it was the second call. The first one I did not answer because I was in an inconvenient spot and felt the friend calling would not have anything important to say. When the same friend called again less than five minutes later, I knew I had to pick up. My gut told me something was terribly wrong. The tone in my friend’s voice only reaffirmed my sense of dread.
My friend didn’t tell me what had happened. She only asked that I come to her house as soon as possible. I was out the door before we even ended the call. In my heart I already knew what I was going to hear, but I prayed fervently on the short drive that I would be wrong.
An inattentive driver had crossed the center line on the highway, and my dear Laramie was gone in an instant.
I don’t remember much of the next few days. I planned a funeral, picked out a casket and welcomed hundreds of her friends to the funeral. Once the rush of activity was over, I started reliving the last days of her life. I mediated on the conversations we had, the text messages we sent and the quiet moments we shared. I tried to remember every breath, every word, every expression that had passed between us. Try as I could, I did not remember the last time I told her I loved her.
That missing piece is probably the most painful. Part of me knows that Laramie felt how much I loved her. She knew me better than I know myself. We often joked that we shared a brain. Most of our conversations only had half sentences because we generally knew what the other was thinking and going to say. However, another part of my heart scolds me daily for not having told her more often. I never imagined that last conversation would in fact be our last, but I do clearly remember not saying, “I love you,” before I hung up.
In the next eighteen months I lost fourteen more friends, seven of them dying in horrifying accidents. It got to the point that I was so numb that I could not cry anymore. In an attempt at levity, I commented to a friend at one of the latter funerals that I had worn out my black suit. It was a devastating period, but it reaffirmed this important life lesson.
With each loss, I struggled with remembering the last time I had given positive affirmation and affection to my friend. When had we last talked? When had we last seen each other? When did I last let them know that I cared about them? Too many times I have found that I cannot remember. That is a terrible burden that I will carry the rest of my life.
In time I gained some relief about Laramie by sorting through the items she had left behind. It was quite some time after I lost her before I felt I could invade her privacy in that way. One of the things she had kept was a card I had given to her years earlier. She had been going through a difficult time emotionally and a dear friend had let her down terribly. In the card I wrote, “You might be only one person in the world, but to one person you are the world. I know who that person is.” I didn’t even sign the card, but it meant enough to her that she had placed it in her special box of keepsake treasures. After crying new tears at this find, I placed it gently back in the box where it remains to this day.
Think about the loved ones in your life: husbands, wives, children, parents, grandparents, and close friends. When is the last time you told them just how much they mean to you? When did you last tell them how special they are and how much you love them? When did you last hug them or hold their hand? Can you remember the last time? If you can’t, today is the day you need to start telling them and don’t ever stop.
To my writer friends, who is someone that you lost before you could tell them how much you loved them? Although painful, this is a great writing exercise. That raw emotion can later fuel a character in your writing. If you decide to create a post to answer that questions, please come back and let us know.
Until next time…
For more life lessons learned, be sure to Click Here to read the rest of the I’ve Learned series.