Here’s a little mystery I can’t figure out: Why are we quick to say things we’ll wish we could take back, and slow to say what we’ll wish we had said sooner, before it was too late?
What if, instead, we were slow to speak in haste, and quick to speak in love? What difference might that make to our lives and our loved ones and our world?
I often hear from readers who are grieving the loss of someone they never wanted to lose. Some of them describe wonderful, lifelong relationships with not one cause for regret.
But many of them wish they had tried harder to say things they truly meant to say — “thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “you mean the world to me” — while there was still time.
Have you ever listened to a eulogy at a funeral and wished the departed could hear it, too? It’s enough to make me want to host my own funeral while I’m alive and can still dress myself.
Most of us want to know what we mean to those who mean everything to us. How will we know if we don’t tell each other?
Actions might speak louder than words. But words don’t need to shout to be heard.
We carve them in stone and whisper them in the dark. We tatttoo them on our skin and hold them sacred in our hearts. We memorize and reprint and treasure them forever. Why are they sometimes so hard to say?
I often think of things I wish I had told my mother. I spent the last few days of her life at her bedside in the hospital and tried to tell her what I wanted her to know: She was a good mother. She had done her best. I was proud to be her daughter.
She was heavily sedated. I don’t know if she heard me. I’d had a lifetime to tell her all those things. Why did I wait?
My dad was a man of few words, but he meant what he said, and said what he meant. I was a wife, a mother and a newspaper reporter, but I was always his “girl.” We lived on opposite coasts but phoned often. The last time we spoke, we ended the call as always:
“Love you, Dad.”
“Love you, Girl.”
Those were the words I would cling to when I learned he had taken his life. I had all sorts of questions I couldn’t answer. But I did not doubt his love.
When my first husband was diagnosed with cancer, he was told he had six months to live. That wasn’t enough, he said, to do all he wanted: To teach and coach and help me get our three kids through college. So thanks to chemo, an army of prayer warriors and the grace of God, he lived four more good years.
Part of what kept him going was simple: People began to tell him how much he meant to them — his students, kids on his team, fellow teachers, family and friends. He basked in that love. It was good medicine. He died at peace, having said and heard all that he needed.
Years later, I remarried and inherited two teenage stepsons. Our combined five kids are now grown. Three are married and have given us six grandchildren.
Seems we’re forever telling them how much they mean to us. They might get sick of it. Too bad. We won’t stop. We need to say it and they need to hear it.
From late December to mid-February, we celebrate eleven birthdays in our big blended family. It gets a little crazy.
Last week we phoned my husband’s firstborn to wish him happy birthday. I listened as my husband told his son how proud he is of the man and husband and father that he’s become, and what a pleasure it has been watching him grow up.
He ended the call, as always, with “I love you, buddy.”
And I yelled, “Me, too!”
I hope the boy heard me.
When we tell someone what they mean to us, we don’t need to be articulate or profound or poetic or even smart.
We just need to mean it, and to make sure they hear it. And we need to do it now, while we can, yes, while there’s time.
The best time to say “I love you” is always now.