So – to quote one of the few soap operas still on television – like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. As you get older, everything seems to be speeding up. Hours fly by in the blink of an eye, days are gone without you even noticing, holidays seem to arrive sooner and sooner and then, once again, it’s New Year’s Eve and you’re wherever you normally are and thinking how did this year fly by so fast. And, if you’re like me, remembering so many things, so many times, so many people and taking stock of your life.
A few weeks ago, my darling Dad’s younger brother died, the last of the three Burke brothers to go. A man whose life was very difficult when he was young. A disinterested mother, an alcoholic father, a home life filled with struggle to put food on the table and keep the lights on in the house. He often said that if it weren’t for my father – who kept an eye out for him, took him under his wing, got him his first job delivering papers, bought him his first television – he wouldn’t have survived. But survive he did and blossom as well, overcoming his own demons to marry and raise 3 daughters of his own, just as my Dad had. He always called my Dad his Bubba, a holdover from the days when he was young and couldn’t pronounce the word brother. And Bubba became shortened to Bub and – to this day – some people still refer to my Dad as Uncle Bub.
The last time I saw my uncle was at my Dad’s funeral almost 5 years ago. He was as heartbroken as much as we were because he was the person there who had known my Dad the longest. We spoke at length, consoling each other, sharing stories and when I left him saying that I missed my Dad so much already, he said that he missed him too. And those were the last words he ever said to me and that was the last time I ever saw him.
So when he passed away, it got me thinking that you never truly can know if the last time you see someone will ultimately be the last time you ever see them. If we knew it would be the last time, could we bear it? I don’t think I could. Would you try to say everything you should have but haven’t? Would you pull them in for a hug and not let go? Would you hope that your mind would take all those lovely snapshots of them and store them so you can call upon them when you need to see that person again, even if it’s just as a memory?
The last time I saw the love of my life we were leaving a hotel after spending some time together. He was headed towards his car, I was headed towards the airport. I missed him, of course, as soon as he was out of sight but our time apart wouldn’t be forever. And he knew how much I loved him and I knew no one had ever or would ever love me or get me the way he did. And then life got in the way and we weren’t able to see each other for a while but we talked every day, hours every day. That would do until our lives, our schedules, our daily commitments cooperated.
They never did, of course. And then he got sick, very sick, very quickly. He was gone in a few months and I was and I am and I always will be heartbroken. And I look back and think if I had only known that was the last time I would ever see him, what more would I have said? What dreams would I have shared? I don’t know but I have to hope that he knew, that he knows that I said everything in my heart, everything that mattered to him when I had the chance. I have to hope that he left this world knowing how much he was loved.
There are other people, of course, that if I knew that the last time I saw them was going to be the last time I saw them I would confront them and ask them why they had wounded me with their words, hurt me with their deeds, scarred me with their total lack of empathy or self-awareness or compassion. If I knew that seeing them again was not going to be an option and that their absence from my life would be the period to their chapter in my story, I’d have perhaps been angrier or demanded explanations or asked them why. I’ll never know most of the answers and some days, many days that is a very tough place to inhabit. Is knowing worse than not knowing? I wish I had the answer.
So I’d rather focus on the good stuff and try to live my life in such a way that – if tomorrow is the last time I see someone, or the last time they see me – our memories are happy ones with no words unsaid, no hugs not shared, no hands not held, no dreams not chased, no plans not made. I want to remember those I love with happy thoughts, no matter how long we haven’t talked or how much distance separates us. And I want them to remember that I loved them, I cherished them, I counted on them, I prayed for them, I wanted only good things for them. If that happens for us, then I know I will never regret this life I’ve lived and it won’t matter that the last time they saw me was going to be the last time they saw me. Because we said it all and that’s all any of us can hope for.