Friday, January 21, 2011

I WISH I HAD - Part 2 (Should Have...told him I loved him)

“What do I do now with my regrets… When the person is living we can make amends… But when the person is dead, what do we do with our regrets?” – Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

7:15am: The phone rings. It is Austin’s friend informing me that Austin’s been in a motorcycle accident and has a bad broken leg (at the knee). The police need to speak with me, because Austin doesn’t have identification on him. I tell the friend thank you and that when he gets to the hospital to give Austin a "smack on the side of the head" – at this point I thought Austin was just banged up, real bad, but would be fine, with a little surgery and T.L.C..
The "smacking on the side of the head" is a love gesture I often used with Austin. I really didn’t smack him. I would simply say, while laughing, “Do I need to come give you a smack on the side of the head?” If he was with me, doing something silly,  I’d lightly tap him on the head, while chuckling, “Cut that out…” He would respond, laughing “Ouch!” even though it hadn’t hurt.
The police officer gets on the phone, explaining that Austin’s knee is really messed up and it looks like his shoulder is also injured. In addition, he has a lot of road rash. As I'm thanking the officer and about to say good-bye, the thought comes to me briefly, “I should ask the officer to tell Austin I love him.” Just as quickly, another thought comes, “Don’t be morbid. It’s not life-threatening, he's going to be fine…” As I hang up the phone I don't think, even for a moment, that Austin is going to die. It never even crosses my mind.

Then I get the life-changing phone call: Austin has not made it. One of my first thoughts is, “I should have told the officer to tell Austin I loved him. Why didn’t I tell him I love him? It should have been one of the last things he heard. I wonder if he knew what was going on - if he knew he dying? Did he think, even for a split second, that I would be mad - since he knew Mike and I weren’t crazy about him having a motorcycle? I hope not. I wish Austin had heard the words, ‘Your mom said she loves you.’”

If I could do it over, I wouldn't hesitate to say, "Tell him I love him."

“How many times during our lives have we lamented, ‘If only I had it to do over again….’ When someone we love dies suddenly, there are lots of “if onlys.” We regret not having told the departed more frequently how much they were loved. We wish that the final conversation or visit could have been more memorable or meaningful.” – Ann Dawson, A Season of Grief

“What do I do with my… regrets? Maybe some of what I regret doesn’t even need forgiving; maybe sometimes I did as well as I could.” – Nicholas Wolterstorf, Lament for a Son
At first, I was too embarassed to share my regret with anyone - my guilt of failing to tell Austin, one last time, that I loved him. I felt sick every time I thought about it. Finally, having to get it off my chest, I shared my grief with a couple friends. Each time, the response was the same: With a hint of astonishment, they'd say, "Oh, you didn't?" To which I answered, matter of factly, "No." All the while inside, I was crying, "No! I didn't! I had hoped you would say, 'It doesn't matter, he already knew.' So no, ok, I didn't have anyone tell Austin I loved him."

For  days after the accident, my regret continued to gnaw at me. Then suddenly, a thought washed over me, “If, in order for Austin to know you loved him, you had to have someone tell him, then you didn't do your job for the past 21-1/2 years. But, he did know you loved him, unconditionally, because in addition to telling him often, you also showed him - through your actions and encouraging words. In fact, the night before Austin died, you spoke with him on the phone, and the last words you said were, 'I love you, Bud.' He knew, that no matter what, you loved him." 

The heaviness, that had weighed my down, lifted and peace settled in my soul. And even though, I still wish I had sent the “I love you” message on that final day, I no longer beat myself up. Because, I know I had loved Austin with all my heart for 22-1/2 years, but even more importantly, I know he knew.

I don't know how many of you have been beating yourselves up over something that was or wasn't said or done for a loved one, and now it's too late. Please, don't be too hard on yourself. Most of the time, we do the best we can do, at any moment in time. Sometimes we get it right, but none of us are perfect.

You cannot change the past, but you can use it to become a better and stronger person. You can use it to remind yourself not to take for granted all the wonderful people you have in your life, right here, right now. Go love them up!

“Yet after he died, I was overwhelmed with the realization of how much I had loved him, how I missed his face and voice, the lunches when it was just the two of us, our little conversations, all the things I had taken so much for granted. Not until after he was gone from me did I realize what a priceless treasure I had had in him.

It was too late then to appreciate the precious gift that (he) had been in my life. But it was not too late to acknowledge and give thanks for the other gifts in my life: my children and husband, my family, my friends and my health. Now, after losing one of my greatest treasures, I will forever take time to give thanks for the gifts I have in my life.” – Ann Dawson, A Season of Grief
Idea: One thing that I did, was to write Austin a letter, telling him how much I loved him and missed him. I knew he would never see it, but it helped me put my thoughts and feelings into words, and to put things into perspective. Sometimes, just verbalizing our thoughts can help ease the burdens we're carrying around with us, even if we're the only one that reads or hears it.

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