And that reminded me of something I witnessed, and later read about, when we first retired out to Loma Linda. We lived next to a cemetery and in our comings and goings past the cemetery we noticed an older fellow on a folding chair, sitting by a newly created grave. This was not unusual, but after seeing him there every day, and when the days become weeks and then months, it becomes unusual. Finally the newspaper wrote a little human interest article that told the story; this man had been happily married for many years, and in the manner of the little games we play with our spouses, she always asked him if he loved her, and although she knew he did, he never said so. It was always light-hearted and seemingly of no special consequence, but after she died, all he could think of is that he never told her that he loved her, the only thing she really ever asked him for. And he said this recollection just tore him up. “She always wanted me to tell her I loved her and I wouldn’t. That’s not so hard, is it?”
I couldn’t help thinking about the difference in how each of these two men handled their grief: one with honor and the other with guilt. It made me think of the difference in the way families show love. My own family was very undemonstrative. I knew my folks loved me, but I have no recollection of either of them saying it to me, nor me saying it to them. We also weren’t touchy-feely people either. To be honest with you, it wasn’t until I married first into the Kirkpatrick family and had children that I learned to loosen up. Having my children did it! I mean, how can you not hug and kiss your babies? I finally learned to be verbal in expressing that love. And then later I married into a Jewish family where the hugging and kissing was both verbal and physical at every greeting and every parting. I joined a mishpocha that included family, friends, relatives and acquaintances and it has been great fun expressing my love for them.
But don’t misunderstand; there is also a necessary expression of love that must be expressed and acknowledged between husband and wife, an expression aside from the purely physical, that may be fulfilled by hearing your spouse tell someone else he or she is proud of you. Or by making an effort to figure out a special gift. Of not assuming that your spouse knows you love him/her. Of hearing that you are still “the one.”
When Sept 11 demonstrated in such a dramatic way that life and love can be taken from us in an instant, I determined to stay, as much as possible, up to date on my expressions of love, appreciation, pride, encouragement and care for all those whom I count as important people in my life. I don’t want to write my feelings in a letter of condolence; that’s too late. Some of the blogs that I wrote have been for that very reason, but they have been for people already dead. So I’ve also been sending some letters out to old friends who might not know how important they have been to me. I could have phoned, but I wanted them to be able to see the words whenever they wanted. And I’m upping my verbal touches with family and friends too – so they know where they stand right now. I suppose doing this is what I would call my own personal bucket list, not things I want, but things I will feel good about doing.
Like the man who still sits by his wife’s grave says, “That’s not so hard, is it?”