I’ve written before that we never know when the time will come for a friend, a loved one, even our self. If we knew someone was about to die, we’d want to set things right, tell them the things we’ve always wanted to say, to make sure they realized how much we love them.
My columns are reminders not just to readers, but to myself, of how fragile life is, how little time we really have and how abruptly lives can change or end.
If we could only remember that we ALL are dying, everyone would treat each other so much better than we do.
I’ve written it and I believe it.
But I don’t always live up to my words. I forget. I get caught up in the minutia of my life and my best intentions can be swallowed by the circumstances of each day. I go to bed at night believing that everyone important in my life will still be there tomorrow, that our lives will go on and on.
It’s so easy to forget.
The people who boarded the lost Malaysian flight never dreamed they would never again set foot on land. Those involved in the 50-car pileup on the Ohio Turnpike a few weeks ago never imagined they were driving toward disaster.
None of their friends or family did, either. You never believe you’re headed toward your doom, even when you are.
Last Saturday I had another grim reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed.
Back in December I visited my friend Joe, whom I’ve known since I was 14 years old. We yakked about the upcoming fishing season and complained about the lousy winter we were having. Joe mentioned in passing that his back was bothering him, which it did from time to time.
Little did I realize it would be the last time I’d see my friend. A week later Joe was in the hospital, first for pneumonia, which quickly developed into double-pneumonia, then a series of other problems, including a MRSA staph infection.
Joe entered a coma-like state which doctors couldn’t explain: Everything apparently was fine neurologically, but Joe could not respond to even a simple request to squeeze a hand or blink his eyelids.
Because of Joe’s infections and my weakened immune system due to my kidney transplant, I was unable to visit my friend even though I desperately wanted to see him. After months of unsuccessful treatments, Joe was moved to a hospice where he finally kicked the infections.
His wife Donna called and said I was free to visit. That was on a Friday night. Since I had to work Saturday, I told her I’d visit Joe on Sunday.
About an hour before I got off work Saturday, my phone rang. I’m not permitted to talk on the phone at work, but I noticed that Donna had left a message. I hoped it was her calling to say that my visit would have to be postponed because Joe was infectious again, but deep down, I knew.
As I listened to the message on the way out the door, my fears were confirmed. Joe had passed just before 2 that afternoon.
I noticed my daughter had also called. I didn’t listen to her message but called, wanting to tell her about Joe. When she answered the phone, I knew something was wrong there as well. Our cat Pippin she was mine for 12 years before my daughter took her after my transplant in 2011 had to be put to sleep.
In 5 minutes everything I knew had changed.
We can’t really live our lives believing everyone we love may die at any moment, or we’d never enjoy anything. But we can’t really live believing they’ll be there forever, either. We need to remind ourselves, often, of what our friends, family and other loved ones really mean to us and tell them.
Or one day we may find that our chance has passed us by.