Today I attended the funeral for the son of one of my instructors. The young man was 26 years old, seemed to be a kid full of life and energy, was well liked, had a lot going for him — and took his own life. Certainly I am not in a position to judge the action, and this is not what this blog is about. As I sat through the funeral with my wife, I had a number of thoughts cross my mind. This will be an attempt to sort through a lot of those thoughts.
First, depression apparently was a hidden problem with this young man. The priest who presided at the funeral, as part of a wonderful homily that he delivered, explained that depression is not the type of illness where a person stands on top of a hill and yells “Help me!”. In fact, the opposite is exactly what happens. A person suffering from depression hides his/her problems, often ignoring the symptoms or trying to work it out on their own. I can tell you it does not work. If you know me really well, you know that I suffered from clinical depression back several years ago. It cost me my practice and two marriages. But that is a topic of another blog down the line. All I want to say is that if you know of someone suffering from depression, or that you think might be suffering from depression, please do not ignore it. It can be a real killer, both physically and mentally. You might need to suggest, hint, cajole, kidnap or even force them to get help, but it is very important that they get the help that they so desperately need.
Secondly, I had such a deep impression that no parent should ever outlive their children. There is no way I can console my co-worker/friend by telling her that I know how she feels. I don’t and I never hope to personally know the feeling. What I can do is be there to listen, to laugh, to cry and to share. It would be disingenuous for me to sit there and pretend to understand the emotions that she must be feeling. This was not a case of a 95-year-old parent losing a 72-year-old child. This was a vibrant young man with a lot going for him. My heart goes out to her and to anyone that has lost a child.
Thirdly, why are we so afraid of death? Both of my parents have passed away, and during their funerals I was quite taken aback by the different reactions of people to the death of their friend, relative, neighbor and co-worker. Some were very consoling and understanding, and ready to help at a moment’s notice. Some were afraid to look you in the eye or talk to you, as if by doing so they might set off a reaction they could not control. Some avoided my family and I all together, choosing to stand at a distance.
I can remember one of my family members (whose name I will keep private) actually accusing me of not caring or loving my parents because I did not openly display uncontrollable fits of tears or emotion. Because of my faith I feel I have a good understanding of the entire death process. Although I certainly felt the loss of my parents’ company, I also knew that this was just one more step in the process of our lives. In my mom’s case, it ended a long-term of suffering in incredible pain and disability. In my dad’s case, he would no longer suffer the loneliness he felt at my mother’s passing. Death is not something one should fear.
Finally, I kept thinking about a recurring theme that I have pondered all year long. It has been brought into clearer focus since the birth of my adorable granddaughter Chloe. Why do we wait?
Why do we wait until someone passes to express our love and respect for them? Why are our friends, family, companions and others we care for not constantly in our thoughts, our hearts, our prayers and our actions?
My wife and I were having a conversation the other day and I jokingly remarked that since I was going to be in Round Rock on Christmas day, I was going to miss seeing those people at church that I only see on Easter and Christmas. Again, I do not say this in a judgmental manner. But as friends, do we not do the same thing? Do we not wait for significant events like deaths, weddings, births, surgeries, etc. to find the time to visit? How many times do we say at those events – “We really need to keep in touch”, only to fall back into the same old pattern in our lives?
In the case of the death of one of those we care for, do we find ourselves regretting not having spent more time with them? Do we wish we had told them how we felt?
I have a very vivid memory of the last phone call my dad and I had before he passed away. My dad lived in the little town of DeBerry, Texas. How and why he chose to move there after my mom’s passing is still a mystery to me. He was 7 hours away from the closest family (which was me) and lived by himself. We chatted about me making a trip to DeBerry to help him find a new heart doctor so that he would not have to make the 800 mile trip to El Paso every time he needed to go for his checkup. We discussed all the things he liked to talk about, and had a friendly argument about his other favorite topic – hating whoever was President at the time. But what made this last talk special is that we spent the last few minutes of our call talking about how much we cared about each other.
I got a call 3 or 4 days later from his pastor. They found my dad on the back porch where he had apparently collapsed after a heart attack.. What sorrow I would have had if I had not had the time to say what was on my mind during that last call, even if I did not know it was the last time I would talk to him.
Recently I have tried to reach out to my extended family. My father’s family (as opposed to my dad that I just talked about) is from Michigan, and I have had some limited contact with them. My mom’s side of the family, many of which I met at a family reunion about 13 or 14 years ago, is another story. I have been horrible at keeping up with them, and it is my goal this year to make sure that they become a part of my life.
Don’t be surprised to hear from me. Regrets are not something I want to have in my life. I will be reaching out to those I love and care for. What are you waiting for?
At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.