Have you ever been really moved by something a friend or family member did for you?
Maybe it was bringing you some gas when you overestimated how far you could drive with the gas light on.
Or maybe a loved one brought you flowers when you were having a terrible day.
It might have been as simple as a text that told you that you mattered to them.
Our lives are scattered with these tiny snapshots of kindness and care.
In the same way that the safe answer to the question “How was your day?” is “Good. How was yours,” (regardless of how our actual days were), we tend to maintain a certain level of dishonesty when it comes to appreciating those we care about.
We rationalize our under-appreciation with this bizarre belief that if we were to honestly affirm those we cared about, that it would “get to their heads.”
So we hold back on the affirmation and encouragement because we don’t want to inflate the egos of those we care about.
On top of that, in our instant message society, everyone is simply a smart phone swipe away. It has never been easier to contact our friends and family in distant countries and locations. And with FaceTime, Zoom, and Instagram we can be in touch in a matter of seconds.
We’ve unconsciously accepted the narrative that because everyone is so easily accessible, that they will always be easily accessible. And so “I’ll tell them tomorrow” or “I’ll affirm them later on” becomes our approach to interacting with those we care about.
I remember in my second car accident, I was listening to a song on Spotify while driving to work.
One second I was singing the second verse, and the literal next second the back of my car was caving in as a jeep rammed into my car.
I remember getting out in the Southern California rain as we pulled over to the side of the road. The one thought in my mind was how the whole trajectory of my day and next few weeks was changed in a literal second.
I unconsciously and naively always thought that disasters and tragedies took place over long periods of time. Maybe it was being exposed to my grandma battling cancer at an early age. Maybe it was the fact that I was sheltered and privileged.
I just never expected “accidents” to happen that quickly.
In the age of Covid-19, we were all affected in different ways. I have heard sad stories of people having to separate from loved ones as they fought the virus.
When my grandpa went to the emergency room for severe sepsis, we were unable to see him for weeks due to covid restrictions. My sisters and I worried for my grandpa.
To be in the hospital is already a traumatic experience in and of itself… but to be unable to see family and loved ones is something else entirely.
I tend to frame my life priorities from a very morbid lens. In those early morning hours when no one is awake except my overactive mind, I imagine myself bleeding out on the floor of in some random place. As my vision blurs and my grasp on reality fades, I ask myself the question: Would I have done anything differently?
In the past, I regretted certain decisions I made. Perhaps I reframed my career priorities. Or maybe I decided to begin pursuing old dreams that had previously died.
In almost every instance where this morbid daydream has played out, my biggest concern is that I didn’t tell people how much they meant to me until it was too late.
It’s at this point where I usually shoot a quick text to someone to let them know that they matter and that they are a blessing to me.
Before going to therapy, I couldn’t even place how I was feeling unless I was angry or stressed out.
Maybe it was because of my upbringing or maybe because of the legalism that religion taught me, but from a young age I learned that being sentimental was just unacceptable and uncomfortable.
I would find every excuse not to tell people that I cared about them.
Expressing care or affection was limited to near death events and emotionally high moments. But in the context of normal day to day living, it just wasn’t a thing to communicate to people that you loved them.
I mean after all they already knew… right?
When Paul Walker, the actor best known for his role in Fast and Furious passed away, I remember all these news stories coming out with his friends and co-stars lauding him with praise and affirmations for being such a stand out guy.
I remember thinking to myself that it was a shame that he never got to hear most of these affirmations.
But when you think about it.. this is an accurate representation of most of our normal lives: we amplify the flaws of those we care about, while staying relatively silent on their strengths and why we appreciate them as individuals.
In a way, we save the affirmations, the words of encouragement, and the best for last.
Tragic… but true.
In the shape of a metaphor that fits much too well, we spend hundreds of dollars on floral arrangements for our deceased loved ones that they are unable to appreciate. As those closest to the deceased share their favorite things about said person, the funeral attendees smell the flowers and hear the affirmations meant for the deceased.
The one in the casket can neither smell the flowers nor hear the words. And sometimes… it’s questionable if the deceased ever really knew how much they mattered to those close to them.
Sometimes the tinges of regret from the eulogy giver are obvious in their verbiage.
Generally, those with loved ones who are no longer here wish that they had said more.
Generally, those of us who are still here take the ones we care about for granted and save our affirmations for tomorrow or the next time we see said person.
At first glance, this post could seem like a massive downer.
“Life is hard enough, don’t remind me of its temporal nature on my day off”
However, my hope for you is that you would not hesitate to appreciate those who are still here with you.
Everything does indeed end, but regret and the “what if” can stay with us for what feels like forever.
So send that text. Leave that voicemail. Give that hug.
Leave with the “I love you and I am so grateful for you”
Stop using “see you later” or “we have to do this next time” as a crutch or as a postponement day for saying what you really mean.
Stop saving the kindest words….
…For the eulogy