My husband and I had known he was dying. We had watched this retired Marine in his mid-60’s for some time as he battled through the rigors of chemo for the cancer seeking to destroy his body. He went from running five miles a day to trying to walk up and down the driveway. He was a valiant warrior to the very end. We had met him and his wife when my husband was a young second lieutenant and he a major.
When he and my husband were each deployed overseas and I moved home to Ohio to live with my parents, his wife had not long after moved to a neighboring city and we became friends during those long months of uncertainty. When he retired as a lieutenant colonel, they moved to a city two hours away and we continued to grow in friendship over time so it was without question that we would visit often when the diagnosis of cancer came to him.
He demonstrated courage at each step and each of us made time together count, whether it was discovering a new restaurant to enjoy or being certain to say heartfelt words that we did not want to miss saying when a visit became our last time together. Despite pain and exhaustion, he also wrote several letters during that time filled with precious reflections on his experience.
Not long before what would become the last visit, we arrived back at their home after dinner and with great care he presented a gift to my husband and then one to me. I unwrapped the small blue box and found tucked inside a beautiful sterling silver pendant divided into four sections with a different symbol in each representing different seasons. His tender words spoke of the seasons of our friendship over time and were recorded in my heart. They were the kind of words too often we leave unsaid or say after someone has died.
They fit perfectly the words of Proverbs 25:11 (KJV):
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
It can be so easy in our busyness to leave unsaid the words tucked inside our hearts and thoughts. Sometimes it isn’t busyness, but the uncomfortable awkwardness of revealing something so personal and intimate. And why do we wait until someone is old or dying if we risk saying them at all?
One of the characters in Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry reflected poignantly to Jayber about a loss and unspoken words, as well as some that should never have been spoken. They remind me of the importance of not only saying what we should and knowing not everything we feel must be said. Listen to how she describes it:
“There are things I did or said that I wish I hadn’t, and things I didn’t do or say that I wish I had. When he finally got free of his sickness and awful clumsiness at the last, I was glad, and yet I was sorry I was glad, and yet I miss him.”
Here when a life has ended, the character expresses ambivalence. Grief is often like that, but when we remember that time is always moving ahead and a chance to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you” may not come around again we improve the possibility of fewer regrets in life.
Berry’s book (Jayber Crow) makes a key observation to consider:
“But the mercy of the world is time. Time does not stop for love, but it does not stop for death or grief, either.”
We must never forget that time is the one gift that we spend that we can never get back.
Each day we should spend it wisely, value what we can learn from it and what we can give to it.