I’ve learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.
Aging, death and dying. I seem to be preoccupied lately with these things. I’m not afraid of them; they happen. I know that I will get old and die. Right now, it’s not the passing that frightens me. I’m way past that. It’s what I’ll leave behind. If I died right now, what would happen to my kids? They have so much learning to do. While sometimes I think that there’s not much I can give them, I know deep down that I would leave an incredible void in their young lives if I were suddenly gone. It’s not arrogance that tells me this. I am old enough to have lost, and there is much more yet to lose. I know the ache of an empty space: that endless yearning for what was and will never be again. It is my life’s work to prepare my girls for that moment. The moment when I am not here.
I have dreams, sometimes, of people who have left me. A few months ago, I remember lying in my bed in the black quiet of a predawn fall morning. I was in that magical state wherein reality and dreams juxtapose on a backdrop of warm blankets and fuzzy shadows: rabbits in topcoats glanced frantically at their pocket watches while the glowing green clock on my nightstand foretold a dire future of showers and coffee and bills to be paid. I sank deeper into my dreams, the clock be damned.
There I was, sitting at my mother’s old yellow Formica table. We were silently having coffee. Her hair was still impossibly curly and dark black where it wasn’t graying. She was wearing a tattered blue housecoat. She smiled and sipped, and I did the same. Why must the dead always be quiet? I wanted to hear her voice. I wanted Mom to tell me I needed a shave. I wanted her to tell me that she had driven by my house the other day and noticed my lawn needed a trim, and what would people think? Yes, Mom, I would say. I’ll get to it. But we just looked at each other and drank. It was pretty uneventful, as dreams go. I was frustrated.
Then Mom looked at me over her coffee cup. Silently, and with more eloquence than mere words could achieve, her eyes told me that I was still her little boy and that I was loved, now and always. My frustration left me; peace settled over me like a warm quilt on a cold night.
The alarm rattled and the dream was over. Mom was gone again, for now, but her lesson for me remained: while a part of her was gone, the best part of her was still with me—the love that she had for me, and I for her. It is what I will leave for my children. They will walk in the knowledge that they were loved, unconditionally, and forever. That will always be with them.
In the end, that may not be as good as a hug. But it sure beats a void.