Say­ing ‘I love you’

The Covington News - - OPINION - T. PAT CAVANAUGH PUB­LISHER T. Pat Cavanaugh is the pub­lisher of The News. He can be reached at pca­vanaugh@rock­dale­

As I get older un­for­tu­nately death rears its ugly head more than I would like to see.

Over the last few years the deaths of many of my friends and as­so­ciates and fam­ily has al­most be­come com­mon place.

Some of those deaths have been han­dled with grace, oth­ers not.

Dur­ing my ten­ure work­ing with hospice, I saw, heard and watched many of the won­der­ful and some­times mirac­u­lous hap­pen­ings that oc­cur at end of life. I have had the spe­cial priv­i­lege of spend­ing time with pa­tients when their fam­i­lies weren’t with them and it al­lowed me to ob­serve and visit with dy­ing pa­tients in a very dif­fer­ent way.

Some­times, I no­ticed that fam­ily mem­bers or friends were very com­fort­able while their loved ones de­cline into the sun­set of life. These same fam­ily mem­bers were also very com­fort­able with what their loved one was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. Oth­ers are very trou­bled with the ex­pe­ri­ences of their fam­ily mem­ber. I re­al­ize there are many rea­sons for this dis­com­fort – some­times it re­lates to tra­di­tions, or fam­ily cul­ture or child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences with death.

There is one be­hav­ior that al­ways af­fected me and still does when I ob­serve it, and when I see that be­hav­ior I just want to grab the fam­ily mem­ber, hug them and say, “Hey, it’s al­right. You still have a chance.” You don’t have to feel guilty any­more, there still is time. There was a spe­cial look that fam­i­lies who were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this pain had. I’m talk­ing about that look as­so­ci­ated with guilt. That look that a fam­ily mem­ber or friend ex­presses at the end of a loved one’s life that says I feel guilty, be­cause I never took the time, or I was too busy or I was too an­gry, to visit or to say you’ve al­ways been an in­spi­ra­tion to me and I love you.

I know this feel­ing be­cause I have ex­pe­ri­enced it my­self.

I did not grow up in a fam­ily that was very demon­stra­tive. I have one brother and two sis­ters and, of course, par­ents. But I can’t re­mem­ber us ever hug­ging or say­ing, “I love you” to one another. We did and still do love each other. We just never have re­ally showed it. To this day, I have a dif­fi­cult time send­ing spe­cial oc­ca­sion cards to my par­ents that are gush­ing with verses of love.

In­ter­est­ingly enough, over the years I have be­come a very demon­stra­tive person to my im­me­di­ate fam­ily, to friends and even to per­fect strangers. I’ve pon­dered what brought about this change. I’m sure that that main rea­son is that I am fast ap­proach­ing an age where it is im­por­tant that I start re­view­ing my life.

I men­tioned above that I had a brother. My younger brother by five years died a few years ago of a heart at­tack, and while I truly loved him in my heart, I’m not sure I ever told him. He died in­stantly, and I never had an op­por­tu­nity to tell him how I felt. I owned a news­pa­per in Cal­i­for­nia and was liv­ing there at that time; he lived in Penn­syl­va­nia. Since I was the newsper­son, the cir­cu­la­tion person, the ad­ver­tis­ing person and the jan­i­tor, I was not even able to go to his funeral. That was as good an ex­cuse as any, I thought, as I buried the fact that he was gone in my mind.

I kept that thought buried for some time, you see, be­cause I was mad at my brother be­cause he did not live up to the ex­pec­ta­tions that I had for him. I showed him my anger by not talk­ing to him. But as time passed, I came to re­al­ize that the only person I was hurt­ing was me and – quite pos­si­bly – my brother.

In spite of my ef­forts to keep it buried, I was tor­mented with the thought that I was a rot­ten older brother. I be­rated my­self. I blamed ev­ery­body in my fam­ily. I looked for ab­so­lu­tion. Then one day, I de­cided to write a let­ter to my brother.

The re­lease I felt af­ter do­ing this was tremen­dous. I felt a peace that I had not felt in years. Be­cause of my ex­pe­ri­ence, I try to al­ways make time to tell some­one that I care for him or her or that I love him or her. That’s why I wanted to hug the fam­ily mem­bers that came into to the hospice house with trep­i­da­tion…, those fam­ily mem­bers who felt as I felt. I have met fam­i­lies that are strug­gling with the same is­sue since; one of them might be you. I want to ex­plain that it’s OK be­cause you still have time. Take the time now to make amends, to love your loved one or your friend. I want to en­cour­age you to en­joy your re­main­ing time to­gether, even if it is spent in quiet just en­joy­ing one another’s pres­ence. I want you to rem­i­nisce, to laugh to­gether. You can’t re­live the past, so let it go and just “en­joy the mo­ment” with your loved one and your heart will ex­plode with hap­pi­ness. You will for­get past trans­gres­sions in­clud­ing the times that you didn’t take the time to give a hug or to say I love you.

In con­clu­sion, I of­fer to you this let­ter that I wrote to my brother af­ter his death. Use it as a re­minder to tell your friend or your loved one how much they mean to you and how much you re­ally care for them. Pick up that phone now! Write that let­ter now! You never know when it might be too late to do so. Dear Shawn,

I’ve meant to write this let­ter for years.

I’m sorry I didn’t; I guess I thought I was al­ways too busy.

I re­mem­ber when you were born. I was the king bee at age 5, and I was not happy about the loss of at­ten­tion you caused me.

Soon af­ter you were born, we moved from the big city to the coun­try. I never quite ap­pre­ci­ated our coun­try liv­ing like you did.

It’s funny; I would give any­thing now to have that same life. I know you would have, too.

You thrived in that en­vi­ron­ment. I al­ways wanted to be some­where else.

I re­mem­ber when I was in the Boy Scouts and we camped back in the woods be­hind our house, if I had to use the bath­room, I al­ways came home. You dug that hole. I can still smell the fires and woods to­day. It’s a haunt­ing smell. I’m sure you had re­mem­bered that smell, too.

When we were young I al­ways thought that you were a pain and a bother. You al­ways wanted to tag along and our mother al­ways made me take you ev­ery­where. Re­mem­ber the time we were play­ing “Cow­boys and In­di­ans” and you were the In­dian, and my friend Ed­die and I tried to lose you? You were scared and be­gan run­ning wildly down the big hill in the woods. You fell and split your head open and car­ried a scar from that the rest of your life. Mother re­ally let me have it for that one.

I’m sure you would re­mem­ber. I was 10 and you were 5 and we were horsing around in the river. I no­ticed you were gone. Then I saw the sun glis­ten­ing off that white-as-snow hair of yours as you were sink­ing below the wa­ter. I res­cued you and I was so grate­ful that I promised the Lord that I would al­ways pro­tect you. Some prom­ises are hard to keep, I’ve found out.

You prob­a­bly didn’t know this, but I was jeal­ous that you could al­ways catch more crabs and swim faster and en- joy so much of what you had. I was never happy with what I had. I al­ways wanted more. You were al­ways con­tent. You and I had dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. I learned to be a charmer to over­come my short­com­ings. You didn’t. Two plus two was al­ways four, no mat­ter how you looked at it.

I al­ways found a way, even if the an­swer was five or three or what­ever.

I went through school ahead of you, and some of the mis­chievous things I got away with, you never did. I guess in com­par­i­son to a charmer and a straight shooter, the charmer al­ways wins and I al­ways did.

When we were older, some­one told me once that you told them that I was your idol. I never thought that you might feel that way. The truth of the mat­ter, Shawn, is that I ad­mired you. I am sure you would find that amus­ing.

I loved sports. You were al­ways the nat­u­ral. You could use your hands to build al­most any­thing. I still can’t ham­mer a nail straight. You could grow a mean gar­den. You had such nat­u­ral abil­i­ties. You took life as it came. You had plenty of tal­ents. You just never rec­og­nized them.

When we were teens, I was jeal­ous again be­cause the girls all loved you. On the other hand, I was al­ways like their big brother.

As we grew older, I let you down as a big brother, but Shawn, I was just so dis­gusted with you be­cause you didn’t take the skills you had and turn them into some­thing that would have made you happy.

You chose other ways to make you happy. I’m sorry you did that. Be­cause if you were re­ally happy and con­tent, you would still be here, then and I wouldn’t have had to write this let­ter.

I’m re­ally sorry now that I didn’t see through my dis­gust and be a big brother to you.

I al­ways thought I would have plenty of time to come to grips with our re­la­tion­ship.

You know, I re­ally feel good that you are in a great place now and I know that you are fish­ing and crab­bing and build­ing and plant­ing a beau­ti­ful gar­den and think­ing good thoughts for all of us.

Now you have a chance to be the big brother and the op­por­tu­nity to pre­pare the way, and I know you will do a great job.

I love you, and you will al­ways have a place in my heart.

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