Category Archives: the unexpected event

Regretting the Things We Didn’t Say

The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia flight MH370 in 2014 with 239 people on board may finally yield some answers. Experts are analyzing a wing piece that washed up on the shores of an island thousands of miles from where the plane is thought to have crashed into the ocean.

To most of us, the people who died are just names. Yet, for each of the victims, a family is grieving. Loved ones are angry; they want an explanation. An ordinary flight to a vacation destination – what went wrong, how could this happen? An explanation of why the plane crashed may satisfy the survivor’s mind. For the heart, there is no comfort.

I remember watching the search for the missing plane last year and thinking of  how suddenly life can change. People we love die, and the things we meant to say to them can no longer be said. We never told them how much we love them, how grateful we are for all they teach and give us, how much we admire them and how lucky we are that they share our life.

We waited, thinking we had all the time in the world. We’d tell them at the right time, when we weren’t so busy, when we could figure out what we want to say. We didn’t give much thought to the reality that all we have is this moment.

Dr. Ira Byock wrote a book called “The Four Things That Matter Most ” about what’s important to people at the end of life. Don’t wait for the end of life. Say them now:

“Forgive me”, “I forgive you”, “Thank you”, “I love you”.

Simple statements, yet they tap into the deep layers of relationship between us and the people we love. They can’t read our mind. We have to let them know how much they mean to us.

If yoiu knew you had 24 hours left to live, what would you want to say to the people you love?

 

No Chance to Say Goodbye

“See you later”. Millions of us say it as we go about our daily lives.

“Enjoy your workout” is so ordinary that, when Sheryl Sandberg said it to her husband before his sudden death, she couldn’t have imagined that she wouldn’t see him alive again.

“Have a great time” we say to family members as they leave the cruise ship on one of the regular excursions by plane for a flight over Alaska. Last week, the plane crashed and we never saw them again.

A beach vacation in Tunis? A movie at the cineplex? A visit to your children on the college campus? These are are ordinary events of everyday life.

We expect to return, to resume the ordinary daily activities we take for granted. We rarely think that we may not see these people we love again. That there’s always time to tell people we love them.

Last week was an object lesson in not waiting to say”I love you” as random events took over the lives of millions of people. Some we know; others we don’t know. Terrorists, malfunctioning engines, unforeseen health issues, a deranged teenager with a gun – and the myriad of things that happen even when they’re not supposed to show us how little control we have over our life. As John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”.

“See you later.” Maybe…

Married to an Optimist

If you’re married to an optimistic man who is also a procrastinator, beware. He’ll postpone taking action about things he doesn’t like to think about, often until it’s too late. I think of my friend Carol and her husband Ted.

The storm wasn’t supposed to hit until evening. “I’ll only be gone a few hours,” her husband had said. “ I have to meet this client before the weekend. We’ll review the papers when I come back.”

The storm hit early. The bridge held; her husband’s heart didn’t. When she got to the hospital, he was hooked up to life support. His eyes were closed; he couldn’t talk. His sons consulted with the doctor. They ignored her.  Even after ten years, the boys still resented their father’s remarriage after their mother died.

Feeling invisible and helpless, his wife sobbed. If her husband survived, he would need heart surgery and extensive rehabilitation. His outdated estate plan, with provisions tailored for his first marriage, appointed his sons as holding durable powers of attorney.  She would have no say in the matter. She knew the sons would not include her in their decisions. If her husband died, his previous will, still in effect, would benefit the adult sons from his first marriage.

A few weeks before his heart attack, they had consulted an estate attorney to bring the plan up to date and reflect their ten years of marriage. She had been so relieved when her husband finally acknowledged how frightened she was not to have financial protection in case something happened to him.

He was the optimist in the family, always expecting the best, looking for the silver lining around every dark cloud. She loved that about him; it balanced her own tendency to brood and worry about things she couldn’t control.

You have a choice – Create an estate plan, make sure you’ve signed the durable powers of attorney and know that you’ve done what you need to do about things you can’t control.

The other choice? Hope for the best.

 

 

 

 

The Ripple Effect


I was walking my dog a few days ago when I saw a tall blonde woman walking towards me with small slow steps. Holding a cane in one hand, and the leash of her large dog in the other, she seemed to be a paradox – a image of fashion, beauty, youth and vigor, yet she was taking small steps with a cane. 
“He’s friendly”, she called out reassuringly. I loosened the hold on my dog’s leash. The dogs began their get acquainted ritual and we chatted a bit. Her name is Lois. I learned that she was recovering from a broken back injury, sustained when she fell down a flight of hardwood stairs. I asked how it happened. “There was some mud on my husband’s shoe after he walked the dog. It blended into the dark wood. He didn’t see it, I didn’t see it, and I slipped,” she explained.

“It’s no one’s fault. It just happened. I feel so lucky that it wasn’t worse,” Lois continued with a wide smile. “I used to run with the dog, but he’s learned to walk slowly with me. After two years of surgeries and rehab, I’m walking again. How great is that?”

We exchanged names and I said I’d look forward to seeing her again on the walking path. I haven’t seen her again, but I hope I do. I want to thank her for reminding me of something I know, but to which I pay too little attention. 

It’s not what happens to us, but what we tell ourselves about what happens to us, that makes all the difference. I’ll try to remember that the next time I get irritated about something that wouldn’t even register on Lois’ scale.