For some reason, I always believed a person’s last words should be very telling of their life and/or death. John Adams is credited with saying, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” on his death bed. I’m all for a healthy political rivalry, but even that is pretty epic. Julius Caesar’s last words, “Et tu, Brute!” have clearly withstood the test of time. Television and movies portray death scenes as final moments of clarity where people can get across the absolute truth of their lifetime. They are moments when love or hatred is confessed. After all, the term “death bed confession” isn’t coined for nothing. I think that if we all had our choice, beyond dying in our sleep, we’d choose to get that last moment of honesty and clarity with someone that could pass along our message, our legacy, to those who need to hear it. For some, their final words and acts become their entire legacy. For others, those final words are proof positive that they continued their good life into death.
The few times I’ve known someone who died suddenly, I’ve replayed our last meeting in my head. I’ve seen their loved ones replaying their last moments together to be sure to find peace. Luckily, I’m blessed with amazing people who make it their business to love their friends and family strongly every day. I, however, am paranoid. I have a habit of messing up my words. I say exactly what I mean to say, it just doesn’t always come across like I intend. At 26, I haven’t quite figured out how to make sure that even those closest to me understand my meaning. It’s maddening to see those who so quickly understand one joke completely misinterpret another and get hurt. I’m sure it’s my fault, I just don’t always know how to fix it, or prevent it completely. Obviously. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t actually do those things on purpose.
Unfortunately, I’m in a place where I’m concerned that every word may be the last word I say to my stepdad. After 17 years, many of which I didn’t want to speak with him at length, I don’t know how to get across what I want him to remember. Every day this week I’ve agonized over what he might say before he passes. Will he be in pain? Will he be asking for medication? Will he be crying out? It seems that he is feeling more peaceful with every passing moment. For that I could not be more grateful. I’ve also realized, since he is not dying suddenly or unexpectedly, we’ve been given the fleeting gift of time. We’ve said things in the last 5 days that we waited 10 years to say. I could sit here and regret that we didn’t say them sooner, I really could. Some things I think could’ve come up, for sure. Mostly though, we left things unsaid that would’ve hurt each other or those around us. If we had time, I’m positive we would’ve aired out some dirty laundry and healed up some old wounds. Fact is, we don’t have that time. We don’t get to “live” on the other side of the resolution. We don’t get to have the family memories free of misunderstandings and misinterpretations. That is what I’m sad for. I can’t be regretful, I haven’t lived those moments yet. But in years to come, I know that I will think, it would’ve been nice for this moment to come and all of us to be here happily. In those moments, it will bring me comfort to know that he will be somewhere far more joyful than the moment, but selfishly, I can’t help but wish we’d all been a little more aware of our time.
To say that actions speak louder than words would be the understatement of a lifetime, literally. We both know that our actions have hurt each other, that has also gone without saying. We’ve apologized for things we haven’t acknowledged. I’m honestly not even sure we’re on the same page about our apologies, but it doesn’t matter. And since I can’t end every sentence with “I love you,” or “I’ll miss you,” I’ve come to realize that he can still hear it when I say, “Could I get you some more soda?”
Steve, Tonight we sang “I”ll Be Home for Christmas”. It’s been your anthem all week. But today I had to finish it because you’d forgotten the words. That was strange for me. You always correct me on words, even in other languages. Maybe there’s something poetic, in case it’s your last night, about our last words being, “I”ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Maybe you will be Home, but you won’t be here anymore. Maybe from now on we’ll have to settle for being with you in our dreams. I’m strangely glad that I got to sing it to you. You haven’t typically thanked me for singing a song and as strange as I would’ve thought this at 16, or even 22, I’m sure you will be in my dreams at Christmas for years to come. Those were maybe good last words, even if we’re lucky enough to have more tomorrow.
But I do love you. And I will miss you. More than I ever would’ve come out and said.