Last Words

I have deliberately postponed writing a blog post about the Sandy Hook school tragedy for a number of reasons, the first being that there are no words to appropriately react to it, and second, that most everything that can be written has been.  Of course, the fallout includes national conversations on gun control, school safety, and mental illness - thousands of articles online and otherwise go into great detail  concerning those subjects, and they are important ones.  But there is one reaction of which I have heard little.  It all reminded me of a letter to Dear Abby or Ann Landers that I read years ago.

A woman wrote to the advice columnist that her husband and she had had an argument one morning and didn't resolve it before he left for work.  Later in the day, she was called by the emergency room and was told that her husband had had a heart attack and died.  She was not only grief-stricken but her guilt was unbearable; if only she had had a chance to make up, she said.  If only their last moments together on this earth had been loving ones.  Now she had to live the rest of her life with "if only."

Mornings are especially difficult for most families with kids, even those without kids.  Maybe someone didn't get a good night's sleep, maybe another had nightmares, maybe someone else was dreading a test at school or overslept or was still carrying a grudge from an argument the night before.  Maybe a kid is dragging her heels about getting ready, maybe mom at the last minute realized there are no clean clothes, maybe someone can't find his keys or cell phone.  There are countless reasons we tend to argue in the morning at the very time our loved ones are leaving, when our family separates for the day ahead until they are gathered back together in the evening.  But sometimes they don't gather back together in the evening.  Then comes the anguish of what had been last moments together - sometimes outright yelling, sometimes just stubborn silence, sometimes just irritated snapping, sometimes just in too much of a hurry to give a goodbye hug.

The letter mentioned above reminds me that there were adults involved in this school massacre, too - wives and girlfriends and parents.  Each adult and each child had no reason to believe that, no matter if their mornings had in fact been hurried or tense or argumentative,  there would be plenty of time to set things right when the family reconvened.  We always assume there is plenty of time.

It doesn't have to be mornings.  Any time our loved one departs and temporary separation exists, there is always the possibility the temporary situation might become permanent.  It's rare that it would happen in this tragic way, but there are heart attacks, car wrecks, and numerous physical ailments and accidents that can snatch us in an instant.  Nothing in life is guaranteed.  Not next year, not tomorrow, not the rest of the present hour.

It is my hope that we all, in the midst of our overwhelming grief and sadness, make a promise to ourselves to take care in our daily separations, to part with love and forgiveness in every instance, realizing it is one more chance we have been given to bring peace to relationships and to leave our loved one with the knowledge that they are unconditionally loved.  What better gift?

We as Americans make it a point to prepare for the just-in-case scenario:  We buy all kinds of insurance we hope we will never have to use, we try to maintain our furnaces and cars and appliances in working order, we may even be successful at saving some money for emergencies.  Yet, we live our lives day in and day out under the false assumption that nothing unusual will ever happen when it comes to relationships, that our loved ones will always be there after a temporary separation - even it's just our significant other running to the store for something - and we treat each other accordingly.  We always assume we can make up another time, or ask forgiveness tomorrow, or give that hug when they get home from school or work, or even when they wake up in the morning.  Sometimes they don't come home from school or work, and sometimes they don't wake up in the morning.

One of the most poignant parts of some church services is when the leader says,  "The Lord be with you."  And the response:  "And also with you."  What a kind greeting or parting!  Or "I love you."  Or a hug and kiss.

For years, Ed used to say, "Be careful!" as the last thing when one of the kids left the house to go somewhere.  One year Rachel had a car accident, and she swears he forgot to say "Be careful" when she had departed.  Whether he had done so or not, it was very important to her.  It meant he loved her very much and was wishing she be spared any harm.  It was the last thing she heard him say every time she went out and it comforted her.

If we take away anything from this horrible time, let it be that we try to treat each other better at all times, and to appreciate our invaluable relationships, but importantly to take special care and acknowledge our bond when we know we will be separated from our loved ones.  There are no guarantees, and, in the event of the unspeakable, we would want each other to have the last words be ones of love and peace.

May the Lord be with you.