I remember the final year of my mother’s life. She was a smoker and could not quit, so she developed emphysema. I was thankful for that last year.
We were close but would also argue a great deal. I made a deal with myself that I would call her once a week, just to listen and not argue. Before she became ill, we would argue so much learning not to argue was difficult, but I got used to it. Talking to my mom in those last months, just listening and saying a few things to encourage her or to make her laugh, was enough for me. When she did die everything was good between us, all I had to do was stop taking the bait and argue with her.
While at my mother’s wake in 1983, I was looking at my Dad and came to the sudden realization that he was a stranger to me. I then became terrified that if he died soon I would be devastated, because there was no connection between us. I wanted to get to know him, at least on some level.
Fortunately, my Dad lived another 20 years, and I had a chance to find ways to know him better. Whenever I went home I would spend all my time with him and my step-mother, who was a very good woman. I would watch TV with them, and go out to visit family, and all of it was good. There are many ways to get to know others, speaking is one of them, perhaps the best, but sometimes just to sit with them is enough.
My Dad was very extroverted and people loved him. He was a liberal when it came to politics and died a Catholic, though I’m not sure he thought much about that. But he had his feet on the ground until the end and his last twenty years were happy ones.
On that morning in 2003, when I called him, we did not talk about much, and when I hung up I told him that I loved him, and he said the same back to me. Two hours later he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. So the last thing he heard from me was about my love for him, and at that moment I feel there was deep communication between us — love is always a bridge, I believe.
It’s never easy to lose loved ones, but binding up loose ends can make things easier, which can lead to binding them up with others, long before that urgent day arrives. All of us should be reminded each day how we are connected, of our solidarity, and the basic commonality of human experience — beginning with those nearest to us, those we love most.