This is a little bit different than my normal posts. It not about Andrew, or our loss of him. It is about the last words, the final words. The other night at our bereavement group, one of the mothers who lost her boy last year was terribly upset. She cried and sobbed over the loss of her son openly. But really what bother her and what gave her grief was the last words they spoke. He apparently did some physically toiling, sweaty work outside and was going out that night with friends without showering. She asked him to shower, she implored him to, but all he said was that he did not care and was late for his friends – he twisted his baseball cap around and headed out the door. As he was running out, she verbally expressed her disappointment with him, quite specifically and with expression, and he was gone. Not just gone from the house that night, but gone from her life forever – he passed without making it home that night.
And all she could think about, and what she has to live with the rest of her life was that last remark, that last sentence, that last voice of frustration. And it burns inside of her and is a constant terrible source or pain and anguish. She could not take the words back, she can not now or ever explain those words. And she is not alone.
Another family we know had a similar situation. I do not recall the exact situation, nor the stimulant that caused the friction, nor who said what last, but that there where words said, feelings hurt, and their son left the house, left his home, and they did not talk for weeks afterward – each waiting for the other to break the silence, each waiting for the other to maybe apologize, each waiting for the other to grow up. But that never happened. Their son passes as well – the silence never broken, but now the silence is forever. The frustration over those last words is forever.
We talked about this and two points came up.
One thing you can take from this is that your children are your most precious things in life. How can you fight with them and let it go unresolved. How can you let them leave the house frustrated, upset, mad? You never know if the words will be your last. I have heard many times that one of the secrets to a long lasting happy marriage is that you never go to bed upset or mad at your spouse. Then how can you possibly let your child, who is so much more fragile and sensitive than your spouse, leave you when they are upset. How can you let them turn and walk away? How can’t you call them or text them or reach out to them and offer a settlement, so that you may both go to sleep happy – never knowing if it is the last time they will go to sleep.
Can you live the rest of your life with what you said to them the last time they left your side?
But – we are also parents. We have to nurture and encourage them. We have to guide them and teach them. We have to set them straight when they drift, we have to discipline them when they break the rules, and we have to treat them like adults when they act like babies. That sometimes includes saying things to them that might hurt, that might offend or bother them, that may include raising our voices to them, it might include walking out of the room and not giving in. That is all about being a parent and raising good, compassionate, trustworthy, righteous children. No parent can raise a child without discipline, without being a parent, without ruffling a few feathers now and again. Without pissing our dearly loved children off once in a while. And then walking away to let our children think about it, and hopefully coming to the right decision using the tools that we provided them with during their upbringing.
That is the potential quandary that every parent faces. The two parents I mentioned above know that what they did was right. They have come to peace with themselves and what happened between them and their sons. They know that they were being parents – good parents. They know what they did was right for their child. They know that their boys are not resentful or upset where they are now. They know that their boys are at peace with themselves and with their parents. But it still hurts. It hurts like hell. Knowing that the last conversation was not one of love and happiness, but one of being a parent.
Every time your child walks away from you, every time he or she leaved the house, every time you say goodbye, every time you hang up that phone, look at them and think about it. Are you being their friend? are you being their mother or father? Are you being a disciplinarian? Are they leaving you upset and is their cause for that upset? Or did you just have a bad day at work and taking it out on them? And a minute later, maybe an hour, maybe a day, can it be repaired?
Is there an answer? Absolutely not. It is good that almost none of you will pre-decease you children. That people will pass in the correct order. But as I write this, I come across another thought. What do you want your children’s last thoughts of their parents to be? What do you want the last conversation that you have with your children to be about? How do you want it to end? So when you walk away, walk into that bright light, what will they remember?
Prologue – I know that when I was sixteen my father drove me to school in the dead of winter. We talked about the lawn and about the garden coming back in spring. We smiled and laughed. He pulled up to the school, drove to the last door, i leaned over, kissed him goodbye, and got out of the car. I was happy, but my father never saw the spring. But I was happy. I am at peace.