Years ago, while living in Michigan, I met a couple at church on Sunday morning who were visiting from Alabama. “What brings you guys to Michigan?” I asked.
The husband responded, “My dad and mom are in the nursing home here, and it’s my dad’s 90th birthday. We are going to visit them this afternoon, and spend about a week here.”
It turned out that I knew them, and had visited them in the nursing home on numerous occasions. The old man was one of my favorites – tough and ornery – always spoke his mind. I liked him because I had the freedom to always speak my mind with him. I was never afraid to do that –mainly because he was 90, mostly deaf, and confined to a wheelchair. I felt safe with him.
The next day I was in my office when I received a phone call from the son’s wife. She was upset. Her husband had suffered a massive heart attack while visiting his father in the nursing home. He was alive, but barely.
When I got the hospital, I found him awake, but unable to talk. His wife talked for him.
“Honey, can I tell David what happened yesterday?” He nodded yes. She continued. “Yesterday after we talked to you, we went to the nursing home to visit Earl. Ed (her husband, Earl’s son) was sitting on the edge of his dad’s bed, having a great visit. Suddenly, Ed clutched his chest and collapsed into his dad’s arms. Earl, lying there in bed, was holding his son, crying out: “Son, please don’t die. I love you son. I love you. Please don’t die!”
Wow, I intelligently responded. What a great story.
“Wait”, she said. “That’s not all the story. You see, that is the first time in Ed’s 65 years of living that he ever heard his father say – ‘I love you.’ ”
As I turned to look at Ed, there in the midst of tubes in his arms and nose, I saw tears streaming down his face.
Ed died three months later, preceding his father in death by a couple of years. He died happy.
In the Grief Recovery Handbook by John James and Russell Friedman, the authors discuss the role of incompleteness in grief (pp. 109ff). Things we wish had ended different, better, or more often consume us. Undelivered communications or actions hinder healthy recovery.
I am sure Ed’s father was glad he said those words to his son before his son died. But we have discovered that even after a loved one is gone, there are ways to complete those incompletions. If you are struggling with some loss, whether a few months ago or many years ago, consider attending a Spark of Life retreat for help and encouragement.
One more suggestion: Tell someone special in your life that you love them. Do it today.
Spark of Life exists to give hope to those grieving, that though life can never be the same after loss, life can be rich and fulfilling again.