Do not wait until they are gone

This fall I received a message that Matt, an old fraternity buddy, had surgery and had unexpectedly died on the table.  It really shook me that I am at the stage of life that I got a message about a college friend’s death.  Honestly, Matt and I were never close. We hung out a fair share in college, but I had only seen him a couple times since we graduated. In fact, I do not think I had talked to the man in 15 years and realistically probably would not have ever seen him again no matter how long either of us lived. Still, it kind of shook me.

Someone started a “Tell your best Matt memory” thread on our fraternity alumni Facebook page.  For the next few days, I checked in on the thread and watched it blow up.  I remembered a lot of the stories and had been a part of a few.  I found myself chuckling aloud as I scrolled through them and felt nostalgic as names I had not seen for years popped up.  Scattered through the crazy stories, were the occasional posts that started with, “Matt did some crazy stuff, but what I always appreciated was…” or “One time, Matt said something to me and it really helped me” or “Matt changed my life once when he…”

I found myself wondering if Matt had remembered any of these stories. I wondered if he knew that he had changed some lives/perspectives.  Then I found myself wishing there was some way that Matt could read that thread.  I wished there was some way that right before he left, Matt could see the memories he had made and the impacts he had on people. I wondered how it would make Matt feel to hear all the things being said about him. Then I wondered why we wait until someone is dead before saying these things.

Why do we wait until there is an empty body before we say how important someone is? It feels good and helps us grieve, but why not talk to the living? I have sat at many funerals, listened to eulogies and thought, “Man, I bet that would feel incredible to hear those things being said. It’s too bad it means nothing to the deceased.”  Would it not be amazing if everybody got one day when they sat on a stage, their friends gathered, and said, “You are a great person. This is why I love you. This is what you have done, and this is what I will always remember. Thank you.”

It’s not practical and would be pretty weird but I live in an era with unprecedented connectivity. I can do a version of this.  I am committing to every day, for the foreseeable future, sending a text, PM, Facebook message, or Facebook Wall post to someone and telling them something I would say at their funeral.  A memory.  What they did or said. How they impacted me.  Not because I am thinking of anyone’s death but because I think saying these positive things to them now will make more a difference than saying them when that person has left.  Not everything will be profound and that is fine.

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors was talking about the high rates of suicide and mental health problems among mental health professionals. As he finished, he turned around and muttered, “We spend our lives advocating for mental health and seeking help, but the people with the most knowledge of how critical this is are too God-damn proud to see when they are in trouble themselves.”  Twenty years later, I was in the middle of a couple year battle with depression, was laying in bed wondering how I was going to manage the day and beating myself up because I have more knowledge of, and experience in, mental health than 98% of America and yet, I could not help myself. For some reason, I remembered his off-hand comment. I got up. I got help and I got right.  I doubt he remembers me, and I guarantee he does not remember that lecture, but he will hear about it this week.

Let’s be honest. With the virus sweeping our nation, a lot of us are going to have a lot of time on our hands for the foreseeable future.  Give it some thought.  Send a bunch of messages or just send one per day.  Send it to a lot of  people. Deep dive into your Facebook friend list. Simply share a story that you value for no other reason than it was fun.  That is what most of mine will be.  Thank people for what they have done. Tell people they made a difference.  Say all the things you would say if the person was gone.  It will mean more to them now.

The virus is spreading. Panic is spreading. Fear is spreading.  Take a few minutes. Spread love. Spread gratitude. Spread happiness. Spread it faster.

Think about it.

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