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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Just trying to do what my dad did

“Dad, English Premier League Soccer is on.  It’s Everton vs. Newcastle today.  I made nachos.  Do you want to come watch it with me?”

The truth is, I do not really want to watch it today.  I love watching soccer, but I have stuff to do and I really have no vested interest in these teams.  However, much like every Saturday, I will sit down in my chair an try to watch at least half of the match.  For the next 90 minutes plus added time, I am going to be bombarded with the history of players whose names I can not pronounce. I will hear all about their stats and how much teams are paying at the transfer window.  Ben will critique the manager’s tactical decisions, inform me which teams will soon be relegated and point out all the things he would do different if he was playing.  Clearly a fourteen year old boy knows more than the top players and managers in the world.

Why do I do this every weekend? First, the boy makes really good nachos. Second, it reminds me of one of my favorite childhood memories.

In 1987, for some reason, I was in really into baseball.  That year, he Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays played each other in the final game of their seasons. After 161 games, they were deadlocked and the divisional championship came down to the last game of the season. In 1987, my dad had back surgery and was laying in a hospital bed on game day.  I do not remember who suggested it, but my mother dropped me off at the hospital to sit in my dad’s room and watch the game with him.

I was excited because it was just my dad and me. I sat in the chair by his bed and for the next nine innings, I impressed him with my knowledge of the players. I entertained him with the statistics of every player who came to the plate and regaled him with my knowledge of the season. I was on my game and eagerly pointed out the mistakes the Tiger manager made because, after all, a teen boy in Kalamazoo, Michigan obviously knew more about baseball than Sparky Anderson who had only been around the Major League for a couple decades.

The nurses came in every few innings to check on us and my dad introduced me to every one of them and told them about how I was spending the game with him.  I remember them smiling. When my dad’s meal came, there was an extra Jello, pop and apple sauce under the metal cover,  My dad hung in there. I remember being a little baffled about how he could possibly slip in and out of sleep during such an important and tense game. In hindsight, I am pretty impressed that he could stay awake at all.  The combination of painkillers and baseball would put me in a coma.

The game ended. I am going to go purely on faded memories on this next part. The Tigers won the game 1-0.  Frank Tanana pitched a complete game shut-out and the only run scored was a solo home run to left-center field in the first couple of innings by Chet Lemon.  Or maybe it was Larry Herndon. I always confused those two. I want to say the game ended on a weak grounder back to Tanana.   I will have to fact check those 30+ year old memories later. I remember my dad thanking me and once again telling the nurses that I had spent the whole game with him as I left. I am not sure it it was pride of morphine talking. Probably both.

As a parent, I feel like I screw something up every single day. I am constantly worried that some day, my kids will remember me as some type of ogre who snapped at them for not putting their games down fast enough, for being too loud, or for making my living room a bigger mess than a frat house on Sunday morning.  I definitely over think it but I really try to counter all of that with small things like watching a soccer match with Ben or suffering through an overly complicated board game James (seriously, when did  games stop coming with spinners?).

Will Ben remember, or care, that I spent a good chunk of my Saturday morning watching an inconsequential match with him?  Probably not.  However, maybe one of these games something special will happen. Maybe not. Maybe he will simply be having a crappy day and me listening to him reporting transfer rumor will make it better.  Maybe he will remember that. I don’t know.

I am sure most of these Saturdays will fade from both of our memories.  However, almost every time I settle in and the barrage of information starts, I smile for a second and remember sucking Sprite out of a styrofoam cup in a hospital room over thirty years ago with my dad.  Maybe some day, my boys will sit with their son or daughter and grind out a football game, basketball game or dance recital (oh, please let it be a dance recital) and think of me.  I can hope.

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