“Roses Are for the Living,” column for Sept. 17, 2013

Eulogies, though well-intentioned, are highly overrated, a belated kind of praise my mother used to call “a day late and a dollar short.”

I’d much prefer my roses (or my thorns) while I’m living. Why do we wait until it’s too late to say what’s in our heart?

Recently I had an email from a young woman named Sheila, the daughter of my friend, Dianne. Sheila was planning a surprise for her mother’s birthday. She sent the note to family and friends, asking us to write back with a memory or a story or just simple good wishes that she could collect as a gift for her mom on her “big” day.

I thought, “What a great idea!” I meant to do it right away, but forgot. Duh. Fortunately, I remembered in time for the deadline. Here, more or less, is what I wrote:

The first time I saw Dianne’s beautiful face was 31 years ago. I was biting my nails in her husband’s office, waiting to be interviewed for my first newspaper job, when I noticed on his desk a photo of a blond, tan, serene-looking woman sitting on a beach. I assumed, correctly, that she was his wife.

Something about her made me think she was the kind of person who could take whatever life had in store, land on her feet and still keep smiling.

I love it when I’m right about people. I thought that day, as I have countless times since, that her husband was one lucky guy.

I got the job. Moreover, I got a chance at a future friendship. It would be years before I knew Dianne personally. I met her briefly once or twice, and heard lovely things about her.

Then one day, at the start of the school year, my husband came home from the high school where he taught chemistry and coached basketball, and told me that one of his new students was my boss’s daughter.

“Sheila’s a lovely girl,” he said. “Smart, hardworking, very grounded. I really like her. It’s a good thing. I’d hate to have to flunk her and get you fired.”

In years to come, life would take Dianne and me in different directions. But over time, it would bring us closer. She and Tom moved to Ohio. I lost my husband to cancer. Years later, I remarried and moved to Las Vegas. But we kept in touch, and I had occasions to visit them.

I had always loved Tom, as we often say in the South, “more than I should.” But I soon fell in love with Dianne, too, for her warmth, her grace, her humor.

She has a gift for making strangers feel at home — in her kitchen, on a lake or sharing a hot dog at a Mudhens game. She and Tom have also visited my husband and me at our home in Las Vegas. My husband loves her more than he should.

Dianne brings to mind something that Linus Pauling, twice a Nobel laureate, once told me in an interview, soon after he lost his wife, Ava.

“Tell me about her,” I said.

Pauling’s eyes lit up, beaming at her memory. “She was smarter than I am,” he said. “She could have done all the work, all the research I’ve done. But she chose instead to make a home for me and my children.” He stopped for a moment to steady his voice, then added, “She made everything possible.”

Happy birthday, Dianne. So glad you were born. I still think your husband is one lucky guy.

X…X…X

I told you all of that mostly to say this: It’s never too soon to tell someone how much they mean to you. But someday it could be, God forbid, too late.

Who in your world makes things possible? The clerk who asks about your day and actually listens to the answer? The neighbor who’s always glad to watch your 3-year-old? The co-worker who fills in so you can visit your dad in the hospital? The daughter who remembers your birthday and makes sure everybody else does, too?

Don’t wait for a eulogy. Or even for a birthday. There is one time, one chance, one perfect moment to say whatever is in your heart: That time is now. And again tomorrow.

Comments

  1. Sharon,

    What timing! I learned this morning of the passing of a good friend, a man who served the community in many volunteer, humanitarian ways. He had been ill for years, but kept going, kept pushing. We served together on the local fire district board of directors, and at the end of last month’s meeting, I privately thanked Carl for all that he had done. Of course he denied his good efforts, but thanked me anyhow, saying, “I’ve lived a good life, and I’m ready to go.” I am so glad I had that little chat with him. Now, who can I visit tomorrow? Thanks for this important life lesson.

  2. Patsy Koon says:

    I do love your columns. This one is especially great. Now is the time to tell someone that you care about them. Later is only a memory. Regrets are painful.
    Continue with you timely stories.
    You make my day when I read them.

  3. Sandy says:

    Oh, my….how this touched my heart…..you are a blessing…..thank you!

  4. Cynthia Sue Stempkowski Leach says:

    I read your column every week in the Naples Daily News in Naples, FL. I have read your wonderful stories for many years and have walked with you through all your trials and tribulations. This article really gave me a pause… since I am having some health problems tht started as soon as I turned 65 and Thank God for Medicare and Humana. LOL
    It made me think of all the people I waited too long to say I love you to and because of you I plan on telling as many of them as possible beginning today how important they are to me and how much I care and love them. Thank you Sharon for the inspiration. God Bless you and your family. Cynthia

  5. Sheila Walton McCallum says:

    Sharon,
    You rock. Thank you for remembering Mom and taking the time to write. I am honored to be remembered too. I still have the column you wrote about the day my son Gregory was born. That was nearly 12 years ago! It has a place of prominence in his baby book. Mom and Dad say Dianne immediately read all seventy memories that afternoon. Then they went out for birthday dinner, and upon returning home, she read them all again! I think we done good.

    Thanks again!
    Sheila

  6. iris says:

    I love all your columns. I read you in the Dothan Eagle. I grew up in New York (Long Island), moved to kissimmee fla., then here to Dothan area. I have been reading your columns faithfully and laugh and cry with you. Yours is the first thing I read on Sunday mornings. I have been following you for almost 13 years. Congrats on your grandchildren, I have 6 and 1 great-grandbaby. I lost my beloved father and mother to cancer, sorry for the loss of your beloved first husband. Regards to all your family, brother, sisters, etc. I will contact you again. Thank you for all your beautiful colums about life, love, joy and loss. You are an inspiration. Iris B

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