Sometimes things come along in life in ways that seem entirely unconnected. Then suddenly, you see them in a new light that makes you think maybe they are all part of the same lesson? That happens to me sometimes. Maybe it happens to you, too?
Recently, a reader in Kansas wrote to say: “Dear Sharon: During the Lenten season, I like to write notes to family and friends, and though I only know you through your columns, I feel like you are a friend. For several years, I tried ‘giving up’ chocolate, sweets, etc. (for Lent) but never felt it brought me any closer to the Lord. So I changed to sending a note each day of the 40 days of Lent, mostly telling folks how they have added to my life and therefore to my Lenten walk with the Lord …. I am 80 years old and appreciate your work. God bless you and your family.”
We all should get a note like that once in a while. It made me grin like a mule eating briars.
The grin turned to tears a short while later when I learned that a dear friend had lost her 20-year battle with cancer.
I met Dianne Walton some 30 years ago through her husband, Tom, the editor who hired me for my first newspaper job in Monterey, Calif. We became doubly connected, as their daughter, Sheila, was a student in my husband’s chemistry class at Monterey High School.
After Sheila graduated, Tom and Dianne moved back to their home state, Ohio, where Tom became editor at the Toledo Blade. But we still kept in touch. I’ll never forget the kind words they wrote when my husband died from colon cancer.
Years later, when I remarried and moved to Las Vegas, Tom and Dianne came to visit us. Dianne was in remission, having been ill for years with ovarian cancer, followed by breast cancer, followed by lung cancer. Through it all, she never lost her sense of humor or her little-girl like love of life.
I remember telling her, as we sat on the patio marveling at the desert sunset, how happy I was to see her looking so well.
“You had me worried,” I said. “You’ve come a long way.”
“Well,” she said laughing, “I guess I fooled a lot of folks!”
Last week, when Tom wrote to tell me of her passing, I was stunned. Some people are so much alive, they make you think they’ll live forever. And then when they die, as we all will one day, it comes as such a shock.
I wanted to attend Dianne’s service, but couldn’t make it. Tom sent me the program in which he and their son and daughter shared memories of Dianne. He also emailed the column he wrote about her.
I wish you could’ve read them.
There are gifts that come with loss. I learned that clearly in losing my first husband. One of the great gifts in a prolonged illness is the chance to say and hear all that needs to be said and heard.
The program for Dianne’s service, the things her children said about her, the beautiful column Tom wrote _ they’re all things Dianne would’ve loved.
Too often at memorial services I find myself wishing that the departed could hear what is said about them, could know how much they meant to those they left behind. I take comfort in believing somehow, they do.
In Dianne’s case, I am certain she knew how much she was loved. Her husband, children and grandchildren, her family and countless friends made sure of it. They didn’t wait until it was too late to let her know.
Which brings me to that note from a reader. It’s a lovely idea, don’t you think, writing 40 notes for the 40 days of Lent?
But here’s my thought: Why wait for Lent, or worse, for a funeral, to let somehow know how much they mean to us?
Do it now. Today. Tomorrow. Every day. While we can. While there’s time. And if we’re lucky, maybe someone will do it for us.
Always give love the final say.