One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite shows had a man sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed talking on the phone to his ex-wife sitting on the edge of her bed.
He had just learned she was dying of cancer.
His eyes well with tears and he calls her by his pet name for her. His voice breaks.
Her eyes well with tears because she hears this stoic figure breaking on the other end of the phone.
No one says anything, but they don’t have to, because the audience gets it. A silent moment where so much is happening. Two people who have completely let go of every ounce of anger and resentment toward one another because their time is short and they’re not going to waste any of it on anger. Two people focusing not on all the bad times, but on all the good.
He can’t speak.
She says: “I know.”
And we know that she does.
This was the end. Sadness and regret. Because it used to be so good and beautiful.
And they both remember those times.
The things that matter.
A Letter from my Grandmother
I’ve joked many times in this space about what will happen if my grandmother ever read my writing here, and about other things. Because I use a lot of bad words and occasionally write about mature themes, the working theory is that my super-sweet, kind, prayerful grandma will read it and then have a stroke and die.
I am her first grandchild, and was for nearly seven years. I am closer in age to my grandma’s youngest child than I am to her second grandchild.
I think when we are lying on our deathbeds, we are going to think about the life we lived and it’s going to be painfully obvious to us where our missed opportunities were. Where we failed to meet some standard to which we hold ourselves.
I think most of us are too afraid.
To go on that adventure.
To give up the day job.
To kiss the girl.
We like to do things that feel safe, and I think in the end we are going to regret all the chances we didn’t take. All the safe, comfortable choices we made.
And I think when we’re dying we are going to only think about the things that matter. The people we love and the people who love us. The people who shared in our pleasure and pain and celebrated or suffered along with us.
I’ve written a lot about what a charmed upbringing I had, despite not having much money. My childhood is the ultimate example of how money and having lots of “things” has never, and will never provide the happiness and contentment we seek.
I was happy because my family loved me, paid attention to me, treated me well, and always made me feel safe. My friends did the same.
That’s why adulthood has felt so uninspired. At times, so disappointing.
That’s why divorce was so hard. Because I’d never really felt the kind of pain divorce causes. When you’ve never bled before, I think the pain of the cut and the sight of blood is more traumatic than it is to those with battle scars.
My grandmother—a wonderful, kind woman; the matriarch of a large family (eight children and 19 grandchildren)—is largely responsible for the envelope of love, happiness and contentment in which I was raised.
She wrote me a letter.
Time goes so fast. I want to write you a letter and let you know how much you are loved. The time we came to Iowa. You got lost at 2 years old. We were to blame. I was so scared. But we found you and all was well.
The time I flew out with you to Iowa so you could be in Debbie’s wedding, and when we left, you sobbed for a half hour on the plane and I couldn’t fix it. You didn’t want to leave your dad. The time you went out to live with your dad when you were a junior in high school. Oh, how I missed you. I’m so glad you decided to stay here for your senior year and graduate with all your friends.
I remember all the times just you and I went to lunch together when you were little. It was so special for me to have you with me. I love you so.
As grandpa and I are getting older we want you to know how much we love you and always will. Our time on this earth is so much shorter than it was and I don’t want to waste any time, so I hope you know how much we care for you and our great-grandson.
Matt, you’re a good father and we are proud of the man you have become.
Just know we love you and always will.
Grandma and Grandpa
How will we know? What matters, and what doesn’t?
We won’t always know while it’s happening.
But I think one day we will.
I think, one day, we’ll just know.