My good friend Jeff Schwartz has previously shared some wonderful stories on WMSB. Lions on the Bridge, Why I Believe In Angels, and A Thanksgiving Message. Jeff and his wife, Donna, lost their first child, Julie, at the age of three in 1984. When we lost our son, Jimmy, in 2008 Jeff and I became brothers in that fraternity of fathers no one should ever have to join. He is one of my valued spirit guides helping me navigate these treacherous paths of grief and suffering. He has also been so generous with his wisdom and the lessons he began to learn many years before me. He also writes beautifully.
He recently sent me another story, actually a letter he sent to his friend of over 50 years who was in the final days of her life. Jeff and Karen met at Bexley High School just outside Columbus, Ohio. They worked on the school newspaper–The Torch–and eventually became co-editors.
Jeff’s letter brought to mind the post we put up last year contemplating the question Is It OK to Write a Condolence Card Before Someone Dies ? Jeff and I clearly think alike, and are in complete agreement the answer is a resounding YES!!!!! We think it is so much better to tell someone how you feel about them before they die, rather than save it for a condolence card, or even a eulogy when you can’t be sure the deceased will be in attendance!!
Yet, as you can imagine, it is a very difficult letter to write. Jeff’s effort is informative of how to write a beautiful letter to someone before they die.
Thank you for sharing, my friend–my brother.
In this life, we get to figure out a number of key questions: Why am I here? Where am I going? Where’s home? Who is my true family? What’s it all about?
I don’t have the answers to many of these questions, but I have a few stories and thoughts that I want to share with you.
I was blessed to have Sam McGavran as a lifelong friend. And to be with him in his very last days and even very last minutes. Shortly before he died, his sister Meg came into his room sobbing about how she was going to miss him and how would she ever get along without him? Sam took her hand and shook his head. His breathing was labored but this is what he said, “Meg, don’t cry. Don’t you know yet that the secret of life is learning how to laugh with tears in your eyes?”
So now as you are dying, my dear friend, I pass along this wisdom from Sam. I have tears in my eyes — for many reasons — but I am remembering to laugh while doing so.
As I wrote earlier, there were many things that drew me to you — but surely one of the most important was your laughing eyes and wonderful smile and infectious laughter. I thank you for these gifts and will cherish them always. (These gifts and many more.)
Please don’t think a thing longer about the time of the passing of my mom. I don’t think you require any forgiveness from me, but if you think you do, then surely, surely you have it. I think I need forgiveness from you — for my long desertion of these past years. It is too hard to explain, but incredibly important to me that you valued hearing from me and were pleased to recall many memories of our past friendship. That is lovely for me and important to me. Thank you, KLM.
So are our many years of friendship — even though I have not always lived out what I believe true friendship is about. In the Hawaiian language, there are concepts that are so useful and we don’t have these concepts in single English words. One of these concepts is “ohana”. At one level it means “extended family” — aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws, etc. At a deeper level it means “our spiritual family” — those who we attract and are attracted to us, because we have something to learn from one another, to teach one another, to share with one another, to encourage and befriend one another, to help each other suffer, endure, persevere, and grow; and to help each other become the truer part of who we are.. You are part of my ohana, and I trust now that I am part of yours.
When Sam’s wife came to his bed-side to say a tearful good-bye, she held him and said, “I love you, honey.” Then she gathered herself and strode quickly outside. Sam was struggling for breath. So it was not until she was most of the way through the door that he replied, “I love YOU, honey.” I don’t know if she heard him or not. But I was still in the room. And without thinking I said to Sam, “I love you, too, honey.” He looked at me — this man’s man — and smiled. That’s all. I was glad I had said it. I think he was glad to hear it.
I hope you know that’s how I feel about you, too, Karen. I love you, — and the fact that I have not always been a faithful friend in deed — does not change that. It has been so for many years. I think you’ve known that — at least I hope so.
And so when I sing the alma mater (“Carmen Ohio”) these days at the occasional Ohio State football game I go to with my brother and his family, I come to these lines and think of you, Sam, and Jeri and Harriet (Maya) and Bob Stine and John Strahm and Sue Yardley and those long ago days —
“The seasons pass, the years may roll,
But time and tide will surely show,
How firm thy friendship — O-HI-O!”
Yes, I am smiling with tears in my eyes — tears of joy as well as sadness for the good fortune of being your friend and co-editor of the TORCH, and for all we’ve shared over the years.
I have been blessed by your friendship. And so, as I told Sam, “It’s ok my longtime and trusted friend. — You needn’t struggle anymore.” There’s nothing left to be done. You’ve won the hearts of all who have known you, and you go with our love and blessings. I hope in peace. And I hope holding a TORCH to light the way when I come through that mysterious door to who knows where.
With my abiding gratitude for all that’s been spoken, written, known and felt, and so much more,