They say time heals, time flies, time stops, and time is what we should take before making a big decision. No matter how many ways we use our time, like trying to be early when we’re always late, we always have enough time to waste on things we say we never have time for. Time can mean forever and time can mean milliseconds.
Don’t you remember as a child when time couldn’t move fast enough? We had to wait for the right time to take the training wheels off, learn to drive, or go on a date. When we were 10 we wanted to be 15, when we were 15 we wanted to be 21. All the while our parents were wishing time would slow down so they could prepare themselves for that day when it would be time for us to leave home.
When I graduated from high school I wondered where my life would lead me and what I would be doing in 10 or 20 years. I wanted to be married, have kids and maybe travel but my parents said there was plenty of time for that. They said I should just enjoy being young. Not heeding their advice, I married young and quickly learned the significance of time when I found myself pregnant soon after. Nine months is a long time to wait, the anticipation nearly killed me, but when my daughter was born, time stopped. The experience took my breath away and while I decided whether to breathe and carry on, or to suffocate from fear over what just happened, those precious first moments are engraved in my brain forever. At that time, I began the same journey my parents did, wishing that time would slow down and that the baby nestled in the warm crook of my neck would want to stay that way forever.
Years and years flew by with so much time spent on family, kids sports, and jobs that there are some years I can barely remember. Days, weeks and months went by full of life’s ups and downs, but it was during a particularly low time when I learned a very big lesson about time.
I met my friend, Rita, when our boys played high school sports together. She was a single mother, hilariously funny and opinionated about politics, civics and religion. She could play the piano without music and sang like an angel. I felt so lucky to have this friend who listened to me ramble about my troubled marriage, who never judged me, never broke a confidence and was loyal to a fault. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, Rita was the first person I had ever known with cancer. Brave and stoic, she took the treatment by the horns and wrestled with the side effects for 1-1/2 years. At one point, we were hopeful she had beat it. I had trouble knowing how to be a friend in this unfamiliar territory, so I pretended everything was fine. Our conversations were never about death or sadness but instead we found humor in the fact that she didn’t have to wear a bra anymore or wondering if she would be a blonde instead of brunette when her hair grew back. But then one day the hospice nurse pulled me aside and told me I needed to think about saying my goodbyes to my friend… time stopped. I was upset that the nurse would suggest to me that my friend would be dying soon. I had been spending almost every day with Rita and I refused to see that death was approaching. But, as it turns out, hospice nurses know a thing or two about the dying process. All of us thought we would have more time. Her two young sons couldn’t communicate what their hearts were telling them to say and neither could I. As I struggled to write down the right words to say at the appropriate time, she quickly slipped away. I will never know if she heard me tell her that I would stay in touch with her boys, that I loved her like a sister and that I thought she was the bravest person I had ever known.
It was not long after Rita died that I received a call from my older sister, Mavis. She told me she had just been told she had metastatic renal cell cancer. I thought she was joking because I didn’t even know she had been sick. The shock of this news, combined with the recent loss of my best friend, dropped me to my knees. My sister and I were 7 years apart in age and never had a very close relationship. Though I worshiped the ground she walked on, I was the menacing little sister who just got in her way. Even after we both married and had our own kids, we were like acquaintances who met on holidays. We never shared our family troubles or dirty laundry. I never knew about her divorce until after it was over. My sister was a very private person and kept her severe back pain to herself until she could barely walk. Finally she had an MRI of her back which ‘incidentally’ showed the large kidney mass. She tried to keep the news from my parents and down-played the seriousness of her diagnosis to everyone. She wanted no fuss and no tears in her presence. I was surprised one day when she invited me to attend a doctor’s visit with her and that is where I learned what she was up against. The cancer was inoperable and incurable. Her doctor recommended hospice, I recommended a second opinion. I wanted her to try anything and everything that would help her gain time with her 3 young kids and also our family. But most of all, I wanted us to have more time to connect as sisters. She, however, didn’t want any palliative treatment if it meant losing her beautiful hair. At one of the few lunches we had together as adults, she talked about the dreams she had about retiring early, living in Florida, and traveling to Hawaii, a destination she always hoped to visit. We even discussed taking a trip to Kauai together when she felt better. But she never did feel better. Her time ran out even faster than Rita’s did. This time I thought I was prepared. Having spent time with Rita in her last days, I thought I knew what to do and when to do it; but again, I missed my opportunity. Six months from the phone call telling me she had cancer, she was gone. I had spent so much precious time feeling sorry for myself when I should have been spending more time with her.
My father took the death of his oldest daughter very badly and it wasn’t long before we were saying goodbye to him, too. This time I knew what to watch for. I took time to have conversations with him about all the good memories. I made sure that my children sat with their grandpa even if he wasn’t awake and talk about their memories with him. I know my dad heard them because after being comatose for over a week, he suddenly woke up while they were all there and spoke to each one of them. Sadly, I missed that last rally but I was at peace knowing I had spent months saying goodbye to my dad.
Time continues to fly by. There is the same amount of time in a day as there was when I was 20, but why does it seem to go faster now? How can Christmas come around so fast after Easter? How can my oldest grandchild be 12? Every day we need to remember how precious every second is. Never miss the opportunity to say what you need to say because you never know when time will finally run out.
Suggested reading: “Final Gifts;” by Maggie Callanan