At work, we’ve had the miracle of a colleague surviving a brain aneurysm, subsequent surgery, and a little over two weeks in an induced coma. The other day, she woke up, and asked for ice cream and her iPad.
We were together for several hours just before her aneurysm burst. It was too close to home; she was just a few months older than me in age. I was a wreck for a few days after it happened, realizing the importance of seizing each day.
Today, a young man at the prime of his life passed on, all of 41 years old, leaving behind two young sons and his wife. This time, a massive stroke felled him. So swiftly, and he was gone.
One of my all-time favorite scenes from the movies is that of Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney in “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” on a ferry, under a bridge, with many words unspoken. “Never let a moment pass you by,” he tells her. Those are words that have resonated deeply with me through the years. Let me tell you why.
It is 1981, in the summer before my senior year in high school. I am standing by the doorway of our home in White Plains on a warm Easter Monday morning, wearing a blue dotted housedress, my hair tied in a ponytail. The details of days that change your life are never forgotten. They begin like any ordinary day, but end leaving an indelible mark on your heart that changes you forever.
I am watching my dad board his car. It was a habit that mom trained us well for—to see our dad off each morning in the summer, and to greet him by the door in the evenings when he would get back from work.
The night before, we had just returned home from spending Holy Week in Baguio.
Watching dad go through the motions of getting ready for work, I feel my heart brimming with gratefulness for all that he is to us.
Bursting with gratitude
Although he’s very strict, and his standards for us quite difficult to live up to, we know that he loves us dearly, providing for us in such a way that we never want for anything. My heart is bursting with gratitude that day for the ways he would engage our minds, and all the love that he has been giving us.
Unfortunately my dad was not very affectionate, and we were raised in an environment where it’s a struggle to show affection, where “I love you” are three dreaded words that were so difficult for me to say.
And so it was, that although I want so much to tell him that morning how very grateful I am for him, and that I love him, I cannot bring myself to say it. Instead, I keep my mouth shut, smile and wave goodbye as he drives away.
Minutes later, his car horn blares in the driveway. Surprised that he was back so quickly, my brother and I clamber up the stairs to meet him. He looks pale and wan, and says that he wants to lie down because he isn’t feeling well. Then he asks mom to call an ambulance. We stay with him in the room and watch him sleep, his breathing a bit labored.
I step out of the room for a moment, lock myself in the bathroom, and cry. Great sadness overcomes me and in that moment, for some strange reason, I know that something terrible is about to happen to my dad and that he could die.
I rush back to his and mom’s bedroom, unable to shake off the deep sadness as I watch him sleep. All of a sudden he gasps for air, and becomes unresponsive. His 49-year-old heart stops beating, and in the blink of an eye, my father is gone, right before our very eyes.
I had let the moment pass me by.
Fast-forward to now. After learning the value of each day, and subsequently, in my 30s, living four years of my life with a son who was lent to me briefly, I no longer let a day pass without saying “I love you” to my children, hugging them every chance I get. I tell friends and family how much they mean to me. I make all my goodbyes and see yous as lovely and as peaceful as they can possibly be.
This is why now, for everyone I care about, I am generous in offering a hand to hold, a hug when it is needed, a shoulder to cry on, and an “I love you” when it is called for. Life and loss have taught me well. I have learned to never, ever again let a moment pass me by.