One of the greatest tragedies of this life is that we don’t get to tell people what we really think about them. I don’t mean people who irritate us, or passers-by who we feel have silly hair. No it’s the people we love, those that are close to us. One of the most common things to hear at funerals is ‘I wish I could have told her…’ ‘I wish he could have known…’ Part of it is that we only truly realise how much we needed, cared for or wanted people once they are gone. Often taken for granted, rarely treasured.
Another part is that we just don’t think we will ever lose them. Even the older people in our lives, who ‘we must make the most of the time we have together,’ we don’t think they will truly die. Not really. They will go on and keep living. We can always see them one more time. They won’t finally go and be gone for ever. Except they do and they are.
How much would a grieving daughter give to be able to say to their mother how much they meant to them? To say ‘Yes we fought. At times we fell out, you didn’t agree with some of the things I did, or some of the things I wore. Sometimes one or the other of us was tired. Sometimes we were grumpy. I didn’t always treat you as I should have and you didn’t me. We didn’t get on at times. I told you I hate you because you said something I thought was silly in front of my friends. Or you walked in when you shouldn’t have.
When you get down to it though, underneath the veneer of everyday life, the coarse coat of small battles, lost and won, of decisions disputed, mistakes made, I really respected you. I never thanked you for all of those years raising me, looking after me. All those milestones I don’t remember, faded in the fog of the past like a forgotten civilisation. Potty training, talking, the first scrape of the knee. Endless broken nights of sleep. I didn’t thank you for those and now I never can. I didn’t thank you because I always thought, well I never asked to be born. You were the ones who chose to have me, so of course you raised me. I didn’t thank you because I was angry. You were the wrong parents, I should have had cooler, nicer, more fun parents. Or I didn’t thank you because I didn’t think to. I was young, naïve. I thought I was immortal. I thought everyone was immortal. But we weren’t and now you have gone and I never really truly got the chance to tell you what you meant to me. I just took you for granted. You had to set boundaries, teach me right from wrong. Shout at me when I pushed. You had to show me how to play with others. You had to love me no matter what I did. I just had to listen to you like some forbidding dictator. When the arguments boiled down after I railed against the restrictions it always ended up ‘You will do this because I’m big and you are small.’ ‘I’m older and know better.’ ‘I’m right and you are wrong.’ What’s harder about this is that often you find out they were right and you were wrong. That just makes it harder.
You never see your parents at their best. By the time you are old enough to think of them as people, they are old. In a sense your parents are always old to you. When you are growing up anyone over the age of twenty is old. When you get to twenty, its forty. It’s only when you get to over thirty do you realise that no one is old. Not really. They are just more experienced versions of themselves. All people, just more or less far along the track of life. When you get old enough to see they are people you see their flaws. What makes them human makes them irritating. The sense of grandeur dispelled. The sudden realisation that they are just people, and the pain of that fact. The fact they don’t know better than you about something. You feel cheated and lied to. They never told you they were omnipotent, but you work out they aren’t and your relationship changes. Eventually you get closer to them again, relate to them on an older level. Understand where they are coming from, or try to.
By then it might be too late to tell them, the chance might have passed and you find yourself sitting there hoping they knew how much they were loved or how much you cared for them. Replaying endless conversations you could have had. Thinking of funny stories and thinking, I should ring up Dad and tell him. Mum would really have… oh… I can’t. I’ve left it too late and I can never see them again. See that stupid smile when he tells a bad joke, or hear the complaining over how dirty somewhere is. Never hug them, criticise them, ask advice, tell them to butt out, hate them, rage against them. Instead you miss them.
Growing up you don’t see your parents as people. They are lift givers, food makers, fun deniers. You hate them because they won’t let you out past ten PM. You love them because they bought you a new PlayStation or other purchase that five years later you won’t remember. They saved their hard-earned cash to care for you, to love you. You didn’t see it.
You can’t play the gender card as a man in many things, but one of them you can is emotion. It is not as acceptable for men to show their emotional sides. To cry, to hug, to really say what they think. Not the majority anyway. You resort to drunken moments, when you are down the pub. Or wholly inadequate words, which you hope they understand what you mean. Like ‘you did well there.’ Or ‘You’re a good lad.’ Never what you really should say or want to say, but as close as you are allowed to. A handshake, a shared nod.
Even women, who are socially much more allowed to share, don’t make enough of the opportunity. To tell their best friends, thank you. You have helped me with this and I can never repay you. You have been there for me, done what I needed. Asked the right questions or stayed silent. I wouldn’t have coped without you. You got me through this.
You try, but the words are never there. Not until it’s too late and maybe not even then.
Say it once in a while. Say what you feel, try and be honest. Give someone a call. Tell them they mean a lot to you and have helped you. If you don’t, or find it tough, just remember, at some point it will be too late, and it will come when you don’t expect it. No matter how prepared you think you are, how ready, it will be over and they will be gone. Then you will never be able to ask them something or get them to listen to you moan. They will be gone and you won’t be. You will be the one who carries on, but without them. You’ll carry a piece of them with you, a quiet voice, but it won’t be them. Not ever again. Don’t forever wish you could have said something to them. Made peace, thank them. Just do it whilst you can. Do it before it is too late. Better late than never is wrong. In this case, late is never.