Sometimes it’s the smallest, most insignificant moments that change our lives forever. I’ll never forget the older lady who sat across the table from me in my arrangement office all those years ago. She wore a tidy blue skirt suit and had her hair in tidy, well-sprayed curls. Her jewelry was conservative and her makeup was tasteful, but smudged, because she spent most of our meeting looking down at her lap and crying silent tears.
Her husband had just died, and I am a funeral director.
I’m sure she thought I was helping her that day, and I was, but when she opened up to me about her life she helped me in a way that I will never be able to repay.
Her life had been as tidy as her hair and her clothes and her pearl jewelry, so she came to our meeting well prepared. The funeral was pre-arranged and had been paid for many years ago, because that was the sensible thing to do. She knew how many copies of the death certificate she would need to handle the business end of her husband’s death, and she had already called the church and ensured that her pastor would be available to conduct the funeral service later in the week. Plans had been made for her two adult sons to fly home from out of state.
The only thing she hadn’t been able to sort out ahead of time was the obituary, and she needed my help. Her husband had been a very special man, and she naturally wanted the newspaper notice to reflect that, but she just didn’t know where to start. I’ve written hundreds of obituaries, so I started asking her questions about her husband’s life, hobbies, interests…special memories that might give us a jumping off point.
She continued to stare down at her lap for the longest time, until she finally looked up and me and said, “All he really ever did was work. He loved us so much and wanted to provide for his family, so he sacrificed everything he ever wanted to do in order to make money to support us. He wanted me to stay home with the kids and he wanted to send them to the best schools, so he just worked and worked. You’ve never seen such a hard working man. 60, sometimes 70 hour weeks weren’t uncommon. He missed so many birthdays and holidays with us, but he had a goal in mind. We always wanted to travel and see the world together; that’s all we ever talked about. All the places we were going to go once he retired. We would lie in bed at night and hold hands, talking about it. One day, we’re going to do all the things we’ve dreamed about, and it’s finally going to be our time.”
Her husband died two weeks before his planned retirement date.
They never took a single vacation.
They never fulfilled a single one of their dreams together.
Heartbreaking, isn’t it?
The entire time this poor woman was spilling her heart out to me, alarm bells and panic sirens were going off in my head while a giant neon sign flashed: THIS WILL NEVER BE ME!
I never told this lady about the switch she had flipped inside me, but I still think about her often, all these years later. When I know I’m working too hard, when it’s been too long since I took time off to travel, and most recently when I made the decision to retire from funeral directing to be a full time travel writer. I think about her small shoulders shaking under that blue suit as she cried for the death of her husband and all of their lost dreams.
Don’t be so tidy, folks. Working and planning and saving are wonderful things, but not at the expense of the things that you lie in bed at night and dream about. You can always make more money or make do with fewer material things, but lost time is never coming back. Don’t get so busy building your life that you never actually get to live it.