“Before someone’s tomorrow has been taken away, cherish those you love, appreciate them today.” ~Michelle C. Ustaszeski
Last year, my grandfather passed away.
He had gone to the hospital many times before. Sometimes he went for a minor sickness, sometimes for a severe condition. Unfortunately, the last time he went, we found out that he didn’t have much time left. He was diagnosed with last stage bladder cancer.
It was a shock to our family. My grandfather had always been a survivor. He’d survived the war, the darkest moment of the country. We couldn’t imagine he would lose his life to something like this.
I came home as soon as I could after hearing the news. And luckily, when I was home, he was conscious. He was a big man, but I remember seeing him in bed, looking small and fragile like a sick little cat under his too loose clothes. I was thankful for the chance to be with him for the last time, and happy he knew I was there.
After that, I came to visit and check on him every day. On the last day I was home, I hugged him and told him to get well soon, and that I would come back to visit him when he got better.
Before I even said it, I knew it would never happen. I made a promise that I knew I couldn’t keep.
I returned to the city to work and a couple weeks later, I received the news that he had passed away.
All my memories of him suddenly came flooding back. He was always there in my childhood. He watched me all day so that my mom could go to work, which meant he was basically a stand in parent.
I remembered the time he gently wrapped a bandage around my head after I ran into a wall and my forehead started bleeding. And how he listened patiently to all my childhood problems, from complaints about a dress that was too old to my side of a fight with my sister. And how he often bought me snacks even though he didn’t have much money to spare.
After I grew up, he was still there while I was studying and busy chasing success and promotions. Yet I only visited him a couple times a year, when I had free time.
I was so used to his presence that I didn’t remember to cherish him while I had the chance.
I remembered one time I came back to visit my old school and realized the tree I used to play under was still there, waiting for me to come back for almost twenty years. I felt like I’d treated my grandfather like that tree. I’d never thought much about how long he’d had to wait for me.
I sobbed, tears running down my cheeks. I couldn’t breathe well. My head was heavy. That tree is now gone. Gone for good. My grandfather is no longer. Now every time I drive by his house, the gate will be locked, the door will be closed, and I’ll no longer see him sitting in his chair, drinking tea, and greeting me with a sparkle in his eyes.
Same street, same house, but it will never be the same.
I didn’t come back home for my grandfather’s funeral because I was pregnant, but many of his other grandchildren showed up. Many of them I hadn’t seen in years, even after hearing about his sickness. In fact, I’d forgotten about their existence. How could I remember? They were never there to talk to him, to be with him when he was conscious. Why did they even show up after he’d passed? What were they doing? Who were they trying to impress?
But then it hit me.
They were just like me. They’d treated him like an old tree whose shadow was always there for them to play under. And they only missed the tree when it was cut down and they were exposed to the sun.
I can’t blame them. It makes sense. Life happens. We get busy. We need to work to pay the bills to buy the house to get the promotion. And we just forget. It’s not until we get burnt that we realize how much we needed that tree, and how much we wish we could feel its shade again.
Maybe it’s time for all of us to slow down, look around, and make sure we spend time with the people who really matter to us.
If you also need to get your priorities in check, like I did…
Make plans to spend time with your loved ones.
I’m sure you’re one of the busiest people in the world. We all are. Or at least that’s what we choose to believe. It’s tempting to spend all our time and energy trying to achieve our goals. When we achieve them, we think, then we’ll allow ourselves to take it easy and be with our loved ones.
But what if when that time comes—if it ever comes at all—our loved ones are no longer there?
Don’t wait till you get the time to prioritize the people you love. Make the time. Make a plan. It’s a choice. One you won’t regret.
Put down your phone and stay present.
How many times have you looked at your phone, read emails or the news, or scanned your notifications while talking to someone?
Yes, you might be able to multitask. But did you really listen to the person in front of you?
Put down your phone and look at your mom’s face when you talk to her. Do you notice the extra wrinkles and gray hair that weren’t there before?
It hurts my heart every time I notice a difference in my mom’s face. It’s like standing still while watching her slowly slip away, knowing there is nothing I can do to stop it. We all have but a short time on this Earth. Don’t trick yourself into believing that there will always be a next time because someday, that conversation will be the last.
After my grandfather died I swore to cherish every moment I have with my loved ones. I make eye contact; I listen to them and hold their hands. I hope all of these moments and memories will sustain me when it’s time for the final goodbye.
Let them know how you feel.
You won’t always feel love for the people you care about. Sometimes they’ll annoy you, or you’ll disagree. And that’s okay. No one, and no relationship, is perfect, and we’re all doing the best we can. The important thing is that you value them, even if your relationship has ups and downs, and let them know you care while you have the chance.
Make sure you tell them how much you appreciate them. Send them random texts to tell them you love them. Bring them flowers and watch their eyes light up. These are the memories we’ll remember when we’re about to leave this world. We won’t think about the job, the house, or the promotions, but the little moments we shared with the people who made us feel loved.
I wish I could still do these things for my grandfather. And I wish I did them more often when I had the chance. But I didn’t. All I can do now is take the lesson with me and show up fully for the people who are still here.
Make the most of your time with your loved ones, because you never know when that time will run out.
About Mai Pham
Mai Pham believes we can create our own happiness. She helps overwhelmed and frustrated people to ditch their stress and enjoy their lives again. Grab her free actionable cheatsheet: 5 Simple Tips to Release Stress and Bring You Calm in Under 5 Minutes and join her free 7 Joyful Days Challenge email course.