A little over a year ago, I went to a fabulous party at a yacht club overlooking a small bay in West Vancouver for a friend of mine I hadn't seen in far too long. Everyone was dressed to the nines. Wine flowed endlessly and appetizers appeared from nowhere. Many of us hadn't seen each other in years.
There were wonderful words said about David that broke the house down in alternating fits of laughter and tears. Stories were told about how he was always there to help lawyers at the start of their careers like he helped me with mine. We talked about his sense of humour, his friendship and his love of Alfa Romeo cars.
Except for one small problem, David's party was one of the most enjoyable get-togethers I'd been to in years. The problem was that David couldn't make it. He had died a couple of weeks earlier at 50 and this was his memorial service.
One of the dilemmas for those of us with grey in our hair is that the people who have affected, influenced or helped us at various stages in our lives create this huge inconvenience by dying on us at inopportune times. You never know when they'll be hit by that metaphorical wayward bus, but I can assure you, it'll always be the wrong one.
Their untimely demise takes away the opportunity of letting them know, in large ways and small, how much their friendship, or their companionship, or their presence made a difference at some point in our lives, or how something they did or said along the way made us the person we are today. Like billiard balls in motion, we're sent in unpredictable directions simply by our contact with each other.
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I've been to a few too many memorial services for a few too many friends and colleagues of late, some of whom were younger than me. It makes you realize life's big irritating surprise: It's short.
In most respects, we among the living are utter wimps. We're terrified of telling each other how much a friendship means to us. We feel too embarrassed to let someone know they did something or said something that we never forgot. And if that weren't enough, it's almost impossible to tell someone they still matter deeply to us, even though we might not have seen them in years. Yet in the depths of our hearts, we'd give them a kidney if they needed it, and we'd be devastated if they died tomorrow.
At funerals, wakes and memorial services, I hear these words all too often: "I wish I had told them how important they were to me."
"I wish I had said what I should have said years ago."
I wish I wish I wish.
The problem is, when you have to say something meaningful at a memorial service that you haven't had the courage to say in life, it's just too late. They'll never know. Elvis has left the building.
So at the risk of looking foolish, I'm starting to let those who have meant the most in my life know how important they still are to me. All I do is make the effort. I make a point of staying in contact when distance, convenience and common sense would suggest otherwise. I remember them when Vancouver Canucks tickets come my way. I remember birthdays, especially the ones that don't end in zero. I give job tips, free legal advice and a sympathetic ear when needed. I subtly thank people who gave me breaks when I didn't deserve them. I invite the out-of-towners to our summer parties even though I know they won't make it. I find the time. I don't forget.
Arguably, this is just selfishness on my part. If anyone important to me meets their maker before their expected due date, my conscience will be clear that I always made the effort. I won't be the guy at the funeral making flimsy excuses, saying, "I wish I had told them …"
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But perhaps it'll be me that gets hit by that metaphorical wayward bus. I've taken up surfing in Hawaii, cageless shark diving in the Bahamas and more aggressive skiing than my left hip would prefer. I want to do some transpacific sailing next year, and I cross the street in Vancouver without a bulletproof vest. So who knows when my due date is, anyway? I could snuff it tomorrow.
Whether it's tomorrow or 25 years from tomorrow, all I have is today. Even though I won't be there for the party, the laughter, the witty stories, the nice view from the yacht club and the expensive wine (Drink up! It's on me!), I'll make sure before I kick the bucket how much certain people meant to me during my life.
The ones who gave me my first breaks and my second chances. The ones who put up with my mistakes. The ones who I can continue a conversation with as if 25 or 35 years hadn't gone by. The ones I knew a lifetime ago and who still matter to me. The ones who make me smile when I hear their voices. The ones who I'd miss if they died before me. I'll make sure they know in words and deeds how much I loved them all.
In my own unique way, they'll know.
Tony Wilson lives in New Westminster, B.C.
Illustration by Larry Humber.