The Long Last Goodbye
By Louise Brooks
There is something to be said for time. We can either cling to it, or wish that it would speed up. We see it fly and we see it drag. And, then, sometimes, the amount of time we are given is just right and it’s a gift.
Mary Ann Brooks — my “more than just a mother-in-law” — died last week. It was her life and, ultimately, her death, that really taught me about the gift of just right time. Nearly eight years ago, doctors told her she had 2 weeks to six months to live. Eight years ago! Initially, we all counted the days in both directions – how many days had passed and what that said about how many days she had left. It was excruciating. She didn’t know whether she should live or prepare to die. So she did both. And in so doing, taught me to do the same.
Mary Ann Brooks was a magnificent woman; the center of her household and beyond. She was everyone’s mom or “Aunt Mary Ann.” She had four sons, but raised many more. She loved her husband dearly. Her family, whether biological or simply by extension, was her focus. She was an ever-present listener.
Our relationship started 23 years ago when I met and ultimately married her youngest son, Steve. Since Steve and I live outside of Washington, D.C., my relationship with Mary Ann has grown over short bursts of long conversations; either over the phone or across the kitchen table. Our visits to Colorado have always been just a couple a year. But in that time, I had an advantage. I really was there just to visit – to sit and rest and be with Bob and Mary Ann. That kind of time allowed us to talk and talk and talk. Then, away from Colorado, we would talk on the phone. By living far away from each other, we missed out on the day-to-day stuff of life, but it also meant that for us to grow and become friends, we had to intentionally set aside time to talk. What a joy!
I realized in these last eight years, that our conversations began to shift slightly. Knowing that “her days were numbered,” I made an effort to ask more questions and tell her more specifically the things I loved about her. I sought her advice. I told her what a great husband and father Steve is. I told her how I’ve always loved watching the way she rubbed lotion on her hands. I asked her for recipes. I begged her to tell me stories of when she was a kid. It was because we had been “given a deadline” that I began to think more clearly about what it was I wanted her to know and what I needed to know from her. It gave me the chance to simply pour love into our relationship by really investing in her; in who she is and reflect back to her the ways her life impacted those around her. I decided that our every conversation should be our last conversation. Our last goodbye.
And then it dawned on me. All of our days our numbered. Yours. Mine. Everyone’s. And none of us knows when our “two weeks to six months to live” will come due. So it makes sense to me that every conversation I have with anyone should be the last conversation. Nothing between us should be unsaid or undone or unforgiven. I pray that we all would treat our relationships with such care, filling them with life and love and truth as if our every conversation was our last goodbye.