I remember a Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago that I made the weekly journey to my parents’ house for lunch. My daddy’s best canine friend Petey greeted us as he always did. This little Jack Russell Terrier had been our buddy for nearly nine years, a steady guard dog who was as smart as any dog I’ve seen.
The next day we gathered there again to celebrate Memorial Day. I left in a hurry, work looming over my head despite the holiday. I remember thinking I hadn’t seen Petey much or given him the traditional scratch behind the ears.
“I’ll pet him later,” I said to myself.
Petey died the next day.
Sometimes there ain’t later.
That’s what a good friend of mine told me—in those exact ungrammatical words—when I lamented the fact that I didn’t pay any attention to Petey that weekend. Those simple words carry a wealth of wisdom.
They came vividly back to me the very next week as I sat at lunch with Dee Luster, a mom who lost her only daughter—16-year-old Sonia—in an automobile accident on Highway 89 in Danbury, NC. When Dee told me how she said her typical “Love ya” to Sonia as she left for school at North Stokes High that September morning in 2008, I realized that Dee had had no way of knowing that would be their last verbal exchange on this earth.
With five children and all of us going in different directions, I spend lots of time on the phone each day with them. At the end of each call, even if it was just a 30-second conversation—“Mom, are my cleats in the trunk of your car?”—I say, “Love you.” Sometimes they respond in kind. Other times they just say goodbye. I’ve wondered if they wish I wouldn’t say that every time.
But what if “there ain’t later”? I want my children’s last memory of me—even if I’m 106 and watching my final game of Major League Baseball on the tube when I kick the bucket—to be of me telling them that I love them.
This is that time of year when we tend to lean toward the sentimental. Graduations abound. I’m seeing it all over the place. My Facebook friends are posting pictures of their children’s graduations from preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, high school. More than one of them has commented on their own post, “Where does the time go?”
Tonight the seniors at my alma mater, South Stokes High School, are walking across the stage. Friday night brings commencement exercises for my hubster’s alma mater, North Stokes High School. The students at our other county high school, West Stokes, will march to “Pomp and Circumstance” on Saturday morning. I can guarantee there are many parents and grandparents all over Stokes County experiencing those sentimental feelings.
This time will never come again. With regard to high school graduation, there certainly “ain’t later.”
Enjoy this time in your life, seniors. One day you’ll be like my fellow South Stokes Sauras who had a 1980-86 class reunion a few years back. They renewed old friendships, but never again will they be that close-knit Saura family that they were back when they spent every school day together.
Enjoy this special time, parents. You will never pass this way again. You may look back at the pictures of that graduation day when your child marched onto the track to that familiar music. You may try to recapture the exact emotion you had as your baby’s name was called to receive a diploma. But it won’t be the same. You’ll never again quite remember exactly how you felt.
“Sometimes there ain’t later.” Now is the time.
I recall an April day many years ago when I—queen of projects—had lots of work to do around the house. Meghann and Chelsea, then just tiny girls, began to beg me to have a tea party on the back deck. I told them I was too busy, but they persisted.
Finally, with a touch of irritation for having my plans disturbed, I gave in. We went outside in the mild spring air with a teapot, cups and snacks. The revelation hit me after just a few minutes that this was an event to treasure. I took a picture of our tea party. When I look at it now and see those little girls with happy smiles sipping from teeny toy teacups, I can muster up a little bit of what it felt like that day.
But I can’t exactly recall the feeling. That was then. This is now. “There ain’t later” for that day. The girls are grown now, working each day with no time for tea parties on the deck with mommy.
While you have today, act as if later won’t come. Make decisions accordingly. Savor the emotions of the present to remember in the future. Treasure that graduation ceremony. Hug that child. Tell your significant other, your parent, your best friend that you love them. Pet your dog.
Losing Petey reinforced my desire to do all of the above.
Because “sometimes there ain’t later.”
(Adapted from my “The Old Paths” newspaper column that I wrote two years ago for The Stokes News)