Two years ago, my infant nephew was tragically and unexpectedly killed while under the care of his sitter. It started as a normal morning. He was dropped off with some play and smiles with his dad. Less than an hour later, there was a phone call. Recently in my hometown, there was a terrible car accident that resulted in a father losing his wife, his unborn child, and his three sons. The father’s wife was taking the kids to a local Bible camp. I have no knowledge of their last interactions, but as much as I know the family, it was likely hugs and kisses and some laughter in the middle. Anything else would have been unusual.
By all accounts, these days that will never be forgotten started out so routinely. At a family reunion, there might be those precious goodbyes when you know you might not see someone again, or at least for a long period of time. In our daily lives, however, we tend to go on, casually expecting to all be together that evening or at bedtime. We go to work and we go through the motions.
After my nephew died, however, I became cursed with the realization that we never know. It can happen to you. Almost without fail for the past 2 years I have been haunted by the feeling and the uncomfortable drive to never leave home without peeking in one last time as my children are sleeping before I go to work. They always get a slight touch over the covers or at least a moment of silence as I stand there and soak them in, perhaps forming a small prayer. If my wife or children are awake, they almost always hear me say that I love them. Tragedy makes us hold people a little more tightly and to say, “I love you,” a little more. It could be me or it could be them that will not have a tomorrow, but I want “I love you” to be a part of the last conversation we remember of each other.
Think of the last few things you said to your wife or child. Was it “I love you,” maybe the end of an argument, or even just “nothing” as one left the house or went to bed? We have heard the marriage advice to never go to bed angry. I won’t say that has never happened, but there is much to the thought and we must try to avoid it. With our kids, it is almost easier to leave things that way. A bedtime routine gets trashed or you suffer some disrespect. At the end of the day, we parents have often been strung out and overtired and we just don’t have the patience. This is where parenting gets tough – but where it also gets so important. In the past couple years, I have found the need to find that extra gear and to go a step further. We may have our blow-ups or cancel story time or I raise my volume and turn out the lights. It makes a point, but that voice, that nagging voice inside, tells me I can’t leave it that way. Now, I am more likely to still go in (even if my children have their backs turned or are crying because of a bad bedtime) and kiss them on the back of the head and I still tell them that I love them and good night. More often than not, they say, “I love you, too.”
Even if they don’t answer, I know that they know that I cared enough to tell them. Children might not always say it – they might even throw in a few “I hate you!”s, but that’s OK. We are the adults and they are the children. We still have a duty to model to them that more important than any bad bedtime or punishment is that we value our relationship with them, whether they act like it now or not.
It is almost inconceivable for a parent to imagine burying his children. For men, we almost seem to come to terms that we will be the first one in the family to go, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Regardless, the day will come – sometimes far, far too soon. We never know the day or the hour, but a very small way we can try to prepare is by being aware of those seemingly routine moments. Make them count. Say, “I love you.” Give your wife and kids a hug and a kiss on the forehead and let them know they are your everything. I pray that today will pass and you get to do it again tomorrow and the next day, but it doesn’t always happen that way. That extra effort at a seemingly unimportant time could be the most important thing that ever happens to your family or to you.
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