Growing up I didn’t have a lot of loss.  

I was one of the few of my friends who had all four grandparents alive even after college.  I knew I was lucky and truly didn’t know what it was like to lose someone you love.  This fortune came to an end toward the end of the 2000’s.  Quickly I began to learn what loss was really about as each of my grandparent’s health began to deteriorate in their late 80’s.  In a few short years, all of my grandparents had passed.  But what I wasn’t ready for was that six months after my maternal grandfather passed, my last living grandparent, my mom died too.

It didn’t seem right.  They were from different generations and it makes sense that people of the same generations would go through life with similar timeframes, but to die six months after your father seems like you are getting robbed.  I felt robbed and so did the rest of my family.

No more of her special sugar cookies, no more long chats, no more smiles, no more laughter. 

All of it taken away.

And I know I’m not alone, I suspect we all go through this experience or something like it where we are grieving not for the person we lost but all of the things that we will miss about them.

On one level I was relieved for her.  She had fought stage four cancer for over a year and it was quite difficult. The effects of chemo and radiation were wearing on her and it was visible.  Everyone, including her, tried to be positive.  Expect the best.

After all, think good things and good things happen, right?

It didn’t quite turn out that way in this case.

Now the other part of the “expect the best” idea is to “prepare for the worst.”  And that is the one part that she wasn’t willing to do.  She didn’t want to talk about death.  And neither did anyone else in my family, so we didn’t.  I think my mom had a lot of fear about the end and it was too much to handle so she didn’t bring it up or let it out.  For me, I suspect it was something that she thought about a lot but didn’t want anyone else to know.  After all, that’s what mom’s do; they take care of their family.

But this was the time that we were supposed to be taking care of her.  She deserved to be taken care of.  While she received every medical care available, the problem was that she never got to take care of her emotions.  And because we never talked about the end, we didn’t acknowledge it and I think that my family never got to have that last great conversation where you get to say what you need to say.

While I could have been in that same position, I was lucky.  My mother-in-law called my mom one day to check in on her.  After they hung up, my mother-in-law called me to let me know that my mom was having a good day physically and mentally and that I should give her a call.  And so I did.

We didn’t talk too long.

Maybe a half hour but I was able to say to her everything that I wanted to share with her without making it sound like it was a goodbye.

I told her stories from when I was young that I never told her before and we reminisced about the great times that we had.

We laughed and I told her how much I loved her. 

While I was able to speak with her in the hospital during her final days, I’ll always consider that our last real conversation.

All of us lose someone at some time in our lives and there is little we can do to prevent it.

The one thing we can do is make sure we don’t miss out on the opportunity to talk to, laugh with, and love them while they’re still here.

I am thankful I did and I hope you get the same opportunity.


John Ryan, MBA, MSW, PhD is the co-founder of The Life Change Network and creator of The 7% Solution.  He is a professional speaker who provides consulting and coaching to individuals and organizations throughout the world.