Say it now.

Two of my dearest friends passed a few weeks ago.  They were the parents I chose after mom died.  I met them in 1994.  Both lived into their early 90’s, beautiful, humble and  loving folks.  They died with 16 hours of each other, in beds push together so could hold hands  when they wanted.
Danielle and I visited them about a week before they passed.  John was clearly failings.  Mary, though almost blind and mostly deaf was her chipper self.  They were together for almost 72 years.  John proposed after only two weeks of dating.  She turned him down at first but a few weeks later, changed her mind and accepted.
I got a call a week later, saying they were leaving us, Mary, already in a comatose state, John had quit eating and not able to talk.  When John quit eating, their daughter explained to Mary that he wanted to leave this world.  Mary said, “I want to go with him.”  She had a massive heart attack that night and never really woke up from it.
So we went for a final visit.  Mary was unresponsive, just breathing. John tried to open his eyes when he heard my voice, raised his hand.  He couldn’t talk but I made sure he knew how much I appreciated him and loved him.  He died that night.  Sixteen hours later, Mary passed.
I get pretty emotional in my old age.  I was afraid I might not get to share with John how I felt about him, so several months earlier I wrote him a letter.  I also knew that I would be hard pressed to express those thoughts face to face without breaking down.  He called me a few weeks later and told me how much the letter had meant to him.
Here it is:

Dear John,

One of the many things that I try to teach my students is the importance of  appreciating people, telling them, and letting them know your thoughts and feelings.  I figured this might be as good a time as any to tell you how grateful I am that you are in my life.

We met back in 1994.  My wife and I were splitting up, and I needed a place to stay and much more.  Your daughter Carol called you and based on her recommendation alone, you allowed me to move into your house in Tenn.  How incredibly trusting of you.  You knew nothing about me but you trusted her judgement.  Then it turns out what a small world it is. You worked for my brother’s father in law. I spent the winter living in the newer, nicer white house, and then, you two returned from Florida and I moved into the old farmhouse. Those were two of the best years of my life.

Before long, I viewed the two of you as grandparents.  I’m not a very good judge of age  because as it turned out, you are my parents age.  I had been looking for a surrogate father figure and, John, you fit the bill perfectly.

Your kindness over the years, your generosity, doing projects together have meant so much to me.  John, you were the first and only person to ever show me how to skin a deer.  Our evenings playing cards was greatly anticipated and savored for several years. Your meticulous record keeping was met with much laughter. When there was time, we played ping pong but mostly billiards.  We even had several rounds of racquet ball until you discovered your had issues with your heart.  I borrowed books and tools, some of which I probably still have and have lost track of.  Sorry about that.

In the 22 years that I’ve known you, I have never heard you say a mean thing about anyone.  You are truly one of the kindest men I have ever known.  There were plenty of times I’m sure that you could have gotten mad at me but you didn’t.  One time, to work off my ten hours of “hard labor” as you called it, you sent me down the road to spray roundup on the kudzu.  One particular vine of kudzu worked its way up into branches of a tree.  Not thinking about it, I sprayed the leaves I best I could, including the leaves of the tree.  I think ultimately the tree barely survived but for that summer, it had no clothes.

There were probably many more mistakes I made while living at your old farm house, and throughout our friendship. Fortunately, I can’t remember them now, which tells me you took them all in stride.  With your patient instruction, I learned so much.

Not only did I learn to do some things, but you were teaching me directly and indirectly how to live.

I remember one conversation in particular.  I was faced with a challenge that had a  pretty steep learning curve.  I asked you with all your years in industry “What did you do when you didn’t think you could solve a problem.”  Your response was, “It didn’t occur to me we couldn’t solve it.  I always knew there was a solution.”  Wow.

I loved coming over for visits, and being single for many of those years, you two would insist that I stay and eat dinner, even if you didn’t really prepare enough.  Bread and butter was always on the table and filled my hollow leg that my own mother said I must have had.

You listened to my ideas about teaching, my relationship woes at the time, and the challenges of being a parent.  You hired me for many projects, building a banister or two, cutting the grass once in awhile, and more.  Do you remember the deer we butchered on the pool table?  It was a small deer that got hit by a car on my way home from work.  I called you and you said bring it over and we’ll butcher it.  I also remember that you put the head in the compost pile which scared Mary when she went out there and found it by accident.

Lucky for me, that your own children were older than I, and well on their on their own, so you had time to take in a forty year old orphan like me.   Call it serendipity, luck or fate, I feel so blessed to have you two in my life for the last 22 years.

I could not have asked for a better pair of friends, when I so needed an older, and much wiser couple to discuss life with. You set for me an example in so many ways. You are in so many ways a mentor to me.

I don’t know if you can imagine how significant you are to me.  My father died when I was 16, and due to his problems and issues, wasn’t really much of a father to me at all even when he was alive.  In many ways you filled those shoes.  Whether you like it or not, you have become the most important father figure in my life.  You mean so much to mean. I am a better man for knowing you. I will carry you in my heart forever.