“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” ― Harriet Beecher Stowe
“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” ― Benjamin Franklin
The New Year held lessons and reminders for me from the very beginning. First, I must acknowledge my gratitude for the outcome, it has given me an opportunity to practice what I’ve learned this week, which is to say the things left unsaid, and to quiet my voice when what I’m tempted to say is hurtful, unnecessary, or gossip.
On Monday of this week my mother, Ethel, was rushed to the hospital. I’ve written about her and her health issues before. Like many people in their eighties, she is facing end of life issues yet has a strong will to live. To her credit, she has also made peace with her God and is as ready as one can be for whatever is next. Her children, husband, and loved ones on the other hand are not ready to let her go. We have more work ahead and things left unsaid.
Mom made it to the New Year and yesterday returned home with two more stents and a new lease on life. Since 2006 she has had quadruple bypass surgery and a total of 11 stents keeping the blood flowing to and from her heart. She famously tells everyone, “Some people get tattoos, I get stents!” Her doctor says she has a strong heart; I would agree.
In July of 2012, during weather that was the total opposite of the record-breaking subzero, frigid temperatures we are experiencing today, my sister Roz died unexpectedly in her home due to excessive heat, medical conditions she couldn’t afford to treat, and debilitating depression. Though I wrote her a letter shortly before her death telling her how much I loved her and extending offers of help, I continue in my grieving to think of things I wish I would have said. This is not a unique situation, but universal.
Often the most important things we need to say to each other are left unsaid and the things which are better left unsaid are offered freely and without editing. I’m guilty of both.
In addition to the experiences with my family, I’ve seen a couple of documentaries recently which have reinforced this message and the timely importance of saying the things left unsaid. The first was a Showtime series entitled, Time of Death, a ground-breaking look at the weeks, days, and final moments of life, chronicling the end of life stories of real people, their families, loved ones and the hospice care workers who supported them on their journey. I was moved to tears by each of the six episodes and stories. More importantly, it helped me witness as practice what lies ahead for me, both with loved ones and my own death.
As an LGBT-identified person, I’ve already learned how important it is to come out, to say the thing left unsaid about who I am and who I love, first to myself, my family and friends, and my colleagues at work. Each coming out possesses a different degree of risk, and with each risk-taking comes a reward, sometimes not the one we may have expected. I’ve been fortunate that my outcomes for the most part have been positive. Some people have different outcomes, some very painful and include loss, yet in the end living openly and authentically creates a congruence that can only enhance a person’s self-worth and quality of life.
On Friday, I saw a documentary film, Bridegroom, which tells the emotional story of partners Shane and Tom, and the accident which tragically ended Tom’s life. The second tragedy exposed in the film is how the homophobia of Tom’s family and the lack of legal protections of marriage furthered the loss. Shane realized how the things left unsaid and the deeds left undone were his biggest regrets and as part of his healing he posted a YouTube video, It Could Happen to You, which went viral.
From the Bridegroom website: “This film, posted on YouTube, received over 3.4 million views and has been translated into over 20 different languages. The impact of Shane’s YouTube video and the raw nerve it touched, tells us this is an important story that needs to be told. With the incredible support from influential people like Brad and George Takei and Neil Patrick Harris, Bridegroom was successfully funded on July 19, 2012 by over 6,500 people on Kickstarter.com becoming the most funded documentary in the history of crowd funding, and released in the fall of 2013.” The film is directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. Shane’s mission became encouraging others to tell their stories, to fight for equal rights and protection under the law, and to say the things left unsaid and do the things left undone.
Like many others this time of year I set out to make resolutions and in recent years have replaced them with lived intention. This year I will strive to say the things left unsaid, do the things left undone and practice not saying the things better left unsaid.