Apparently I am on a “my mom gives the awesomest advice” kick right now, so please bear with me.
She is just the shit, truly. She has the patience of a saint, maintains her composure under unspeakable pressure or upon hearing incredibly horrifying stories of her children’s sex lives (a downfall of raising your children to be totally open with you, heads up), and she is so damn smart and compassionate, it boggles the mind. Whenever friends are complaining about their parents and I make some comment about my mom not making me crazy, they usually reply something along the lines of “Shut up, your mom is an anomaly; you get no say in this.” In short, I am super lucky. I got dealt the bad-ass mom card, and I am thankful for it every day. One thing she ingrained in us from the beginning was to always, ALWAYS, say “I love you” to your loved ones when you leave, get off the phone, or go to bed. Always.
My grandfather was not an affectionate man. He wasn’t a hugger or snuggler; he didn’t offer up heartfelt platitudes or blow smoke up our asses for doing something good. Doing good was expected, and his expectations were high. To his grandchildren he was slightly softer, but for his kids, he was a tough man. I’m not sure if he softened as he grew older, or if he became more affectionate because we all were. We were because my mom made a conscious effort to show us how loved we were, to give us what she didn’t get. I always hugged my grandpa hello and goodbye, and always told him I loved him. He would respond “uh huh” or “yep”. He told me he loved me once, at the end of a phone conversation when I was in my teens, where I signed off the call with “I love you, Papa,” like always and he said “yep, love you, too.” I worried that he may have had a stroke or something, because this was the first “I love you, too” that I had gotten from literally thousands of “I love you’s.” I called everyone in my family and no one could believe it. I knew he loved me; he showed it in myriad ways. He just didn’t say it.
Saying it is important. Some people argue that the word “love” is overused and has lost it’s meaning. I argue that there is enough bullshit and negativity being spewed from every outlet that produces sound that maybe the only way to produce any balance is to increase the amount of love we vocalize, too. I’m not saying we need to tell perfect strangers on the street how much we adore them, but our friends? Family? Partners? Yes, I think we do. Who doesn’t like to hear that they are loved? When one of my sisters had been dating her boyfriend for about six months, I asked her if she loved him. She said yes, and that he told her he loved her, but she hadn’t said it back yet for some dumb reason. I was livid. This is my sister who we adopted as a teen after she lost both her parents before she turned 17. I told her that she, of all people, knows how fucking fragile life is, and that you can lose someone in an instant, so why would she let someone wonder what her true feelings were? Argh.
As much of a downer as it is, that’s really what’s at issue here – you never know. We can never know if kissing our partner goodbye in the morning is the last time we will see them. We never know if the phone call to our best friend is the last one they will ever make. We never know if, when we walk out the door, we will ever walk back in. So why risk it? Why? Because we may have had a fight with someone and we don’t want to give them the satisfaction of kind words? Because it feels awkward to say it to someone we haven’t made it a habit to, even if we do? Once, when Jon and I were fighting over the phone, he hung up without saying he loved me. I called him back and basically said that while we may be angry with each other, we still love one another, and do we really want the last words spoken to each other be ones of hurt? Even if it is nothing more than “I am so fucking mad at you right now, but I still love you, but I still want you to go fuck yourself.” No amount of momentary triumph is worth a lifetime of regret, a lifetime of wondering if someone you cared about so deeply thought of hateful angry words in their last moments instead of knowing, always knowing, that they were loved, no matter what.
For some people, saying “I love you” is easy; for others it is very hard. When it comes down to it, wherever we fall on the spectrum, we have to weigh our hesitations, our silence, our pride, our nonsense, all of it against the possibility that we may not get another chance to let someone know. Don’t assume they know; don’t leave doubts in their minds. Just say it.