In the first early hour of this morning, our friend Bill died.
I got to know Bill through my son who met him in the park a couple of years ago and they became good friends. They'd meet up every morning for 'dog club' which was a meeting of local dog walkers who had become friends. In the past few months Bill was able to make the journey less and less to the park because of illness and so we occasionally visited him round his house or in hospital. He didn't have any family but he had some good friends who loved him a lot.
Bill's death has hit me unexpectedly hard, not only because he has gone, and left a sad hole in our community. Not only because of the very special friendship he shared with my son that has come to an end. It has hit me hard mostly because it has come as a painful wake-up call to how I've let the daily activities and distractions of life obscure what matters most. I can't believe that I needed to learn this lesson yet again.
But the last month Bill has been in hospital and we've been wrapped up in our own lives and just not got round to visiting and keeping in touch as we could have done. We've visited once in that time. A couple of weeks ago, Bill phoned and until this weekend we've still been saying to each other "We must phone Bill..." We'll never know what he was wanting to say to us. I know he would have been hoping for a visit from my son because this always made him so happy. What hurts so bitterly is that we withheld this from him and my son (unintentionally by our lack of awareness), and the opportunities we've missed (for no good reason) to bring support and comfort to someone we cared about in the final weeks of his life. We could have done so much more and we would have wanted to. We could have picked up the phone.
We visited Bill on Easter day in the evening after a neighbour had called to say he was very ill. When we got there he was already unconscious and he never regained consciousness. They say that hearing is the last to go. I hope he could hear my son saying hello and telling him a joke out of the new copy of The Red Crow he'd brought him. My son never got to shock him with his new haircut or share chocolate fingers with him but I hope he knew we were there.
I think it was Nelson Mandela who said the saddest two words in the language are "too late". I most definitely agree.
All that matters at the end is forgiveness, gratitude and love.
What hurts most is having missed opportunities for kindness, for communication, for giving and receiving love.
Dear Bill, thank you. May you journey well and in peace.