Call Them While You Can (Grief and The Stuff We Need to Say Now)


Yesterday my daughter did something really funny during dinner—like spit take funny. (This is rather commonplace in our home these days).

Not long after finishing the dishes I grabbed for the phone to tell my dad about it. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he died two and a half years ago. Suddenly as I started to dial, my brain kind of snapped to its senses and I put the phone down, feeling like I’d just been kicked in the gut.

Grief is a strange animal in this way, as anyone who has lost someone they love can testify. Whether it was ten days or ten years ago, you never quite fully adjust enough that you always remember that they’re dead. Yes, you understand on a cerebral level that they’re gone. Intellectually you know the finality of what’s happened, but somehow your heart’s muscle memory is stronger than all of that. It wants what gives it joy and so many times what gave it joy were those seemingly meaningless phone conversations that now turn out to be so very meaningful.

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that last night I would have traded my car, my house, and my bank account for another two-minute, “You’ll never guess what happened today!” phone call with my father.

That’s how valuable these things become.
This is their profound preciousness.
This is how fleeting the days are.

I’m not telling you so that you’ll feel sorry for me.
I’m not telling this to depress you.
I’m telling you this to move you.

Because right now you have phone calls that you should make.
Right now you have forgiveness you’ve been withholding from someone who needs it.
Right now you’re waiting for the other person to make the move toward you.
Right now you’re too busy or distracted or stubborn to make the call.
Right now you have something kind or trivial or funny or important to share with someone and you’re figuring you’ll do it later.

Later is not always going to be a luxury you have, as impossible as that is to believe right now. 

And friend, when you don’t have later, the thing you’ll want more than anything on the planet is to be able to grab the phone and hear their voice again in all its unspectacular ordinary; to sit and rest in the sweet embrace of their uneventful presence.

The time that you’ll most want to call them, is that moment that you’re reminded that you can’t.

I was fortunate that my father and I had a great relationship and talked often. I spoke to him a few hours before he passed away suddenly. I didn’t leave much unsaid with my father, but I still want to say much more. I still want to share good news and tell silly stories and be encouraged in my bad days. I still want to hear him explode with laughter on the other end of the line at my daughter’s spit-take inducing hilarity.

When you lose someone you love, no matter how much time you’ve had with them it will always be at least one minute less than you want. You will always feel just slightly cheated.

There are a million things today that can keep you from making that phone call: your schedule, your responsibilities, your pride, your being right.

I’m asking you not to let any of those things stop you. None of them are worth it.

Look at me here prattling on like this. I apologize. I’ve already taken up way too much of your time here.

You have far more seemingly ordinary, yet beautifully vital things to do.

There is Life waiting for you on the other end of the line in a voice that feels like it will always be there.

So stop reading this. 

Go pick up the phone, and while you still can—call them.


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32 thoughts on “Call Them While You Can (Grief and The Stuff We Need to Say Now)

  1. This is where an understanding of the Communion of Saints comes in handy. Too bad it was one of the dogmas jettisoned along with this additional books of the Bible during the American phase of the Protestant Reformation.

  2. Not only do you lose a loved one who has died, you lose the experiences and memories you would have had with them…which, as John has so eloquently pointed out, makes every present moment available with a loved one to be treasured…

  3. Yes! I miss my mother most when something good happens; since I was a little girl, she was my biggest fan and it always gave me great joy to give her good news. I still think of her first in joyous moments. I just have to believe that somehow she knows.

  4. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing! My parents passed within three months of each other almost 10 years ago. Not a day goes by that I wish I could hear just one more WWII story from my dad and simply hear my sweet momma’s voice.

  5. Good advice! It will be four years next month since my Mom died of a stroke. Thursdays can still be rough since that was our day to talk. Her cell phone number is still in my phone. I am glad that we had our special day that was set aside for our talks. Most look forward to the weekend but it was Thursdays for me. So if your parents or other loved ones are near are far make sure to set aside that time to call them. If they are near make sure to visit them.

  6. My dad was the best teacher I ever had. He died of leukaemia when I was in my very early twenties, many moons ago now. My dad taught me how to listen to other humans in need. He taught me that patience is better than becoming irritated; that if you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your abilities, whatever it is. My dad taught me about Christ not through scripture but through example. He never never once lectured me about Christianity, instead, he solicited my views and got me to think critically about them. There isn’t a day that goes by, and it’s some thirty years now, that at some point during the day my dad isn’t present in my mind. I still frequently ask him for advice, and at some spiritual level I sense his wise words. I’ve taken my dad to interviews to my subsequent two further Masters graduations after his passing and even had difficult conversations with him about my sexuality as I walk my dogs along rugged and beautiful Cornish beaches. My dad is still very much part of my life because I don’t believe in death, not real death anyway. Until we meet again. I love you dad.

  7. Yet again you ‘ve nailed it. It never ceases to amaze me that people so often harbour resentments against another that swallowing pride can cure. Life is far too short for this sort of non sense.

  8. Even if they aren’t deceased, sometimes the diseases Rob you of the person you once depended on as your rock. Alzheimer’s and other dementias SUCK as they take out loved ones from us. Those moments become even more precious. You find yourself not deleting voicemails because you never want to forget the sound of their voice.

    • Tell the truth, thefiveminutemom; I wish I’d saved voicemails from my husband so I could hear that incredibly soft, comforting voice again – I’ve had former patients, friends and family tell me that they also wish they could hear his calm, reassuring tone again. I do have emails from him that I treasure, even though I tend to cry when I go back and read them…..

      Blessings and peace be upon you and all those who missing loved ones who have died or are not who they were due to dementia or Alzheimer’s.

  9. Reblogged this on Miracles! Your Center for Well-Being Inc. and commented:
    I am not sure why this touched me so deeply. This concept is not new to me. I make every effort to live in this way … and yet … for some reason I have crockodile size tears streaming down my face in unstoppable torrents. Thank you John for your gift of speaking straight to our souls … about things that are richly needed to be acknowledged. With deepest appreciation, Karen

  10. Yep.
    About a month after we buried Dad, I heard a funny joke about trains that I KNEW he would love. Actually dialed the number.

    The gut-punch at that moment was horrific.

    I still do it, occasionally, 4 years later. My soon-to-be father in law tells me that he still does it once in awhile, 30 years later.

  11. Pingback: My Picks Of The Week #12 | A Momma's View

  12. Thanks John these are the kind of posts when I feel you really ministering to others. I will try, but coming from my background relationships are not simple exchanges. There is love, but sometimes dysfunction gets in the way. Thank you for being beautiful.

  13. Who am I to Tell Them?
    By Robert Winkler Burke
    Book #3 of In That Day Teachings

    One preacher thinks it’s money and fame,
    Another thinks it’s verse,
    Another preacher thinks it’s TV programs,
    Another, his big church.

    I try to tell them it’s not exactly,
    Any of those things,
    But who am I to tell them?
    Just the King of Kings.

    Another preacher says it’s miracles,
    And they can drum them up,
    But I’ve never seen any of them,
    Make wine in water’s cup.

    Another preacher says it’s Christ,
    And Him crucified,
    Such kind like Me quite dead,
    Not one very much alive.

    I’m alive to tell preachers,
    What to say and do,
    I’m alive to tell preachers everything,
    But who listens? A few.

    The majority that don’t hear Me,
    Miss quite a lot,
    They think they have everything but,
    Their King they haven’t got.

    Instead they have troubles and religion,
    While convincing sheep they don’t,
    Sheep eat their troubles and religion,
    Until truth is something eat they won’t.

    So down is up and up is down,
    In your troubled land,
    If My preachers would listen to Me,
    They would understand.

    But they are complete: busy,
    Telling people what they know,
    About Me, I can’t get them to hear,
    When I say, Stop or turn or go.

    Everywhere dead preachers preach,
    About My resurrected for them life,
    Everywhere dead sheep listen,
    To dead pipers’ un-vivacious pipes.

    I try to tell them they’re focusing,
    On satanic, deadly things,
    But who am I to tell them?
    Just the King of Kings.

  14. Thank you for posting this. My father forgot my 29th birthday. It hurt my feelings, and so when Father’s Day came around, I foolishly thought, “Let’s see how he likes it,” and I didn’t acknowledge the day. He died suddenly two weeks later. NEVER let things go unsaid. It’s just not worth it. It took a long time to get over the guilt. I’m over the guilt, but I will never be over the regret. It will be 27 years this summer, and I still miss him every day. I love you, Dad.

  15. Dear Catherine,
    Your gift of care and love to your mom is the true blessing. I understand that it can be difficult when an individual living with dementia becomes frustrated, as it is often the caregiver who receives the brunt of the feedback. I hope you reach out to the Alzheimer Society. The support groups are truly a way to find kindred spirits, who understand how you feel. There are also so many programs available, and well worth investigating. I hope you take some time to care for yourself, and treasure those well deserved “I love yous.” Thank you for writing. Ann Chartier – See more at:

  16. I miss my son Josh who passed on Jan. 29/2016. He was 30.
    We had great talksabout life all the time.
    My heart breaks for him. because he is missing out on raisi g his daughter who he, adored.
    It breaks worse for her.
    The day he died I was supposed to work, but my client cancelled.
    I spent the whole day with him.
    We prepared, a beautiful steak dinner.
    2 hours later he, was gone.
    The regrets I have break my heart.
    Please don’t wait to tell someone just how very much h you live them.
    I’m glad I had the chance that day.
    RIP Joshua
    Love you now and forever
    Xoxoxo. Mom

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