A small group sat around a table in the Watkins Glen Public Library. They’d come to hear me read from Leaning into Love. I told stories and read for forty minutes and then turned it over to anyone who wanted to ask a question or share a story. Most people had something to say. I’m used to that. People come to my readings because they want to talk about loss.
A man with a terminal illness sat at the other end of the table. I’ve known him many years, but didn’t expect to see him at a reading. He was thin, but his cheeks were rosy and his smile was genuine and tender. Like Vic, he had a healthy lifestyle and was diagnosed with a cancer for which he had no risk factors.
“What can we leave behind for people we love when we die? What meant the most to you?” he asked in a quiet raspy voice after the conversation slowed.
I paused a minute to consider his heartfelt question.
“Vic wrote beautiful acknowledgements to me in each of his three books, but small notes in his handwriting and personal emails feel more precious than those public words.”
The man smiled wistfully. I thought of his two children and his partner.
“Vic didn’t leave last letters to me or our sons. I wish he had. But there were many email letters and, six years after his death, I found a love note he’d written before he died.”
“Not specifically a goodbye note?” someone asked.
“No, but it felt like one. It was written on the yellow-lined paper Vic often used. I must have saved it toward the end of his life and tucked it in a pocket of my purse behind a few precious photos. I found it the night before my TEDx talk when I needed all the support I could get.”
It said: “E, You are the center of my life. Never doubt my love. V”
Ironically, there would have been no TEDx talk if Vic hadn’t died. I went on stage with that note tucked inside my bra against my heart.
I also cherish an email from his last teaching trip a month before his death:
I feel my love going out over the land, past Sandalia, the Little Dixie Game Reserve, on east to the Finger Lakes, and into Hector. Everywhere I look, I see the care and precision of your packing. Each little item thought out and put in the right place. It just shouts love at me. Deep thanks to you…. I continue to beam my love your way.
“It’s hard to give away his books,” I said. “I still find messages written in the margins. One was a note in a psychology book by Marie Louise von Franz. It referred to an experience Vic remembered from 1967 when I left for graduate school (temporarily): “I went numb when E left. It took me a couple of months to realize how much I loved her.”
My friend’s question made me think about gifts I’ll leave my family–money, property, family photos, stories. It showed me the most precious thing I can give when it’s my turn to die.
Love letters. One for each son. If I’m wise, I won’t wait long to write them.
You’ll enjoy A Love Note from Beyond about finding the note from Vic six years after his death. I highly recommend this moving article and video about a terminally ill doctor and the message he left behind for his baby daughter.
More profound wisdom from a very wise lady ~ which I intend to share. Thank you, dear Elaine. ♥
Thank you, Marty. My friend asked a wise question and I’m glad I had a clear answer. Sending love to you.
This is a really special suggestion, coming directly from your experience and informing others! Great!
It makes sense that a note such as this–written with intention, whose message is infused with love, and whose writer understands the impermanence of life–will touch its recipients with great meaning.
Years ago, a dear and uplifting friend left town for graduate school. I dreamed I was searching through an enormous, ancient dictionary. I found my friend’s name it it, and the definition of her name read as follows, “…Deathless love, be strong.” This dream message, like the simple but powerful missive from Vic to you, gave me courage and served as a reminder of the timeless reality beyond any one moment of loss.
Thank you, Myra. I was asked a great question to come up with an obvious answer. I’m sure there are other answers from other people.
What powerful words: “Deathless love, be strong.” I’m glad they gave you courage just as Vic’s love messages, intended for me or not, give me courage.
So warm and beautiful Elaine. How comforting that you found that note from Vic before your Ted talk, as though he knew you’d find it at the time you could use his words for encouragement. Absolutely I believe there is nothing more personal than words in a letter left behind for loved ones to treasure. 🙂
Thanks for your comment, Debby. I think it’s important for me to write those letters now because we never know…. And we know the value of intentional words.
No doubt you will leave a beautiful trail of notes behind and so many beautifully written words here, in your book(s) and everywhere else you leave your name. 🙂
I love printed books so I can write in them, Debby. But a personal goodbye love note feels like a great thing to do. Thanks for your support.
I love the bra-yellow love note connection. It’s gold! Thank you, wise woman, for the reminder to write love notes while there’s still time. 😉
Thank you, Marian. Bras are good places to tuck things when we have no pockets, especially small flat things. I want to send more love notes now. It feels a little sad that postcards have been replaced by email, but it might be time to bring out my stack of museum postcards and send them off with love messages.
I love this Elaine. As I melt over every word my daughter wrote, and especially her mentions of me and the CD she put together especially for me, I wonder if my son, my only family member/loved one, would ever cherish a heartfelt letter from me. Funny how things work out sometimes. Those notes from Vic are precious.
Marika left you poignant and powerful goodbye gifts, Robin, and they’ve meant more to you than you could have imagined. I’m sure your son would cherish a heartfelt letter from you, now and/or later. It will matter and, for me, Vic’s notes matter more in time.
Thank you, again, for this beautiful reminder about the important gifts we can give, Elaine. I always look forward to your posts. Gratefully, Julie
Thanks so much, Julie. The answer to the question was obvious after I paused a moment, but I hadn’t asked it just like that. Thanks so much for all you do and offer.
Vic seems to have a way to keep communicating with you. I love this story. Did he write notes like that throughout your entire relationship?
Ann Marie, we frequently wrote notes to each other tucked into luggage of the one leaving or left on the dining room table for someone returning from a day away. I wish I had saved more and wish I had some of the ones I wrote to him, although my whole book is a love note written for the trip he took to a mysterious destination or non-destination. I advise my sons to write love notes to their partners. So much is forgiven with a sweet note.
Elaine, Great post and good advice. I still have a love note written by my first husband Gene before he died that I carry in my wallet. I also have an interesting synchronicity to share. My father died One month before Gene died of cancer. I was so overwhelmed with Gene’s illness and imminent demise that I was unable to grieve my father’s death properly. That next Father’s Day I was feeling it full force, sad that I’d lost my father and that my children had lost their father.
Oops, hit the submit button too soon by accident. So, to continue with the story, I was feeling very sad that next Fathers Day. So I decided to get busy and do something to distract myself. I starting cleaning out my junk drawer…you know, the one you pile junk into until you can’t add any more stuff. 🙂 Anyway, I pulled out the drawer, put it on the counter, reached in the pile and pulled out a piece of folded paper. I opened it and discovered it to be a birthday letter from my father. In it he told me how proud he was of me for what I’d accomplished in my life and how much he loved me. My father was not a man to wax sentimental under normal circumstances, so finding his note on Father’s Day was quite a blessing to me and something I cherish to this day (it happened over 20 years ago). Hugs, Jenna
I love your story, Jenna. We tend to dismiss these things, but you write about synchronicity and watch for those meaningful co-occurrences.
Last night I had a radio interview after a day of no internet and no telephone. Had to do the interview on the cell phone which isn’t always the best. It was a day of blockage and irritation, but I didn’t want that to spread to the interview. I put the note Vic left, the one I found before the TEDx talk, on the table in front of me so I could focus on the good stuff. The radio interview went very well. Those love notes support us forever. I tucked mine back in my wallet so it’s there when I need it.
This is such a beautiful piece, Elaine. I remember the first time I happened upon a handwritten card from my mom after she died. The card had been written many years ago, long before Alzheimer’s began peeling away the layers of her mind. In her perfect penmanship, she wrote how proud she was that I had become such a good mother. She could have never known all those years ago, nor could I, how important and precious that card would be someday. I’m so thankful when I find things like that. Her words, in her own handwriting, mean everything and more. A true treasure.
Thanks for your comment and story, Ann. So glad you kept those cards from your mom. Yes, treasures.
Thank you, Elaine, for your words of wisdom. I’m going to share this with others because I know they will find comfort in your words and all the wonderful replies.
Thank you, Cheryl. What a great question asked by someone who wants to leave something important behind. And now I know what to do, too.
It made me smile reading your post Elaine, and all the endearing replies, continuing bonds we savour in so many different ways. I myself save all my cards and letters from loved ones, and after losing my beloved Mum,her precious hand written cards go up every year alongside everyone else’s, honouring her memory, her life and our special bond. A source of comfort and remembrance.
I love imagining those precious cards, Catherine. And all the love messages. I’m so glad you have them.
What a great reminder this is to write those notes NOW! Thanks. I’m thinking there are some I ought to write and give now too, then some simple ones for afterward.
Annie, I still have a file filled with letters from my husband that began in 1966 when we met. They aren’t end of life letters, but they often feel that way giving me messages I need at the moment. I pull one out when I need a dose of love and gratitude. Such an enduring gift. Thanks for taking time to make a comment. I appreciate it.
Most what i read online is trash and copy paste but i think you offer something different. Keep it like this.
Elaine, The first funeral program I designed was for my own daughter who died in 2008 of adrenal cancer at the age of 27. Now, almost 13 years later, it’s my full time career in addition to speaking on funeral readiness. I’ve done workshops on writing love letters, and so I was more than delighted to run across this article. It’s a topic close to my heart and you said it beautifully…
Thanks for commenting and for your kind words, Valerie. It’s hard to imagine having a daughter die at any age, much less at 27. I’m so sorry. You do important and needed work, and I can relate to turning your grief and what you learned into a way to help others. (I still haven’t read all my husband’s notes. I have to give each one time because I need to feel the emotion that comes up. I hear a note calling my name.)