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 of them. If I’m wise, I won’t wait 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.