LAST SUMMER, MY FATHER WAS HAVING HEART SURGERY.
For the first time, he was writing out his Advanced Directives—an official document filled with those questions we spend most of life avoiding, such as “would you want to live if you had to be fed through a tube?” When he sent his answers, what struck me wasn’t his typed responses but his own deeper questioning that lay in the unwritten space between: Did I make a meaningful contribution in the world? Did I affect people?
I wanted so badly to call out to all those students, colleagues and friends who had interacted with my father throughout his life. As a man with unflinching ethics, many years of leadership in his industry, and a darn good eggnog recipe, he has undoubtedly made an impact in many lives.
And I realized: we need a space for this. Before the emergency surgery or the retirement, the graduation or the remission, we need a space to let those people in our lives know: You Affected Me.
I spent five years working in a residential hospice. I saw moments of beauty, grace and honesty that I carry with me everyday; I have watched the clouds of regret pass over many pairs of eyes. I learned not to leave things unsaid and to say goodbye and mean it. I learned that there is still time... until there isn’t. Don’t wait.
The beauty of our online interactions is that they provides some relief from face-to-face awkwardness. I’m the first to admit that I can feel flustered when I want to say something positive and personal to someone. I’ll act it out in my head, envision it in the shower, make the date for coffee, but when the moment comes… blushing silence.
I did write a letter to my dad, the old-fashioned kind. Being a typical dad, he didn’t say much about it. But my heart grew a few sizes that day and I’m guessing his did, too.