Late one night, my sister Kathy called to chat. She shared her day and talked about the loves of her life—her four kids. She asked about my day. We caught up on her kids and mine. Then, just as the call was about to end, she said, “I called for a reason—to let you know I took out a life insurance policy and want you to know what I want done if anything happens to me. I want the kids. . .”
I heard everything she said, but almost with each word she spoke, my heart beat grew faster in my chest and the rhythm started echoing in my ears, the th-thump grew louder in my head.
Without intentional thought, I answered her, “Ok, I got it, but nothing’s going to happen to you.” Within a few seconds, we had said goodbye and I hung up the phone.
As soon as I hung up the phone, panic struck full force. I struggled to catch my breath as my heart continued to pound, actually creating a tremor with its pulse. Twenty-three years and one month ago, my brother Karl called and said almost the same words. “Hey, if anything happens to me, I need you to know I took out a life insurance policy in your name. I want you to use it to …. “ My response was almost the exact same: “Nothing is going to happen to you.” He pushed. “I need to know you will do this,” he said before going into even more detail about what he wanted me to do if he died. I repeated my first response, “Karl, nothing is going to happen to you.” He pushed back, “Will you do this for me? I need to know you will do this.” I relented, and the words echoed in my conversation tonight: “Ok, I will, but nothing’s going to happen to you.” That night, two hundred and eighty-seven months ago, I got off the phone and went to sleep, completely sure that nothing was going to happen to him. Just a month later, he was killed.
Everything changed. My life, my entire family’s lives and most of all his daughters’ lives are now divided into two very different eras: life with Karl (before September 29, 1994) and life without Karl (after September 29, 1994).
Barely able to talk, I called Kathy back and told her how I feel about her: “Please be careful. Take care of yourself. You are important to many people, and most especially your kids. You make their lives better every day, I am so proud of you. I am praying that God protects you because you are needed. You are loved.”
As we talked, she heard past just the words and realized what was flashing back in my mind. “You didn’t’ know, couldn’t know what was going to happen to Karl,” she almost whispered. She’s right that I couldn’t know what was going to happen, but now I am painfully aware of what can happen.
I am thankful that I did get to see him in the very short time between that phone call and the day he was killed. We laughed and talked and played cards. I hugged him goodbye and told him I loved him. I still wish I could have gone back to that phone call and been more intentional in my response.
I have tried to be more intentional in relationships since then, but I still find myself letting opportunities slip—either because it’s awkward or I’m rushed or, honestly, I’m a bit distracted. The truth is I tend to be quicker to run my mouth when I’m irritated or critical than I am prone to speak love and kindness and appreciation whenever I have the chance.
I took advantage of the opportunity. I called Kathy back, fighting through the panic attack and the discomfort of not being exactly sure what to say. We all need to take time and make the effort to speak love and appreciation whenever we have the chance. We need to be quick to speak love and gratitude. All of us need to hear someone intentionally and honestly tell us that we matter
Please be careful.
Take care of yourself.
You are important to many people, and especially to your family.
You make lives better every day.
I am praying that God protects you because you are needed.
You are loved.