Do you remember your first date? Your first kiss? Your first love?
I do. His name was Todd. We went to church together, and our families spent many hours together. My older sister actually dated his older brother.
He was a very sweet guy. Always kind. Had this goofy smile that somehow lit up a room. I don’t think I ever heard an unkind word escape his mouth. Even reflecting on his personality today brings a smile across my face.
Sadly, his life was cut short at the age of 21 by a car accident. I remember the shock, the sadness, the devastation. I remember the many tears I shed for his mom, his dad, his brother. I remember the somber mood in the church at the funeral. I remember not being able to get the image of his body in the casket out of my mind, begging God to help me remember that goofy smile.
There has always been one thing I have been certain of: the last words Todd ever spoke were, “I love you.”
I don’t know who was the last to hear those words, but I am absolutely certain they were the last words he spoke.
The last thing his dad heard was, “I love you.”
The last thing his mom heard was, “I love you.”
The last thing his brother heard was, “I love you.”
The last thing his fiancé heard was, “I love you.”
How do I know? Because never once did I hear Todd end any phone conversation any other way. He said those words to those closest to him so freely, so sincerely. They characterized his life, always making sure those around him knew they were loved.
As I’m sure you can tell, Todd left a lasting impression on me, even all these years later. I remember listening to those words fall off his lips so easily, and I determined that I would be more like him. As a general rule, I am a very reserved person. I don’t say, “I love you,” easily or flippantly; if I say, “I love you,” you can be assured the words are sincere. But Todd taught me to be more effusive in my use of those words.
If you ever read my texts between the kids and me, Roy and me, my extended family and me, you will see the words “Love you” all throughout.
I don’t care if it is a text conversation, and in-person conversation, or a phone conversation…
I don’t care if we have been angry and fighting or happy and laughing…
I don’t care what we have been doing…
I try never to end a conversation without the words “I love you.”
Because if something happens to me I want my loved ones to rest with the knowledge the last words they heard from me were, “I love you.”
This week has been hard. Let’s be honest: this entire YEAR has been hard.
Monday at work, I learned that the 14-year-old daughter of a high school friend was missing. It appears she was lured into a relationship with a 20-year-old man who is believed to be armed and dangerous. My heart breaks for her, for her mother, as she is still missing some 72 hours later. I pray for her safety, for God’s peace to wash over her mother.
And I pray the last words they said to one another were, “I love you.”
Then, some 12 hours after learning about the missing child, I received word that my co-worker had passed away suddenly. His wife (who is also a co-worker) is left devastated and grieving. His children and grandchildren are broken-hearted. I am begging God to be near the broken-hearted, to wash over them with grace and peace and comfort in their time of need.
And I am certain the last words he heard, the last words his wife heard, were, “I love you.”
As I reflect on this week, this year…
As I look at the number of people who have died in this pandemic…
As I think of the people in nursing homes and hospitals separated from their loved ones because of the pandemic…
As I think of the pain and devastation that we have all experienced this year…
I pray more people remember the lesson I’ve learned from Todd. I pray more people are effusive in their display of love.
I pray more people always say, “I love you.”
If you see this young lady missing from Tampa, Florida, please contact police immediately.