“I love you, Kitty,” she said, voice breaking with emotion over the phone.
“I love you, too, Lou Ann,” I said gently, surprised.
It’s not that Lou Ann and I were close friends. We had never said those words to each other before. We had never socialized personally or visited over coffee.
As with many who are active in a large church, our contact was limited primarily to one area. She was the church pianist and I was a choir member and soloist. As my accompanist, she was ideal—following me perfectly, anticipating my every move and breath. Hanging up the phone, I wondered why I hadn’t taken this opportunity to tell her.
Lou Ann had called to express concern over my recent surgery. Following a diagnosis of endometrial carcinoma, I had undergone a total abdominal hysterectomy. I assured her that my doctor was confident he had removed all of the cancer. But Lou Ann was worried. Her last words touched me deeply, for she was not one given to display of emotions.
No one was prepared when less than a week later Lou Ann suddenly died. Our church body reeled with shock and grief. The reality of death is always painful—but when someone as young and as vibrant as Lou Ann is suddenly taken without warning, it is especially difficult.
“How I will miss her sweet smile and giving spirit,” I thought, heavy-hearted with grief.
Suddenly my heart soared as I recalled our last conversation. Without knowing it, Lou Ann’s last words on earth to me was a precious gift—”I love you, Kitty.” Treasured words that cause my eyes to tear and my heart overflow even now—over 26 years later.
When I leave this earth what will be my last words to someone? Will they be loving or hateful, self-serving or giving, joyful or depressing, uplifting or discouraging?
During this coming year, I pray each of us will strive to let those around us know how much they are loved. If we can’t easily express our love, we can give words of appreciation and gratitude which will make them feel loved. We can offer a heartfelt compliment, give praise when it’s due, return kindness for their rudeness when they’re having a bad day, and we can smile.
We can extend love even to strangers.
The harried mother standing in line behind us with a fretful child may well be fighting depression. Her husband may have abandoned her and their child for another woman. Or she could be an abused wife. The simple gesture of smiling and inviting her to step ahead of us in the grocery store line, may give her hope that she just might, after all, have value— despite her feelings of worthlessness.
A weary department store clerk would be grateful if we took time to look her in the eyes and sincerely ask how her day is—and encourage her that it will get better, if it isn’t now. Praise her for giving good service. Who knows the difficult life she may have lived? It may have taken great courage to overcome an abused childhood with horrifying memories that still haunt her.
After all these years, I still remember my own sudden gratitude when a well-dressed woman made deliberate eye contact with me one day as we passed on the street, and gave me the gift of a beautiful smile. As an abused teen, living in terror, constantly told I was stupid, ugly and worthless, her simple smile was evidence that just maybe I did have some value. I thought if a special lady like her took time to actually look me in the eyes, really see me as a human being—and smile—then I must not be as worthless as my father said I was. I wanted to grow up and be just like her.
These thoughtful acts of kindness—that really cost us nothing other than cultivating an awareness of others—are small gifts with potential for big impact. For they clearly say “I don’t know you, but I love you.”
But, back to the words. No, not all of us have the capacity to easily say, “I love you” but maybe we can try to get out of our tight comfort zone just once in a while and give these words as a gift to someone—as Lou Ann did to me.
Who knows? These may well be the last words they will ever hear us speak.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
–1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV
And if I’ve never told you before—I love you.
Have a Happy New Year!