Some people get one last chance as the person they love declines after a long illness and gradually approaches her or his last days. Some wait until the midnight hour, perhaps reaching the bedside of her or his loved one in the final moments and face the last opportunity to speak the unspoken words. Others, sadly race to the hospital but arrive moments or hours too late and the unspoken words will reside in their soul until their days too are gone. Time will not wait for any of us. What are the words unspoken for you and me? Who are the people we love that we need to say them to?

Those who never get around to expressing what resides in their hearts often recount with bitter regret one missed opportunity after another. In some families it is a deeply held credo that if you have to say, “I love you,” than you don’t mean it. They may want to tell their mother, father, or grandparent, “I love you” or “Thank you for always being there for me,” but that same parent or grandparent may have never been able to say those same words to you. They leave this world without either saying or hearing the words that mean so much to people, especially when it comes from the heart of someone you love and who loves you. In those families where such expressions of love and gratitude are rarely expressed on those few exceptional occasions when the words are uttered, they tend to be cherished and never forgotten by the one who hears them.

When our loved ones are taken from us suddenly in an accident or by a fatal heart attack or stroke there may be no time for a last good-bye. Even if we do get to say a final good-bye, we will still long for just one more chance to say whatever words remain unsaid but felt deeply in our hearts. When our loved one is no longer here, oh how we long for just one more conversation.

I am not suggesting that we live our lives with a morbid preoccupation anticipating that every time we say goodbye we should consider that this may be the last one. But I do recommend that we engage in some honest soul searching and ask ourselves, “Who are the people in my life who mean the most to me?” “Have I told them how special they are to me?” “Who are the people in my life who I owe the greatest gratitude?” “Have I thanked them from the bottom of my heart and told them how much their generosity has meant to me?” “Who are the people I love the most in all the world?” “When was the last time I told them how precious and dear they are to me?”

Words never spoken, the words never heard by those we intend them for, leave an ache in our hearts that will not soon go away.

David A. Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP is a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Rhinebeck Child and Family Center, LLC (website: www.rhinebeckcfc.com). He specializes in treating children and families and is the author/co-author of four books: Understanding and Treating the Aggression of Children: Fawns in Gorilla Suits; A Handbook of Play Therapy with Aggressive Children; Engaging Resistant Children in Therapy: Projective Drawing and Storytelling Techniques; and Bereavement.

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