Last words are important

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

When President George H. W. Bush died last week, his last spoken words were, “I love you, too.”

The former president’s Secretary of State, James Baker, was in the room as President Bush (41) spoke to his son President Bush (43). They were using a speaker-phone to make it easier for the elder-statesman to speak with his son.

At the end of their conversation, the son told his father, “You were a wonderful father. I love you.”

The dying father replied, “I love you, too.”

I have heard sad, sad stories about people who are having a spat and the last words they exchange are mean-spirited and angry. One of the two might then jump into a car and drive away. Shortly thereafter, there is an accident and one of them dies in a crash.

The surviving person lives with guilt and regret for the rest of their lives. This has happened to married couples, parents and children or close friends. Regardless, it’s a sad experience.

This was on my mind a few years ago, when several of our kids and grandkids where at the house.

As they left that evening, Debbie and I stood on the porch and kept repeating, “Bye. We love you. We love you, bye.”

They rolled down the windows in their van and shouted the same words back to us.

Now, particularly with the two youngest grandchildren, it’s mandatory. We have to do it.

Last week, since Debbie is still recovering from her fractured ankle, I walked outside by myself. I stood in the drizzle, on the cold, damp concrete of the front porch in my stocking feet.

My intent was to gives hugs and kisses and go back inside, but Clayton said, “Pappy, do Bye-I-Love-You.” I told him, “You bet I will.”

As Jessi backed out of our driveway, their van windows were down, and the kids kept shouting, “Bye, Pappy. We love you. We love you, bye. Bye, we love you.”

As they reached the street, we all kept shouting the same thing. As the van drove away into the dark, I could still hear Clayton shouting, “Bye, Pappy. I love you.”

I hope he could still hear me, because I kept shouting into the dark, “Bye. I love you.”

We started this silly routine over a year ago. I thought it might get old and we would stop, but it hasn’t. Instead, the kids seem to really enjoy it.

Quite frankly, I love it.

Last month, I was visiting my Mom in her assisted living facility in Middletown. I told her how cute it was whenever the kids left our house and we kept shouting back-and-forth how much we loved each other.

I told Mom that there have been times when I can still hear them as they drive past Jefferson Avenue. I told Mom that it might annoy the neighbors, but I just couldn’t imagine that it would.

As I left Mom’s apartment, I told her, “Bye, I love you. I love you, Bye.”

She started repeating it back to me. Even as I stood in the hallway waiting for the elevator, I could still hear my Mom repeating, “Bye, I love you.” I almost wept.

The internet has many lists of things that people regret having done – or having not done in their lives. Spending more time with family and friends is on every list. Every list also included the desire to have said, “I love you”, more.

Headstones in cemeteries around the country tell what was important to the person buried there. It’s common to read things like loving wife, loving husband, beloved son or daughter. People carve onto their headstones what was important to them.

I have never seen a headstone that says, “I wish I had spent more time at work.”

When I read about the last words of President Bush, I couldn’t help but remember this past summer when my Dad died. His life ended in a hospice facility in Middletown. He was unconscious for the last several days of his life. Deep, rasping respiration was the only indicator that Dad was still alive.

On the night that my Dad died, I kissed him on the forehead and told him that I loved him. He couldn’t answer but I have absolute faith that he heard me.

I like to think that Dad even hears me saying the same thing to Mom or to Debbie, or to our kids and grandkids.

Mixed in with the laughter that comes during our joyous chorus of, “I love you, Bye. Bye, I love you,” I like to think that, somewhere in the background, I can hear my Dad said, “I love you, too.”

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist