Eulogies, though well-intentioned, are highly overrated, a belated kind of praise my mother used to call "a day late and a dollar short."
I'd much prefer my roses (or my thorns) while I'm living. Why do we wait until it's too late to say what's in our heart?
Recently I had an email from a young woman named Sheila, the daughter of my friend, Dianne. Sheila was planning a surprise for her mother's birthday.
Sheila was sending the note to family and friends, asking us to write back with a memory or a story or just simple good wishes that she could collect as a gift for her mom on her "big" day.
I thought, "What a great idea!" I meant to do it right away, but forgot. Duh. Fortunately, I remembered in time for the deadline. Here, more or less, is what I wrote:
The first time I saw Dianne's beautiful face was 31 years ago. I was biting my nails in her husband's office, waiting to be interviewed for my first newspaper job, when I noticed on his desk a photo of a blond, tan, serene-looking woman sitting on a beach. I assumed, correctly, that she was his wife.
Something about her made me think she was the kind of person who could take whatever life had in store, land on her feet and still keep smiling.
I love it when I'm right about people. I thought that day, as I have countless times since, that her husband was one lucky guy.
I got the job. Moreover, I got a chance at a future friendship. It would be years before I knew Dianne personally. I met her briefly once or twice, and heard lovely things about her.
Then one day, at the start of the school year, my husband came home from the high school where he taught chemistry and coached basketball, and told me that one of his new students was my boss's daughter.
"Sheila's a lovely girl," he said. "Smart, hardworking, very grounded. I really like her. It's a good thing. I'd hate to have to flunk her and get you fired."
In years to come, life would take Dianne and me in different directions. But over time, it would bring us closer. She and Tom moved to Ohio. I lost my husband to cancer. Years later, I remarried and moved to Las Vegas. But we kept in touch, and I had occasions to visit them.
I had always loved Tom, as we often say in the South, "more than I should." But I soon fell in love with Dianne, too, for her warmth, her grace, her humor.
She has a gift for making strangers feel at home -- in her kitchen, on a lake or sharing a hot dog at a Mudhens game. She and Tom have also visited my husband and me at our home in Las Vegas. My husband loves her more than he should.
Dianne brings to mind something that Linus Pauling, twice a Nobel laureate, once told me in an interview, soon after he lost his wife, Ava.
"Tell me about her," I said.
Pauling's eyes lit up, beaming at her memory. "She was smarter than I am," he said. "She could have done all the work, all the research I've done. But she chose instead to make a home for me and my children." He stopped for a moment to steady his voice, then added, "She made everything possible."
Happy birthday, Dianne. So glad you were born. I still think your husband is one lucky guy.
I told you all of that mostly to say this: It's never too soon to tell someone how much they mean to you. But someday it could be, God forbid, too late.
Who in your world makes things possible? The clerk who asks about your day and actually listens to the answer? The neighbor who's always glad to watch your 3-year-old? The co-worker who fills in so you can visit your dad in the hospital? The daughter who remembers your birthday and makes sure everybody else does, too?
Don't wait for a eulogy. Or even for a birthday. There is one time, one chance, one perfect moment to say whatever is in your heart: That time is now. And again tomorrow.
(Sharon Randall can be contacted at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or at www.sharonrandall.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com)