As you may have done, I woke up this Monday morning with a barrage of CNN alerts on my phone. After trying to blink the fuzziness from my eyes and shake my brain awake, I sat up with my back against the headboard attempting to wake myself earlier than I wanted to—always a difficult task for me.
It was a little before 6am, and I was reading words on the screen of my phone that I didn’t think could be true. Shooting in Las Vegas. 20 confirmed deaths. Over 100 people injured. My heart immediately felt pain. Could this really be true?
Traveling for work that day, I found myself glued to the television set in the lobby of my hotel as I ate a good breakfast and chugged a few glasses of orange juice. I saw the same footage you likely did. I watched as innocent people attempting to have fun at a country concert ran in terror, hearing blasts but not knowing what they were or from where they came. I saw people huddled like school children in a tornado drill, attempting to seek shelter behind concrete barricades. I saw bodies lying scattered across the Vegas strip and wondered how, again, we found ourselves as a nation in the midst of brutal and senseless violence.
“Isn’t this just awful?” An elderly man who worked at the hotel serving breakfast came around to my table, motioning towards my empty plate that he planned to clear.
“Yes sir, it is,” I responded. “I just can’t wrap my head around why someone would do something like this.”
“I can’t either,” the man said. “It just don’t make sense anymore. Used to be when you had a disagreement with someone you could talk it out or settle things differently. Now, people just get mad and start killing and shooting. Even the church ain’t safe. People go get mad and shoot people in church.”
“It’s a scary world. It really is.” The man and I continued to talk. We watched the developments on the screen in front of us. It was still early, and the reporters on screen were still trying to make sense of what had happened in Las Vegas as I did the same with the man from the hotel.
As I drove from high school to high school that day for my job, I spent my time in the car listening to the radio station, and my stomach grew ill as the numbers steadily rose. 30 dead, 250 injured. Then 40 dead. And then, a staggering 59 deaths with over 500 people injured.
Whenever these tragedies occur, and God knows they occur all too often, I find myself looking at the pictures of the victims and reminding myself that those aren’t just pictures. Those are faces. Faces that belong to human beings with lives and families and stories that are important to tell. I’ll often find myself trying to learn more about those individuals. I’ll wonder about their families. Their careers. The things they would have accomplished had it not been for senseless violence. I think desperately about the loved ones they are leaving behind.
And yes, tragedies like this often remind leave me wondering about last words. What were the final things they said to those they loved? What are the final memories those loved ones will have of those they have to say goodbye to?
It reminds me to leave those I love with love at every chance I get.
It reminds me of how I left my Dad.
I am fortunate. Yes, fortunate. Yes, I lost my Dad. His death was unbelievably tragic and completely unnecessary. I wake up every single day wishing that losing my Dad was just a bad dream. I wake up every day wishing that things would go back to the way they were. That my Dad would still be alive. Still living, and still loving.
In spite of all of this, I am fortunate.
I am fortunate that my last words to my Dad were “I love you, Dad.”
And I am thankful that his last words to me were “I love you too, Bub.”
I will be forever grateful that my last words to my Dad were words of love.
I didn’t know those were going to be the last words I ever said to my Dad. In my heart of hearts, I believed I would leave my Dad that day and see him later that afternoon. I knew that things weren’t good in terms of his mental stability, but I didn’t know they were that bad. Never in my wildest nightmares would I have guessed that a morning conversation with my Dad on July 24, 2013 would be the last conversation we would ever share.
Just like those going to a country concert in Las Vegas never thought that they would be saying goodbye to their loved ones.
Monday’s massacre offered the reminder that I should never need. The reminder that life is amazingly scared and unbelievably fragile. Monday was a reminder that tragedy is often tragic because it’s so unexpected, so unnecessary, and so completely avoidable.
I’m not writing anything original. I’m probably not writing anything that you haven’t heard from a parent, grandparent, friend, pastor, or teacher. But it’s so important. And this weeks horror in Las Vegas is an unfortunate reminder.
I didn’t always leave my Dad with words of love. I think back over the times when I would get mad at my Dad or frustrated with him. Usually, it was because I was being a petty, annoying teenager. I would get mad at my Dad (like most teenagers do) for very, very stupid things. He made a comment about my driving. Who was he to comment about my driving?! He had all the family speeding tickets! Or he would use my laptop and inevitably screw something up. I would get mad at him and say something insensitive and then remind him of his transgressions every time he used my laptop in the future. Or the most egregious of all offenses: while I would be watching television in our family room, he would lay on the couch. And fall asleep. And snore. Loudly, annoyingly, and obnoxiously. Yes, I would actually get mad at my Dad for snoring. And I would yell at him and wake him up…or (my favorite move) I would pinch his nose until he woke himself up while I pretended like I had done nothing at all.
I see how petty, irrational, and insensitive I could be towards my Dad at times, which makes his unrelenting and unconditional love even more impressive.
My Dad was the man who understood the “last word” principle better than anyone. My Mom and I can both attest to this. There was rarely a time where my Dad would let a disagreement last longer than a few minutes. It was annoying for someone like me who likes to hold grudges. Dad and I would bicker about something, and thirty minutes later he would be talking to me as if nothing had happened. As a matter of fact, Dad had the uncanny ability to actually be even sweeter to people who were mad at him. I’m still trying to master this, but I’ll never be as good as he was.
My Dad lived his life as if his goodbyes might be his last. And I’m so thankful that he did, because it makes that last goodbye all the more special.
I have many regrets in my life, and many associated with how I treated my Dad when I didn’t get my way. I wasn’t a perfect son. But I am thankful that our last words, the words I’ll remember with amazing vividness, were simple expressions of love for one another.
In trying to understand my grief, I’ve talked with many other people who have lost their loved ones unexpectedly or prematurely. For every person I talk with that shares a similar story of their final conversation with a loved one, I also talk with folks who have deep-seated regret over the things they forgot to say. The angry comment on the way out the door. The argument over leaving a wet towel on the bathroom floor. Forgetting to say I love you. The things said in regret and the things unsaid in pride can be unbelievably detrimental to our souls when life gives way to tragedy and loss.
The horrible violence in Las Vegas this week is a reminder that we just don’t know when our words to a loved one might be our last. As the news reports rolled in on Monday, I stopped and said a prayer. I said a prayer for those 59 lives. I said a prayer for those 59 families. There are 59 people dead who didn’t deserve to have their last conversations with loved ones, but I prayed that those conversations were full of messages of love. I prayed that those who are now grieving are able to look back and remember saying or hearing “I love you.” I prayed that the memories they have are full of wonderful, loving moments. I prayed for peace at the soul level for these grieving families.
I currently sit in another hotel room, and as I write I am watching Bob Patterson and Amanda Patterson speak (courageously) on CNN. Lisa Patterson, Bob’s wife and Amanda’s mother, is among the 59 who are no longer with us for no reason whatsoever. I can see their heartache. I don’t know their pain, but I can feel it. I’m angry at this killer. I’m angry at the man who stole Lisa Patterson and so many others away from their loved ones. I’m angry at true villains, like murder and suicide, that take our loved ones away from us prematurely. I hope the families of the victims feel love and can remember the love from those they lost. It will be that lingering feeling of love that our loved ones leave behind that sustain us through the heartache and sorrow.
This week’s tragedy is a reminder. A reminder to always let our loved ones know we love them. It’s a simple lesson and a reminder we shouldn’t need, but how many times do you hear stories of individuals who lose a loved one who wish they had said “I love you” just one last time? We hear it all too often. Let’s make sure we refuse to let our last words be anything but expressions of love.
Love is nothing if it isn’t expressed. And I’m thankful my Dad taught me that each and every day.
Dad, I miss you every single day. I replay our last conversation together in my head so frequently. I can see your face, I can hear your voice, and I can feel the warmth of our last embrace before I left the house that day. Dad, I’m so thankful that we told each other that we loved one another one last time before I left that day. And I’m sorry for all the days when I didn’t tell you I loved you. When I didn’t express my gratitude and appreciation for all the things you did for our family. When I didn’t tell you how proud I was of you for fighting so hard. Your death has proven to me just how fragile life really is. I hate that it took losing you for me to learn this lesson. Dad, you are still teaching me important life lessons every single day. I pray for those who are hurting this week in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, and even though their departure (like yours) was far too soon, I hope that you are welcoming those 59 brave souls home in Heaven. I love you, Dad. Until our last words can be our first on the other side, seeya Bub.
“How then can evil overtake me or any plague come near? For he orders his angels to protect you wherever you go.” Psalm 91:10-11