I like to share a poignant story that I read years ago which I clipped and saved in my scrapbook to serve as a reminder that when things go wrong in the family (as they sometimes do), making things right through forgiveness, reconciliation, and lots of love is of utmost priority and importance. I know it's easy to assume that life would go on and that we would have another chance to make things right. But tomorrow might come without the loved ones whom we have wronged, and they would not hear us say: Please forgive me. I love you; I'm so sorry I hurt you. Ephesians 4:26 admonishes us to Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath. Here's the story:
The hospital was unusually quiet that bleak January evening, quiet and still like the air before a storm. I stood in the nurses' station on the seventh floor and glanced at the clock. It was 9 o'clock. I threw a stethoscope around my neck and headed for room 712, last room on the hall. Room 712 had a new patient. Mr. Williams. A man all alone. A man strangely silent about his family.
As I entered the room, Mr. Williams looked up eagerly, but dropped his eyes when he saw it was only me, his nurse. I pressed the stethoscope over his chest and listened. Strong, slow, even beating. Just what I wanted to hear. There seemed little indication he had suffered a slight heart attack a few hours earlier. He looked up from his starched white bed. "Nurse, would you..." He hesitated, tears filled his eyes. Once before he had started to ask me a question, but had changed his mind. I touched his hand. He brushed away a tear. "Would you call my daughter? Tell her I've had a heart attack. A slight one. You see, I live alone and she is the only family I have." His respiration suddenly speeded up. I turned on his nasal oxygen up to eight liters a minute.
"Of course I'll call her," I said, studying his face. He gripped the sheets and pulled himself forward, his face tense with urgency. "Will you call her right away -- as soon as you can?" He was breathing fast -- too fast. "I'll call her the very first thing," I said, patting his shoulder. I flipped off the light. He closed his eyes, such young blue eyes in his 50-year-old face. Room 712 was dark except for a faint night light under the sink. Oxygen gurgled in the green tubes above his bed. Reluctant to leave, I moved through the shadowy silence to the window. The panes were cold. Below a foggy mist curled through the hospital parking lot. "Nurse," he called, "could you get me a pencil and paper?" I dug a scrap of yellow paper and a pen from my pocket and set it on the bedside table.
I walked back to the nurses' station and sat in a squeaky swivel chair by the phone. Mr. Williams' daughter was listed on his chart as the next of kin. I got her number from information and dialed. Her soft voice answered. "Janie, this is Sue Kidd, a registered nurse at the hospital. I'm calling about your father. He was admitted tonight with a slight heart attack and..."
"No!" she screamed into the phone, startling me. "He's not dying is he?"
"His condition is stable at the moment," I said, trying hard to sound convincing. Silence. I bit my lip.
"You must not let him die!" she said. Her voice was so utterly compelling that my hand trembled on the phone.
"He's getting the very best care."
"But you don't understand," she pleaded. "My daddy and I haven't spoken in almost a year. We had a terrible argument on my 21st birthday, over my boyfriend. I ran out of the house. I haven't been back. All these months I've wanted to go to him for forgiveness. The last thing I said to him was, 'I hate you.'" Her voice cracked and I heard her heave great agonizing sobs.
I sat, listening, tears burning my eyes. A father and a daughter, so lost to each other. Then I was thinking of my own father, many miles away. It has been so long since I had said, "I love you." As Janie struggled to control her tears, I breathed a prayer. "Please God, let this daughter find forgiveness."
"I'm coming. Now! I'll be there in 30 minutes," she said. Click.
She had hung up. I tried to busy myself with a stack of charts on the desk. I couldn't concentrate. Room 712; I knew I had to get back to 712. I hurried down the hall nearly in a run. I opened the door. Mr Williams lay unmoving. I reached for his pulse. There was none. "Code 99, Room 712. Code 99. Stat." The alert was shooting through the hospital within seconds after I called the switchboard through the intercom by the bed. Mr. Williams had had a cardiac arrest. With lightning speed I leveled the bed and bent over his mouth, breathing air into his lungs. I positioned my hands over his chest and compressed. One, two, three. I tried to count. At fifteen I moved back to his mouth and breathed as deeply as I could. Where was help? Again I compressed and breathed. Compressed and breathed. He could not die! "O God," I prayed. "His daughter is coming. Don't let it end this way."
The door burst open. Doctors and nurses poured into the room pushing emergency equipment. A doctor took over the manual compression of the heart. A tube was inserted through his mouth as an airway. Nurses plunged syringes of medicine into the intravenous tubing. I connected the heart monitor. Nothing. Not a beat. My own heart pounded. "God, don't let it end like this. Not in bitterness and hatred. His daughter is coming. Let her find peace."
"Stand back," cried a doctor. I handed him the paddles for the electrical shock to the heart. He placed them on Mr. Williams' chest. Over and over we tried. But nothing. No response. Mr. Williams was dead. A nurse unplugged the oxygen. The gurgling stopped. One by one they left, grim and silent. How could this happen? How? I stood by his bed, stunned. A cold wind rattled the window, pelting the panes with snow. Outside -- everywhere -- it seemed a bed of blackness, cold and dark. How could I face his daughter?
When I left the room, I saw her against the wall by the water fountain. A doctor who had been inside 712 only moments before stood at her side, talking to her, gripping her elbow. Then he moved on, leaving her slumped against the wall. Such pathetic hurt reflected from her face. Such wounded eyes. She knew. The doctor had told her that her father was gone. I took her hand and led her into the nurses' lounge. We sat on little green stools, neither saying a word. She stared straight ahead at a pharmaceutical calendar, glass faced, almost breakable-looking.
"Janie, I'm so, so sorry," I said. It was pitifully inadequate.
"I never hated him, you know. I loved him," she said.
God please help her, I thought. Suddenly she whirled toward me. "I want to see him."
My first thought was, Why put yourself through more pain? Seeing him will only make it worse. But I got up and wrapped my arm around her. We walked slowly down the corridor to 712. Outside the door I squeezed her hand, wishing she would change her mind about going inside. She pushed open the door. We moved to the bed, huddled together, taking small steps in unison. Janie leaned over the bed and buried her face in the sheets. I tried not to look at her at this sad, sad goodbye. I backed against the bedside table. My hand fell upon a scrap of yellow paper. I picked it up. It read:
I forgive you.
I pray you will also forgive me.
I know that you love me.
I love you too.
The note was shaking in my hands as I thrust it toward Janie. She read it once. Then twice. Her tormented face grew radiant. Peace began to glisten in her eyes. She hugged the scrap of paper to her breast.
"Thank You, God," I whispered, looking up at the window. A few crystal stars blinked through the blackness. A snowflake hit the window and melted away, gone forever... I crept from the room and hurried to the phone. I would call my father. I would say, "I love you."
that I see you walk out the door,
I would give you a hug and kiss
and call you back for one more.
If I knew it would be the last time
I'd hear your voice lifted up in praise,
I would video tape each action and word,
so I could play them back day after day.
If I knew it would be the last time,
I could spare an extra minute or two
to stop and say I love you,
instead of assuming you would KNOW I do.
If I knew it would be the last time
I would be there to share your day,
well I'm sure you'll have so many more,
so I can let just this one slip away.
For surely there's always tomorrow
to make up for an oversight,
and we always get a second chance
to make everything right.
There will always be another day
to say our I love you's,
And certainly there's another chance
to say our "Anything I can do's?"
But just in case I might be wrong,
and today is all I get,
I'd like to say how much I love you
and I hope we never forget,
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone,
young or old alike,
And today may be the last chance you get
to hold your loved one tight.
So if you're waiting for tomorrow,
why not do it today?
For if tomorrow never comes,
you'll surely regret the day,
That you didn't take that extra time
for a smile, a hug, or a kiss
and you were too busy to grant someone,
what turned out to be their one last wish.
So hold your loved ones close today,
whisper in their ear,
Tell them how much you love them
and that you'll always hold them dear,
Take time to say "I'm sorry, please forgive me,"
"thank you" or "it's okay".
And if tomorrow never comes,
you'll have no regrets about today.
Love me now, while I can know
The sweet and tender feelings,
Those from true affection flow.
Love me now while I am living,
Do not wait until I'm gone
And then chisel them in marble,
Sweet words on ice-cold stone.
If you have tender thoughts of me,
Please tell me now.
If you wait until I am sleeping,
Death as come between us
And I won't hear you then.
So if you know you love me,
Even a little bit,
Let me know while I am living,
So I can treasure it.
And I'm not there to see,
If the sun should rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me.
I wish so much you wouldn't cry
The way you did today,
While thinking of the many things
We didn't get to say.
I know how much you love me
As much as I love you,
And each time that you think of me,
I know you'll miss me too.
I thought of all the yesterdays,
The good ones and the bad,
I thought of all the love we shared,
And all the fun we had.
If I could relive yesterday,
Just even for a while,
I'd say good-bye and kiss you
And maybe see you smile.
But then I fully realized
That this could never be,
For emptiness and memories
Would take the place of me.
You have been so faithful,
So trusting and so true.
Though there were times
You did some things you shouldn't do.
But you have been forgiven,
And now at last you're free
To live and love and treasure
Your memories of me.
So when tomorrow starts without me,
Don't think we're far apart,
For every time you think of me
I'm right there, in your heart.