It had been hours. We had waited for hours and hours. If I am honest with you, I knew there was no hope. I knew it was over. But still we waited.
Finally the moment came. Dad gathered my sister and I in the hallway and said to us it was over. Said it was time for us to turn off the machines. “Can’t we wait,” my sister said through streaming tears. “Can’t we just wait a couple days?”
But we couldn’t wait. She was already gone.
As we held each other in that sterile hallway, my sister sobbed out, “I can’t remember the last time I said I love you to her.”
“She knew,” Dad said as he stroked her hair. “We said it enough. We said it all the time. She knew.”
He was right.
There are those families that reserve their I love you’s like expensive candy in a jar, bought overseas, limited and finite. When it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s not enough for us to eat it anytime we want. There are those parents who have a hard time saying it to their kids or to each other. I know those families exist because both my parents grew up in one. For dad, I love you’s came from mom, from women. Men don’t say I love you. For mom, love was even more limited.
But my parents didn’t buy it. They threw around I love you’s like cheap paper confetti. On our way out the door, an I love you. On birthdays, I love you’s written on red cardstock from Hallmark, from both Mom and Dad. Random hugs in the kitchen. I love you’s when we succeeded and everyone applauded. I love you’s when we failed and wept on the couch next to them. I love you’s choked out at the airport before flights to Paris and in front of college dormitories. I love you’s before we had a chance to put our bags down when we came back home.
Our home was carpeted in tossed-around I love you’s. They weren’t precious, to be saved. They were to be used generously, not a pinch of exotic sea salt, but cup after cup of store-brand sugar.
We were never a perfect family. Sometimes my parents yelled at us or punished us for things they said later weren’t that big of a deal. And my sister and I talked back to them, told lies, disrespected them from time to time. We had a few terrible fights, tears, things said we wished we could take back. But we always came back to I love you. Always.
Dad was right. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t remember the last time we had said these words. We couldn’t remember where we both were sitting or what the circumstance was. We couldn’t remember because I love you’s were common. They were too ordinary. Not special enough to be a remarkable moment. The floor of our home and our hearts was carpeted in this paper confetti – who could see where the last one fell? It was unremarkable because it was another on an infinite pile. I love you’s for every minute of every day of our lives.
I learned some time ago to say what I feel. Sometimes I go too far with this, I will admit, but I want people to know what they mean to me. I have learned a few hard lessons – that sometimes people that you deeply love disappear from your life too quickly, and it’s too late to tell them you love them. So now I throw I love you’s around like paper confetti. And I am so glad I do.
Because she knew. We said I love you all the time.