Three Minute Conversation

It was a three minute conversation on a stairwell that turned me inside out and brought tears to my eyes.

We were both volunteers at a local elementary school and I stepped out of my room to stretch my back as he was approaching. He was 75 years old, but looked younger and in the space of 30 seconds he told me that his wife of 53 years had just died and then he added  “I didn’t know what I had”, and began to cry softly.

Married 41 years myself, I felt immediate compassion for this gentleman who told me that she had developed ALS and died “without dignity.”  He relayed how he would carry her to the bathroom and even told me that he found himself wishing she would die. Racked with a combination of guilt, loss, and grief, he continued to say “I didn’t know what I had.”

I touched his shoulder and told him it is clear to me how much he loved her, and that she would live on in his heart and mind. He just shook his head and cried, and I knew that his grief was in a deep place I could not massage, and that only time would soften the loss. I also knew that this was a peek at the loss many of us will feel when the love of our life suffers and dies. Unavoidable, this kind of grief waits in the shadows to clutch our hearts and stab our minds.

What I did not have the time to tell him is that I knew that he only wanted her suffering to end, that no one holds him accountable for that, and that the best of us struggle to know what it is we have, while we are having it. There is no doubt that he loved her deeply, and cared for her in sickness in a way most men could not.

Grab the moment, and squeeze it like it might be your last. Work hard at knowing what you have, and prepare for a loss that will leave you crying to a stranger during a three minute conversation in a stairwell.

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81 thoughts on “Three Minute Conversation

  1. Truly sad. We’re never prepared to part with our loved ones when the time comes. It doesn’t matter if they’re chronically ill or if they are taken by surprise. My father died early in 1995 from a heart attack and it took me years to get over it. Even still to this day, I remember him and cherish all the good times we had. He left too soon, at 58, and without being terribly sick, or at least without us knowing that he was. My heart goes to that man on the stairwell.

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  2. It’s like the man that spends most of life in total homeless poverty just sitting on a box, lamenting his being poor. One day he’s found dead and someone breaks the box and finds a treasure in gold coins. He was never even curious to open the box all those years! Never new what he had!

    Good work Mike!

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  3. Thanks, Mike…this post brought back memories of my Dad feeling much the same after my Mother’s passing from ALS in January, 1982. He never prepared himself for her death; consequently he suffered a mild stroke five weeks later.

    You have reminded us all that we should live every moment to its fullest, and thank our Creator every morning and night for what we have been given.

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  4. I think you can’t avoid sadness if you love deeply. I used to be unsure if I agreed with the following statement earlier in my life, but now I do believe it’s much better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

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      • I can’t agree more with this statement. It IS better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. With any kind of love there is always the threat that that love will one day be gone….in fact, not only is it a threat….it’s a certainty. The thing is though…the love itself never really goes away. We’re always reminded of it, and time allows us to remember it deeply and fondly. In my opinion, one of the most important things we can do is to then take that love and pass it on to others. Or as Dylan said….’I’ll see you in the sky above, in the tall grass, and in the ones I love’

        Excellent post Mike, as usual. I look forward to reading your words as much as I look forward to seeing your photography.

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      • We joke around some Alex and that is a great thing, but I also think we share thoughts and ideals that make us not only human, but friends as well. Your comments are often quite hysterical but this one is touching and very much appreciated.
        Now, let’s drink to it all.

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  5. I am so sad to hear this dear Mike. But you know to share our pains even in three minutes, is the best thing… No one can help him but to share his pain can help… I just prayed for her and for your friend. Life is always short… With my love, nia

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  6. A touching reminder – imagine a world where in every moment we were conscious of our temporary state. Certainly, we would treat our friends, family, colleagues and even ourselves with more love and compassion.

    I hope the old man overcomes his guilt and grief and shines on again one day; I watch a member of my family hurt themselves everyday over the death of a beloved that took place 16 years ago; it’s a very haunting way to live and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

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    • I think that kind of mortality in the moment thinking is almost impossible for the young. It is something I am embracing these days, well aware of what I have, while the clock ticks.
      Thanks for this comment.

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  7. As mere mortals we forget how lucky we are, as we live day to day. And then something we hope will never happen, happens. It is stories like this moment on the stairwell that reminds all of us not to take others for granted and appreciate the small gestures, the kind smile, and the friendships we have created. Thanks for sharing this story….a great reminder of what really matters.
    The Lioness

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  8. Who better than you to be in that stairwell at that moment. A caring, compassionate man. One who could in three minutes hear what was needed to be heard. ANd by passing this forward you have touched more lives than you know.

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  9. This is better than any image you could post… very touching story!! My heart breaks into a million pieces when I see someone go through this kind of loss. My mood is more somber now but really thanks for sharing.

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    • Thank you. So you don’t like my photos huh. Just kidding man. That your mood could be impacted by this says more about you than me. That kind of sensitivity and awareness is a real good quality in a young guy, so well done and pass it on. Now, get happy again and stay in touch my friend.

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  10. This reminds me of my Grandfather’s passing. My mother’s parents were so very much in love. It was evident to me as a young girl. I knew I was witnessing real love, deep love. Grandma cared for Grandpa when he was dying. She’d worn herself ragged caring for him, but she wanted to do it herself. In the last hour, she helped him to their bed, barely able to support him. They flopped back on the bed, cross-ways and she couldn’t reposition him as she was exhausted. She put a pillow under his head and he asked, “Just one more kiss?”. She did. Then she laid with him until he passed a bit later. Her will to live diminished after that. Within a couple of years she too passed away.

    While I have never greatly mourned loss of a person in my life, I have shed many a tear over a devoted dog or special animal. There is no normalcy to love… all living beings are capable of love, but some experience it in a much higher capacity, I think, in a very spiritual way and not superficially. Your story of this man is riveting… and deep.

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  11. We never know the impact we might have on another person.. even if (especially if) a stranger.. who then may become, at least in the heart, for a few moments, a friend too. Thanks for sharing this story, Mike.

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  12. What a beautiful tribute and an important reminder about life and loss, appreciating what we have and living every moment as if it’s our last.
    I lost my Dad last year to Alzheimer’s and felt so many of the things that you described above–from a daughter’s perspective. . .
    Thanks for the post, I hope you don’t mind if I reblog. . .

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  13. I can’t even express how deeply this moved me. You have a real knack for plucking at the heartstrings…

    God bless this man. And you for being there for him. Three minutes is a long time to someone receiving compassion…

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  14. Pingback: 3 Minute Conversation by Michael Fiveson « HoardingWoes & You

  15. Thank you for your beautiful post. Love lost like that is painful, but it IS better to have loved and lost for at least they had their years together. My dad is now grieving too for the loss of my mom and it is difficult to watch. But they had 71 years together and you can’t breath that! I will be following your posts now too thanks to a repost on “Hoarding Woes and You”.

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  16. Mike, I came her from Michael’s blog award page. I see you there all the time. When I read your “About” description some time ago, I didn’t believe you. I still don’t. This piece is beautifully written. You are an old social worker in your heart…deny it all you like. “It takes one to know one”. I just read one.

    I scrolled down your blog before I stopped here. It is well designed to allow me to scroll through your perfect photographs. You include just enough comment to create the settings. Allowing the photograph to speak for itself is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. You do it consistently and well. It was a real pleasure to come here.

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    • And your reputation precedes your arrival, George. I was a social worker once upon a time. I suppose I could write a more charming and sweeter “about” but really, that is also who I am, and perhaps what I choose for others to know about me. I can tell you that this blogging thing HAS sweetened me some. Thank you for your really nice words and trust that I will be cruising over to your space as well.

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      • Damn, I KNEW it. Only a social worker would have handled the situation the way you did or have described it the way you did. I disregarded your self-description and went with my old social worker gut. I suspect I’m right. 😉

        Absolutely beautiful photography, by the way.

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      • Thank you George, and yes your instincts were spot on, I once was a social worker. Now I’m just a decent human being.
        You do not have an “about” section?

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      • When I started this thing, I did not know what to do. I simply entered the Mark Twain quote about the woman who kept a parrot. I don’t know what to say in “about”. I’d end up saying pretty much what you said! That would blow my sweet little old lady persona for sure.

        Change your “about” to say: “I once was a social worker. Now I’m just a decent human being.” Maybe I’ll quote you for my “about” section!

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  17. Wow, this story has caught my attention. This is truly so sad, and like you said, a moment that awaits all of us in the shadows. You’re blog is amazing – from your excellent photography to the meaningful stories like this one. I am so glad I found your blog 🙂

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  18. Mike, I’m thankful you stopped by Hooked today and left the bread crumb to introduce me to your compassionate reflections. What a gift you gave this man, simply by being present and willing to hold his grief, and what a gift you gave your readers, in sharing this experience. I’m glad to meet you, new friend.

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  19. Thank you for writing about the realities of our lives that help to remind how precious the present moment is to all of us, and how suffering rings a different meaning in theory, in practice and in memory. Beautiful.

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  20. Living and loving, loving and dying. Pain, grief and the knowledge that love is worth it. Hard, bitter sweet, Paradox of the human experience. He got it, you get it, how lucky to know and to have love in your lives. My love to you both. xxAnne P S I like your blog very much. Brave heart.

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  21. You write with such compassion and emotional availability. I feel like I would enjoy just reading about an afternoon trip to the grocery store.

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      • Ha! Yes, that I would like to read. And the compliment was completely sincere. Your self awareness and tender yet objective point of view with an ability to craft words effortlessly. I’m still finding my voice for prose so I’m enamoured by yours

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      • This blogging world, full of people, like you, who are so free to praise the work of others. I had NO idea that I would find this kind of validation and tenderness in response to just being whatever it is I am. And I did not know that I was as self aware as you and other kind people have pointed out. So by my writing you must know that it is a bit of a wonderful surprise for me, and your comments find a resting place in my head and heart. THANK YOU.

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      • Us new breed of bohemian artists be don’t need our drink and our self loathing to create, though those still exist. Kindness and beauty is so much more exciting and vibrating. You are truly welcome.

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  22. What a sad story, written with true emotion, love and compassion…Your words have such truth to them at the end. I have to add that my Mom passed away in February; my Dad is still alive at 92 (she was 90) and they were together for 70 years…when he called old friends to tell them about her passing, he would say, “I lost my Gal.” That was so hard to listen to, just heart wrenching, and it’s been 3 months already. Time does heal, but tears still fall and memories become clearer to hold her close to our hearts. But, to spend 41 or 70 years together, first of all, in this day, it’s quite rare. It’s nice to hear you’ve been with your partner that long and we’ve been together 23…anyway, thank you again, Mike, for such an enlightening story about love and seizing the moment! Lauren

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    • I am so sad for your father’s loss, and certainly yours as well. 70 years together! Oh my. Tell him some guy in Colorado cares.
      Your beautiful and poignant comment has made me both sad and happy. Such is life.

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