Those were the last words uttered by the late former President George H. W. Bush. It was in reply to his son, President George W. Bush’s statement of “I love you” on the phone to his father shortly before the elder died. Both of the Bush men were sentimentalists so it’s no surprise that this would be a common exchange between the two of them. Both were easy to shed a tear as well, as was evidenced by George W’s emotional eulogy to his father.
Biographer Jon Meacham also gave a eulogy for “41,” as George H.W. was often referred to. It was not known until after he gave his eulogy that Meacham had actually read it to President Bush before he passed. Bush’s response was something along the lines “that’s an awful lot about me.” Afterwards I thought what a beautiful thing for someone to do for you: read the eulogy they’re going to give about you at your funeral so you can hear it for yourself before you die.
Between the “I love yous” and listening to your own eulogy made me think that a whole lot more of that needs to be done while we are all living. Why not tell the people who we cherish in our lives “I love you” more often? Why save the eulogy until they’re dead? Let them hear it now. Men, more than women, have a much harder time doing this. In my generation, we didn’t witness as young men a whole lot of affection between our parents. We knew they loved each other and us, but they didn’t show many outward signs of love. The same went for anything dealing with the death of a loved one: “Big boys don’t cry” and “You can’t cry, you have to be brave” we were told. So, we kept the stiff upper lip and masked how we really were feeling. It was how our fathers were raised, it’s not their fault. But you can change that.
Fathers, do not tell your sons that it’s weak for them to cry. It doesn’t make them less of a boy, young adult or man — trust me. Put down the newspaper and go out and play hoops with him; refuse the optional overtime so you can have dinner with him; take him to get ice cream for no reason at all. Give him a living example of what a “real man” is so he can pass on the same traits to his sons one day. By doing this you are writing your own beautiful eulogy to maybe be read to you one day before you die. You’ll be surprised at how the littlest things will end up making the biggest impression in their lives. To have it read back to you will make you realize what a positive impact you had on his life and make you proud of not only the man you were, but the man your son has now become.
And above all else, say “I love you” at least once a day, if not more. None of us knows the hour upon which we will be called from this earth, so whenever your son says, “I love you,” respond “I love you, too.” If they’re the last words either of you ever speak, you won’t have to write a eulogy — you’ll already lived it.
Dennis Stieber is a Norwalk resident.