She made it to the finish line. The retirement announcement. The fancy party. The tearful videos and testimonies. Thirty years of service. An increasingly rare achievement these days. Most don’t get to the gold watch anymore, but she did. It was time to go out with style.
If she started teaching right out of college, she could retire in he early 50s. So young! She said she wanted to spend time with her parents, still living. She could now travel to see them whenever she wanted. Her own daughter had started teaching and she would volunteer in her classroom. She would enjoy her grandchildren.
When she retired, she had been my colleague for only one year. We did not see eye to eye on many things, but I respected her. And she will always be the person who helped me get the job that got my daughter into the school she needed to go to. For that I am grateful.
Now it is just a hair more than two years later, and her family is saying goodbye to her in hospice care. Her parents. Her children. Her grandchildren. Her husband. Friends, colleagues, all of them. It was only a few weeks after she retired that we learned she had aggressive cancer. It has been a sometimes slow, sometimes quicker downhill slide ever since.
I can’t say that I knew her very long or very well. I know she loved her family dearly. I know many of my colleagues are deeply grieving the sad decline of a good friend and mentor.
Why do these things happen? Just when she finally made it to the finish line, and the rest of life was just getting started, a new finish line was put before her, much much sooner than anticipated or planned.
The lesson I am reminded of is this: don’t wait for some future benchmark or goal to start living. Don’t put things off that you want to do or be or become. Take the trip of your dreams. Tell the person what you need to say. Dream and dare often.
It’s a lesson that my parents’ early deaths taught me long ago. Just when they got to the time of life for grandchildren and travel, they lost their health and then their lives.
We never know when our time will end. We may hope to live to a ripe old age, but there’s no promise of that. Make each day matter, before time runs out.