I was about eight when my mom told me grandpa was in the hospital in Boston. I'd only seen him when we'd visited his home on St. Thomas, and maybe a couple of times he and Mimi came to see us. I remember him politely ignoring us as he finished his bowl of cereal. Then he'd be gone for the day. It was clear he didn't really like us. At least that's how it felt.
I knew he was sick. And that made me sad. So I wrote him a letter which my mom sent to Mass. General. There wasn't anything else I could do. I don't remember what I wrote in the letter, but my mom told me it had touched him when he read it. She said he read it over and over again. It was probably a simple letter. I most likely told him I loved him and I hoped he got better soon. I'd signed it, "Your friend Betsy". Maybe my mom was trying to make me feel good. All I know is that before he died I was able to connect with him...through a letter. I didn't visit him in the hospital. I was devastated when she told me he'd died. I curled up next to her and sobbed. He was gone. And I already missed him. I had always missed him.
That simple moment in which my effort to connect was acknowledged taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life. To tell someone that you love them and that they are your friend. No matter what. If they've made a difference in your life tell them. It's never too late. And sometimes late is best.
No one has to be wise, or loving, generous or kind, a mentor or a best friend. They have to have been born. That's what I'd learned from this very good moment in my life. Every one of us wants to feel loved.
My grandfather, Harold Kelley, gave his gift to me as he was leaving this world. He let me know that what I'd said to him in a difficult moment at the end of his life mattered.