Testify at People’s Birthdays, Not Their Funerals

Beach near San José del Cabo, Mexico at sunrise

Today is the day, nine years ago, that my late wife, Pam Bricker, left this-here junkyard world. This post is in tribute to her, but it is NOT about her (please, NO condolence messages). It’s actually about YOU. And me. About how we are with each other.

This is something that’s been eating at me since Pam’s memorial service. On that day, people got up and said moving and beautiful things about her, like people always do at funerals. Some of those people I know she had always wondered about – what they really thought about her. Without ever hearing much from them one way or the other, she just assumed they didn’t like her. But here they were speaking lovingly about her and the positive impact she’d had on their lives. As I sat there and listened, I couldn’t help but flush with anger. WHY didn’t you tell her that while she was alive!? Ever since, that thought has formed a regular refrain in my head. Why DO we not tell people what we think about them, especially the good stuff, while they’re alive? Why do we wait until they’re dead to truly celebrate them and account for their place in our lives? I was talking to my son, Blake, about all this recently and he said: “We should think of the sorts of things we might say about someone at their funeral and say those things TO THEM on their birthday.” YES. Exactly! Let’s do this.

So, in that spirit, I suggest we make it a priority to not let the people we love, appreciate, and admire die without them not knowing what we think about them and why. We all leave birthday messages on people’s FB walls, usually a simple “Happy Birthday.” Why not sometimes use that opportunity to tell the person WHY you’re happy it’s their birthday. Why you’re glad they’re in the world. If we did this on people’s birthdays, then at least one day a year they’d have some heart-felt appreciation to look forward to.

Another aspect of all this is being on the receiving end. For most of us, it’s uncomfortable, even embarrassing, to get this sort of fawning attention. Even an attention whore like myself frequently gets uncomfortable when the attention I crave is actually heaped upon me. To the expresser of the love, gratitude, and admiration, it’s important to be sincere, and to the recipient, it’s important to be gracious about the praise. (And to appreciate that it may have been difficult for the person offering the praise to have done so.)

Some of you may be reading this and thinking: “But in this Facebook/social media era, people fritter away their whole damn day “liking” and “favoriting” and engaging in other frequently hollow push-button virtual praising. Why does he think we suddenly need more of this?” A fair point. There’s probably been no time in history where it’s easier to share a basic gesture/statement of praise with fellow members of the human herd. And we’ve all become suckers for such gestures. We are the “Like” Generation. But what I’m talking about goes deeper than this. Again, there’s the birthday example. It’s really great to get dozens and dozens of “Happy Birthday!” messages, but wouldn’t it be even better to hear from at least some of those people WHY they’re actually happy that you exist in this world? Let’s not be afraid to go deeper. It matters.

Oh, and of course, by all means: Let’s tell each other (gasp) IN PERSON! Please, let’s not lose the ability to meaningfully interact in person.

While I was working on this post, I ran into a piece on Thought Catalog. It expresses a similar impulse, in a slightly different (and perhaps more potent) way:

“I love being horribly straightforward. I love sending reckless text messages (because how reckless can a form of digitized communication be?) and telling people I love them and telling people they are absolutely magical humans and I cannot believe they really exist. I love saying, “Kiss me harder,” and “You’re a good person,” and, “You brighten my day.” I live my life as straight-forward as possible. Because one day, I might get hit by a bus.

“I know how it is—we all want to be mysterious. None of us want to get hurt. None of us want to look desperate. So we WAIT to respond to texts, phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, Tweets. So we communicate our emotions in how we end our messages (no period this time? Really gonna get them.). So we say vague, half-statements and expect people to read our minds.

“Maybe it’s weird. Maybe it’s scary. Maybe it seems downright impossible to just be—to just let people know you want them, need them, feel like, in this very moment, you will die if you do not see them, hold them, touch them in some way whether its your feet on their thighs on the couch or your tongue in their mouth or your heart in their hands.

“We never know who needs us back. We never know the magic that can arise between ourselves and other humans.

“We never know when the bus is coming.”

Tell The People You Love That You Love Them

Published by Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and "lazy person's memoir," called Borg Like Me.

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