Follow the Signs

(Recently I competed in a Toastmasters speech competition and I had some folks request that I write down the speech on my blog. Of course, most people write their speech before they perform it but I have the strange habit of creating speeches without writing them down. This speech was really created to be told so it relies on gesture and vocal variation and even musical performance but even without that dimension I believe it’s a very powerful personal story and I hope you like it)

From the time they are very small, children learn to recognize graphics, or pictures, or small words and read signs.
We follow signs our entire life. We use signs to tell us where we can go, where we can’t go and where to go when we really have to go. The signs I’m talking about today are not so explicit. They are the signs that we see, or feel, from the inside. Let me give you an example:
When I was only twelve years old, my dad got very sick and needed to have open heart surgery. The procedure didn’t go very well and he suffered a stroke during the operation. Over the next several months my dad was in and out of the hospital never seeming to get any better.
I can still remember – I can actually feel it – that Wednesday morning when my mom hugged me so tight and then told me “you’re dad died last night”. The surprising thing was that I wasn’t surprised. I knew what Mom was going to say as soon as she hugged me so very tight. It didn’t matter that my sister and others kept telling me things like “you know Dad, he’ll be up pounding nails on somebody’s roof in no time”; evidently I knew what was really going to happen. I must have seen the signs.
I loved my dad – he was a ‘man’s’ man, a real man – no mamby-pamby stuff for him. He was even a little scary. I never told my dad that I loved him. I figured he’d be embarrassed or ashamed that I would say something so silly. At that point, I had lost the opportunity to ever tell him how I felt. I carried that regret inside of me for years. Eventually I made a commitment to myself that I would tell everyone I cared about how I felt about them.
It was easy to tell my mom that I loved her – I was a mama’s boy. I’m still a mama’s boy! And I could tell my sister, Shirley, about anything and that included that I loved her. Then there was my big brother, Dave – a real chip off the old block – a man’s man, a real man. No mamby-pamby stuff for him either and yeah, he was a little scary too.
I even practiced telling him –
“I love you man”;
“hey speaking of that, I love you”.
No, that wasn’t gonna work! But, I’d made a commitment and the next time I talked to him…
(talking on the phone) … okay, well I’ll talk to you next time – love you – goodbye (quickly hanging up the phone). “Hah, I did it!”
Wait a minute, the phone’s ringing… “Hello?” (mouthing “it’s my brother”) “Really?” “Thank you” (hangs up phone).
“He told me he loved me too – I never knew”.
That simple but very difficult phone call led to motorcycle trips and camping trips and ice fishing trips that even provided some humorous stories at Toastmaster meetings over the years. And it also led to times where we helped each other over life’s rough spots. It went far beyond brotherhood and to close friendship.

Unfortunately, my brother’s health closely followed that of my dad’s and over the years, Dave had many problems including heart disease and diabetes. It came to a head last year when his heart started to fall apart and we spent quite a bit of time in the hospital getting things to work again. Eventually, they seemed to get it working right but he didn’t seem to be improving the way he should have been so we ended up heading to Rochester to have things checked out at the Mayo Clinic. After a few days, the doctors gave us the news. Dave was full of cancer. It was very advanced. There was no cure. They have him a few months to live and he headed home to northern Minnesota live out the rest of his time.
I had a week’s vacation coming and I figured that after it was over I would head up to Dave’s to spend some quality time with him and start on things he had asked me to help with. My wife recognized the signs first and said you need to get up there right now – Dave needs you to be there. I knew that she was right and I headed up to Dave’s. The morning after I got there, we were working together and getting things done. As I sat next to him on the couch, he sneezed four times. After the third sneeze, I looked at him and he had a look of terror on his face. At that moment, he and I both realized that his time was already at hand. I told him that if he needed to go, it was okay. He sneezed one more time and was gone.
That night as I was alone in the room where he had passed away, I picked up my guitar which I often travel with and took solace in my music but instead of the songs that I typically play, a song that I had never heard before kept coming into my head and was flowing through my hands into the guitar. Over the next few days as things got so busy, that song kept running through my mind but every time I tried to write down the words, I couldn’t pull them out. But thirty minutes before Dave’s memorial service was about to start, I pulled out a piece of paper and the entire song flowed from me onto the page. I played the song, “I Love You – Goodbye”, for family and friends at the memorial service.

I had to say goodbye to you today ‘cause God brought you home

I didn’t’ think there was nearly enough time, with these things you never know

You knew it was time to go but you didn’t want to leave us behind

It’s okay – I love you – Goodbye

Your stories were the center of attention when you were around

My kids and grandkids always laughed so hard whenever you came to town

They always got so excited every time that you dropped by

And for that I love you – Goodbye

Yeah, you had your troubles

And I had some too

But we grew so close together

As we helped each other through

My world seems so empty now that you’ve gone home

I know it’ll begin to fill again as I begin to move on

But I’ll always have a place for you and I’ll keep it right here inside

I won’t forget how much I love you – Good bye

Don’t forget how much I love you – Goodbye

We are all given a life to live but that live does not come without hurt and sadness and loss, but if you listen with your heart and follow the signs you can live a life with less regret and more loving memories – follow the signs.

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One Response to Follow the Signs

  1. Shirley says:

    That was so beautiful and sad. I lived those moments with you through your story. Thank you for being able to put them into such beautiful words. I love you.

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