One of my favorite things about college life is winter break. This is a time when a lot of college students can return home to spend the holidays with their families. It’s a good time to reconnect, share stories, and visit with those whom they haven’t seen while they’re away at school. Too often, though, people take this time off for granted, using it to work extra hours, party their time away, or sleep in all day to make up for hours lost studying. My hope this upcoming break is that everyone make an effort to spend as much quality time with their loved ones as they can. There was a time when I took these opportunities for granted, but my life has changed in ways that I now cherish every minute I get with my family.
I was celebrating my 21st birthday in Traverse City, Mich., spending an awesome weekend with good friends, partying and having fun. My mom was in South Carolina with my little sister, enjoying some much-needed vacation. My mom had been fighting cancer for five years, and together with some family friends, she decided it was a good time to do some traveling. Her health had been deteriorating, but not so much that she felt she should postpone the trip. So there I was, drinking like a fish on my birthday with not a worry in the world, when I received a phone call from my mom’s best friend. She informed me that they were coming home early, and my mom’s health seemed to be failing. She needed to see her doctor as soon as possible, so we met back at our home in Midland the next day. The doctor wasn’t quite sure why my mom’s health was declining so quickly. She had cancer, but that was nothing new and her health had previously been stable. Within two weeks my mom went from a completely upright and coherent person, slipped into an unresponsive coma, and died. Several doctors, specialists and experts told us repeatedly that they had never in their careers seen a patient deteriorate so quickly. They simply couldn’t explain it any way other than it was her time.
Fast forward two years: my little sister was 21 and recovering well from the sudden loss of her mother. She was an Emergency Medical Technician with Mobile Medical Response out of Saginaw. She was going to school to be a nurse, and being recognized at her job for a great work ethic. Pretty exceptional for a 21 year old with absolutely no parental support system. I was in the Army, stationed at Ft. Carson, Colo. My little sister texted my wife at 6:12 a.m. eastern time; 4:12 a.m. my time in Colorado; we didn’t reply because we were asleep. Three hours later, I was at work on staff duty, when I got a phone call. The phone call felt eerily like the phone call I received on my 21st birthday, except this time it was my grandfather, who was sobbing. My little sister was driving to work shortly after 6 a.m., on her way to a job where she saves other people’s lives. No one knows why, but she didn’t stop at a stop sign on a back country road. Ninety nine percent of the time, this would never be a problem, because how many cars are traveling on rural roads at six in the morning? But that morning, at that exact instant, there was a car driving 60 miles per hour, which hit her in precisely the right spot to take her life. The police report indicated that the collision took place at approximately 6:18 am, or six minutes after she texted my wife.
Ever hear that saying “one phone call can change your life?” I can attest to its accuracy, several times over. There are no explanations for these events other than every person has “their time.” Every time I fight with my wife, or disagree with a friend, I think of these events. I remember the feelings of those phone calls.
Next week is Thanksgiving, followed closely by Christmas and the New Year. These holiday times are often difficult for those who have experienced loss. What I find more interesting though, is that these times are often difficult for those individuals who have a hard time getting along with their families. We often don’t take the time to appreciate what people mean to us, or how our lives would be affected if they were taken from us. It happens to everyone, and it will happen to you. Eventually, someone you love will be taken from you far sooner than you are prepared to let them go.
Many people say it, but I feel like it can’t be said enough. Tell your family you love them. Make amends for those you have hurt, and forgive those who have hurt you. Spend time with your family before you don’t have the chance to. It is easy to lose touch with family and friends when students leave home and go to college. Students are often busy and ignore phone calls or e-mails that arrive at inconvenient times. That’s why this holiday season, with the time afforded to college students between semesters, I hope everyone takes the opportunity to strengthen the bonds of their family. I can guarantee it is a decision you will never regret.