An old saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second best is today.”
We all have regrets about those things left undone. Whether it’s buying life insurance or simply writing a thank you note, when we’ve missed the “optimal” window to act, we often feel paralyzed into inaction. The consequences of never acting can be tragic. We all know stories of new young families delaying the purchase of life insurance only to have the breadwinning parent diagnosed with a terminal disease, or of those words never said between estranged family members before the chance for healing and closure runs out.
We don’t like to think about wills, living wills and last wishes. There’s a subtle, almost superstitious thought that writing down one’s last wishes will somehow summon that end. That’s not what you should be worried about. I’ve witnessed the broken relationships and fights that are the result of family members' not knowing what mom’s end of life desires are, because she became incapacitated before making them known. That’s what you should be worried about — show your love, share your legacy by giving your loved ones a strong foundation to face difficult times and decisions.
Planting trees today isn’t just about getting our documents and end of life issues in order. It’s really about planting relationships. Recently a woman wrote in to an advice column saying that for some reason she had neglected to write thank you cards for her wedding ten years earlier. She was advised to go ahead and write that note, even if she couldn’t remember what the gift was, but just write a note of thanks for the giver's relationship and generosity. The good news is it’s not too late; the bad news is one day it will be too late.
What areas of your life need to be taken care of today? What trees can be planted, nurtured, given room to grow? Even in my work with Alzheimer and dementia patients, I’ve noticed that over time, even if a patient doesn’t ever recognize me, he or she becomes more comfortable. Somewhere, there is a sliver of recognition, a small tree, even planted in that rocky soil, and true relationship continues, begins or mends.
Whatever day you begin to get your life and heart in order, have the confidence of knowing that this is the second best day ever to do it. Establish roots for the next generation and may your heart find shelter in that promise.