The Things That Matter

Comments 43


One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite shows had a man sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed talking on the phone to his ex-wife sitting on the edge of her bed.

He had just learned she was dying of cancer.

His eyes well with tears and he calls her by his pet name for her. His voice breaks.

Her eyes well with tears because she hears this stoic figure breaking on the other end of the phone.

No one says anything, but they don’t have to, because the audience gets it. A silent moment where so much is happening. Two people who have completely let go of every ounce of anger and resentment toward one another because their time is short and they’re not going to waste any of it on anger. Two people focusing not on all the bad times, but on all the good.

He can’t speak.

She says: “I know.”

And we know that she does.

This was the end. Sadness and regret. Because it used to be so good and beautiful.

And they both remember those times.

The things that matter.

A Letter from my Grandmother

I’ve joked many times in this space about what will happen if my grandmother ever read my writing here, and about other things. Because I use a lot of bad words and occasionally write about mature themes, the working theory is that my super-sweet, kind, prayerful grandma will read it and then have a stroke and die.

I am her first grandchild, and was for nearly seven years. I am closer in age to my grandma’s youngest child than I am to her second grandchild.

I think when we are lying on our deathbeds, we are going to think about the life we lived and it’s going to be painfully obvious to us where our missed opportunities were. Where we failed to meet some standard to which we hold ourselves.

I think most of us are too afraid.

To go on that adventure.

To give up the day job.

To kiss the girl.

To dance.

To leap.

We like to do things that feel safe, and I think in the end we are going to regret all the chances we didn’t take. All the safe, comfortable choices we made.

And I think when we’re dying we are going to only think about the things that matter. The people we love and the people who love us. The people who shared in our pleasure and pain and celebrated or suffered along with us.

I’ve written a lot about what a charmed upbringing I had, despite not having much money. My childhood is the ultimate example of how money and having lots of “things” has never, and will never provide the happiness and contentment we seek.

I was happy because my family loved me, paid attention to me, treated me well, and always made me feel safe. My friends did the same.

That’s why adulthood has felt so uninspired. At times, so disappointing.

That’s why divorce was so hard. Because I’d never really felt the kind of pain divorce causes. When you’ve never bled before, I think the pain of the cut and the sight of blood is more traumatic than it is to those with battle scars.

My grandmother—a wonderful, kind woman; the matriarch of a large family (eight children and 19 grandchildren)—is largely responsible for the envelope of love, happiness and contentment in which I was raised.

She wrote me a letter.

Dear Matt,

Time goes so fast. I want to write you a letter and let you know how much you are loved. The time we came to Iowa. You got lost at 2 years old. We were to blame. I was so scared. But we found you and all was well.

The time I flew out with you to Iowa so you could be in Debbie’s wedding, and when we left, you sobbed for a half hour on the plane and I couldn’t fix it. You didn’t want to leave your dad. The time you went out to live with your dad when you were a junior in high school. Oh, how I missed you. I’m so glad you decided to stay here for your senior year and graduate with all your friends.

I remember all the times just you and I went to lunch together when you were little. It was so special for me to have you with me. I love you so.

As grandpa and I are getting older we want you to know how much we love you and always will. Our time on this earth is so much shorter than it was and I don’t want to waste any time, so I hope you know how much we care for you and our great-grandson.

Matt, you’re a good father and we are proud of the man you have become.

Just know we love you and always will. 

Grandma and Grandpa

How will we know? What matters, and what doesn’t?

We won’t always know while it’s happening.

But I think one day we will.

I think, one day, we’ll just know.

43 thoughts on “The Things That Matter”

    1. It means a lot to me that you think so. I’m so grateful you take time to read at all. Thank you for the sweet note.

      1. Your post showed those painful, sorrowful times that do exist – past the difficult and into the aching, which can be beautiful. In my mind, It’s very difficult to reconcile that that pain is “ok” when the divorce had to happen. Maybe reconciling is the wrong word to use. Perhaps it’s enough to accept and acknowledge that divorcing will bring those moments no matter what. I try and make sense of the emotions – Ha!! I read and I like what you write. Sometimes though, I’m a little too tender on certain subjects to get into it but I would guess you understand that. Thank you for writing. Jayne

  1. Ah, now we see where your beautiful writing comes from… your lovely grandmother. What a powerful letter, an absolute treasure. Thank you for the reminder to let go of the little things. I needed that.

    1. Yeah? Where did your beautiful writing come from, Jennifer?

      Thank you for reading. Super-lucky that she’s my grandmother.

      1. For the record, I just saw MY favorite show’s season finale tonight. (We watch it one night behind because it comes on too late for my other half, who wakes far too early in the morning to stay up for MM.) I suspected that the beautiful moment you described was from the show I had yet to watch. Sigh.
        And none of my people were writers. But I suspect my father was a sentimental dreamer and I know my mother was a survivor. I may have gleaned a sliver from each. Here’s hoping.
        Thank you for the compliment and for not spoiling the show.

      1. It’s good to remember what’s important. It helps me see through the grey a little more clearly. 🙂

    1. I appreciate you saying so. I was really conscious of how I felt reading my grandmother recall these little moments with me. I think that feeling is an important indicator of what matters.

  2. It’s so interesting … how your grandmother sent you such a thoughtful letter. It’s a lost art, the letter. And yet you (a writer) are her grandson. There’s something special there, Matt. A legacy of words. It warms my heart.

    1. OH! and – I know it’s popped up in the comments a couple of times but this is too opportune to miss: You MUST watch the classic movie, “Mother.” (starring Debbie Reynolds and Albert Brooks) I think you will enjoy it for many, many, MANY reasons….. trust Sarah. She knows…. 😉

      1. Sorry I’m just getting around to this. Not sure what my problem is. But A. Thank you for the nice comments, and B. Thank you for the movie recommendation. I’m sure you’re probably right.

  3. This moved me. A lot. I just came across some postcards and letters from my own grandmother as I was going through some of my things over the weekend. The one-year anniversary of her death is a couple of weeks from now, and I miss her very, very much.

    After my divorce was finalized, I decided that regret was no longer an option. As I began choosing to live more intentionally, I found myself naturally not allowing any opportunity to add potential goodness to my life pass me by. It has required courage, but I’ve only experienced blessing by pushing through the fear. So far, at least. 🙂

    1. Living more intentionally is a pretty fantastic way to phrase it.

      I’m trying to do the same.

  4. Matt, I love seeing MBTTTR in my inbox. It’s such a comfort to read your posts! What a gift from your Grandma to you. Love and connection Is ALL that really matters in this world, and you shine light on that notion every time you write your posts and share with us. Thank You….
    p.s. awesome ending to MM huh ? loved that it inspired you.

    1. I’m getting extra-nice comments today. I don’t know what to say. This was really nice to read. And yes. Some people didn’t like the end, but I did. For many reasons. That scene described was maybe the fifth-best in the entire episode.

  5. What a lovely post. Poignant and bittersweet.

    I work with people at the end of their lives. What really surprised me is that what so many of them treasure about their lives is the heartbreak, not with regret, but with gratitude for having gotten to experience it. Lost loves some 60 years past, rejections, being widowed. It’s the pain of having risked it all for love that they treasure as one of their greatest accomplishments. So when you hear those words, “it’s better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all,” there is real truth there.

    1. I enjoyed this comment very much.

      I bet there are unlimited lessons to be learned from working with people near the end of their lives.

  6. Elizabeth Voss

    Lovely and beautifully written. My thought is your grandmother would be very proud of your blog and the realness of your heartfelt thoughts and expressions. The salty language may not be her cup of tea, but it doesn’t diminish you in any way. It is authentic. And even though your perception of your grandmother is clouded by love and awe – you know she is real too. In keeping with the idea of no regrets, I would tell her about the blog, and warn her about the language and subject matter. Let her decide if she wants to read it. Don’t deny her the opportunity to see and love every aspect of you. By the way, please share the name of the TV show or movie you referenced.

    1. Hi Elizabeth. Thank you so much for this. I’m really sorry it has taken me so long to write back. #timemanagement

      One of these days it is my intention to publish books. She will inevitably see those when they’re finished.

      Scary! 🙂

    1. My apologies for missing this one. I got to see her over the long weekend a couple times. It was fantastic. Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment.

  7. You said “I think when we’re dying we are going to only think about the things that matter” however, I would like to challenge that thought with an alternate thought. I think we are all dying, just some with differing timelines. Each day lived is 1 day less we get to live moving forward. Every man dies but not every man lives. So why not only think about what matters here and now? You’re grandmother sounds like an absolute blessing that not all gets to be blessed with in their life – a prayer warrior that speaks life into you. So precious!

    1. She is very much that. I’m very blessed.

      One of my favorite writers, Austin Kleon, makes it a habit to read at least one NY Times obit every day. He wants the daily reminder that we are not promised tomorrow and to make the most of each day.

      I think it’s a lovely idea, and I appreciate you echoing the sentiment.

      You’re right, of course.

  8. Just beautiful. Thank you again for the insight and reminder. We have to remember what matters… I too think it’s the people. So we know what to remember to focus on. Otherwise we will blow with the wind of life. Thanks again. Blessings.

    1. You’re sweet. I have a hard time imagining I’ve ever written anything better than that man, but I love that you think so, and I suppose means I should have hope that I can write things people will want to read.

      Which is a pretty amazing thing. Thank you very much for saying so.

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Matt Fray

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