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Friday, April 20 Opinion

Out of the Woods / I never had a chance to say goodbye

When my telephone rang early on the morning of Feb. 15, I looked at the name on the little screen on the phone. It read: "Roy Dickinson."

My first reaction was to look at my calendar next to my computer. My wife and I had not seen Roy and his wife, Betsy, for a spell, and I figured he wanted to get together again. I was happy to be hearing from my friend, whom I had first met when we were both members of the Representative Town Meeting in 1970, and who was my tennis partner over the years.

Until I actually picked up the phone.

It was Betsy. Calmly but sadly, she told me that Roy had died at home the previous day of heart failure. I tried to comfort her, but to be perfectly honest, my very first thought was simply this: I never got a chance to say goodbye.

As one grows older in Westport after a good many years of enjoying life in this wonderful place, this kind of telephone call seems to be occurring more and more often. I am sure that many of you who have been here for some time, are having similar experiences.

This is not the first time this thought has come to me. It's happened too often in recent years. When Tracy Sugarman's wife. Gloria Cole, called me awhile back to let me know that Tracy had quietly slipped away after saying he was going upstairs for a nap, I actually blurted out: "Gloria, I never had a chance to say goodbye to him."

She replied, spontaneously: "Neither did I."

She meant it just as seriously as I did.

If you're getting on in years, this message is not intended to make you feel badly. I do not mean it to be a downer, rather to share with some of you out there this teachable moment in our lives.

Not to throw around too many cliches, I am beginning to understand how valuable time with family and friends really is. I am starting to take in nature around me, read more, listen to music more, spend more time doing what I want to do, not what I think I have to do.

Some call this period the beginnings of wisdom.

This transition to one's "senior" years takes some getting used to. I know many of you agree with that. Wherever I go in Westport, conversation with people seems to center around physical rehabilitation, exercise, walking, or -- if we are lucky -- where to take a vacation.

I'll admit that the subject of one's health comes up more often than I would like. My standard reply when asked how I am: "Fine." I find that the more I say this the better I feel. I also tends to shorten conversations I would rather not have about health.

When I asked a 95-year-old friend recently, how does she stay in such good humor, look so healthy, still drive a car and enjoy life so much, she replied with a smile: "I try very hard not to complain about what I cannot do any more, but emphasize what I can do."

I hasten to add that I am not minimizing the loss of a loved one. For all of us, that can be a personal -- and almost unbearable -- tragedy. But what I have learned from listening to others and admiring how they deal with the setbacks in life, is that we have no alternative but to cope the best way we can, individually and collectively.

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That's what I like, indeed, cherish about my fellow Westporters. We go out of our way to help one another. We see our individual lives as part of a larger community that cares. Why do I dwell on all this? Maybe it's this time of the year. Maybe we should just say "Hello" and "Goodbye" more often so we won't wish we had after it's too late.

Woody Klein is a Westport writer and his "Out of the Woods" column appears every other Friday. He can be reached at wklein11@aol.com .