“’Cause I’ve lost loved ones in the past
Who never knew how much I loved them
Now I live with the regret
That my true feelings for them never were revealed…”
– Song: “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” by Garth Brooks
It seems in life that too many times, too many people express the regret that they didn’t know more about someone special in their lives; that they didn’t tell them something before it was too late.
I am guilty of it. My oldest brother, Pete, just passed away on 12-12-12 at age 75–young by today’s standards–and now I find there are so many things I didn’t know about him, so many things I should have asked him or told him.
His passing was not totally unexpected; he had been suffering ill health for several years. But Pete was a survivor; he didn’t know the meaning of the word “can’t.” Even in defeat, he always seemed to be a winner.
I had the privilege of caring for Pete for several weeks over the past couple of months, and it gave me the chance to learn some things about him I didn’t know.
For example, I didn’t know he was an alligator wrestler for a while in his youth, among a dozen other things he did such as being a tennis instructor, a boat captain, and a marketing executive. Pete packed a lot into his lifetime.
It also illuminated a fact that I had forgotten; it was Pete who had unwittingly inspired me to sing. I hadn’t realized it until he and I had a late-night conversation after he’d gotten out of the hospital about a month ago.
We got on the topic of singing. Pete has been bugging me for years to get on America’s Got Talent; he insisted I can win–he was my number one fan. I’ve always listened to him and said, “Yeah, maybe I will someday,” but never seriously considered it.
But as we talked about it, a vivid picture popped back into my head. It was one of those memories that had been cataloged away in my brain, waiting for the proper release date.
I vividly remember a time when I was about 11 years old and Pete was up on stage in a local musical production. He is 15 years older than me; he’d already done four years in the 82nd Airborne. He was a young man active in the community, taking part in a local Jaycee’s show.
I remember him in white trousers and shoes, a white shirt, and red-and-white striped vest topped off with one of those flat-top candy vendor hats.
The stage backdrop was a city street festival; kids and grownups were bustling around the stage just like so many of the special events that parks and rec professionals put on.
And Pete was the candy man. He was pushing a colorful cart around stage, handing out candy bars–and he was singing “Candy Man,” which was a song popular back then, done most memorably by Sammy Davis Jr.
I was transfixed.
Here was my big brother, who I’d never heard sing a note before, up on stage in front of several hundred people, singing.
And he sounded amazing. He was putting smiles on the faces of everyone in the place. I could tell he was enjoying it as much as the audience.
I can distinctly remember thinking to myself, “I would like to do that.”
It encouraged me to join choirs, glee clubs, and swing groups through middle and high school, where I learned the basics of singing.
Life took me adrift from serious singing after high school.
Then I learned to play guitar–and that, too, is another story for another day–and I discovered the potent one-two punch of playing guitar and singing.
It took years to develop the skill, but now I can entertain people either by myself or as part of a band. I have performed in front of hundreds of people, and I absolutely love doing it.
And it’s all because my big brother had the courage to get up on that stage and show me it could be done.
He spent his life proving that you can do anything if you set your mind to it.
He was five feet six inches tall and shouldn’t have been a basketball star, but in high school they called him Pistol Pete because he was so fast and could hit shots from anywhere on the floor. He led his team to championships.
In his too-brief life, he was an Army airborne infantryman, a highly successful marketing and advertising executive, a boat captain, a scuba instructor, a tennis pro, a successful business owner, an author, an alligator wrestler, and a few other things I’m just now learning about.
I am glad that I had the chance to tell him that it was he who motivated me to sing.
I wish I’d known more about all these other things he did, this brother who was so much older than me that he was out into life by the time I was just an infant.
This older brother who influenced me in ways I never imagined, never knew.
At his memorial service, I sang two songs in his memory: “My Way” and “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” As I sang, I kept thinking how I would never have been able to do it without his influence.
My point in this missive is to tell you not to wait until it’s too late to tell special people in your life how you feel about them.
It’s never too late to ask questions of parents, siblings, relatives, or friends who are important in your life. It’s never too late to tell them something important.
In my brother’s case, we had a bit of warning time; often, there is no warning before someone special to you is gone.
As the song “If Tomorrow Never Comes” concludes, “Tell that someone that you love, just what you’re thinking of, if Tomorrow Never Comes” so that you don’t live with the regret that your true feelings for them never were revealed.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Peachtree City, Ga.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.