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Bay Window: Finding a way to say goodbye

Twenty-five years ago, when my editor called me into his office, I knew I was trouble.

“Sorry I left early yesterday,” I said. “I’ll never do it again. After today. I have to sell hot dogs at my son’s baseball game.”

He rolled his eyes. “I want you to start writing a column.”

“About what?”

“Life,” he said.

I was a newspaper reporter, the wife of a basketball coach, mother of three too-smart-for-their-own-good kids, a Sunday school teacher, Little League scorer and PTA volunteer.

My life kept me hopping faster than a barefoot drunk who mistook a briar patch for an outhouse. But who on Earth would want to read about it?

My grandmother used to say, “Never pretend to be what you aren’t or to know what you don’t know. People forgive ignorance, but they never forget a phony.”

So I agreed to write about life as I knew it, whatever might come along, the everyday, ordinary matters of the heart.

Thus began a dream job I never dreamed would be mine, writing “letters” to strangers who would somehow become not just readers, but friends.

I’m hoping you are one them.

Three years later the column was syndicated to papers around the country and mail increased astronomically. But wherever it came from, people sounded much the same.

No matter what I wrote about – my kids, my blind brother, my husband’s basketball team, my big Southern family or people who cornered me in public restrooms to tell me their life histories – I would hear back from countless readers who’d tell me a similar story and say they knew how I felt and that they felt the same way, too.

I never wanted to write about cancer. After my husband was diagnosed, I tried to write about other things. Anything. But cancer kept getting in the way.

Soon people near and far were writing to say that we were not alone. They or their loved ones were battling cancer, too. They said they’d added my husband’s name to their church’s prayer list, and their children were praying for our children.

I liked those people a lot.

I didn’t want to write about losing my husband, or being a widow or figuring out who I was when I was no longer who I’d been. But I wrote about all that.

I never planned years later to write about falling in love again, getting married, moving to Las Vegas, or having grandchildren. But those things came along, too. Life is full of surprises.

Writing columns and hearing from readers has taught me all sorts of things. Here are a few:

First, in the everyday, ordinary matters of the heart, we are all more alike than different.

Second, writing about life is not so different from living it; if you stay alive and pay attention, things will keep coming along.

Third, and most important, we need to say what’s on our heart while there’s time to say it. Is there someone you need to thank? Or forgive? Or ask for forgiveness? Do it now. Don’t wait. Wipe the slate clean and start the new year fresh.

For 25 years, it’s been my job and my joy to write columns and hear from readers. I want to assure you, as of this writing, I am not sick, dying or retiring.

But I’m told the syndication is changing. That doesn’t mean I can’t keep writing the column. It means I’ll need to find a new way to get it to you. I wanted you to hear that from me.

In my last column of 2015, I especially want to say this:

Thank you for your friendship and encouragement; for your prayers and kind words; for your honesty and trust in telling me your stories; for making speaking engagements feel like family reunions without the fist fights; and most of all, for reading my words, hearing my heart and writing to tell me that my stories are your stories, too.

You have been such a gift.