Perhaps it's because I'm in a bad mood today, or maybe it's because I've heard it one too many times this week, but regardless of the reason, I'm all in a huff over one particular phrase. It's one you know, one you've heard, likely from a parent or sibling. It's usually spoken in a familial context. It's not the phrase alone that bothers me, so much as all of the weight of its subtext, and the guilt, drooping from each word like breasts on a nun.
The phrase doesn't stand alone, it can't. It needs to be preceded by a certain premise -- that there is someone elderly or ailing, and that someone is elsewhere. Someone with whom you are likely not close, but whose home your business or pleasure will soon bring you within the general vicinity of. It is only after these factors are in place that a family member will say, "Are you going to stop by and visit [said elderly or ailing person]?" And it is this question, which is followed by the phrase that is currently the focus of my menstrual-induced rage: "I mean, we're not sure how long he/she is going to be with us."
To which I think, but never say, "What does that matter?" You visit a person because you WANT to, not because you're afraid they might die tomorrow and you'll have missed your chance to say whatever it is you've always yearned to say but never had the courage because you were convinced they'd still be around to judge you for it.
Who knows how much time any of us has? I could walk outside today, get hit by a car, and die on the spot. In fact, three people have died on the crosswalk in front of my building, so this is not as far-fetched as you might think. Sure, someone who is extremely elderly or ill has a greater chance of sleeping the final sleep. But is that what it takes to pull you out of your self-absorbed world and show a little kindness?
I spend time with people I love. Most of them are healthy. When those healthy loved ones of mine do fall ill, or elderly, I won't feel the guilt and weight of "rushing" to be the way I wish I'd been when they were well. Why wait until then? It seems downright stupid. So know this, dear loved ones -- if I care, I'm there. Now. In sickness or in health. And if I'm not there now, when you are well, don't expect me to knock on your door with apologies and excuses when you fall ill. Because if I'm anything, it's consistent.