Driving along Great Ocean Road today, listening to my road-trip playlist, Brett Young’s “In Case You Didn’t Know” came on and I instantly felt my heart well up. Not only is it an incredibly sweet song (about a man who doesn’t tell his partner he loves her and realizes she may not know he does),  but I had already been thinking about my trip to Canada in less than a week and how much I’m looking forward to spending time with the people who know me best and really, truly love me. The song really got me thinking… just how important is it to hear “I Love You”? With the number of people out there who use those three words to manipulate others, and alternatively the number of people who really, truly love someone but never bring themselves to say it… does it really matter?

Since moving out to Australia, the combination of having no friends here and working from home has been the most isolating experience I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gone out of my way to make friends, whether it’s going to workshops and art classes, utilizing social apps, making other country music friends… I’ve done all of it. And quite honestly, I’m made some incredible friends – amazing women. But in a world where my partner has had to suddenly open up and share everything he’s worked so hard for; I in turn had to give up everything I’d worked so hard for. And the emotion that comes along with giving up everything you love and hold dear is one that you can’t really invoke in others by describing it. You can only know how it feels when it’s inside of you. I have tried to explain it a few times, but each time I do I can tell as I’m speaking that my words aren’t translating what’s inside… trying to describe it falls on deaf ears. The reality is, people don’t take it seriously, because to them, moving to Australia is so exotic and exciting, so how could they understand?

Finding myself deep in these thoughts, Keith Urban’s ‘Coming Home’ came on and I actually start to tear up… happy tears! A week from now I will actually be surrounded by people who love me. Who’ve seen absolutely every side of me: the ugly, petty, exhausted, hurt, lost, unsure sides of me, and yet somehow the love me wholeheartedly anyways.

I suppose because I’ve had a few friends die unexpectedly, be it due to suicide or addiction, I’ve always felt that saying those words to those I still have in my life are so important. When I got the call on December 16, 2016, that a guy I thought of as the brother I never had had been found dead… there are absolutely no words for the influx of emotion that hit me the second I heard “Fini is dead”. The visceral reaction humans are capable of having can not be explained, and I hope if you’re reading this, that you never have to experience that yourself. Even as I type this, the amount of emotion taking over, as I am reliving that moment, is just awful. Since he died, I have read our conversation history hundreds, if not in the thousands, of times. And for the past 19 months, I’ve focused solely on his last message to me, which was telling me how much he missed me and loved me and was sorry for how crazy he’d been lately. I absolutely cherished that message. It was a glimmer of the guy I’d grown up with who had turned into someone else in the midst of his downward spiral; a glimmer that as I read it, gave me hope that it really might get better. His message came in at 4:22pm on December 13, 2016. My reply, sent at 4:58pm, just over half an hour after his, still sits unread today. While we first thought he passed on December 16th, a month or so later when the coroners report came in, I was informed he actually died on December 13th. He was just not found until the 16th. Finding out I was quite likely the last person he spoke with in the moments before he died crushed me all over again. That guilt of what if I’d said something, done something, if I’d only known what would happen in the following moments. What if I’d replied sooner? What if I’d have called him, and just spoke to him, just for the next 30, 40 minutes. Maybe he’d still be here. I grappled with this for a long time. Logically I knew it wasn’t right, but emotions, especially when it comes to death, are anything but logical.

It wasn’t until today, when I was thinking about all the people I love, that I wondered if he had known. Did I ever tell him? I honestly didn’t know. And somehow, 19 months after getting the call that he died, I went to our conversation to read not what he last said to me, but what I last said to him. Despite how many times I’d re-read that conversations, I had no idea what my last words were. And when I saw it, I broke out crying all over again. My last message to him had been “I love you Fini”. I remember it so clearly now too. The messages he’d sent me prior to that had been so incoherent, so devoid of any semblance of the person I grew up with, that I had nothing to say back to them other than to let him know that he was loved. And somehow, it took me this long to feel a sense of peace about his death that I hadn’t felt. In the moments leading up to his death, I told him he was loved, he read it, and as he died, he knew he was loved. He was beyond help, but letting him know he was still loved somehow had brought out a piece of the guy I knew. My response, that sits unread, is inconsequential. I could not have said a single word more than I did that would have done anything more.

So to me… this is why ‘I Love You’ is so important. It sounds cliche to say ‘you may not get another chance to say it’, but I’ve lived it. It’s true. One moment you’re saying bye to someone with whom you have plans to see them again, not knowing you will neither see nor speak to them ever again. That is the harsh reality of this world and there is no getting out of it.

Since I moved here, the love I was always surrounded with at home was suddenly gone. That is just a part of my circumstances as I start a new life on the other side of the world. So for every message I have received from friends that said “I Love You Schleph”, or the drunken phone calls from a bathroom in Dublin saying you wish I were there, to the random “Love you Steph” messages and the “Love you too!” messages I get when I tell them I love them, to the woman I work with who often tells me she loves me as we end our calls… I am so, so grateful to have each of you in my life, and I hope you know that. I hope you know how much that really means to me, because honestly, words matter, and it means absolutely everything to me.