Just as I was about to hang up the phone, my wife said "Love Ya, Goodbye." Like she's always done for the past quarter century now, at the end of our phone call she told me she loved me. That she loves me.
It's a small thing, a repetitive phrase that almost seems trivial, like "See Ya" or "Talk to You Soon" or simply "Later." Just like the long haul truck driver says "Over and Out," she says "Love Ya, Goodbye" as her sign off. Now, not unexpectedly, after decades of marriage and thousands of phone calls, this habit of hers has rubbed off on me, and it's become my sign off to her as well.
I didn't realize just how habitual and ingrained this small phrase had become until one day, I actually said it to a stranger! In my medical practice, I often speak with nurses at the hospital or nursing home when I am at work in the clinic. Then one day, quite to my horror I must admit, I said "Love Ya, Goodbye" when ending a phone call with a random nurse just after she had finished updating me about one of my patients. I quickly caught myself, saying "Wait... that was for my wife!" and mumbled something to the effect of "oops." But this wasn't some subliminal thing or a Freudian slip; I hardly knew this nurse and to this day don't recall her name or face. Rather, this slip up was evidence that my wife's little expression of love, given tiny bits at a time, was wearing off on me. I liked what it was doing in my life.
As a child raised by a strict mother and a traditional father, I can't recall hearing the phrase "I love you" from my parents more than a very few times. It just wasn't part of the family lore. Of course us children had good manners. We were told exactly how to answer the phone, how to take messages, and what to say before hanging up. We knew all the proper table manners, and if one of us forgot to say "Thank You" or "Please," watch out! That gross negligence of proper manners was always met with an immediate and blistering rebuke. At bedtime came stories designed to educate us. Prayers were said to keep us moral. Our sign off, at the end of the day was to say "And if I die, before I wake, pray the Lord my soul to take." We were told to love God, and to love thy neighbor, yet "I love you" just wasn't said.
But marriage has a funny way not only of changing a person, but also of changing a family. My parents didn't quite know what to make of "Love Ya, Goodbye" when they started hearing it from my wife. This wasn't a discussion, a tearful emotion accompanied by orchestral violins. It was just her sign off, no discussion necessary or even possible. Said at the end of a phone call, it was my wife's way of saying "conversation over." Then after about 5 or 10 years of this, something amazing happened. Like it was no big deal, as we were ending our phone conversation, my mom said to me, "I love you, Tom." Hearing this made me warmly and pleasantly surprised, but mostly stunned. I couldn't recall ever hearing this before from my mom, even though I was over 30 years old at the time.
It was then I realized the great power of small things. Although great love can come in large bursts of emotion, sometimes it comes in more subtle ways, from simple sayings. My wife's "Love Ya, Goodbye" has become routine in our family. It brings lasting love to all of us, one phone call at a time.