Then there are the last times -- some we recognize at the time and some we don't.
Some last times are clear in my mind.
Like the last time I walked through our Valencia home. Or the last time I left my office at UCLA. The last time I took the commuter bus and said "Goodbye" to all my commuting friends. The last time I took a curtain call as an actress. Or the last time I cuddled my beloved cat Marina, feeling her sweet, joyous, tragically short life ebbing away.
There are other last times I remember so well when I didn't know it was the last time: like the last time I saw my college friend Lorraine. As we parted, she embraced me and whispered in my ear "Let's not wait another 20 years to see each other again." Six weeks later, she died suddenly at the age of 42.
I remember the last time I saw my mother. Bob and I had lunch with her as she discussed old boyfriends and said that if she could lose weight, she'd love to have a torrid affair, but would never, ever get married again. The memory makes me smile. It was such a typical conversation, such a typical time with my mother. None of us had any idea that the next day she would be dead.
Nor did I suspect that Aunt Molly was only days away from death when I held her in my arms and promised to do all I could to keep her in her home if, well into the future, she were to become ill or disabled.
If I had known these were the last times I would see Lorraine, my mother and Aunt Molly, would I have embraced them more tightly? Held them longer as we parted? Been more open in telling each of them how much they were loved? Maybe. But some of the sweetness of the memories of these last times was that they were so ordinary and might have been quickly forgotten if not for what came after.
There are other last times that pass unnoticed and unremembered. When was the last time I danced on pointe? My last real tap dance? The last time I attended Mass with an open and joyous heart?
I wonder about other last times: the last time I'll go to the beach, the last time I'll make love, the last time I'll fly, the last time I'll feel the comfort of Bob's arms, the last time I'll see little (or not so little) Maggie? Will I know this is a last time? Or will it be an ordinary moment destined to live in bittersweet memory? Maybe some of these last times have come already. I hope that most of them are years in the future.
We never know about so many of our last times. But in the still warm autumn of our lives, perhaps the lesson is to embrace each person we love, each experience we cherish, each little moment in our lives fully -- as if this could well be the last time -- and feel the joy, savor the moment and say "I love you!" as often and fervently as we possibly can.