Pat had an uneventful week at the office. She couldn’t put her finger on it but she felt melancholy most of the time. She wasn’t sure if it was coming down from the high of so many weeks where she saw instant response to the things that Coach Smith was teaching her or if it was something else. Despite how she was feeling, her mood was lifted Friday around lunch as she thought about seeing Coach Smith that afternoon at the coffee shop.
As was becoming her custom, she arrived a little earlier than the arranged meeting time. She was surprised that Coach was not there when she walked in. He was always ahead of schedule because of the freedom he had in retirement and the enjoyment of watching people.
Pat ordered her drink then sat down to relax while she waited for Coach to arrive. She kept glancing at her watch wondering what could be keeping him. Before she knew it 15 minutes had passed. She was just about to call him when she noticed Sally, Coach Smith’s wife, walking in and looking around, as if she too was looking for Coach.
Pat had not seen Sally since her playing days. She had fond memories of Sally because she was always at the game supporting the team and Coach Smith. Suddenly their eyes locked and Sally began to make her way over to the table. Pat had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, as if she knew something was dreadfully wrong.
Pat remembered that Sally always carried herself in a dignified way but today she looked out of sorts as she made her way across the cafe. She walked up to Pat, extended both of her hands to hold Pat’s and said, “Pat it’s so good to see you. Coach has told me all about your meetings and how much they meant to him.” Even to Sally he was Coach.
The past tense phrase Sally used caught Pat’s attention. Her voice cracked and she asked Sally, “Why did you say ‘meant’? Is there something wrong with Coach?”
Suddenly Sally’s face betrayed a sadness and she told Pat that he’d passed away the night before in his sleep. She began to share a little about his medical history and several bouts with congestive heart failure in recent years. Now Coach’s slower than normal movements and breathing struggles at their last meeting made sense to Pat. As Sally continued to talk, tears started streaming down Pat’s face.
Seeing Pat’s reaction, Sally stopped mid-sentence and hugged her. She whispered in her ear, “It’s okay, we’re all going to miss him.”
Composing herself, Pat said, “I’m so sorry. I should be comforting you Sally. With all you’re going through, why did you feel the need to come here to tell me in person?”
Sally began, “You have no idea how much coming here to see you these last several months meant to him. He talked about you constantly and how much he enjoyed getting together with you. It reminded him of his coaching days because it was a chance to impact your life. We both sensed the end might be near and that’s why we took a short vacation about a month and a half ago. We needed time together to make sure we said everything that needed to be said. Over the weekend he wrote something for you and asked that I give it to you whenever he couldn’t make it here again. I’ve not read it so I don’t know what he wanted to share with you. Despite the emotional roller coaster, and all the things that are now in motion planning his funeral, I felt I had to give you this personally because you meant so much to him. You mean just as much to me because of the joy you gave him.”
By this time tears were pouring down Pat’s face and she tried to compose herself again.
Sally told Pat about the funeral details on the upcoming Monday. As she got ready to leave Sally told Pat, “Don’t open the letter here. Take it home with you so you have time to read it and grieve in a way that’s comfortable for you. Again, thank you for the opportunity you gave him because he was so happy right up to the end.”
Pat sat in silence for quite a while after Sally left. She never touched her drink and unknowingly left it on the table when she got up to leave. When she got home she took a long walk, still in shock and trying to compose herself. It was close to six o’clock when she finally sat down to read the letter.
If you’re reading this then I’ve gone home. No need to cry for me because I’ve lived a joyful life and feel I’m going out on top, a winner in the biggest game of them all – life. I owe much of that to you. Retirement has been good but I missed coaching because it allowed me to impact lives.
Seeing you at the coffee shop months ago was not a coincidence. I saw it as a divine appointment. God put you in my life again so I could have one last chance to coach. Your enthusiasm for learning and growing invigorated me. I knew we’d make it through everything I needed to share before I was called home.
Now your charge is to take up the mantle and coach. It’s a different game than you played in college but the principles are the same. Use what I’ve taught you to build strong, productive teams the rest of your career. But more than that, be the kind of coach who impacts people’s lives. I’ve no doubt you will and that gives me great comfort.
Please remember to always pay it forward. Trust me, as you do so you will get so much more than you give.
With tears streaming down her face, Pat folded the letter and walked over to her bookcase where there were pictures of family, friends, and significant events.
She picked up a picture of Coach Smith and the team when they won the conference championship her senior year. She stared at it for several minutes and was flooded with memories of her playing days. She placed the letter on the bookcase then gently set the picture on top of it. There was no better place to keep such a wonderful gift.
Suddenly the tears stopped and a feeling of peace washed over Pat. She knew she would miss Coach but thankfulness was mostly what she was feeling at that moment. That’s because of the time they’d spent together and all she’d learned.
Standing by the window in her kitchen, looking at the people going about their normal lives, she took a deep breath, looked up at the puffy white clouds and said, “You can count on me to pay it forward Coach.”
- And Now for Something Completely Different
- Coach’s Lesson on Liking
- Game Time for Pat
- Coach’s Lesson on Reciprocity
- Tis Better to Give
- A Lesson on Peer Pressure
- Putting Peer Pressure to Work at Work
- A Trusted Expert
- Becoming a Respected Leader
- Ask, Don’t Tell if You Want Commitment
- Less Directive
- Wins and Losses
- Don’t be a Downer
- Pay it Forward
Brian Ahearn, CPCU, CTM, CPT, CMCT
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only a dozen people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His new book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable.
Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 500,000 people around the world!