From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

I Meant to Do That

It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Before I got into the music business, I worked for a couple of years as a registered nurse at the children’s hospital back home in Canada. One of the patients I cared for was a little girl named Aimeelee who was afflicted with a severe case of cystic fibrosis. Because of her illness, she was in and out of the hospital quite often.

As I got to know her, I discovered that Aimeelee was a really amazing little girl. She was the kind of kid who, faced with a critical illness at an early age, took advantage of every single moment in her life. It was almost like she had to grow up a lot in those last few years that she was alive.

While I worked at the hospital, I occasionally took time off to visit Nashville as I made plans for a new career in country music. Aimeelee thought my trips to Nashville were really cool. Whenever I was back in Canada, Aimeelee and I shared a lot together—she liked to write poetry and I wrote songs.

On one of my trips to Nashville, I wrote the song “I Meant to Do That.” (The song deals with those things all of us intend to do but never quite find time for—such as saying “I love you” to those we care about.) When I returned to Canada from that trip, I learned that Aimeelee had gone back into the hospital and wasn’t doing very well. When I walked into her room, I was struck by how frail she looked against a background of blinking, beeping life-support machines. Tubes fed oxygen to her nostrils and nourishment to her veins. Aimeelee’s parents sat next to her bed and held her small hands. All the while, a steady stream of doctors and nurses moved in and out of the room providing constant care for the young patient.

I knelt beside Aimeelee’s bed and took her hands in mine, realizing at that moment that I just needed to talk to her. As she faded in and out of consciousness, I asked, “Hey, Aimeelee, how are you doing?” The first thing she said was, “Hi, Paul! How was your trip to Nashville?” I couldn’t believe it! This little girl was fighting for every single breath; and instead of complaining or feeling sorry for herself, she was more concerned with me than with anything going on in her room.

Later that night, one of my friends from work called and told me that Aimeelee had passed away. Aimeelee’s attitude really blew me away and changed the way I looked at my own life. It made me think of how I was treating people and if I was taking advantage of every single moment—telling those close to me that I loved them whenever I had the chance.

Quite some time after Aimeelee’s death, the video of “I Meant to Do That” was released. Not long afterward, I was a guest on a whole series of radio talk shows. While on these shows, I never failed to talk about my experience with Aimeelee and what I learned by her example. But what I found really rewarding was when my mother— who runs my fan club—got a call from Aimeelee’s parents. They said they had heard me talking about Aimeelee during a radio show. They later wrote me a letter saying, “Thank you for letting Aimeelee’s memory live on. It was because of your story on the radio that we felt her life really meant so much.” They were able to see what an inspiration their daughter had been to other people.

Something else Aimeelee taught me—indirectly—was that while I want to be a successful businessperson and musician, more importantly, I want to be a successful human being. I want to be someone who has a successful spiritual life and family life. After all, those are the things that are going to last and are going to matter. Somebody might not remember a song I've written twenty or thirty years from now, but they're going to remember if I treated them the right way.

It's such a great feeling when I'm able to look out into the audience and see people wiping a tear away when I'm playing that song or telling Aimeelee's story. After the show, people often come up and tell me how that song helped them get through some difficult time. That's when I know that Aimeelee's life made a huge difference — and still does — in many people's lives. For me, being a part of that whole thing is very rewarding.

My wife, Liz, and I still have a picture of Aimeelee by our bed. When I wake up each morning, the picture reminds me to take advantage of every moment in life — just as Aimeelee did. That way, I'll never again have to say, "I meant to do that."

Paul Brandt

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