I’ve been thinking a lot about death these last few weeks. We have the senseless terrorist killings in Mumbai, a friend’s father just died at 90 after a long and happy life; another friend, one of our dearest and closest, is losing his battle with two cancers, and he’s only 57. It seems death, too, comes in many flavors.
The death of the 90 yr old seems almost a perfect completion of life, a full cycle in which he worked, loved, had children and grandchildren, and now has ended his work on earth. That’s not the case for either the Mumbai victims, or my friend. In India, the people had almost no notice, in the midst of a happy time in a lovely hotel, they suddenly were stopped cold – no warnings, no chance to ‘fix’ anything they would have wanted to change if they’d only ‘known in advance’. We can only hope that they didn’t suffer much, because we know their families and friends will suffer much thinking about the loss of each of these people.
My friend, though… I suppose this is the closest I’ve been to a loss like this. Another good friend lost his stepson to cancer when the boy was only 16 or 17. An unspeakable tragedy, a life cut short before it had the chance to bloom. My friend, “Buddy” I will call him here, did have the chance to do a lot… he has a daughter from a first marriage, and a son from his current marriage. Both are grown, and he’s got a grandson as well. His wife, my best friend, has always loved him deeply. She felt, and I agree, that they are ‘soulmates’… whatever that means. To ME, it means they were so wonderfully suited to each other. They’ve been together 35 years and have shared much – joy, pain, sadness, all the parts of life. Buddy worked hard for many years, so that he and his family could live well, and planned an early retirement just about a year and a half ago. Buddy and his wife bought their dream house, and between the time they ‘ordered’ the house and the time they moved in, he was diagnosed with his first cancer, myeloma, with tumors predominantly in his spine and hips. It all started with pain, and the pain has never stopped… even when the myeloma was contained the pain continued… and they discovered another cancer, lung cancer, stage 4, with tumors all over him. What a blow. Yet, Buddy kept his spirits up! If positive attitude could cure, he’d have gotten rid of every bit of cancer by now.
Buddy is the absolute most genuine person I’ve ever met. There’s no guile, no slyness – what you see is what you get. And you get a beautiful person, full of compassion for others. I don’t mean to say he is a saint, he IS human, after all. He’s caused his share of pain, just as we all have. The love I see, between him and his wife and for his son and family is something everyone should be able to feel. It’s a precious gift. Buddy is a precious gift, and I will hate to see him go so soon, so unfairly.
Buddy and I talked about death on Saturday. I’m honored that he felt he could talk to me about his fears and his hopes. We can’t know when, but we do know it will happen, and no matter when, it’s far too soon. He was afraid of missing his family … I told him my beliefs about death. As an atheist, for me, there’s only this life. When we die, there is nothing, silence… peace. As Carl Sagan said, we are stardust… everything we are will return to the universe. There will be no pain, no missing, no sadness. These things will be on OUR side of the wall of death, and that’s ok. Mourning a loved one will also heal. Buddy is deeply embedded in my heart, and when he dies, that will NOT change, not a bit. His love and friendship have given me so much, he enriches my life every day, and that wonderful gift will never leave me. I told him that, too, and was very glad I had the chance to do so. We WILL fall apart for a while, because we will WANT him in our lives … but we will eventually come to realize that he’s still with us, every time we see those things he loved we will think of him, every time we think of him our hearts WILL ache, but I believe that our spirits will also rejoice in the person he is and the love we feel, and will always feel, for him. I love you, Buddy.