[Disclaimer: I know that virtually no one reads this blog, so I feel safe in posting something more cathartic this time. If you’re one of the fewer than, say, five who actually check this out, then please humor me. Thanks.]
It’s difficult to lose a longtime, close friend. When I say longtime, I don’t mean a few years. I mean at least half a lifetime. Such was the case over the past two or so weeks when I got the news that, when all was said and done, I lost three. Here are some very brief reflections (by very brief, I mean that there are literally dozens more stories that could be told, but I choose not to be exhaustive in this format).
In chronological order:
Barry L. High school buddy. Hamilton High-West in Trenton, NJ. Barry initiated our meeting. It was in school, somewhere around 1961 – 62. The bell had rung for classes to change. The hallway was buzzing with kids moving in both directions. Suddenly, this skinny kid with an impish grin, whom I’d never set eyes on before, walked up to me, held out his hand to shake mine, and said, “Hi, George!” And the rest, as they say, is history. For the next six decades Barry and I would share some wonderful conversations, silly jokes, and time spent with the families we would eventually create. His passing came as a shock, since he seemed to be doing so well with his cancer treatments. The end came quickly, for sure, and on Thursday, June 2nd, I found myself in Saul Funeral Home, Hamilton Square, NJ, co-officiating his service with Rev. Bob Marks of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church where Barry and his wife Joanne worshiped and volunteered. His son Matthew and daughter Kira spoke at the service (son Nathan is not one to stand in front of a crowd). Dealing with the loss of someone you’ve known as a friend for that long is difficult enough. Absorbing the reality that my turn will come sooner rather than later is just as difficult.
Dave L. College roommate all four years of my time at Union College, Barbourville, KY. Dave was as solid a person as I’ve ever known. By that I mean that he was at home at just about any point along the emotional spectrum. He could be as silly as Rip Taylor, but as profoundly devout as Mother Teresa. I didn’t know just how deeply Dave had penetrated my life until word came of his passing. I hung up the phone and cried like a baby on Evelyn’s shoulder, I don’t even know how long. I guess it’s different when you actually live with someone for nigh on four years, four years that to some extent are still formative (late teens into early 20s). I had so much fun being with Dave, but I also came to respect him as someone who lived by a set of values that were ingrained in his soul as permanently as a tattoo. You could depend on Dave to be fair, even when it wasn’t in your favor. He was highly respected by his colleagues, his students, his neighbors, his church family, his personal family (wife, Karen; children, Kelly and Kristian; and Kristian’s and Heather’s children, Kaleb, Conner, and Colston), and his friends. I can hear his voice from time to time, and my eyes tear up all over again. This one will be hard to get over.
Keith M. Keith and I met at Mt. Misery, the United Methodist church camp in Browns Mills, New Jersey, when we were each only a few years into our respective ministries. We were asked by the Annual Conference’s United Methodist Women to co-direct the senior-high-school week of camp called Agape Week. Each of us was married, so our wives got to know each other as well. After a few years as a parish minister Keith believed he was called to be the executive director of a camp, and so was hired to that position at Sky Lake United Methodist Camp in New York. Apparently that wasn’t really where God wanted him to be, so he left the ministering to his wife Dianne (also an ordained United Methodist minister) and became a professor at a college in Greensboro, North Carolina. We lost touch for many years after the couple moved south, but a few years ago, I decided to see if I could find him on Facebook. Sure enough, after sorting thru several “Keiths” with his last name, I determined which one was him, sent him a message, and, voila! Connection! It turned out that Keith and Dianne shared an interest in camping with Evelyn and me, and so we were able to meet at a campground a couple of years ago so we could actually visit with one another. It wasn’t long afterward that Keith’s cancer – which he had been battling for several years – finally brought him to a place of such weakness that he would not be able to handle their camper any more.
So, there you have it. Three people, each of whom I’ve known for well over half my life, and now, gone. As I alluded to above, it does open up one’s mind to the mortality reality. While I’m feeling pretty good for a mid-septuagenarian, only God knows how much longer I have in this ol’ world. Twenty more years would not be out of the question. I’d be 95, and people do live to be 95. I just don’t want to be 95, sitting in a corner of the nursing home, blowing on my soup! (David Letterman reference.)
It’s no exaggeration to say that, had it not been for my Christian faith, I would not have been able to handle the loss of so many in so short a time. Believing that my friends are as content as possible, beginning their eternal vacations in the presence of Christ, gives me great hope, comfort, and a way to heal from the pain.
I hope against hope that that’s all for a while. In my day-to-day living I feel so drained, so emotionally paralyzed. It’s difficult to lose a longtime, close friend. I know. I lost three.