Thursday, February 26, 2009

Goodbye, My Friend

After an exceptionally sad turn of events a good man has died today, and I am torn. This past (almost) year has been a nightmare of cancer and hospitalization and chemo and strength of will and character, with the ever present deterioration of health, worsening of pain, and erosion of hope.

I am torn because I remember before he was ill: laughing at the shenanigans at work, wearing jeans on Fridays, little pot belly hanging out, racing through the plant getting things done, yelling at the guys when they were slacking off, sharing funny tales of peers and associates, eating junk food, questioning stupidity with a bewildered how-hard-can-it-be “Right? Huh? You know what I mean?” The man was literally the lifeblood of the place … we all knew that if anything happened to him we’d be in trouble. I'd love to have him back.

I am torn because I remember when we first realized his pain was serious (his legs went right out from under him a couple times; if the guys hadn't been nearby to catch him he'd have hit the floor), and its steady progression, and the shock of hearing his initial doctor’s visit resulted in immediate hospitalization and surgery. I remember when he returned to work weeks later with a walker, in physical therapy, because the surgery had removed a tumor on his spine and now there was nerve damage. He used a walker for what became the rest of his life.

I am torn because when he first returned to work from surgery he was in such high spirits: the absence of pain was that good. He knew he had cancer, was in treatment, but was all smiles because it simply did not hurt anymore. He told stories of the drill sergeant mentality of his therapists, who just wanted the best for him but, man, were they tough!

I am torn because that first chemo didn’t work, nor the next, nor the one after that; he got thinner and thinner, and eventually the pain returned. Gone was the little pot belly, then every extra ounce of fat … he became the most emaciated person I’ve ever actually known. All his clothes were too big and cinched in tight. His skin wasn't loose the way it is when one loses weight on a diet … it simply tightened up like his body was burning away every bit of excess there was. He became gaunt and his skin took on the likeness of tissue paper, with a pale greenish gray cast.

I went on vacation the 1st week of February, but my last day before I did I picked up a super soft throw pillow for him to sit on, because he had so wasted away that even his cushioned executive's chair caused him pain. I will never forget the difficulty he had standing while I slipped the pillow under him, nor way he sounded when he sighed as he sat down and thanked me for it. I had a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. I only wished I had picked it up for him sooner.

That was the last time I saw him … he was hospitalized again while I was on vacation, and when I returned he was still in the hospital. He went home to hospice care last week, and his brother notified us that he has passed today, with services most likely Monday.

Just a few days ago as I drove to work Coldplay’s Viva la Vida played, and I burst into tears, thinking of him. I’ve heard the song since (one of the guys even sang it on American Idol last night), and every time I cry. From now on, a least for the time being, this will be his song, because that’s how it speaks to me:

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn't believe what I'd become

Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

I’d been conversing lately, asking for one of two things: if it isn't in Your plans to give him a miracle and cure him, then take him Home as soon as he’s ready. Well, he was ready today. I am heart sore for his loved ones, but I truly do believe he is in a better place. I will miss him; I think more than even I can imagine right now.

So now as I sit here downing my package of Pepperidge Farms Mint Milano cookies (I may just finish the whole thing), I think how fitting is this poem by Mary Frye:

Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush, I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there; I did not die.

And, finally, I bellow the words of Seether, because when I do I feel better; they affirm my belief in God, “Take the light, and darken everything around me. Call the clouds, and listen closely; I'm lost without You … I call Your name every day, when I seem so helpless; I've fallen down, but I'll rise above this, rise above this doubt.”

Goodbye, my friend … I will miss you.

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