Not the most uplifting title to a blog post, eh? Well, losing people that we care about is something I’m sure most of us have had to deal with at some point or another in their lives. My brother and I have gone through the sadness, grief, and pain of losing both our parents. We loved them deeply and saying goodbye was brutal, to say the least. Perhaps one of us will write about those terrible events in a post one day. We also lost Aunts and Uncles whom we deeply, deeply cared about and their passing left a definite mark on both of us.
As kids, we never gave much thought to the possibility of losing family members. We simply figured they would always be around, just a short train or car ride away. I suppose the fact that death was not a reality to us as children is a commentary on how lucky we were to be born in this country. In so many countries around the world, death is a very real part of children’s lives and it breaks my heart to know of the suffering and pain that is so very real in this world. But, as kids, we didn’t have to deal with it as an everyday fear, and the suffering around the world, and even what existed in this country, was pretty foreign to us. On a side note, and one that brings a small smile to my face, I do remember so many times hearing our Mom say when we wouldn’t eat all our dinner or complained about any particular food, that we should think of all the poor children around the world that had no food. While achieving her goal of getting us to eat, I’m not sure we ever fully understood the tragic truth of her statement until later in life.
When we were kids, we dealt with a few family deaths, but I can’t really remember their impact or if I fully grasped what was going on. Our Uncle Joe, Aunt Flo, Uncle Santino all died young; all were still in their mid-fifties. I vaguely remember the funerals and all that surrounded those somber events. Perhaps my brother has a more vivid memory of the events, but what I remember most was the feeling of loss. All these relatives were part of our childhood. They were there for the Holidays and whatever apartment or home we were in at the time was made more joyous because of their presence. When they left, a part of our childhood left with them.
As we grew, more family members departed and the impact was just as great, even though we were older. The family was “shrinking” and with it, so was part of us. Aunt Fil, Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Rose, Uncle Vincent, Aunt Mildred, Uncle Frank……all moved on. Finally, of course, it was or Mom and Dad. I’m sure all these “passings’” affected my brother and me in different ways, but it was very clear, each had a huge impact. They WERE our childhood. Every memory was filled with their laughter, their voices, and in some cases the anger. (We are an Italian family remember!)
I hate the fact that all too often, we only fully appreciate what we have after we lose it. Then we long for their presence, their idiosyncrasies, and even the things that may have annoyed us.
The purpose of this “motivational opening’ is to bring us to this past week. An eternity since our childhood in New York. A friend of mine passed away and his passing brought back many of the feelings I described briefly above. He was young by today’s standards, 57 years old. He had battled MS for the past 18 years of his life. He contracted it when he was a young father of three kids and the husband of a young, devoted wife. It certainly doesn’t make sense according to any human logic I can muster. I had only known him for the last 10 years of his life. I had met him through his twenty-year-old daughter who was in a class I was teaching. When I first met him, the damned disease had already taken its toll. He was confined to a hospital bed in his home, with his wife as his Caregiver. MS has already robbed him of the use of his arms and legs. One can only imagine the tough duties associated with being his caregiver 24/7.
As I got to know him, sitting beside him in an armchair, as he lay in his bed, I found out that in high school he had excelled in athletics, playing baseball, basketball, and running track setting a record in the high jump in Texas and being the Quarterback of his HS football team. His wife showed me photos of when they had met in HS; there was no doubt, this guy was a stud: and, now this.
Yet, what impressed me most about this guy was his beautiful, sweet attitude. I never, and I am not exaggerating here, saw him when he didn’t have a sweet, welcoming smile on his face. He never sounded bitter with the “unfair” hand he had been dealt. In the midst of his suffering, he always encouraged others. He never lost his faith, even when a year ago he made the decision to stop all treatments and go on Hospice. He lived out the last year of his stay on earth the same way he always had. Caring for his family and helping others. The last few weeks of his journey here were hard. Loss of any appetite, inability to breathe regularly, massive congestion in his lungs and on and on. Yet, when I had an opportunity to visit with him only weeks before he passed, he was smiling (as best as he could) and he wanted to know how I was doing. He died at home, surrounded by family. He passed in the arms of his loving wife.
One last point to show you what kind of guys he was. He and his wife loved flowers. He would always send her red roses for the special occasions. Not so much because she loved red roses, but because he loved them. He figured that the flowers would be displayed in the bedroom where his hospital bed was located, so he may as well send ones that he could enjoy. They both always laughed at this. His wife loved white roses, but he never sent white, because he loved the red.
On the morning after he passed. The doorbell to the home rang, and his grieving wife answered it. There stood a delivery guy from a local florist with a beautiful bouquet of white roses for her.
The card simply read: ‘I’ll love you forever”. Tears flowed.
He had arranged for them to be sent upon his death. White Roses.
That’s who he was.
It was a life well lived.