I found out tonight a friend died. Do I use the term friend loosely ? No, he wasn’t someone I called or had lengthy discussions with on a regular basis. Or got together with often.
He wasn’t someone I just said hello to and made small talk with either. I think there are hierarchies of friendships. Your closest inner circle, the top tier, is intimate and loving. They wouldn’t think twice about coming to your aid or helping. These are the ones where words are not even necessary.
The second tier, are those you still talk and get together with often and share things, but that group wouldn’t be the first you would pick up the phone to call if in trouble. Although.. you probably could.
Then there’s everyone in between. Mostly seen in group events. A hug, a warm hello, a cup of coffee to catch up. You’re happy to see them and wonder why you don’t do it more often. But you somehow don’t, because they’re not always on the top of your radar list
Then come the acquaintances. They’re the casual hello, small talk, catch up on life, but not giving away too much. Never divulging large issues, because they have no place there.
Joel was probably a third tier friend. Someone I enjoyed talking with when I saw him. Someone who was honest. We could speak about how we felt with no reservation. We always gave each other a hug and he had a warm heart.
Last year, afer he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, I asked him what the course of plan was. The prognosis ? “No matter what they do,” he said, “it’s not good.” Then he turned to me, with a heartfelt expression and said, “You know, what I feel worst about is my son. I don’t want to leave him without a father.” He was four years old at that time. Five now. I heard him and said, “Then you give him everything you have now. None of us know about tomorrow.” Although his tomorrow was a lot more uncertain than mine, on paper anyway
When I saw one of his closest friends, I asked him how he was doing. He looked down at me (He’s tall, about 6’2 and I’m not), he said, “I’m devastated.”
Joel and I saw each other frequently enough over the course of this past year. I would sit down next to him, ask how he was doing and he would tell me. All the while, I observed the healthy color of his skin turn ashen, that pasty look of illness, as he got thinner around the waist. But I knew.. I had seen this condition before. The look of death. The one that slowly creeps in, thinking it’s subtle, thinking that no one will suspect. But much like a sixth sense, or perhaps a genetic intuition, we know. Even if we don’t on a conscious level, we know. We have the instinct for it.
Not one to lose hope, during times of difficulties, a friend of mine would always say, “You never give up. Where there is breath, there is hope.” I don’t think he ever gave up. I think he held on as long as he could.
When I found out he had passed, I could see his face in the dim light and us sitting at a table in the back of the room. He would be talking intimately, about life and death and everything in between. I know his son knew how much Joel loved him. Hopefully, he’ll grow up feeling full in his heart from that.
I came home and cried. It’s him, my other friend’s son who died about a month ago unexpectantly, three dogs, from three different friends, who had to put them down this past month. Too much death. Too much loss. It’s painful losing people and pets you love.
It keeps me moving in a direction, of wanting to let go of everything I am hanging on to. Not to get trapped into the illusion of security. or even worse, thinking I’ll live forever, because I won’t. And even more, while I am alive, to remember to live. Because it’s so easy not to. It’s so easy to get stuck in a comfort zone and stay there. I hope I have learned through his death and of others, how being alive means to be alive, not rest at the bottom, like sediment. Not observe, but participate. Not allow status quo to dominate.
So, the conversations I had with my friend about his dying, his child, life ? That’s not light. You don’t share that with just anyone. It requires a certain amount of trust to allow that vulnerability to be shown. I asked my good friend, the one who said he was devastated, how he was doing. They were so close. “Even more devastated now. You know, he really wanted to be a father. A good one and he was. God knows, the world needs more good fathers.” That they do, I thought.
I will miss him. I hope he sees the light and love on the other side and is at peace. I hope he has box seats in the front row, to watch his son grow up. Thank you dear friend, for gracing my life, even for the short time you did. You will be remembered. Of that I am sure.