I have been spending the last six days with some dear friends. We’ve been wrapping our arms around an amazing colleague and her family. They've lost an incredible husband and father to that grand villain - cancer.
He was fifty years old.
He was a man of action and purpose who loved his family to distraction. He never bullshitted you, was a realist and never questioned why he landed in the bulls-eye of the grim reaper. (Well, he might have in private once or twice, but never let anyone else know.) He accepted his fate, fought valiantly to prolong his time with his children and wife, and embraced each day he had left with them.
On one particular visit last fall I found him alone in the back yard cleaning the family chiminea. We’d all spent many a happy hour laughing on this back patio, warming our hands and sharing funny kindergarten stories and laughing at ourselves. His wife (one of my fellow kindergarten teachers) and girls were in the house, and I sat crossed legged on the brick patio to chat before going inside. We made some small talk, and I made a comment about being thankful for each day. He looked at me and started telling me an incredible story.
“You know, Vodka, I know that each day is a gift; and I’ve known that for a very long time.
“When I was twelve years old, my older brother Donald came home after being in the service. He was young, only 23 or so, and had a great life planned for himself. He was working with a buddy repairing the roof of one of the churches in town. It wasn’t raining, but a sudden, freak lighting storm swept through town. They were struck by a bolt of lightning that blew them right off the roof onto the ground.
“My brother stood up to check on his buddy. He was stunned, but okay. My brother wasn’t so lucky. A minute later he fell over and died. Ever since that day, at twelve years old, I realized that we never, ever know when it’s our time.”
I looked at him, shaking my head in wonder. “Yep. Each day really is a damn gift.”
Tomorrow we bid our final farewell to this amazing man. A man who lived far many more years than his brother, but who will be holding that brother's hand for the rest of eternity. May you rest in sweet peace, Joe; sweet, sweet peace.