First Ed McMahon, then Farrah Fawcett, and then Michael Jackson. Each celebrity death, eclipsing the next, with the media storm over Jackson taking on a life of its own. As we knew it would.
Yes, each of these three celebrities contributed to their industries in significant ways, impacted lives and memories of different generations, and of course, their deaths affect their families more than anyone. But I’d like to talk about something more real – to me – than celebrity death. A friend’s passing.
Last evening, I realized it had been some time since I’d heard from an old friend. The truth is, he was, 20 years ago, someone I loved. Someone I nearly married. Someone who remained a friend after we stopped seeing each other, after I’d moved half a country away, married another man, birthed babies, made a home, changed careers, divorced, and took on this “other life” that has been quite an adventure. And also, a struggle.
There were Christmas cards of himself with the woman he married, and their children. Phone calls now and then, with newsy chat about their daughters and his travels. When I was laid off years ago, and again the second time – there were conversations about career options and contacts. When I was trying to “go out on my own,” there was counsel, and there were more contacts. He wanted to help.
He had made himself a good life, the result of tremendous drive and work. And from what I could tell, his family life was a happy one. He knew my world had taken a more challenging turn; that was part of the reason he stayed in touch. To make sure I was okay.
He did what friends do: care. Keep caring, when times are tough.
I realized it had been more than a year since we’d spoken. After a cell phone crisis that wiped out a chunk of numbers, I needed to use the Internet to locate him, which didn’t take long. I found an article about a promotion, a new community venture, and his LinkedIn profile.
Then, an obituary.
I was stunned. I opened the link to the obit. It was his face, his smile, his eyes that I remembered so clearly – not only from the 1980s, but more recently. He had made a visit to see me and meet my family, about 10 years ago.
Five paragraphs summarized his 57 years of life: Viet Nam, college and graduate school, the building of an environmental business that employed many people and did a great deal of good, a long marriage, two daughters, and a battle with cancer that ended exactly one year ago.
Five thousand paragraphs couldn’t begin to tell his stories. And I only know a few of them. But he touched lives – for the better – with grace and subtlety, with conviction and follow-through. In ways that don’t get written about in newspapers, splashed across web sites, or buzzed up through media feeds. His flaws, struggles, eccentricities, dreams, wit, generosity, and accomplishments made him someone special, to many.
I haven’t much more to say, except that the last time we spoke he never mentioned the cancer. That was very much like him. He was about discretion. About others. He would’ve considered his illness a family matter, period.
In an age when we feel compelled to spill our guts publicly, in fact, to publicize or sensationalize everything and anything, my friend continues to be an example of honor, integrity, and an old-school manner that has everything to do with respect. A way of life which I very much admire.
My grieving is – and shall be – private. As mourning always is, ultimately.
And to Dan, I say this: You made me bigger, and everyone you loved, better. I will miss you.