Goodbye, Steven.

Today, in an attempt to finally say goodbye to my dear friend as well as channel my grief into fond memories, I took a long walk along the beach and through the grounds of the beautiful Ringling Museums near my house. It was really peaceful, yet a thousand questions still ran through my mind as well as pangs of deep sadness. I don’t think I’ll ever get over losing him, no matter how young and resilient I may be, but at least I can remember him forever. We’d walked this route before, so I could at least feel that he was with me while I said goodbye to him…

Some of you may know how it is when you lose a close friend of yours. It seems sometimes some of us think of things that we wish we did differently, or wish we spent more time with them in today’s maddening rush to hurry up and live life. I did a lot of thinking along those lines, as much as I couldn’t help it. Steven and I were going to make a go at starting a business partnership together again when he got out of the hospital. We both had lots of ideas and plans to implement once he was ready… That could be part of why I was hit so hard, because it was an assumed given that he would be out of the hospital soon and back home, where we’d meet frequently.

Some of you know how hard it can be to turn around and see your departed friend everywhere, in the form of things we did in the past, pictures, objects, etc. For instance, he really loved the oranges from our orange tree in the backyard. Said they were the absolute best he had ever eaten, and he worked for Tropicana as the Senior Systems Analyst for their fruit system! It was certainly a high honor, coming from him, to hear about our oranges in such glowing terms. 🙂 I’d turn in the house and see various Florida Gator (we’re both Gator fans from the University of Florida) items around the house and it’d remind me of our undying love for college football and us going to an occasional game as well as watching them at our houses on TV, trying out his delicious BBQ sauce he was so proud of. He was also part of one of the most joyous times of my life — when I was married and he was one of the groomsmen at our wedding.. Another fond memory I have of him is us sitting outside in my backyard, just sitting and chatting about things. He’d be smoking his cigarettes, and I’d be puffing on a cheap cigar. Often we’d talk about our dreams of going into business together…

While those are sweet, wonderful memories, they’re also hard on my heart, because they’re reminders that I’ll never be able to add to those memories of him in person. It’s so strange to see an abrupt end to these things. It’s going to take a lot of getting used to. Maybe it’s because many of us take one another for granted, expecting us to be around for the duration of our lives. Perhaps I was young and arrogant to assume he’d be around until we were sitting in old rocking chairs, with long, grey beards, still puffing away, talking about the good ole days. Steven led a rather difficult life, having to fight Hodgkin’s Disease not just once, but four times, with the prior three battles ending successfully on his behalf and him going into remission for several years.

I’ll never forget the time he emailed me as well as told me in person that his cancer had come back, 5 years after remission. You could tell he was disappointed, but also weary. I think he was tired of fighting such a formidable opponent — he really just wanted to put it to rest and be done with it, but sadly it was not to be. He was pretty negative, and rightfully so. I tried my best to cheer him up and encourage some positive thinking on his behalf. He also told me that his loving wife was scared and he was concerned about the future for her. I remember him asking me to look out for her if he died, and I remember laughing, telling him it wouldn’t come to that.

Well, it did, and here I am, ruing that day… I think Steven came so close to making it. His cancer was in remission, finally, but his immune system was so weak from the dose intensive chemotherapy and his white blood cell count so low, that he was still in danger. Sure enough, pneumonia attacked his system and he battled awhile longer, successfully holding it at bay for a little bit, but then it was just too much for him and he succumbed, slipping into a coma for a month. Finally, his liver and kidneys failed, and his family as well as his wife decided it was time to let him go and had his ventilator unplugged last Thursday. He didn’t stop breathing on his own until eight hours later. In a sense, those eight hours defined his life — a long struggle to live, and finally letting go to a better life elsewhere.

Unfortunately, only the immediate family knew of the extent of his battle — he had requested that no one else, not even close friends, know the extent of how his treatment was going or even visit him because he knew it would be a gruesome sight — a person undergoing chemotherapy is pretty much ravaged, physically. I think, in case he didn’t make it, he wanted us all to remember him as he was before he went into the hospital. That’s why his death was so sudden us, but not his family. I hadn’t heard from and remembered his request to be left alone so I assumed things were going well (no news is good news, eh?) and the last time I talked to him, he had promised to give me a good time to come up and visit him at the hospital despite his insistence not to allow visits, and his warning that it may not be a pleasant one.

Almost as soon as I arrived home from a business trip in Texas, I found out that he had died, and it was such a surprise that I thought his wife was joking. Luckily, I had come back in time because his funeral was the next morning and I was asked to be one of the pallbearers. I think this was somewhat prophetic because my original plan for my trip to Texas was for me to stay another day but for one reason or another, I decided to leave a day earlier so I could have time to rest up from the trip… Turns out it was just in time for Steven’s funeral. Had I missed it, it would have been even harder on me.

It was a really rough experience for me because I had only found out about his death the day before the funeral and here I was, right in the middle of it all, carrying the casket holding my beloved friend right next to me. It really was too much for me and throughout the funeral my tears were flowing freely. I couldn’t help it, and I had vowed to remain strong, like I always have at many other funerals. It wasn’t to be and I struggled all day, with grief wringing my face and heart at times. I was embarrassed a bit, at first, but that feeling was overwhelmed by my sadness for the loss of Steven. I think everyone understood. His aunt came up to my wife and said, “Bless his heart.” I think the pain and loss on my face was so clear that a few other guys next to me started using their hankies, wiping tears away from their formerly dry eyes. This was the first funeral I’d ever cried in.

Steven’s wife, Robin, seemed really strong at the funeral. It made sense, though, because she had been through it all, from day one when he went into the hospital for treatment. She had to watch him wither away and die before her very own eyes, for weeks and weeks. Thinking about that makes my anguish a bit more bearable because, my God, think about what she had to go through, in partial secrecy from many of his friends! And, to top it all off, she’s lost a dear and loving husband that she’d been with for so many years… My heart goes out to her and I’ll do what I can to respect Steven’s wishes and look out for her.

And, now, it’s time for me to let go and say “Goodbye, Steven,” as much as I don’t want to let him go. He will always be a large part of my memories, fully cherished. He was a really sweet and wonderful guy — even his face always seemed to glow with laughter, and it wasn’t hard to make him laugh, either. I’d always crack him up every time I saw him, and it was great. Even though we had our occasional differences, communication problems, and misunderstandings , I think we both understood that we were good friends deep down and cared for one another.

I will truly miss him with all my heart and my life will not be the same without him because it had big plans involving him. I’m going to do my best to continue our plans and do what I can to extend Steven’s legacy, and I think he’d like that.

I know that I’ll see him once again when it’s time for me to leave this lifetime and it’ll be a joyous reunion, as with my other long passed away relatives. I also know that he’ll be here, too, while I’m weaving my own life. He’ll be in my heart and mind as well as memories, every day. I can take condolence in the fact that while he’s gone physically, in a spiritual sense, he’ll be far more constantly with me that he was when he was alive.

Most importantly, I can rest assured that Steven has gone to a place where there’s no cancer, where he can really rest in peace and live the life he’s always wanted to live.


A profound birthday

It’s my 30th birthday (omigawd!) today, and we sort of celebrated it already last weekend with some close friends of ours. My wife still wanted today to be special somehow and I was just tired and a bit weary from all the work I’d done today.

She wouldn’t let me pick up around the house, help with laundry, etc. saying, “It’s your birthday! You’re not allowed to do anything.”

Finally, in the kitchen she said she felt bad about today because we didn’t really do anything special, and I told her, “Hey, we did something last weekend for my birthday, so don’t worry about it.”

You know how some loving wives are, they still feel bad. She kept saying, “But.. ” and I finally said, “Ah, I’m doing just fine — I’m just happy to be alive.”

And she responded sharply with, “Don’t say that!! Only people in their eighties say that!” She said it seriously!

I couldn’t help but laugh pretty heartily. It may not seem really funny to some of you — I guess you had to just be there.

But, really, I’m just happy to be alive! I’ve got the urge to go off track here, so you can either move on, or go with the flow…

I’ve been besieged with all sorts of adversity this year and last. Wanna idea? When we got married a year and a half ago, my great-uncle dropped dead on the day of our wedding. Wife got into a bad car accident, and probably needs to go to a chiropractor for the rest of her life. I started my new business almost a year ago — that’s not adversity, but soon after, I also was hit hard by Meniere’s Disease, a chronic vestibular disorder/illness and for a few months it profoundly affected my life — I couldn’t do much of anything. My business virtually shutdown at the time. My wife and I lost our unborn baby to miscarriage a few months later. Every damn thing broke in our house, even my own car’s engine blew out, testing our financial resources. My parents divorced. My wonderful father is having a hard time adjusting and it’s painful to watch, knowing that he was once that God-like father figure I looked up to It’s my turn to be a “dad” to him. My younger sister’s recent tests showed a hint of cervical cancer. One of my best friends and former business partner’s Hodgkin’s Disease (cancer) came back to ravage him. My grandfather-in-law passed away several months ago after a long and unhappy battle with the elements. The grandmother I so dearly love had to go to the hospital recently for treatment of collapsed lungs/lung failure. I could probably go on and on

Did you know that I am also handicapped? I was born with a profound hearing loss, which basically means I can’t hear at all unless I have some hearing aids (which I do). I rely on lip-reading to communicate. Many folks have thought that this would be adversity. I don’t even count being deaf as part of the adversity list. It’s just something in the cards that I was dealt with at birth, so it’s a non-issue to me, and I’m real happy to report that it’s also been a non-issue in my life so far, not affecting it one bit.

The amazing thing is that other folks have gone through far worse adversity than I have! It helps put things in perspective. It’s my belief that the world is how you make it out to be.

Your life is your destiny, which is in your hands. Your life is also about choice — you have a choice to love life or fear life. That also means a choice between being happy or sad despite the circumstances surrounding your life.

That’s why, despite a horrid two years, I’m still one of the happiest people you’ll be around. I’m just happy to be alive and able to do the things that I can still do. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to sit here and type to you. I choose to be happy.

Granted, my life isn’t perfect, and I’m not perfect. I know I won’t be happy 100% of the time because I will have my down times, but you can bet I’ll bounce back rapidly because there’s only one way to bounce in my life, and that’s up. 🙂

Folks, I’m smiling because I’ve been granted a unique opportunity to live my life on this lovely planet we call Earth, and I’m still here, 30 years later, and I’ve still got many more good years ahead of me, I’m hoping.