The worst kind of trips are the ones where you have to fly for a funeral. Such was the case for me last weekend. My friend, John, died at the age of 54 from multiple myeloma. He had been fighting it for a few years now. To tell you the truth, because of his unending positive attitude I never thought he would die from the disease. I just talked to him about a month before he died. He was supposed to come to Chicago and we were supposed to get together. Just as I was thinking in mid September that I should reach out to him to secure the dates for seeing him, his sister texted me on a Monday night that John was in hospice. This was sudden and shocking to me. To me hospice always meant that one will die very soon after being admitted. This was my previous experience with another friend who died from melanoma a few years back when he went into hospice. That friend died within the week. So I asked a blunt question to John’s sister: how long does he have to live? She replied, “hours maybe days.” I couldn’t believe it as this news was so abrupt and harsh as all tragedies and deaths are. Then, two days after the initial news of John from his sister, he passed away.
When someone dies it never seems real. When I walked into the church in St. Louis where John grew up, I saw a beautiful photo of John blown up and on an easel like a precious piece of artwork. That’s when it got real. My tears could not be held back any longer. I looked for his mother whom I have never met but I was told that she couldn’t face the day. She was too heart broken to be there for her son’s services. I can’t imagine the pain she’s in, especially because I know she’s frail, and she is 93 years old.
I got through the service without too many tears as we saw numerous photos of John living life and living large on the projector screen of the church and constantly smiling in every photo. The projector in the church was quite large and it had photos of John throughout the whole service when people were talking, praying, and singing about John and his full life. If it wasn’t for the distraction of the many photos of John’s big life on the screen, I would have certainly cried much more.
There are so many positive thoughts and stories of John because he truly was a great human being. As with all deaths we think of our own mortality. At least I do. This makes me wonder how people will talk about me when I’m gone. It makes me think about how I want to live the rest of my life and it makes me ponder the the big questions. Did I matter? Did I love? Did I tell the truth? Did I try my best? Did I risk? Did I contribute? Did I live the best possible life? And finally, did I travel? I’m not sure if all the answers to these questions are an undeniable yes in my mind if I were to die today. But thanks to John and all the other great people who have passed on, I can ponder these questions so that in the end, my end, the answers to these life questions can be a resounding YES.
Yesterday I attended John’s celebration of his life in Chicago. (They had three celebrations for him in each city he lived in). What I found out was that John, being a lover of travel, wanted his ashes spread in Capri, Italy. So that’s where I plan to be next year along with some of his other friends and family. Even in death John knows how to make us happy and bring us together. I am reminded of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, HOW DO I LOVE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS. The last line of the poem reads, “I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.” Amen, John. Amen.