When my friend died

Andrea_Previtali_called_Cordeliaghi_-_Portrait_of_a_Man_-_Memento_Mori_-_Google_Art_Project

By Andrea Previtali called Cordeliaghi (1470 – 1528) – Painter (Italian) Born in Berbenno (BG). Dead in Bergamo. Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A little over a week ago, late at night, my phone rang an unusual ring – one that I hadn’t heard from it before. In the middle of watching a movie, I took one look at the Caller ID and said to my wife, “It’s just a butt dial” and I let it go to voicemail.

Then her phone rang the same tone.

It turns out that the ring I had never heard before was associated with the Facebook ‘Call Now’ feature. On the other end of the line was someone who desperately needed to get in touch with me – to tell me that one of my closest friends had died.

I didn’t really have any words for the moment. I cried and wondered what to do next, tried to make some sense out of it, and couldn’t.

I suppose in some ways I’ve lived a sheltered life. With thankfully few exceptions, I’ve only been to the funerals of people who were much older than me – the type of people of whom it could be said “They lived a good, long life” when they passed away. That was not the case here. My friend was young, in seemingly good shape, and with no serious medical conditions that he knew about.

He hadn’t been feeling well for a little while, but he’d been to the doctor and been given some medicine – he was told he’d be fine in just a few days. It turns out that wasn’t true. Instead of following up with the doctor when the few days had passed, he apparently ‘toughed it out’ for an extra week. I don’t know what finally prompted him to call 911, but whatever it was had not come soon enough. During his visit to the ER, apparently awake and talking the whole time, he suddenly crashed and was unable to be revived.

My mind was racing about how this could happen. I denied it. I looked for reasons. I wanted to blame the doctors and ask who was going to sue!

Then, my thoughts turned inward. What if it had been me that had died? I don’t want to die. What would people say about me at my funeral? What would my family do? How would I want all of this to go down? How can I prevent my own death, or at least delay it as long as possible?

 

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Steve Jobs

 

It turns out that dying young isn’t that uncommon. Since I’ve been begun paying attention I’ve noticed death everywhere. I’ve learned about people who get into car accidents, people who are diagnosed with cancer at a young age, and people who have horrible accidents that either kill them or leave their mark forever. But just because something happens all the time doesn’t mean that it gets easier, that we should become accustomed to it, or that we should accept it. In fact, I believe that we should fight it with everything that we have. The fact that terrible things can and do happen all the time isn’t notification that we should roll over and accept it, it is notification that we should be thankful each day for what we have, even if it is not as much as we think we really want.

I’ve had hundreds of thoughts since I learned about the passing of my friend. Some of the thoughts that I’ve managed to remember are written below. Perhaps one of them will strike a chord within you.

 

  • I didn’t talk to him on the phone enough. We live in a social media world, and for a long time I had been messaging him back and forth. We’d visited in person just a few weeks earlier (he lived in another city), but I hadn’t picked up a phone and called him in a long time. A text is not a replacement for a conversation.

 

  • I wasn’t always as nice as I could have been. In reading back through those text messages, I wondered about the things I had written. I’d never been mean – he was my friend after all – but did I rib him in the right way? Was I being unthoughtful? Was I understanding of him and where he was coming from? When I was frustrated, we he just lonely?

 

  • Stuff really doesn’t matter. I visited his house after his funeral – as a single guy he didn’t have a lot of posessions. However, the Church was still packed with friends and family at the funeral. None of them were there because they liked his couch, new television, or fancy clothes. The few things he had collected were going to be sold and the proceeds distributed to his estate. If you’re living your life in the hunt of the latest gizmo, you can be assured that it is fleeting and will not last. Most of my friend’s possessions had been carefully curated and collected by him – but they are still all going to be sold for a fraction of what he paid for them to people who will never understand the care he put into collecting them.

 

  • Time is fleeting. He had no idea when he woke up that day that it would be for the last time. This really strikes home for me. All of my future plans, my stresses, and the things I worry about – there are no guarantees for any of it. In some ways, stress is a blessing – there’s a strange sense of hope in worrying about what might happen tomorrow or next week or next month. Contained within that stress is an optimism that tomorrow, next week, or next month is going to come.

 

  • Today could be your last day on this planet. Have you accomplished something that you can be really proud of? Something that you can call your legacy?

 

  • Death is coming for all of us. We’re all on the same crazy journey called life – and it doesn’t have a happy ending. You won’t know when it’s coming.

 

  • Go to the doctor. Experiencing shortness of breath? Pain in your side? Afraid of going to the doctor and being told that there’s nothing wrong? That’s not something to be afraid of, that’s something to be celebrated. Instead, be afraid that you have a heart condition and you are letting it worsen without treatment, or that the pain is a disease growing and spreading withing your body each day that you wait.

 

  • Get your finances in order. At the very least, write out a simple will. Put it together with a list of your bank accounts and debts, and tell a few people about it. You don’t want those who love you most to have to figure out where you keep that stuff, or wonder aloud if you have done any of it. If you have a lot of debt – make a plan now to get out of it. Get insurance to cover that debt. Family man, working hard, and barely making ends meet? Just imagine how hard it would be for your wife to handle the debt load without your income. The last thing you want is for your family to lose you, and then be forced to leave your home as well.

 

  • Today is the best day to start something. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

 

  • Get into shape. The better shape you are in, the better your body will be able to fight off whatever it might face. Do whatever you can to increase your odds.

 

  • What we do really matters. ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ Watching a portion of my friend’s ashes being poured onto a wooden box at a graveside really drove that home. In a month, there will be no physical memories of his life – but I will remember him forever. The way he interacted with my children, the trouble we got into together, the stupid things we SHOULD have got into trouble for but somehow managed to get away with. We spend most of our days creating a perfect life on Instagram and the perfect profile on Facebook, but none of those things matter. If we want people to remember us, we have to do things that we want to be remembered for.

 

  • Is that really how you want to finish that conversation? Storming out the door mad? Sending an angry text? Do you want your last Tweet to be calling someone a douchebag?

 

  • Death is real. It’s so easy in today’s world, that we watch from behind a computer screen or from our iPhone, to simply say ‘Thoughts and prayers…” but any time there is a death there are real people who’s lives have been broken that are left behind. Next time you come across a story on the news about a murder, don’t comment on them being a gang member, a criminal, or somehow deserving about what came to them. Think about their mother hearing the news for the first time, their son or daughter finding out that Dad is never coming home again, or their best friend learning that their last text message was their LAST text message.

 

Rest in peace, Andrew. I miss you.

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