A few long weeks ago, I heard from an old college acquaintance, asking if I cared to have lunch with him while he was in town. We’d done a poor job of staying in touch over the years and “in town” was now 500 miles away for me and four times that for him. By a fateful twist, I’d made plans to be in our shared former city the week that he’d planned to be there. I hadn’t seen Andy in several years and agreed to meet for lunch to catch up. If things went as they usually did, I’d see him again in a few years with a handful of emails exchanged in the intervening years.
We met for lunch, but that’s when things stopped going as planned. Seeing him, it became readily apparent that he was ill. It took several subsequent conversations for him to admit that he was suffering from advanced CNS lymphoma and that the prognosis was quite grim. He’d already put his life in order, taken care of all the little details, and was quite ready to pass whenever the gods saw fit to take him. He’d asked to meet to say goodbye and to say things that he’d been afraid to say.
Andy had been trying hard to isolate himself over the last few months in a misguided attempt to spare his friends and family the pain of seeing his declining health and inevitable passing. Yet, we began to talk and email everyday. Life threw a couple of surprises at us, not the least of which was an affection that quickly bloomed into something more precious. Neither of us had intended to deepen the relationship beyond what it had always been, yet it happened in spite of our intentions. We’d both isolated ourselves for a long time, nursing old heartbreaks and fearful of exposing tender scars to potential new pain. Still, we found ourselves making plans to spend whatever remaining time he had together.
He came to visit on Friday, flying across the country to be there for me on an important day. Always full of surprises, he came with a friend and asked if I would consider a hand fasting until we could “make it legal”. Friday was a very good day, one that I could never have predicted a few weeks ago. We were hand fasted in a quiet park among the oak and holly trees on a perfect autumn afternoon. The smile never left his face in the few hours that he was here and in spite of an uncertain future, we were both happy.
The plan was that he would take care of some personal business and return here in mid-November to stay… for good. Whatever came our way, we’d find a way to cope with it. It was important to him to be near me and for me, the only thing that mattered that this dear sweet man not go through life alone. We made plans, knowing that they might be short-lived or change rapidly without notice. We both knew there wouldn’t be a happily ever after, but as he’d put it, we were both content to have a “happily right now”.
Andy passed away Saturday afternoon. According to his friend, the flight back had been rough. Andy suffered from seizures as a result of his illness and had a mild one while traveling. Sometime during the drive home from the airport, he slipped into unconsciousness and never woke again. I had not planned to mourn for him, yet I grieve his loss in ways that I didn’t think was possible.
Nothing has gone as planned lately and I will blatantly disregard Andy’s plan to slip away with no fanfare, no funeral service, not even an obituary. He wanted to pass quietly and unnoticed. However, I will celebrate his life and ask my friends to celebrate with me and honor his memory by burning a white candle for him. Andy was 36 years old, an elementary school teacher who served as a volunteer fire-fighter and literacy advocate. His own troubles never took priority and he could always be counted on for kind words, a genuine smile, and a helping hand. A once bright light has been extinguished and the world is a little bit darker for it. He will be missed.