My day was ruined before it truly began today. I learned that yet another classmate and friend (going all the way back to elementary school) passed away from a heart attack. Even worse, it wasn’t new news at all. He had died a year ago and somehow I’d never found out. Before I could even open my mouth or shed a tear, my body involuntarily sank to the implosion of air expelling from my lungs. I spent the next 5 minutes fighting for breath as I seemed to choke through a closed windpipe.
“Another one. Damnit. WHY????”
Simple and quick answer. We’re on the wrong side of 50…
…and life happens.
When I was younger, the thought of losing a classmate was near-nonexistent. In fact, when/if it DID happen it was the result of some freak accident or worse, the byproduct of violence. But even then, it was quite infrequent. Thankfully we didn’t have these active shooters running in to and around schools with assault rifles like we do today.
What’s happened to our world? Anyway…
I vividly remember sitting on stage as Class Vice President with the other class officers during the commencement ceremony back in June of 1985. As I glazed along the sea of nervous, excited and sad faces, one thought continued to occupy my mind:
This is the last time we will all be together (as a group of this size).
I didn’t make it to the 10-year reunion because of a work emergency (sometimes, being a compliance officer sucks to high hell) but I did participate in the 20th. Having long since received a photo from the first reunion, I could see a dramatic difference in attendance. The turnout had dwindled significantly for a myriad of reasons: financial difficulties, work responsibilities, poor health, waning interest, racial dissension, poor communication, misinformation, no information (folks get harder to find) and sadly, death among my classmates. It’s equally depressing because we had a graduation class of 297, the majority of which were those whose hearts were filled to capacity with school spirit each of our last four school years.
We didn’t have an organized 30th reunion, although I hear there were informal get-togethers. And even if I had been able to attend, I could not have known that it would have been my last event with one of my oldest and greatest friends, Sam, who I lost and wrote a blog obituary tribute about last year. And now, here we are, coming up on what is supposed to be our 35th reunion this fall. Any and all pre-planning has come to a screeching halt, thanks (or NO thanks) to the COVID-19 pandemic. If by some minor miracle it DOES occur, I can only imagine who will be available to attend.
I must say that it is indeed a terrible feeling. Between high school and college, I seem to see a new Facebook notification just about every other month, announcing that we’ve “lost another one”. And this pales in comparison to the requests for prayers for the families of those related to my social media contacts. Yeah, just like taxes, death is certain and as I just mentioned, it’s a terrible feeling.
So anyway, I had a brief conversation with a friend from first grade who told me how we’d lost our mutual childhood friend. I closed out by promising to pray for her (along with his family) as she was closer to him than many of us. I know it offered some comfort, but most of her peace had already been obtained through the time that has already passed since the event. So I guess today, I’m the one hurting a little more.
I suppose that’s something I’ll have to continue to get used to. Until the last one of us falls it will be a constant game of musical chairs: walking around this world in a big circle, waiting to see who is next to be found without a seat in life when the music pauses. NOW it makes sense why my father always turned to the “Obituary” section first when he got his daily paper. It’s a morbid way to approach the day, but now I understand.
It’s been hours since that conversation and my day really hasn’t gotten much better. I’m sure I’ll be depressed about it for a while because the pain of losing someone is rarely mild or short. If they meant anything to you at all, it’s a most agonizing sensation. The only positive is that it makes me think about him, where I hadn’t lately. I think about the laughs. I think about the conversations. I think about the bike riding. I think about intentionally slamming into him when he was goalie of the opposing team in the hockey league. I think about the fight with hockey sticks outside of the school AFTER the game.
Damn, I miss those days.
There is ANOTHER hidden gem in this as well. I get to tell those around me, those who are left, those who are still standing and playing Musical Chairs Of Life just how much I love them. I can call, text, email or video chat with them to see how they’re doing. I can tell them how much they mean to me. I can repeat the song title I quoted during my opening speech at the 20-year class reunion dinner:
“I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today…”
(and I’m glad you’re right here with me)
I guess that’s all any of us can do, for time is short and it’s only getting shorter.
In the HOURGLASS that is OUR CLASS, the grains of sand in the upper half represent the time that we’re losing with each passing day, hour and moment…
…while the lower portion fills with the friends we have lost.
So if for some strange reason I’m the next to go, please know NOW, from the bottom of my heart, that I love you guys. I love you. I love you. I love you so very much. I always have.
Let’s get together for lunch.
I love you.
I’ll be in town, next week. Call the crew.
I love you. I love you. I love you.
In the meantime, take better care of yourselves and let’s see if we can eek out another 50 years, ok?
And oh yes, I love you.
Really good post. I thought about this myself as my friends and I have attended some of each other’s parents funerals. It’s only a matter of time before that hits. We have to enjoy and love one another while we’re here. Loving the blog post Kenny!
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Love you too, brother. It never gets easier this aging thing. Every year we lose another piece or two of our youth. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show Mad Men but there was a character named Roger Sterling who was a little older than the rest of the group at the marketing agency where they all worked. He had a great scene where he was telling his therapist about the sad fact that he realized you come to a certain part of your life where you see younger people living their lives and still trying to do things but your life is at the point where you start losing things. People, things, memories. It haunts me because he’s right. We are on the “wrong side of 50” and we will sadly experience more loss of different types. Yet even for all that doom and gloom, we still have to go on and insure we keep kicking around as long as we can while holding on to the beautiful memories of our youth while still making great memories of our now. “In the end, we’re all just stories.” – Doctor Who
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No, I never got beyond Episode 3 of Mad Men because I was juggling so many shows. But I promise to continue, especially since I happened upon a pivotal episode and saw the wrong thing (spoiler). It’s back on my list, but won’t be hit any time soon.
Yes, it’s frustrating to just sit here and watch the people leave us, one by one, being powerless to do so. But as I said in the post and as you confirmed, all we can do is love the ones that are still here, that much harder.
And that quote from Doctor Who is/was spot on. Love you, old friend.
Thank you so very much for reading and I’m so glad that you’re taking the time reflect and appreciate what we have and who’s still here! and thank you your kind words!