Thursday, October 20, 2011

Before It's Too Late

So I've had this blog for a while and obviously I don't post nearly enough. Every time I do, I think to myself, "I need to do this more". I almost feel if I am not writing something on it, I'm not experiencing much in life. If life can't inspire me to write something then what kind of a life is it?
Well I suppose something has inspired me, although, inspiration isn't always exciting and happy. Sometimes life sucks. Actually, I don't believe that. I hate those shirts that say, "Life is crap", I hate when people say "FML". I won’t argue that life is easy or life is perfect but ultimately life just is. And sadly, all life….ends. -Hence this post.
Several months ago a friend of mine emailed me that a former co-worker of ours that had been diagnosed with Cancer (I capitalize the word because for many of us, Cancer is personal.) There wasn't much info in the email but it indicated our former colleague "Patrick" (not his real name) had a tough ride ahead and was relocating to New England for better treatment. I worked with Patrick a lot over the years. We weren't that close but certainly had known each other well. He was a really nice guy, good to work with and happily married with 2 kids. I was totally shocked to hear the news and definitely felt horrible. I said to myself "I need to call him." Earlier this year I lost a friend to a suicide. It was someone I hadn’t talked to in about 8-12 months. We had busy lives so we often went months without being in touch. For several months, I often thought, “I need to catch up with Greg” (also not his real name). -But I didn’t. Then it was too late. I had no idea he had suffered from mental illness. I felt horrible for not staying in touch. I couldn’t procrastinate reaching out to a friend again.
It seems that everyone has encountered Cancer somehow in his or her life. Perhaps personally or from a family member or friend. Unlike life, Cancer sucks. Cancer is the opposite of life. I f**king hate Cancer, -with good reason.
I've always had a difficult time explaining to people about neighbors I had growing up. We were very close with the family next door. But people don't really grasp how close. When I say close, I really mean close. They were like family. I considered them second parents. Their daughters were and still are like older sisters. I love my real parents but Stan and Terri next door were a complement to them. I suppose it’s like the way some might feel about their grandparents. Except my neighbors were younger than my parents.
The point of the relationship is this. Stan ended up with Cancer fairly young. Stan was a big guy, handy and could fix anything. He seemed to be able to do anything. Within 6 months I watched my hero, Stan, be completely destroyed by Cancer. He went from a strong able man to a frail old victim in months. I would have never thought I would have to help Stan walk. I would have never thought I would have to order him to take vitamins, because he was always the boss. I would have never thought I would have to physically pick Stan up in order to get him into a car to go to chemo. I would have never thought I’d see Stan look to me for help. I would have never thought anything could beat Stan. I also would have never ever thought I would see Stan weep like a child. But it all happened because of Cancer. I f**king hate Cancer. When Stan battled it, I really considered it my fight too. I’ll always feel that I lost that fight. I hate losing. I expect I'll have another match with Cancer again someday, somehow. It’s a horrible disease that affects so many, so often.
When you go through a Cancer battle, you tend to remember it, It kind of sticks with you. Until recently thinking of Stan was one of few things I could think of in life that could muster a tear to my eye. (More recently, being a fairly new father I find there are other things that can make me a little funny in the eyes, mostly related to my 14-month old son who is awesome! But those are good tears) Because of Stan's battle I really wanted to call Patrick to let him know there were people out there he made an impression on and were thinking about him.
Typically, my life was "busy". The idea of calling Patrick in a few days became weeks then months. Finally, one night at about 3am, when I normally wake up with crazy stuff racing in my head, it hit me that I need to stop wasting time and contact Patrick. The next day, I tried the numbers my friend had given in the email. There were two, one was disconnected, the other was a direct line to a hospital room but the automated response said the person was no longer there. I started to panic. Was I too late? How could I procrastinate about this? Do I not remember how difficult it is for a family to go through? A simple phone call from a distant co-worker could really brighten a day. I reached the hospital operator who connected me somewhere else. Then I was connected somewhere else again and again. Eventually, I was talking to the "records" department. It didn't sound good. It made me feel like it was too late. I got nowhere.
Over the next few days I continued to look up phone numbers and area centers where "Patrick" might be saying but no result. Then I remembered some of the conversations he and I had about his wife and family. It turned out Patrick had a really interesting life. He & his wife owned several properties and even a coffee shop in Canada. I was able to find that shop on Facebook, then his wife's name (she still used her maiden name) and eventually a Google search got me an email address. I emailed his wife, "Cathy", (again, a fake name) fearing the worst and waited.
Days later there was a note in my inbox. To make a long story short, Patrick was still fighting along. Cathy thanked me for the email and was so appreciative for all the people that were reaching out. Patrick was in tough shape but she was going to pass along the email and she hoped to get him back online in a few weeks. Sure enough weeks later, I received an email from Patrick. It was light and conversational, just like his nature always was. He acknowledged it was a tough fight and he was honest about his future. Patrick mentioned just what I expected; the email meant a lot to him. I suppose there is a little self-interest in this whole ordeal because I needed to feel the satisfaction of knowing I was able to get to Patrick. It was an important step for me to remember a small gesture can make a difference. It was some sort of closure. And while that small gesture may end up taking a little bit of work, It is worth it. His response did something for me.
As of this posting, Patrick is receiving hospice care and not expected to make it through the end of the week. Throughout this week I have often paused and wondered, “has he gone yet?” By trade Patrick was a writer. Friend, it's only fitting that you inspired me to write something on a blog that I don't nearly write on enough. It’s the least I could do. So I write this:
Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to a friend. You never know when it will be too late.
Thank you Patrick and rest peacefully my friend. Rest peacefully.