When you reach a certain age you start losing people. There’s been a tally at the end of every year. 2017 reached new lows, new depths of grief. I’ve been thinking especially, somewhat retroactively as it happened during a very busy and then emotionally-occupying time, about my friend Curt Mortimer and all that he has meant to me through the years. His lifetime of selfless giving.
Checklist Before Dying:
*write a poem
*vote for Hillary
*watch an epic sunset
*drink a good cup of coffee (especially good if accompanied by a friend)
Curt had a check in every box before passing away on Election Day 2016 sitting on a park bench late afternoon. He is an example of someone who lived a good, long life committed to the people he loved.
But, I’m also reminded of the first person, the first friend I had that died. They weren’t as lucky to have lived a good, long life. I remember the shock—if mortality, that time isn’t forever, that we can be too late to right wrongs, say we’re sorry, to start over. Time ran out for Cheryl, for me.
She was a few years older than me. Her family had just moved to Centerville and were fundamentalist Christian. They believed in the healing power of God. So that when Cheryl came down with Hodgkin’s leukemia they attempted prayer first.
Looking back there are a number of red flags I can now see.
Cheryl was their first born, the other siblings after her were blessed with athletic prowess, good looks, excellent singing voices (for all those gospel songs), and blind faith. Cheryl’s faith though rigid allowed for grace. You see all she wanted was to be loved. Even as a teenager I could see there were breaks—she was different, not like others, and her family seemed to ostracize her. I’m not sure they gave her a chance. She confessed to me once that she always felt like a sinner around them—especially her father. He was a hard man to please.
Back then I just accounted this as what we all felt—our families can be our own worse enemies. In this case, they actually were.
Cheryl fell in love and moved in with a boy when she got her diagnosis. Together they worked in his father’s doughnut shop. One time she called me, by this time I was a freshman in college in Dayton, and asked if I could take her to her chemo treatment.
This seemed sort of odd and sad. She explained that her family wanted nothing more to do with her. That her boyfriend needed to work, so she was stuck. I thought it was because Cheryl never learned to drive. Because of a lack of self-confidence she never got a license or finished high school. But the real reason—I was to find out. I took her and came back for her, where upon she immediately threw up in my car. I learned that people on chemo shouldn’t drive after a treatment. I got her home and upstairs into bed. She thanked me, but I sort of blew it off. I was confused about all the weird Christian logic. Was Cheryl so wrong to be left alone in this obvious time of need? I couldn’t make sense of it.
But life went on and a few months later I heard she’d died. I was not expecting that. I have always thought back with regret: I should have done more, been more supportive, been a true friend. I know I could have done more for her, but ran out of time.
What about you—is there someone from your past, your childhood, growing up years where their death struck you? The first peer or contemporary to die—and how it impacted your own life?