I say that with a heart full of sadness. We made 2 trips tonight. One to Chicago to say good bye to a man too young to have gone & one to Dock man's place of employment because he - once AGAIN in a matter of weeks - locked his keys in his car. I had a lot of time to think & become more sad. I only hope this comes out sounding the way I want it to feel.
When someone dies and has lived a long, fruitful life it is sad, but acceptable. When someone dies and is young & hasn't had enough time to really live it is so much harder. Even when the closeness isn't there.
I went to the wake of a dear old friend. He was an old friend in the sense that I didn't get to know him as an adult. We knew each other very well as little kids & over the years our families have remained close. After a while, he was just a missing piece in all of the gatherings.
Let me tell you about him. I remember a very sweet, handsome boy. He was very handsome only I never would have admitted it. That would have let him know I thought he was cute. He was also a sensitive soul. Things that may not have bothered most of us, bothered him. He was highly intelligent. He loved Barry Manilow (I know! and we all used to tease him about it). He had a tenderness about him, he was thoughtful and had a smile that was engaging & could even steal the breath from an 8 year old little girl. He also had the cutest raspy voice that could melt a girl that got older. Our families were so close, it wouldn't have felt right.
I was not quite a year older than he was and we did spend a good deal of time hanging out (all of us kids, there were many of us because our parents had LOTS of parties together.). When we would spend summers with my grandparents, they were the next door neighbors. The family had 4 children & he was the oldest. When we were kids I really did know him well.
We all grew up, we all went our separate ways. When I moved back to Chicago back in 1991, I did spend some time with his family. They had a few parties & my dad would come out from Nebraska & we'd go hang out - again. But he was always absent.
I started to hear things about him. I heard how he'd gotten caught up in drugs & spent time in jail. I couldn't help but think it was so not how I expected his life to turn out. He seemed so above turning to that. I can't say that I knew all about his life when we weren't around, but I know it wasn't easy. As many kids lives aren't.
From 1991 to 2008, I saw him once. His whole family attended our wedding & he wasn't there. Every time I'd drop in to visit, he wasn't there. Every get together or party I'd go to, he wasn't there. I don't even remember seeing him at his own brother's wedding, but I remember he had to be there.
This much is telling to me. It tells me how he succumbed to a terrible disease. A disease that begins for emotional reasons & continues for physiological reasons. He was in a bad way for a very, very long time. At times his low was homeless low. Homeless & feeling like he had nowhere to turn. I remember hearing these things & not consciously believing them. Maybe I was simply turning a blind eye.
Early last year, he seemed to be getting his life together. Finally! He was around more, I'd hear from my mom talking to his mom. He was in love & planning a wedding. I was happy to hear this, I was happy for him. One day, 10 months ago, he slipped into a coma. Tonight, I finally found out a little more about that. He had a massive stroke. His brother mentioned that it may have been attributed to "a substance or a couple". No one really knows why. After 5 months, he awoke in a vegetative state. For a while, his mom got to take care of him at home. The last 5 months, he fought pneumonia a few times and finally couldn't beat it any longer.
I went to tell him good bye tonight. He was depleted. Skin and bones & that just broke me. Here I am watching all these faces that I haven't seen in a while and there is laughter & conversation and little tears. I know that his family was probably guarded for this. They probably had months to grieve with the knowledge that he wasn't going to remain that way forever. That I understand. What I couldn't grasp was how little I knew about him & how little we had to celebrate from his life. It was just. so. tragic. Usually, when there is laughter & conversation at a wake or funeral, it is because of memories of good times & talk about things he used to do or what he was like. There was none of this for that reason. It was small talk & conversations about other lives. I can't let that go for reasons I don't understand. It really bothered me.
I am grateful that his family got to let him know how much they loved him in those last months. I am grateful that his fiancee loved him & he knew it. One who suffered through what he did for so many years needed to feel loved. The reason he suffered was because he didn't feel that. For some reason, that is something I feel I know.
Gabe May 7, 1972 - October 18, 2008
Rest in peace & know you are loved.
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