August Memories

Field of Dreams

Photo by Lynn Cummings

The worst part about D’s funeral wasn’t being asked to be a pallbearer or shoveling dirt onto his casket.

Those weren’t great but they pale in comparison to the moment I looked up from the grave and made eye contact with his mother. I can’t describe the look of horror upon her face or tell you what it felt like to be holding the shovel in my hand when our eyes met.

Some people go out for a Sunday drive but we weren’t some people. We were 29 back then, kings of the world and all that we surveyed was part of our realm.

‘D’ was a scientist and a pilot. Some days we would head out to Santa Monica Airport and take his father’s plane out for a spin.

Thousands of miles above the ground we would talk about life and our dreams or just sit quietly and look out at the wild blue yonder the poets speak about.

Fourteen years later the memories are still vivid and it doesn’t take much to bring back some of those moments. Maybe it is because I am a father now and I understand things differently than I once did.

Once I didn’t believe things like this could happen to me or those I cared most about. I didn’t see it as being naïve or arrogant. Terminal illness wasn’t on my radar. I knew people who had died, young people, but they all died from accidents.

Drunk driving, wet weather and dumb luck took them. It hurt but it was different because I knew if they hadn’t been driving or riding they would still be here.

Thomas The Tank Engine Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore

The first time my son asked me who ‘D’ was caught me off guard. He was looking at wedding pictures, naming the people in the photo one by one and then he found someone he didn’t recognize.

I looked at the photo and saw ‘D’ smiling back at me. There he was garbed in the traditional monkey suit, two years removed from his first fight with tumor number one and two years removed from the battle with tumor number three.

It was hard to reconcile the two moments. If you would have seen him back then you wouldn’t have had a clue he had ever been sick. He was making plans for the future and petitioning for the return of his license.

We talked about going flying again. He teased me gently about telling my wife about the past, double dates and plane rides.

“His name was ‘D’ and he was a very good friend.

My son smiled and went back to playing with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains.

‘D’ is gone now and my son doesn’t play with Thomas anymore. Time keeps moving.

August Memories

Three of us are asked to speak about ‘D.’ Technically they call it a eulogy but I hate the term so I think it as a moment to try and share stories that show who he was.

It feels surreal. ‘D’ is lying in a box somewhere behind us. We half expect him to interrupt our talk with one of the practical jokes he was famous for.

Any moment now there will be a loud explosion and when the smoke clears the old man will be standing there laughing and we’ll laugh with him. Story time ends and there is no explosion, no smoke and no ‘D’.

Instead there are tears and grown men are crying on the shoulders of their mothers and wives.

Make Like John Henry

My mother and wife encourage me to let it out and to let go, but that is not how it will go. There is only one thing left to do, one last way to say goodbye and show our love.

Jackets come off, skirts and dresses are adjusted and the shovels are passed between us. This task won’t be left to those who didn’t know or care for him. This is for us.

We got this. The once proud kings of the world have lost this round.

The August heat shows no mercy and sweat pours off of our brows. We don’t care and we keep working. I refuse to stop and won’t let go of the shovel. The work is what is keeping me together, the time to really let go will come later.

Later on I’ll hear that ‘D’s little brother told their mother it was time to go and that we would make sure things were taken care of. When I think about her eyes I remind myself of that and hope in some small way it helped.

Do You Miss Your Friend

Sometimes we forget how observant children can be. A chunk of moments have passed since my son asked about ‘D’ and we have taken Thomas on more than a few adventures.

“Daddy, do you miss your friend?”

I nod my head and say “One day I hope you have a friend as good as ‘D.”

And then I add a silent prayer that he never has to experience his own August day.

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  1. Kristen October 31, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I am sorry to hear this story, Jack, but grateful for the graceful, loving way you told it. I lost a friend named D. at age 28 to testicular cancer. My first son has his name – Daniel – for a middle name. I like to think his kind, gentle spirit and his ridiculous sense of humor will live on in some way through his namesake.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Jack November 1, 2012 at 12:10 am

      Hi Kristen,

      I think it is great you used Daniel’s name for your son. That is a wonderful tribute and a great way to remember him.

      Twenty-eight is just far too young.

  2. Joe October 31, 2012 at 5:54 am

    I know how you feel. I lost my closest friend this year in June, and a couple of weeks later, a very good friend of mine died suddenly and unexpectedly. There have been others as well. I’ve been to more wakes/funerals in the past few months than I care to count. It’s scary to see those who were once young and strong becoming ill and dying. Like you said yesterday, we’re not young anymore and the years begin to take their toll. I would like to try to get through the rest of 2012 without another funeral, please…

    • Jack October 31, 2012 at 11:05 pm

      Hi Joe,

      From your mouth to G-d’s ears. If 2012 goes by without any major disruptions, disturbances or incidents I will be pleased and thankful.

      It is surreal to me to see all this. We aren’t young, but we definitely aren’t old either.

  3. Harleena Singh October 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Sorry to hear about your friend Jack!

    Yes, losses are always bad, and if it’s of a family or dear one you know, recovering from them takes long. Made me remember my Mom whom I lost to cancer a few years back, though it just seems like yesterday.

    However, I strongly feel that those who are close to us always remain with us in our hearts. I can feel my Moms presence to date in so many of my life’s situations and more as a guiding light to help me during my trouble times. They never leave us. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Jack October 31, 2012 at 10:59 pm

      Hi Harleena,

      Losses are hard, but the degree of difficulty also serves as a good measurement of how important the relationships were. Sometimes the pain is mitigated by recognizing that.

      I am glad that you feel your mom’s presence, that is important and valuable. I believe that sharing these tales helps to keep pieces of those who were important alive and that is important to me.

  4. Sarah Park October 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Hi Jack,

    That is so sad to know to hear about your friend, D. We all have that one or more dear friends that eventually cannot join us always especially now that we are grownup and have families of our own. We just have to cherish the moment with them.

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