On Friendship and Breakfast
Today started just like any other day. I got up, made coffee, checked, and answered email. Just like so many other of my days have started. Then the phone rang, and this ordinary day quickly turned into a very unordinary day – an incredibly sad day.
And I can honestly say it’s a day I’ve been dreading for months now.
It’s not bad enough our local hospitals are full of COVID patients and they are running out of room for more patients. It’s not bad enough that the pandemic turned our country upside down. It’s not bad enough that the pandemic and its consequences – masks and so forth – have become political footballs. It’s not bad enough that the craziness of this whole situation is turning friend against friend and family member against a family member. It’s not bad enough that things have gotten as terrible as they are, and lives have been turned upside down by the craziness of 2020.
Nope…all of this heaped upon us all in one year was not bad enough…
During this difficult dreadful year, all our lives have been affected in some way. And, you know, I can deal with that. I try to keep my life simple and to always be thankful for the things I have and the things I can do, rather than wasting time wishing for things I don’t have and feeling bad because of things I cannot do.
This morning, the most ordinary of mornings, took a terrible turn when my phone rang. And when I heard the voice on the other end, my best friend’s wife, asking me “are you sitting down?”, this most ordinary of mornings turned into one of those awful mornings that places itself on the calendar of sadness that I’ve kept in my mind since my mother died when I was ten years old.
This morning, it was my sorrowful duty to add the death of my best friend to that horrible and indelible calendar. The calendar in my mind that time can’t erase – the one I’ve lived with and carried with me since I was ten years old.
Now, I have one more loss to mark on it, one more date engraved on my memory along with all the others: my mom, my dad, my stepmom, my sister, my grandfather, my grandmother, and just two years ago, my “southern” best friend, David, and, most recently, abeautiful baby granddaughter.
This morning I added another death to this grim calendar — the death of my dearest friend. A friend I met quite accidentally in 1986.
We’ve been having breakfast at least once a week since then. In the last few years, we’ve been meeting for breakfast twice a week. We’ve met at various local restaurants for over 30 years, just about every single week.
In March of this odd year of 2020 – the pandemic reared its ugly head and restaurants shut down for inside dining. We did, for a while, do “tele-breakfasts”. We’d talk on the phone for an hour a couple of times a week. We called these tele-breakfasts. But we both missed getting together in person.
As the weather got nicer, we both wanted to get together for real breakfasts again, but neither of us was ready to eat inside a restaurant with the pandemic all around. And both of us, he more than me, had pre-existing conditions so neither of us was inclined to take any chances.
Anyway, when the warm weather finally arrived in May, my friend opened what he sarcastically called the “CoronaVirus Inn”. He and his wife set up a facsimile of a restaurant in their over-sized garage. And all through the summer, we had breakfast, twice a week, in this “restaurant’ – just the two of us. I’d call him to take his order and then I’d pick up food at a drive-through -wherever he wanted – and deliver it to the CoronaVirus Inn.
It wasn’t long after we started having breakfast in person again, that my friend learned he had cancer… lung cancer. At first, they told him it was just a small spot. The doctor didn’t seem to show much concern. But my friend learned the truth himself by looking at his medical chart on his online medical portal. He found out then his cancer was terminal. And then furious, he called his oncologist who finally told my friend the truth – he had a year to live – maybe eighteen months if he agreed to chemotherapy.
We talked about whether it would be worth going through chemo for another six months of life. He asked what I would do, and I said I’d try chemo and if it didn’t make me terribly ill, I’d keep doing it. But I pointed out how hard it is to put yourself in someone else’s place.
By now, his cancer was spreading, and he had to decide. He ended up doing chemotherapy. After a month or so they did a PET scan and it showed that while the cancer was shrinking slightly it had metastasized.
My dear friend was a survivor, I’ll tell you that much.
He had survived a liver transplant, a stroke, and a kidney transplant. So as far as I was concerned, his will to live was going to beat cancer – I just knew it.
We continued our breakfasts at the “CoronaVirus Inn” – twice a week as usual.
Last night, just four months after he learned about his terminal cancer diagnosis, my friend died. His breathing became labored and he was fighting hard to breathe. He was rushed to a local emergency room where a code was called and my friend’s valiant fight for life ended.
So, this morning, which began as the most ordinary of mornings, was shattered by a phone call. A single phone call that left me with an empty place in my heart and a hole in my life that will never, ever be filled.
He was my friend and he stood by me through all the challenges and setbacks I’ve had. His friendship never wavered, never faltered, and never weakened. We were a lot younger when we met and, and because he was ten years younger than me, I never thought I’d ever see this dreadful day.
He was a loyal friend. He was the kind of friend everyone wishes they had -but very few ever do. And now he’s gone. And I don’t know how to process the loss. And trust me, I’ve suffered more than my share of losses in my life
It never gets easier.
And because of the coronavirus and the age of his friends, his wife has decided that there will be no funeral – she said she would not want anyone to become infected or sick from attending a funeral. Instead, she said, they will have a small family-only gathering before his cremation – and if I would like to come, that I was welcome even though I’m not family.
I told her I would rather remember him the way I saw him on Tuesday morning when we had breakfast. I brought him a “bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit” from McDonald’s – that’s what he ordered.
I’ll never forget our time together and I’ll never forget our breakfasts…
I brought a “USA Today” newspaper to almost every breakfast we ever had. It was the fodder for our conversations. And I want to remember him eating his breakfast and talking about our football picks from the previous weekend and him laughing so hard at my picks because I was wrong so many times. But every football season picking college and pro games was our tradition. And we’d laugh at each other’s picks and sometimes argue.
And we talked about – and sometimes laughed at – some of the articles in the paper. And one of the funniest parts of breakfast was reading the TV Listings to him. Especially the Lifetime Movie Channel movies, which he despised. And because he hated them so much, I delighted in making sure I read the Lifetime Movie Channel movie listings for that night. He rolled his eyes… but I know he got a kick out of my insistence on reading them.
So, I will not be going to the family-only gathering before his cremation although I am honored to have been invited. Instead, I will be remembering his laughter and humor. I will remember him picking on me during our last breakfast about my terrible football picks.
And I’ll remember his last words to me as I left him on Tuesday morning – I said… “See you Friday!” and he said, “See you Friday!” “Thank you!” And we both waved and I walked to my car and drove away.
I don’t know how many breakfasts we’ve had over the last 30+ years, but it must be in the thousands. And I can’t tell you how hard it is to grasp that after all those thousands of breakfasts, we never share another one.
What can I say? No words can express my sorrow. But I bet you know what I’m feeling, don’t you?
I will miss you, my friend, more than any words could ever say.
May you rest in peace always.
I will never, ever forget you.