One of my best friends from high school died in late March, and I was reeling. His death wasn’t altogether unexpected, but it felt like a really hard sucker punch anyway. I absolutely adored him. We’d been friends for almost 40 years, and to know he’s not roaming this earth anymore hurts my heart.
This guy. This guy was larger than life, both literally and figuratively. In high school, he was really popular. Sweet. President of the senior class. Goofy. Inclusive. Friendly to everyone, regardless of the very important and ever-present high-school social caste system. Three-sport athlete that went on to play Division I football at an iconic and legendary program. Gregarious. Loyal. A buffoon. Kind. Funny. Compassionate. Loud. Sweet. Tenderhearted.
I (unrequitedly) liked him so much for years in high school and he never once made me feel awkward or embarrassed about it – he never threw it in my face. We were really good friends, and that was always how it should’ve been, but my 15- and 16-year-old self-thought differently. I’m sure we remained such good friends for these last three decades because that’s what we always were.
I don’t have the words to capture who he was or how he was or what he meant to me. And now I can’t believe this sweet giant, this gentle soul, is gone.
He was given a cross to carry, and ultimately it was too heavy for him.
When he died, it had been about six months since the last time we’d actually spoken. Our last chat wasn’t great – me mentioning the state he was in, him denying it, me telling him not to call me like that again.
And he didn’t. I never spoke to him again.
The next six months were rough for him. Rougher for his family.
One of our mutual best friends had kept me updated on what was going on with him, and it had gotten to the point that every time he called, my heart dropped, fearing the worst. I’d usually answer the phone with something like, “I’m always so afraid of what you’re going to tell me when you call.” And when he called me this last time, while I was in the middle of Target, he paused for a beat, and I just knew. I knew our beloved friend was gone.
A classmate of ours is a priest and gave the homily at his funeral mass. Our old principal is now a bishop and presided over the mass. A handful of priests from our high school were on the altar at the funeral. The church – a huge one that seats 1,000 people – was standing room only. It was packed to the brim with people who loved him and his family. A testament to who he was and how much he and his family are loved.
The homily was amazing. The priest from our class was a good friend to him for almost forty years, and especially at the end. He knew our friend, brought him alive, reminded us of funny stories, and eulogized him in such a beautiful and respectful way. There was not one single dry eye in that overcrowded church. And as I sat next to people I’ve known for forty years, and spent my high school years with, I was so grateful to know those people, to have grown up with them, and still feel connected to them all these decades later.
I looked around and found so much (momentary) comfort in this enormous, shared grief. We all loved him and his parents. His wife. His boys. And we were all grieving and mourning him. It was such a profound experience, one that now – even nine months later – is still sitting heavy with me.
Diving into a new year, I’m feeling very introspective and more than a little melancholy. I’m at that age where things are happening to us and our parents and siblings and friends and spouses. And the reality that life is short and unpredictable is being hammered home right now. And also, life is 100% predictable since nobody gets out of here alive.
So y’all. Do not waste any time telling people you love them. None. Not a single minute.
Go do it right now.
Face to face. Write a letter. Send a text. Call. Send a card.
Just do it. You will never regret it.
A friend of mine said something really profound to me the other day. I think on some level I have known this, but she put it in such a simple way, it knocked the wind out of me:
Our only job on this earth is to love people.
It’s not our job to judge them – (I believe) some power far greater than us will do that. All we have to do is love people. Our spouse. Our kids. Our best friends. The homeless person on the corner. That family member we honestly think is a little bit awful. The people who disagree with us politically. The people who make decisions we don’t agree with. Everyone.
And that is hard.
I didn’t judge my friend – I am very familiar with the cross he was carrying and know better than to judge. But I was afraid to reach out because I didn’t know which version of him I’d find. So, I did the thing that was easiest for me and didn’t reach out at all. I didn’t love him as he deserved to be loved.
I let my fear and sadness and my own issues get in the way of our decades-long friendship and was not a good friend to him at the end. Did he know how much I absolutely adored him? How much I treasured our friendship? How fervently I prayed for his healing? How often I thought about him?
I don’t know.
I’m left with regret that he is gone, and I didn’t tell him every chance I had that I loved him. And it feels pretty crappy. I wish I would’ve done the end differently. I was dealing with my own stuff last year and have my own, personal reasons for why I said what I said, but I didn’t know the end would come so soon. I thought I would have more time. Which, I imagine, is how most people feel when endings come.
So run, don’t walk, and tell people you love them. Don’t live with this kind of regret. This kind of wishing you’d done it better. A new year has just started – it’s a perfect time to start fresh in the ways that really matter.