Facebook. Almost everyone has a page it seems. I have one. I have 162 “friends”. Some of them truly are, but most of my friends are acquaintances that I may or may not avoid in the local grocery store. Hell, I may not even recognize them if I saw them. (And if I’m not wearing my glasses, I won’t)
Several years ago one of my brother’s friends sent me a friend request. I say he was my brother’s friend because that is how I met him in high school. I know he hung out in the background of our nerd group, I know he probably had a little crush on me back then although I didn’t realize it, and we ended up working together for a little while after we graduated, although when he friended me I had forgotten that. Shortly after we “friended” he celebrated his 39th birthday and I wished him a happy birthday and told him this would be his best year yet. He ended up messaging me several weeks later and told me he had just been diagnosed with colon cancer and was wondering how good the year would really be. We messaged back and forth and he came home to visit, and we met up and talked face to face. Both nervous, but not. We both had lives, and it was never a romantic friendship, but we hadn’t “seen” each other in over twenty years. It was a good couple hours just chatting about our kids, our work, and our spouses. He told me that he was so glad I had found my boyfriend; that he had worried about me ever finding someone good because all I had ever been with were losers. He was right, and he was never mean about it.
This boy, and I still call him that even though he was married and had a son of his own. He was still the boy I knew in school and always would be, and he was going through hell. Yet he was getting up every morning and going to work, mountain biking, canoeing with his kid. He was worried about his wife and the stress she was dealing with, dealing with him. We talked about little ways he could make her relax and spend some quiet stress free time together so they could talk of things to come. I told him about the book “On Death and Dying” that I had read in college. That it wasn’t necessarily about physical death, but about the ending of things and how to deal with them. He read it early on, before he knew that he wouldn’t beat this disease. He asked me for music, knowing that I used it when I exercised or crafted, that I love it in a way that when there is no music that sometimes I can’t move. He needed a chemo playlist, something he could fight the cancer cells with. I gave him songs and artists and some of them he liked, and I’m sure some of them he didn’t care for. I look back now and I realize that this was one time in my life when I was a real true friend. I really listened to him. He once asked me how come we never really talked before and I had read in one of those viral emails that come through the office once in a while that sometimes people are in your life at certain times, different reasons. Once that time is up, they fade away and you may or may not see or hear from them again. It doesn’t mean you’re not friends, just that, well, that was your purpose, or theirs. He liked that. It made sense to him, and he brought it up several times.
He didn’t live near me, and I couldn’t go visit him. We would message on Facebook a couple of times a week to once every several weeks, depending on what was going on. If I didn’t hear from him for a while or if I didn’t see anything posted, I would hit his wall with a “Where the hell are you?” and he would message me what he had been doing, whether he had been feeling well and was with his son or if he had been having surgery or treatments. My last message went unanswered. I had no idea that he was dying. I knew things weren’t good, but I didn’t know how bad they had gotten. He didn’t tell me. His wife posted on his page that he was in the hospital and they were all praying.
He used to tell me I was his cheerleader, which was something I NEVER did in high school. I told him to picture me in my leather jacket and combat boots kicking the s*** out of his cancer. The day he died, I found out through Facebook. I had just started a new job, and as I stood in the copy room I knew he was leaving us. I felt him go, or rather, I felt him come to say goodbye. There was nothing physical. I just knew he was there with me for a moment, and I feel him very strongly these last several weeks. I believe this is why I’m writing about him today. He told me to write, that I was good and that I could do it. I know I can too, but it’s good to hear it from someone that isn’t your family and doesn’t really have anything invested in you. Someone impartial, that doesn’t have to lie to you in order to not hurt your feelings.
In the days after he died I found out that there would be a memorial service in our area for his family and friends. I knew I was going to go. Then his wife contacted me and asked if I wanted to say anything at the service. I told her I did, but I wasn’t sure what I would say, so I would play it by ear. She told me that they were inviting anyone to say something if they felt like it and that she knew we had been communicating and if I wanted to then I was more than welcome.
I drove to the service alone. This was not a moment I needed anyone with me. This was for Bill, for our school days, for our work days, and for the newfound friendship we had enjoyed. I can’t remember what I said that day. I know it was a jumble of words and feelings and tears and laughter. I know I honored him and probably made him laugh from wherever he was watching.
I was never comfortable public speaking but this was different. Here we all loved the subject and knew him and anything that was said or spoken about was already felt by everyone else. The music made me cry, the sight of his son, as tall as he was, looking like a mix of him and his wife’s family, and knowing that he’d lost his dad before some gigantic milestones made me cry. The idea that I’d never, ever have a conversation with him ever again made me cry.
When I got home I thought, in the back of my mind, that eventually I would not think of Bill as often. I wouldn’t look for his messages or his Facebook “pokes”, but I do. It is surprising how much of a hole has been left in me with his death. I refuse to say passing as if he passed me by. This person stopped and made me care and made me a good friend and I think that makes him a really great person, because he made me a better person by knowing him. I wonder what he would say in regards to the latest news, what his opinion would be regarding Paula Deen or the Martin-Zimmerman case. He was very smart and I valued his opinion even when we disagreed, and he valued mine.
I started this piece with a totally different attitude. I was actually going to write about how a “friend” un-friended me and I had just found out about it the other night. I didn’t expect Bill’s sunny personality and great friendship to supersede my bitterness. To my friend Bill, I say thank you for showing me how a true friend is, and guide me in the future to be a true friend to more. Even though I am a solitary person, and I have the love of my life beside me, I still need those friends to remind me I am more than a spouse, a mother, a mema, an employee; I am a friend, too.