It's not easy to watch a lifelong friend leave.
We had driven a hard nine hour drive from North Alabama to Gainesville, Florida, had eaten cranberry sauce and watched plenty of football, but when the text message came to my husband's phone that his good friend Dan was fading, we got up the next morning and headed back North.
Last spring, by the time Dan was diagnosed, he knew that it would be a fist fight with a wild cat to beat the cancer that had already spread all over his body, but he was willing to try. Radiation, chemo, more radiation. Hospital stays with oxygen and drips. In between he had some good times fishing on the Tennessee River and fishing on the Gulf with family and friends. But by fall it was time to serve up televised football with a side of morphine. Even heavy doses could not erase the intelligent smirk, the ironic twinkle in Dan's blue eyes.
When we arrived at his family's compound and drove down the country lane to his mother's house, his sister-in-law Kim met us in the yard. "He just told us to turn off the music and turn on the Iron Bowl," she laughed.
And sure enough, when we went inside the dark front room with the smoky fireplace, Dan's bed was set up so that all the family could gather round, and at the foot of the bed a big TV played the Iron Bowl pregame. When a wave of pain hit, his sister Pat who sat by his side and his brother Wayne, a nurse, held his hands and assured him with gentle voices that they were working on it. We sat there with the family and watched the screen as the stands filled at Jordan Hare stadium. We heard the sports pundits' prognostications. Ten or so candles flickered on the mantle. A fresh breeze from the fields just outside the door drifted through the rooms. His mother, sisters, nieces, cousins, children came and went. Silent love.
Across the road is the little white frame Methodist church which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2009. We attended Dan's wedding reception there years ago. His funeral will not be at the church, but that is not significant, only a matter of convenience. These folks have a quiet faith, rock solid.
At one point, his sister said "You know there are some things on that bucket list that are not going to get done." Apparently Dan wanted to take a chainsaw and cut down a tree that had been bothering him, probably threatening the safety of his mother's house in this tornado prone area.
I wonder about the idea of a bucket list made popular a few years back in a widely viewed film by that name. If I thought I had six months to live, I might put some things on a list I would like to see while still on this planet: The Rockies one last time, that lovely little village of St. Bresson in the South of France, plenty of sunsets. But realistically, I would not trade that for memories of Dan and my husband returning tired and full of tales from hiking the Virginia mountains, of sitting in the middle of the canoe on Gaines Mill Pond one golden autumn Sunday as all those delirious maples caught on fire with the sun and as Ed and Dan paddled us around and around the still water that reflected the trees like glass. If I had just 24 hours left, I am not so sure how important it would seem to have jumped out of an airplane or bungee-jumped off a tall bridge. I think all that will matter then is how much you showed people--family, friends, and even strangers--how much you care for them.
Dan cared with all his heart and brain.
He need not have concerned himself at all about that chainsaw. I am sure other loving hands will take care of that troublesome tree.