There are people who come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.
Seven years ago an elderly gentleman came into my life and in time became my best friend. He fought his cancer for as long as I had known him, but that fight came to a close on Thursday September 29, 2011.
It was seven am and I had just dropped my daughter off to go to school. I came home to get ready to go to my neighbor’s house for coffee, as I had done for the better part of five years, but before I had a chance to get ready my cell phone rang. It was my neighbors’ granddaughter. Her call was short and to the point,
“Could you come down here as soon as you can? Grandpa had a stroke early this morning. He is not doing well.”
Her voice cracked, and emotions were hemorrhaging through the phone. Usually she is a very controlled individual. Not this time, because of the tone in her voice, I said,
“I am on my way.”
I threw my jacket back on and walked as quickly as I could to their home. I knew I wanted to be there, but to be honest I dreaded going. Not because of my friend, but because of his family.
About four months earlier there had been a “situation” and heated words were exchanged. Relationships were damaged beyond repair, and I did not want contact with most of his family. Yet, with the current circumstances, and his immanent death, I knew I would have to see them, and for my friend, try to get along.
As I walked through the back door, a veil of sadness filled the air. Tears were flowing, and individuals who had cussed me a few months earlier now wanted hugs. His daughter met me at the back door. She reached out for a hug and whispered in my ear,
“He has been asking for you. He doesn’t seem to know anyone.”
He was resting on a hospital bed in the living room. He was unable to communicate clearly, due to his oxygen mask, and he was fading in and out of consciousness. As I walked up to the side of his bed his daughter said,
“Daddy, do you remember her?”
He managed a disfigured grin, nodded his head yes, pulled off his oxygen mask and said,
“Yes, it is my daughter Misty. Hey kid.”
He affectionately called me kid and I called him “Old Man.” Old Man was losing his fight with cancer.
He had fought the cancer for as long as I had known him, and fought it with all he had. The previous week though he said he could not fight anymore. His strength was gone. He just hoped he could hold on until all of his children arrived.
Even though I knew his time on earth was limited, secretly I wanted him to live longer. This man had impacted my life in a positive way and I was not ready to let him go. He had shared stories that inspired me, challenged me, and brought tears of joy, sorrow, self-reflection, hope and correction. He had been my fishing buddy, but more importantly, he was my friend, actually, my best friend.
I sat in the chair that was next to his bedside. He tried to talk, but with my bad hearing, his oxygen mask and the consequences of his stroke, I could not understand most of what he was saying. I just sat there holding his hand and watching him sleep.
For the next 10 days I sat at random times by my friends bedside. It was the longest 10 days of my life. Yet, it was also a time I reflect back on with fondness and healing. I was honored to have been a part of his life, and ultimately his death.
Frederick Buechner said:
“Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.”
Even though the journey has been hard at times, since his death, I am thankful for the journey. The journey has helped me to become the person I am today. More reflective, more emotional, but ultimately more grateful for everyday I have.
With that I leave you with this passing thought.
If we knew whom we leave heart footprints on, would we tread lightly, or just continue to stomp through?