About a friend of many years
(written in 09)
It was Monday morning when my cell phone rang; it was about 10 AM. When I saw who it was from, I felt some apprehension as I answered the call. It was Mike, the eldest son of one of my best friends, Fred; who for the last few years, has been in last stage Parkinson’s and suffering deeply from its ravages. Mike informed me that Fred was being taken to the hospital for a urinary track infection; he will keep me informed and then hung up. This of course saddened me. Fred, a coach, a very good one, a father of 7 children, who has a lovely wife, Fran, has lived a good life; I hate this path of suffering he is being forced to travel. I no longer ask “why” about such things, for it is simply life. Though the living it out is far from that; simple. None of us knows what will happen to us in either the near, or the far future, and thank God for that.
I first met Fred in 1972, I was 23 years old and he was 33. He is almost exactly 10 years older than me. He was a down to earth kind of man, a coach who loved his job and looked out for the boys who were under his care. At that time he only had two children, with five more to come in swift succession. When I first met him, I did not think it would develop into a deep friendship, but such things cannot be planned, friendship happens, and then it is up to those involved to keep it going. It is a gift bestowed.
Fred liked to visit me just before Christmas, so he could freely go out and buy gifts for his children. Each year the list got longer as his brood grew. Being a coach he was not rich, so we spent a lot of time in K-Mart looking for the gifts. He selected each with great care, perhaps a little too much for me at times, for I hate shopping, yet he was a friend, and I enjoyed the talks we had and the good natured banter that went on between us. He also drove like he was a man with seven children, way too slow, which was another point of humor between us. When I drive, I tend to be one of those who go with the ‘flow’, which means 10 miles over the speed limit. So I got my licks as well when he would comment on my driving.
I remember one day we were talking about his wife and kids, I guess at this time he had them all; I think it was 1980. He looked at me, paused, took a deep breathe and said: “You know Mark, I had no idea how much I would love my children. I love them so much it hurts”. Yeah he knew the secret of love. It gives great joy but there is always pain that goes with it. When his kids became sick both he and Fran suffered more than the children did. I guess it is the same for parents everywhere; it was that way with my own, I know that from experience.
I am not sure when the first symptoms of Parkinson’s started, it was perhaps in the early 90’s. He started having a limp in his left leg. Later, fatigue would set in, very bad fatigue, his voice would get very soft when that happened and when speaking over the phone I could barely hear him. I remember one year we were, yes, shopping for his little army and also for his wife; for Christmas was a few weeks away. As he was looking at some items I thought to myself: ‘Dear God, don’t let it be Lou Gherig’s disease”. Right after I thought it, he turned around and looked at me and said: “Mark, do you think I have Lou Gherig’s disease”? I was kind of surprised but not much, for this did happen once in a while with us, having the same thoughts at the same time. In any case a couple of years later he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
So for the last 6 years it has been a slow slide down hill. He lives quite a distance from me, so we don’t speak much any more. He has trouble talking over the phone, so I talk to his wife Fran. She is the main caregiver; Mike helps out when he can, for he himself has a wife and four kids. She sounds very tired over the phone, yet she continues to care lovingly for her husband.
Later that day I called Mike back. He informed me that Fred also has double pneumonia, which is serious, especially in the weakened condition Fred is in. He talked about his struggle with him being able to let his Father go; which I of course understood. He also informed me that they are talking about putting in a feeding tube, which from what I am told Fred does not want. So I don’t know how this will turn out. Fran wants to do what Fred wants; Mike may not be able to do that, for again he is Fred’s eldest son, and also the closest to his father. I just hope this does not cause a rift in the family.
As I was talking to Mike, his voice reminded me of Fred’s. They sound just alike. He writes like his dad, and as a teacher, he truly loves the children in his care, and again like Fred, speaks his mind when he thinks things are not done in the schools for the children’s benefit. So Fred has done a good job as a coach and a father. He was and is not perfect, but God preserve us from perfect people. I have known a few and they are impossible to be with for any length of time.
So Fred is 70 now and I am 60. I don’t want to go back, for out path is forward, yet when I think about our friendship, the past in remembering plays a beautiful part. I don’t think there are any regrets in my knowing of Fred. He is an outstanding man, who will leave behind a legacy of beautiful children that both he and his wife Fran raised with great sacrifice. Something any good parent is aquatinted with.
The past remembered
just seems like yesterday,
imprints that fold time into the now,
always a shock how time flows,
ever faster it seems,
yet I would have it no other way.
There is a time for endings
it is simply the nature of things,
as well as suffering and letting go,
difficulties and joys
points of reference on the road,
allowing memories to shine.
The gift of friendship one of life’s great gifts,
giving depth and beauty to all who partake,
for trust is not easily gained
a gift we bestow to each other.
When love is offered and friendship,
only regret when the freely given gift denied
for we are made to expand,
our hearts need to grow,
for that to is the nature of things,
to become ever closer
to the image in which we are made.