A Tremendous Thing

This picture hangs in my classroom in the corner. It was a gift from my friend, Chad. I never knew the mammoth weight of what it held and what it would mean to me in the days to come.

“The deepest form of pain comes out as silence.”

Holly Goldberg Sloan, Counting By 7s

April 28th , 2021- It has been nearly 5 months since then. Words still fail me. Words still haunt me. The last words I typed to him were “I’m praying for you. Just FYI.” He never read them.

He was such a fighter, the day before he claimed to be “doing okay.” He wasn’t. His tolerance for pain was immense. Nothing would be okay for him again.

Grief makes you feel empty and incredibly overfull simultaneously. A moment can seem normal, and it takes one second to remember that normal is no longer an option.

 Grief can turn the mundane into tragedy, or it can take the tragic and make it hilarious.

All of the things your brain thought it knew no longer apply. A major interstate inside your brain was deleted, but you still need to get from point A to point B– as if that is still a possibility. 

Silence becomes a language. Food becomes an enemy. Sleep becomes restless. Simple becomes complex.

The person I grieve already knew all of this on a deeper level than I did. The loss of a child isn’t something I can fathom, nor is it something he would have wished on his worst enemy. He spent all of his days pouring into people to combat grief, guilt, time, and loss. I was one of those lucky people to call him friend. He wasn’t just a friend. He was practically psychic when it came to understanding people. I had known him 34 years. We shared a loss date. The date I lost my dad happened to be the same day his daughter was born. His daughter had a traumatic birth that resulted in a lifetime of just 10, fraught with a fight for her life. He never got to even hear her speak or see her walk. He lost her 12 years before he joined her.

One day he was telling me how I was going to set up an editing service, and I was telling him how incredibly busy I was wrapping up the longest school year ever due to a pandemic. So busy, in fact, that I didn’t seem to notice when he fell ill. I did notice. I just honestly thought he was dealing with his own dragons. He was. This time they were physical dragons and not the kind you keep at bay with reruns of The Big Bang Theory.

One day he was leaving me a hilarious message on my voicemail about how he was trying to find something delicious to have as a treat since he was struggling with food. He dropped 7 glass bottles on the floor, threw towels on it, and headed to bed after leaving me the message. The next he stopped reading texts. He had never gone longer than a few hours without reading texts. I didn’t hesitate to contact his mother and sister to see if they would check on him. He would have not been happy if I stopped by with anything since I asked him the day before and he strongly declined. Now, I wish I hadn’t listened. His mother informed me there was, as I suspected, rootbeer all over the kitchen floor from the previous evening.

Time was of the essence, and he didn’t want to go to the hospital. He thought he had Covid. He couldn’t taste anything. It wasn’t Covid. His heart needed a life saving pacemaker, and he ignored doctor’s orders while telling his family and close friends he was all better. He likely thought he would handle it after the worst of the pandemic was over. He didn’t get the chance.

My friend, the one who sent my children dozens of baby hands they would wear on their fingers just to be weird, a rubber chicken that screamed when you threw it, plushies until I threatened to mail them back to him, things that made loud annoying noises, and glow sticks for snowman eyes was gone. I am surrounded by things daily that he sent over to my house without asking if I needed them. He just… knew I did. The man who would cook a tired teacher dinner and leave it on the porch before she got home when she was working 3 jobs and trying to hold grief and hope in the same hand. He was the giver of perfect gifts from signed copies of books, to templates for post it notes, to tiny books that I had shelved on Goodreads throughout the years. He compiled quotes as he read books that I suggested to share with me, and he even typed them up and bound them. Words were special to him. He also realized early in our friendship that words were as important to me as water or food. The saint who cared for everyone almost left earth with no one by his side, but he would never admit it. He will never know this, but if that had happened, I would never have forgiven myself.

Hours after the phone call where I said goodbye while he was sedated in a hospital bed, not knowing fully that his departure was imminent, I was in his apartment. It used to be my apartment. So here I was, going home, but walking straight into the kind of emptiness I dwelt in when I was living there following my divorce. His mother pointed to the bookshelves and explained he wanted me to have the books. All of the books were mine to take. I left her the Bible he got when he was saved at age 7. I left his doctoral dissertation that made him so proud. Personally, it gave me a headache reading the title. He would have laughed if I had told him that.

Words. He left me a legacy of words. He wrote books, and I have copies. He had a blog, and I have his thoughts about the world, his family, and even our friendship. I have copies of his first edition Potoks. I have classics, new fiction, old scifi, textbooks from his teaching, and self-help books. I have the words. For the first time I almost understood why the prophet Jeremiah ate a book. Grief makes you want to swim in the words. You wish you could pour them out of a cereal box and pretend you are in a children’s ball pit. (I feel my friend would feel obligated to point out that it would be a ball pit minus any substances children typically lose at the bottom of normal ball pits. Trust me on that one.)

Daily I had memes about academic topics, he helped my child pass chemistry and pre-calculus while we struggled with at-home learning options, and he never failed to send Christmas cards to my family. He played my mother in Words with Friends. He read every book I labeled a 5 star book on Goodreads. He called his mother each evening. He loved his cat even though she knocked his water glass off his table once a week. He knew details about his siblings that they probably didn’t know he noticed. He was fiercely loyal. He was a fantastic professor. He was an unmatched mentor. He loved biscuits from Hardees even though he knew it would come back to haunt him. He had a cat that was named after Emily Dickinson. He loves Macs and hated Windows machines. He felt like everyone needed their own soundproof personal bathroom they didn’t have to share with anyone.

He used to say I was Jacob, and he was Esau. He said one day I would see how special I was. He told me some people just are. When someone spends so much time speaking life into you, you can’t help but start believing them. I still hear his voice encouraging me and telling me things he said 100 times a week.

He loved his Jeep, reading, writing, editing, helping, laughing, making other people laugh, ALMOST irreverent memes, finding new pens and notebooks, planning, researching things, cooking fancy meals, taking care of his parents, a good burger, The Fifth Element, his friends, and… redheads. Wherever he is now, I hope he earned a redhead companion.

“Every person has lots of ingredients to make them into what is always a one-of-a-kind creation.”

-Counting by 7s

Rest peacefully, Chad. You were truly one-of-a kind. You were an amazing friend. I will take great care of the words.

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