Death is a reality for all of us, but it’s an event that still causes a lot of suffering for those of us left behind. We grieve the loss, of course, but it’s also a very stark reminder that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring, or if we will even have a tomorrow. I feel like it feels even more heavy when the person we lose is young.
I met John in Germany 13 years ago, when I was 25 and he was 27. We had both signed up for the 10-day trip through our local community college. A group of us became friends as we travelled from Munich to Budapest, and we remained friends once we returned to the states. My first memory of John was when we were in Austria I think and I was having issues contacting my boyfriend back home. John walked with me to the T-Mobile payphones because he didn’t like the thought of a young woman going alone in a foreign city. That was how our friendship began and it was exactly how I will always remember that big, huggable teddy bear of a man.
The last five years or so is when we really became closer. We joined the same gym, we saw the Marvel movies together with our “nerd” friends, we went to Awesome Cons and local nerd parties and bar crawls, we did cosplay events, we discussed Game of Thrones, we watched Caps games. He came to my cookouts and I went to his. I still ha propane tank he brought to the last one because mine was low and he didnt want me to run out. He used to just stop by with random gifts because he found something I would like (usually a Funko Pop). When his mom was sick and ultimately died on the ICU where I work, I met her and saw where he got his big heart. After that he would stop by the hospital sometimes and buy me coffee, and if my friend Bridget was working he got her some too because she had been his mom’s primary nurse and he never forgot her.
When John started to become more and more sick and needed dialysis, he knew I was the tough love friend. When he became sick last Summer and needed ICU care I drove over an hour to visit and let him know I cared AND I was going to kick his ass if he didn’t get it together for his new fiance and her son. He was so goddamn stubborn. He told me on multiple occasions, “Stef, don’t worry, I’m too stubborn to die.”
The last time he told me that was about 2 months ago, when he was in the same ICU just across the hall from where his mother had died a few years prior. He had needed life support and almost died on us that weekend. I went up daily to see him and his fiance. When they lightened his sedation to wean him off the ventilator, he wrote “I’m sorry”. The man laying in the bed with the tube down his throat who narrowly avoided death was apologizing to me, to his friends and family. He vowed to do better. He cried, he told me how he had tried to get better, he was still trying. He asked me if I’d be a groomswoman in his wedding. He told me I was one of his best friends and I gave him the biggest hug. I’m pretty sure all of John’s friends were his best friends, he loved everyone so much.
Then yesterday, as I was hiking through a forest about a mile from my car, I saw his fiance’s name pop up on a call. I knew something had to be wrong. I answered. “Stef, I’m so sorry to tell you this over the phone. We lost John this morning.”
We lost him for sure. The world lost him. He went to bed Friday night and didn’t wake up Saturday morning, and the world got a little bit worse. He was, without a doubt, one of the most caring people I have ever met. He had so many struggles and so much of his own shit to wade through, but he always made sure his friends were ok. He always reached out. Maybe he cared too much about us and not enough about himself.
I’m having a hard time with this. I feel sad, obviously. But I’m also angry that we can’t have a proper funeral or memorial right now for this great man because of the pandemic. I’m sad for his fiance and her son, for his sister he cared for and his other sister who now has lost her brother and has to deal with all of the fallout that follows death, and I’m sad for his nephews. Most of all, the hardest feeling to reconcile right now, I’m feeling guilty. Did he know how much I loved him, too? Did he know how much good he brought into the world? Did he know how strong he was to do all he did while as sick as he was? I hope so badly he knew how much we loved him and how highly we thought of him.
If you’re still reading this, please tell your friends and family you love them. Don’t let this crazy social distancing cause you to be emotionally distant. Have fun, smile, and be grateful for the moments you have. Be kind and do something thoughtful for someone else. I think the world could be a little better if we step outside ourselves once in awhile and, like John, be supportive and caring to those around us.
John, you were the kindest, most caring man. I wish I had told you that more often. We had so many fun memories from the Game of Thrones bar night when we all got caught in the worst rain, to the Caps 2018 Stanley Cup playoff run parties (and the win), to photographing me almost falling into the Danube in Budapest. I will never, ever forget you and I hope I can somehow be as caring and thoughtful to my friends as you were to me and everyone else. ❤