I spent much of yesterday digging through my old photo albums. I found many gems, but it’s a sad story as to why. My friend from high school, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, a decorated Army MedeVac pilot, who survived his years of service unscathed, is now losing his battle with colon cancer despite the maximum number of chemotherapy treatments.
It’s one thing to know that life can be unfair, but it’s another thing altogether to be slapped in the face with that truth.
Because he isn’t on social media, I had no idea of his diagnosis, over one year ago. Sadly, I had lost touch with him shortly after we graduated from high school. His sister reached out to me and I did the only positive thing that I could think of: scouring for photographs of our old group from 1996.
As I was looking through these albums that are over twenty years old, I was thinking about all the adulting that happens in your thirties. Yes, it’s an amazing decade. One where you get married, have children, advance in your career, or settle down into a home. But, it is also marked with other terrible milestones that make you take stock of your own life: the first of your couple friends divorces, your best friend’s mother dies, or a childhood friend fights stage four cancer.
But, with great sadness comes a tiny silver lining. I found my mother’s advice to me, the handwritten note below.
It’s amazing that her advice is still relevant today – for me, and for me to say to my kids. I had this note hanging on my freshman dorm wall at college. I knew it was important. Just a few short, but important lessons to live by, summarized in her familiar cursive writing. I appreciated her advice and I knew enough to save it, without knowing exactly why. My mom was probably more heartbroken than I was at the beginning of September 1996. I was busy with my college life and had no time be to homesick. But, I did make sure to wash my hands. All the time. I’m teaching many of these lessons to my kids now. This scrap of paper now hangs prominently in my kitchen.
In 1996, I left my mother and others and hardly ever looked back. Except now, living here again in Pittsburgh. Seeing all these familiar people that I happened to go to high school with. We’re parents now, doing this adulting thing, like high school was ten lifetimes ago.
I sent the old photographs and a copy of my mother’s handwritten note to my sick friend in the hopes that it would provide him with some peace, some comfort, and some healing. I’m praying for him and his family.
I told him that despite him being on this earth for less than forty years, that he’s done great things in that time. He’s been a great friend, a great son, a great brother, a great solider, a great husband, and a great person. There are a lot of people who we graduated high school with who had one dream or another. Big boy plans – for college and beyond. He did too. But, unlike most people who had to modify their dreams along the way, he accomplished his. He wanted to be a pilot and talked about little else. Except maybe making homemade beer funnels, the latest party or concert, stealing a street sign or two, and our first crushes.
Tragically, for my friend, my mom’s words to live by are most likely too little, too late. He’s probably used to people not knowing what to say to him by now. Words like “keep fighting” infuriate him. I wasn’t even allowed to call him, because all the people he’s lost touch with over the years understandably seem like traitors to him. I can’t even imagine all the emotions that he’s experiencing. Hopefully, he knows that he was thought of fondly, that he was loved, and that his friends are sending thoughts and prayers.
I’m sharing my mom’s words now, with you all, before it’s too late again.
May the Holy Spirit stay with you always.