Monday, February 28, 2011

Saying goodbye

I went to a funeral for a close friend of the family today.  It's funny how these lasting friendships are formed.  My youngest sister was a friend of their daughter in elementary school.  It not only turned into a lifelong friendship, but our parents became lifelong friends as well.  In fact, we all became very close.

When I was in the hospital, their son, close friends with my brother, sent me a book to read about Herman Meier, the great Austrian skier known as the Hermanator.  He was a World Cup and Olympic Champion who broke his leg in a motorcycle accident and made a big comeback.   I was very grateful for the book as it helped me relate to what I was going through and what I had in store in the weeks and months ahead.  We chatted about it briefly at the wake on Sunday.  He knew I would appreciate it as he was a strong bike racer in high school.  He is now a NYC police officer with a wife and 2 young children.

After a brief chat, he moved on to other visitors and I perused the traditional photos of the departed one that are posted at these types of events.  There were photos of their Dad as a young Marine Corps. graduate as well as more recent photos with his grandchildren.   I saw a photo of our families together in front of our fireplace.  I was missing from the photo.  My Mom said it was New Year's eve.  I was probably in college at the time or newly married.

He was a good man.  He was very different from my fact, they were polar opposites in many respects.  They were both great fathers and good men with working class jobs.  They were both born in 1941, but very different in every other category.  Their Dad enjoyed reading, knew computers, and knew a lot of trivia.  He enjoyed gardening/landscaping.  He played trivial pursuit with us and I always found it interesting that he played the bagpipes.   He was a very modest man, kept a relatively low profile, but never turned away from a good conversation.

He could tell  a story as his son recalled at the service this morning.  He would come close to you liked he had a secret to you were going to get the inside scoop on something that we probably weren't supposed to know.  He was Irish-American with a pretty thick New York (Bronx?) accent.  He would say, "Hey, let me tell you something..." with a sly grin on his face, and into the story he would roll...

The thing that struck me most about this man was that despite the fact that he was the same age as my Dad, he treated me as an equal.  I was a teenager at the time our families starting spending a lot of time together.  I was 6 and 8 years older than their children, so I didn't spend much time with the kids.  I was into playing frisbee, driving around with my friends, hanging out with my girlfriend, etc.  On the off chance I was at the house when Mr. G was there, he would invariably start chatting with me about some interesting fact that he recently learned.  He might offer me some unsolicited advice or try to council me if I was at odds with my parents.  He always treated me like an adult rather than a kid, and I really appreciated it.  They say whatever you give, you always get more in return.  Well, he gave me a lot of respect at an age when few adults give you the time of day.  I had long hair and thought I knew everything.  In his subtle way, he made me aware that I didn't know everything, and tried to help me....the whole time treating me as an equal.  I have the greatest respect for him and thank him for his friendship.

I didn't have a chance to say goodbye to him as he went rather quickly this past week.  My little sister spent some time with him last weekend, and she said he asked about me.  He said that he always thought I was very smart and that I had to grow up very fast when I moved to Florida (I was a father at barely age 24 and again at 25).   He was sorry that we had lost touch and then he talked about my accident and running.  

I could see him now...If I were there, he would have looked around the room like he had a secret to tell.  He would make sure no one was within earshot, and then with a sly smile on his face and another glance around the room, he would say in a low voice, "Let me tell you somethin'....You don't need to run to prove anything to anyone.  You're too old for that stuff.  Just run for the fun and enjoyment of it.  Run with your friends.  Don't worry about the leg.  Don't worry about how fast you run....and you don't need to run another 100 miles for Chrissake...leave that to the young bucks!"  He basically told my sister as much on Sunday.  I appreciate the fact that he was asking for me and wish I had been able to see him one last time.  His advice was always good even if I wasn't ready to listen at the time.

So, I will miss you Mr. G.  I will run for fun when the time comes.  I may race again, but will remember to keep it fun and in perspective.  I'd really like to walk without this limp for starters, so if you have any pull with the big guy up there...please tell him a good story about me and see if he can help a little.

Thanks for the memories.  Peace!

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