Epitaph for A Friend
Upon Losng A Friend
I'll be going to my friend Don Shea's visitation later today and his funeral tomorrow. I would be lying to myself if I denied that it isn't weighing heavily on my psyche right now… and believe me I've tried. I find myself reading the obits and checking out the ages of those who have made the pages. I congratulate the ones who have lived well into their 80's and 90's but not so silently remark to myself about those who were notably much younger. Please forgive me for sounding morbid and I know there were some very serious reasons for what happened to these younger persons, but the relatively younger ages of some have made me shake my head in disbelief. No one lives forever, but in the early 21st Century people should not be leaving us so young.
Deaths of friends are always harder to take particularly when your friendship came about in what could be considered the prime of live for both of you. Don was 77 when he left us, far too early for someone who was so vibrant and way too early for someone like Don who still had so much left to do and give to us all. He was always there whenever you called and if he wasn’t- he would call you back, seemingly almost as soon as you had hung up the phone. That was one of Don’s mantras; always, always, return a call if you could not answer it in person. He once gave me some great advice at a time in my life when personal ‘craziness’ was about to overtake me. I took Don’s advice as not to disappoint him and I’m probably still around today because I did. When my now wife Debbie, moved to Durham, he was one of first to welcome her and make her feel like one of the family. Don was always about family, friendships and commitment. He put these things sometimes far ahead of himself.
Grieving comes in different kinds of packaging and wrapped in a multitude paper. I grieve for Don and his family. There is no greater hurt or frustration than not being able to call just to hear their voice or stop by for a visit to look upon their face. I did not remove my Mother’s phone number from my phone for three years after her passing and once even tried to call it knowing full well she would not answer. It finally took her number being assigned to a new party for me to remove it.
My friend Don’s passing has once again made me feel quite mortal and has returned a sense of extreme vulnerability back into my life. Life is so fragile no matter what your age, no matter who you are, or what you are doing. I can no longer call my friend and ask if he wanted to go have breakfast somewhere or meet him at ‘Devines’ for a drink; I will no longer hear him laugh or groan at one of my jokes and I will not be able seek his advice in filling out my NCAA Brackets. Even when UNC was not the best choice to go all the way- I stayed with them and Don always liked that I stuck by my team no matter what the outcome might be. He was all about sticking by your friends, favorites and commitments. Don’s life’s lessons were sometimes very subtle, but direct in their importance and meaning.
Four individuals have been very influential in my life: My Father, who taught me the value not being afraid to work and get my hands dirty; Coach Dean Smith, who showed me that the reasons for values and ethics in your life; Coach Valvano who said that no one should ever give up no matter what adversity you are facing and my friend Don Shea who helped me understand the values of friendship, commitment and just plain doing the right thing.
Take care my dear friend and where I hope it will be a damn long time; I’ll see you on the other side. Rest in peace Don, rest in peace.