“Make new friends, but keep the old. The new ones are silver and the old ones are gold.” While my mom didn’t invent the phrase, I’d often heard her saying it.
I lost an old friend in May 2021. I began writing parts of this shortly thereafter. It was my way of dealing with the sad, empty feeling. I didn’t know if I’d ever share it. Then in June of 2022 I learned of something that got me to return to this piece.
Because of Covid, the Celebration of his Life had been delayed. But now I learned it was planned for the end of this month at a time we could not make the 2,000-mile journey. Finishing and sharing this seemed like what I should do to celebrate a good man taken too soon.
I met Dave in 1972 when we shared a house for about a year in Bloomington, Indiana. He was already an experienced nursery man working in that field. He’d often bring home on his bicycle, one type of fresh vegetable or another to share. I was always impressed with his classical guitar skill. Trying to outdo each other with trick frisbee pitch and catch filled many hours. I got my photogenic part Persian cat named Nina from him. I have many stories of Nina from our 21 years together. Sorry, back to Dave.
Over our 47 years of friendship, we and our wives stayed in touch as we each moved around the country. We managed to visit each other several times as well. For the first years after we separated, we would record thoughts and what we were up to on cassette tapes and mail them. Remember those things?
Later, we kept in touch mostly by phone which we both liked more than emailing. We had a funny system. Our regular monthly calls almost always happened Friday at 7:00 PM in whatever time zone he lived. His wonderful wife Sally, later told me he made sure to be nearby and looked forward to those calls, as did I.
In 2018, an odd intestinal problem developed that led to him spending years in and out of hospitals and skilled nursing centers. When in such places, I’d call weekly at our usual day and time. We always had so much to talk about.
He found himself being moved all over southern California to various medical and care facilities. Some of them were less than ideal, but he always let whoever he’d encounter know that he appreciated the work they did and the help they provided. I can’t recall ever hearing him actually complaining though there were times it would certainly have been justified. He was just that kind of a guy.
The one time I messed up our calling schedule, I called that Sunday. That weekend, Sally had driven them both up into the mountain park in which they used to spend many happy hours. So, in a way, it was good timing to have called. He was so happy to be with his wife, out of medical facilities and outside in a place he loved. How great it was to hear the joy and smile in his voice. We all thought things were looking up.
When the next Friday rolled around, as soon as he picked up, I knew something was wrong. Instead of hearing his clear, cheerful voice, he sounded very odd. His voice was muffled, there was beeping in the background and there was the loud sound of rushing air.
In a few moments, he explained that he was back in the hospital in intensive care and wearing a full oxygen mask. Then after a pause, he said, “I have sepsis”. It all happened the day after that great day we last spoke. Shocked and stumbling for words, I urged him to rest and said I’d call Sally tomorrow and get the full story.
During that call, she explained that for the 3rd time, sepsis probably entered through the opening around the tube in his belly. She said it happened the day after I called. It came on shortly after the visiting nurse left. Dave was now intubated and it was not looking good. I was in a fog not wanting to contemplate the meaning of her words.
The next day, I called her cell at 2:00 their time. She said my timing was perfect. She and one of their daughters were with Dave in his room. His medication had been reduced enough that he would slip in and out of consciousness but occasionally be able to respond with slight head movement and eye blinks. She told Dave that I was on the phone and asked if I wanted to be put on her speakerphone. What can and do you say at such a moment?
When she said I was on, I began to recall the many fun and memorable experiences he and I had shared during our Bloomington time together. Sally laughed out loud saying, “I never heard any of those stories before.”
I didn’t want to monopolize the time, so I told Dave he was my best friend and I loved him for that. When Sally took the phone back, I asked how Dave was reacting. She said he had a small smile on his face and had formed his hand into the thumbs up position.
I called her cell the next day. In a calm voice, she said that he had passed away about 5 minutes after I spoke to him. The smile and thumbs up were still there. I fell silent until she reminded me that his quality of life had diminished so far that this was sad, but probably the best thing overall.
Since that day, he often comes to mind. Friday nights now aren’t the same. I still call Sally every couple of months at our usual time and we both look forward to the talk. In that way, Dave is still with us both.
Thinking of all those who have had an impact on my life, this analogy has come to me. I imagine all those who have been any part of my life as the stars in a night sky. Some are bigger and brighter than others. Some have long been there while others burned brightly but briefly. Some wink out before our very eyes. Yet, all cast the light that lit parts of our life’s journey. And all their starlight is within us still.