Last week I went to the funeral home for an old friend, who died rather unexpectedly. Don had survived a heart attack little more than a year ago. He was alive because another friend knew enough to do CPR and demand a frightened high school softball player help him. He survived bypass surgery and survived the post operative, when many thought he would have major memory gaps. He survived all of that and when I talked to him the following summer, I never would have known except for a profound gratitude that he had survived it all.
It was then a huge shock when I was called and told he had passed away after surgery for a tumor in his colon that had complications. He passed quickly but was able to say goodbye to his kids.
I had known Don since I was a kid. Four years older than I he sometimes came over with some other kids in 4-H to play soccer on our stretch of road that bordered a Catholic mission church. The road widened there to include parking and we quite often used the area for fierce soccer games. Later on, Don took my best friend's older sister to the prom and her sister's and I peeked out from behind a door as he picked her up. I went away to college and when I would come home summers I would see him on my brother's fast pitch softball team. He was a record setting pitcher and was well known in the area. He pitched for years and was entered into the Michigan softball HOF.
I would see more of him again when I met my later, husband Kurt on his softball team. Don married had two children and was an excellent dad to a step son. He lived on the family farm and worked it all his life. He never wanted for more than what he had right there.
I walked into the funeral home and the viewing. Don had been cremated and the table was decorated with a simple box and mementoes from his life. Upon walking in I was immediately asked if I had done the framed picture on a stand near his box. My first response was "No" but then I realized my name was on it. It was a pastel picture and I had done many, more than 25 years ago. Don was kneeling in his softball uniform holding a softball and looking back at me. I studied that portrait I didn't really remember doing, and I would have done much of it differently but the face.....I had gotten Don's expression even all those years ago. He hadn't changed much in 35 years. I may not have remembered doing the picture, but his sister saved it all those years. She had stored it in the attic and gotten it out, cleaned it up and framed it and it had a place of honor. I felt honored that someone had saved something I had done so long ago. Honored and humbled that in the celebration of a man's life after his passing, something of mine survived and was remembered as being Don. He would have been embarrassed by all the fuss and kind words, but he would have loved the stories we shared. We spoke of all of our best memories of him and looked through the scrapbooks and photos, someone had made and saved, probably his sisters, we laughed and we cried a bit, and we rejoiced that we had known Don in all his quirky, plain spoken, stubborn allegiance to his friends and family.
We will miss Don and everyone I lose now seems to be the continual road of people going on before me. A shadow box my dad had made to hold a retired softball jersey of Don's sat among the mementoes. He had gone on and Bill had followed and Don now, and so many more. They have walked that road and we will all someday follow. The things we leave behind are the memories and the good we have done that live on...and on....