One of the greatest days of my life was last October when I found a dear friend from my teenage years on Facebook. I had been looking for Chris on Facebook for over four years. Through my high school years we had many adventures that were capped off with following U2′s Joshua Tree tour from Vegas to San Diego over my first college spring break.
It turned out that one of his relatives had told him to travel the world and he would never regret it. That relative was dying and left Chris a lot of money, so at 19 Chris took off on a world tour and settled in Germany. We lost touch, but I thought of him often because he was one of my closest friends.
Last October we talked for the first time since he left the U.S. and I was thrilled …until the conversation got to the part where he told me he had been fighting cancer since 2007. I was bummed, but over the last 5 years I’ve known 4 people who beat cancer and heard lots of stories of more survivors which left me hopeful for Chris.
Then last Friday night as I was wrapping up work I received a message from a mutual friend asking if I knew about Chris’ Caring Bridge blog. I hadn’t, but she gave me the link to log in to his page where I read a detailed update of how things turned for the worse while his family was visiting him over the holidays.
The post started out with an admission that doctors cancelled a transplant that was scheduled, ended all treatments and told him to prepare for less than a month to live. A shock went through me and I felt stabbed in the heart. I’ve had friends die which is hard, but knowing that someone my age who has inspired me, been like a brother to me, and just reconnected with me is having to prepare to leave the planet brought me to tears.
“What would I do if someone told me that today would be my last day?” It’s been a cliche question all the times I’ve heard it until the question hit me while wishing I’d not lost all those years with Chris and knowing that it’s not an option in the future. Reality bites and death sucks.
In the last few years I’ve known almost 10 people who died before they turned 50 years old and each time it gave me pause, but then I fell back into life’s routines without feeling the breath of death on my neck and expecting that I’ll have another 40 or 50 years of living to do. I may, and I may not.
The first time I met death was in sixth grade. Steven Urioste, the boy who played saxophone next me & gave me tips on how to play better in band class every day, was swinging on bars in the sandbox at lunch. I was talking to him when he dropped to the ground and never got up. I don’t remember his cause of death, only that he fell off the bars and no one could help him to breathe again. I cried at his funeral, despite the priest making lame attempts to tie Steven’s life to football game metaphors, but I was young and moved on.
Chris’ dance with cancer is something no one should have to experience, but especially a person who I’ve known to be so sweet, loving and generous. His blog posts are filled with his humor and love despite the physical and emotional pain he’s experiencing.
Death hasn’t made his spirit lose an once of joy from how I remember him. And the comments, which number over 150, are tale after tale of how Chris positively impacted so many people’s lives across multiple continents. The comments to his posts made me cry even more than his eloquent words (he’s a writer, as well as a great guitarist and singer) because they are never ending stories of his impact on those fortunate enough to have worked with him, played with him and shared wonderful moments of life with him.
So each day going forward as I appreciate the hours and days I have left, they will be in tribute to Chris. In his dying and how he’s handling it he’s given me the greatest gift of not taking moments, days, weeks, months or years for granted any longer.
Beyond not sweating the small stuff, I’m making the most of every day to enjoy the people I love, do work that fulfills me, and make time for the things that matter most. And I don’t expect a day to go by where I won’t be thinking of Chris, maybe crying, but always smiling and be grateful for his having been a central actor in the play that is my life.
On a last note, Caring Bridge is providing an amazing service by giving private websites and blogs to people who are ill. If you know of anyone going through health issues please encourage them to check out Caring Bridge as a way for them to share their stories and love with their personal communities.
I’m very thankful that I was able to discover that Chris is about to die from him, in his own words, and I was able to comment and share my love and appreciation for him with him before he dies, even though he’s 5,056 miles (or 8,137 kilometers) away.
Facebook was a gift in finding him before he died, and Caring Bridge was a gift in loving him along with others who love him while we still had time to connect. One blog post just profoundly changed my life, therein lies why I love the influence of social media.
Live every moment like it’s your last my friend. Love the people and animals in your life with every ounce of love in your heart. Life’s much too short and death is much too unpredictable.