Mary Beth Writes

Our family lost a friend this week. I won’t go into too many details other than Tom died of a bike accident on a sunny day while riding in the country with friends. His wheel somehow got stuck in gravel, he fell, the fall twisted, and he died.

This is not his obituary or eulogy. This is a just a reflection on losing friends and how do we make sense of this?

I have lost three good friends to death in my life. With the other two one knew it was coming though one still expected it was still a long way off. It always seems that way, doesn’t it? In most cases, as long as people are conscious, they are themselves. The say the kinds of things they say. The notice the kinds of thing they have always noticed. They hum or sing under their breath if they have always done that. They make jokes, or are sentimental, or are not. A person stays the person they are up until awfully late in the game. It’s unnerving how robust we are at being who we are.

When someone who has been a friend for a long time passes away nearly instantaneously – it seems impossible. How could Tom be here and then be gone?

The group biking thing started when we moved to Racine. Len and I were in our early 40’s and we knew, boy did we know, it was time to start exercising on purpose. I started walking a lot; Len would go out on his bike after work. Len met neighbors Jack and Steve and soon they were biking together a few hours most Saturday mornings. Around then our daughter became friends with a cute, tall, cheerful 6th grade whippersnapper (they are still BFF’s!). One thing led to another and our families became friends and the whippersnapper’s dad, Tom, joined the biking guys.

The guys sometimes, as a joke, called themselves the Wind Point Democratic Boys’ Bicycle Club. (I think that’s what WPDBBC stands for.)  Off and on other guys would join them for a morning or for a year or two. Len secretly called them (and still does) The Terrible Men because for them he would get up and exercise instead of staying in bed to peruse books about the Civil War.

Jack “made them” sign up for an annual bike marathon that raises money to fight Children’s Cancer; https://maccfund.org/trek-100/ On a Saturday in June they’d join thousands of others to ride about 25-75 miles, depending on the guy and the year. I’m sure over the years the guys raised thousands of dollars. It was their joint adventure that helped the world while honoring their friendship, their love of bike riding, and their humor.

We moved to Waukesha but due to the organizational chutzpah of Jack, Len still rode with The Terrible Men a couple times a year. More often the guys would ride without Len.

I was reading Tuesday afternoon when Len walked into the room, his face shocked.

“I have a phone message from Jack. Tom just had an accident and died.”

We stared at each other. This didn’t make sense.

That’s it, isn’t it?  It doesn’t make sense. Here we all are, going along, getting up, doing our stuff, taking care of ourselves and others. Going to work and coming back home. Eating, clearing the counter, raising money for good causes, making plans with friends. We use our calendars and the clock in our phone to parse out the day. We call our parents and kids to chat a bit. We take the car to get the tires rotated because it’s time to do that. We join a protest and write a letter to our representatives and try to be better citizens. We read to our grandchildren and go fishing and enjoy a beer or wine now and then.

Our greatest human luxury is to live as if things make sense and there will be enough time. We live by these beautiful lies because without them we are crazy bees without a queen. 

This would be the point where I tell you to more deeply appreciate your life and your people.

But nah, I’m not going to go there. I don’t even know how to do that, 

If you have deep discord in your life, yeah, address that. Don’t throw people away because they are jerks. (Though you can have boundaries and be careful.)

Mostly, keep on living as if no one will fall off their bike, or have a heart attack, or be arrested to death by crap cops, or step backwards off a step or the Grand Canyon into eternity. 

It sucks that Tom died. But he was just living his life and that’s the thing.

And it's rich now to recall some of the ordinary ways we interacted over the years.  I had too many irises and gave him some and I think they are crowded around his house now. He gave our youngest child her childhood nickname. He didn’t like tomato sauce and that flabbergasted me. He loved his family and they loved him. 

I’m going for a walk. It will be a very ordinary walk. It's what we have. 

 

Comments

Learned to be grateful for memories of those I have lost along the way...some to distance, some to politics, some to their demise, timely or otherwise. Then to keep going...

thanks, Mary Beth, you always make sense of things for me. Love the para with crazy bees without a queen. hugs, mary

I didn’t know him, but that brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully written.
Mary Beth's picture

Funny how it goes. You didn't know him and he didn't know you, but sometimes the Terrible Men rode by your house and he admired your garden from afar.

YES!!!!!

I am sad for you for this sudden loss of a longtime family friend. A decade ago (wow, can it be that long ago now?), Steve, a longtime colleague who I greatly admired and appreciated, worked to leverage US trade law to protect labor rights and labor leaders in Guatemala. He frequently invited community folks to his home or a church basement to hear from these Guatemalans about their struggles for justice when they came through Chicago. Then one night, Steve died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his sleep. His spouse was and two college-aged kids were devastated. Steve and I were about the same age. I had always imagined that when we both retired, we would have more time to spend time together as friends and not primarily colleagues. That aspiration was ended with his abrupt death.

I didn't know Tom but if you and Len did he must have been alright since you both know how to surround yourselves with good people... My nieghbor to the North died this week but we knew it was immanent and expected by everyone involved... And as awful as it sounds she was a horrible person but it still hurts for the ones that loved her dispite who she was... No matter who we are or how we interact with those around us there are always those left behind with a hole in their hearts... Tom was probably liked by many and that hole will never quite fill in... It may become less painful but it will never be less of a loss... My deepest condolences and sympathy's to all who's life he touched...
Mary Beth's picture

My revered theology professor Paul Hessert once said in class that one can't have music without silence. I think of that when I miss people who are gone. Their silence surrounds the memories.

So sorry for the loss of your friend. I know that suddenness and the disbelief and how the hurt lingers. This was a lovely way to honor Tom.

Thank you for your insightful thoughts. His wife said "Tom was doing what he loved to do and was riding with long time friends when he died". He will be missed.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks for writing. Tough week.

Paul Hessert was so insightful. When I die and go to “someplace or other” I hope to meet him, fill up on his wisdom. Tom’s death is a huge loss for his family. It changes their forever lives.

My BFF for 44 years died at 58 from a sudden medical problem after surviving several other “worse” health crises. I miss her and think of her every day. It’s so different from the losses and pain I feel for even my closest relatives, who are all gone now, too. I feel much better (lol) about my own death, now that I have done my homework! I mean will/trust, cemetery and funeral home arranged and paid for, and all that. Now I just need to get this place sorted and cleaned- I’d be embarrassed if people saw my house right now, especially the basement!
Mary Beth's picture

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. Yeah, family we love because they are there. Friends are the one we meet and like and get used to. They become our listening boards, co-conspirators, congratulators, our side kicks, The people we choose who know our stories. I still think of my friend Dan often and he died in 1987. When things happen just crazily enough - I wish I could tell him. I find myself constantly shedding "treasures" from parents and grandparents. I don't want the kids to have to deal with all this stuff I had to deal with. And then I come up short, because I am trying to make my death "convenient." This is just the kind of joke Dan would have laughed at with me. He died of HIV/AIDS and towards the end Otis and George (Hi Pals) took him shopping for new shoes. He couldn't decide between two pairs and Otis looked at him, made a weird face, and Dan "got it." That he was never going to pay for these shoes. So he bought both pairs. I still chuckle about how weirdly humorous it is that we leave things behind.

MB & Len, Sorry about your friend Tom, if he was one of the Terrible Men he must have been a good guy. 2020 has been quite the year so far, and your quarentine diary has really helped me. You sort it out for us, thankful that you are a writer, helps me with perspective through all of this. Also really enjoy reading the comments, I say my comments to you in my head but seldom write them.....alas, I am not a writer. Gotta say, I really like Franc, his comments make me think, and smile. I am an in person talker and hugger, which is not working out so great for 2020. This spring I moved my mom out of her house in Racine and to assisted living near me (that is a long story). I was really close to my dad, but my mom is not as easy to be close to, which doesn't feel so good. Emptied out her house to get it ready to sell, still a lot of stuff in my basement that I am trying to figure out what to do with. Not the most fun I have ever had and still some rough spots ahead. My dad told me when he was sick, every family goes through this, and now it's our turn. Guess it's our turn again. Miss my kids and grandkids like crazy, just like everyone else, but we're all trying to do the right thing. The world is topsy turvy and I hope we get it back on track in November. That is all for now. Miss you, hugs to you & Len!
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks. And I will tell Franc he needs to check your comment! This is such a crazy year.

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WHITE CAKE!

The picture is our wedding cake, made by my friend Karen, who drove it from Indiana to Chicago on the hottest day of that year. It was in the back seat so their two little boys had to ride in front (remember when kids could ride in front?). They got lost in the city but I didn't know that for years because Karen and her husband start early and had time to get lost and then figure it out. Sometimes wedded bliss is a lot of work. 

The following story and recipe is not about the wedding cake, but it is the photo I have...

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