Friday, August 19, 2016

You just never know what's around the bend...

This morning, I woke up to the very sad news that the husband of an old friend of mine died.  I didn't know the man; he came into my friend's life after she and I had a parting of the ways.  Our split had everything to do with our lives going in different directions and nothing to do with animosity.  We knew each other in the 1980s, when I was a teenager who showed horses.

My friend was also a regular on the local horse show circuit.  Her mother was my chemistry teacher in high school (and she also taught my sister, Sarah).  They were both fixtures at every Saturday show.  I used to enjoy watching her ride.  She was reed thin and had a graceful seat.  Her brother, who had the golden throat of a seasoned sportscaster, often announced at our shows.  Those were good days.  Sometimes, my friend shares photos from even before I was in the saddle... from the days before my immediate family moved back to Virginia for good.  It's fun seeing people I used to know when they were even younger than they were when I knew them well.

My old friend stayed in the county where we both grew up, and I moved on to many other places.  Facebook brought us back together several years ago and I've been staying in touch with her from afar as she raises her beautiful family in Virginia.  She has a teenaged son and a young daughter who also rides horses.  Her son recently attended Boys' State and it looks like he has a bright future.  Her pretty daughter regularly shows up in videos taken at horse shows.  I enjoy watching her ride, but watching her makes me miss the days when I used to ride, too.

I must say, the news that my friend's husband died came as a shock as it showed up in my Facebook feed, among all the usual political rants, funny memes, and utter nonsense that usually appears there.  Sometimes I sit and ponder how much things have changed since the last time I saw my friend in person.  In those days, Facebook was not even an idea.

When someone died, you'd read about it in the paper or news would pass by word of mouth.  Maybe it would show up on the news if the person who died had enough notoriety.  Nowadays, we often find out about death from Facebook.  Maybe that's not all bad.  People can respond immediately and from far away places.  On the other hand, that immediate availability could also serve as a source of pain.  It's hard to know exactly what to say when someone experiences such a devastating loss, especially when it's very sudden.  Sometimes people say the wrong thing at the wrong time.  

My friend's husband was from New Orleans.  He worked for the shipbuilding industry in Newport News, Virginia, just like many other people in that area do.  A month ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  A month later, he died while undergoing treatment.  My friend had announced to everyone exactly one month ago that her husband had only just been diagnosed with a brain tumor the week prior.  She had said they knew nothing about the tumor and were going to try to get a second opinion.  Exactly one month later, he's gone.  I look at her Facebook page and see that her husband seemed hale and hearty for most of this year.  There's a picture of him braving the winter weather to feed the horses.  There's another photo of him and his daughter going to a dance together, taken just months ago.  It just seems inconceivable that he's gone so soon.

My old friend and I are not close enough that I would know a lot of details about what the last month has been like for her and her children.  I can only try to imagine how I would feel if I were in her shoes.  The words that immediately come to mind are "heartbroken", "devastated", "shocked", "angry", "scared" and "overwhelmed".  But I know those words don't even come close to how she's feeling right now.  The truth is, I can't even fathom it.

I am heartened to see that many people in the community where we grew up are still living there.  She will have a lot of local support from her friends and family.  Even though I haven't seen her in person in maybe 26 years, my heart goes out to her.  It sounds like her life changed so suddenly.  You just never know what's in the future.

I realize that I could easily end up in a situation like my friend's.  In fact, over the years, Bill has been in a few situations that he might not have escaped.  He was in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.  In fact, he had only recently been in the area that was hit when 9/11 happened.  His office had only been moved the month prior.  Had it not been moved, he'd probably not be here today.

The week before he went to Iraq, a helicopter carrying one of Bill's former colleagues was shot down.  Everyone on the helicopter died.  Bill's former colleague was supposed to be coming home within a week or two; the arrogant colonel who took Bill with him to be his deputy was to be replacing him.  The guy Bill was replacing was not on the helicopter and struggled with a lot of survivor's guilt.  He made the mistake of visiting his boss's widow when it was too soon.  I don't think it went well.  I remember Bill telling me about the crash just days before he left to go to war.  He was afraid I'd be very upset.  I actually remained pretty calm because I knew that his fate was not likely to be the same, even though I knew the possibility existed.

Pretty soon, Bill will be going to Africa again.  He has to make a short stop in Saudi Arabia as the airplane he's on changes its crew.  I try not to worry when Bill travels.  The new job he's taking will supposedly require much less traveling-- and actually, this year, he hasn't had to travel as much as he did last year.  But even if he didn't travel, he could be struck down by something like a brain tumor that comes out of nowhere.

I guess if there's anything to be learned from this situation, it's that life is short.  You never know what's coming.  Maybe it's not worthwhile to worry about so much stupid stuff.  Enjoy the time you have with the people you love.  Don't waste time on fighting or petty bullshit.  You just don't know what could be around the bend.  Life is full of surprises.

I'm sending so many prayers to my friend and her family.  I know they'll be okay, but there's a huge hole now.  It may be a long time before things feel right again.



  1. It's so very sad. What can you do? Almost nothing, it seems.

    My family has been lucky in the military. I'm sure there were close calls that I don't know about, but I remember learning of one that happened before I was born when my mom was young and her dad was still in the Air Force. My mom's oldest brother was supposed to be flying maneuvers with a particular aircraft out of Vandenburg in southern CA. My grandfather heard of the crash before news of it was released. He called my aunt to casually ask what plane my uncle was flying that day. Fortunately for my uncle, his assignment was changed at the last minute. Of course it was only lucky for him, because some other guy who originally was supposed to be flying something else was flying that plane that day.

    I really don't know enough to be second guessing the Air Force or any other branch of the military, but it seems like entirely too many air force deaths happen when they're practicing formations for shows or actually putting on air shows. I suppose that it's very possible that those formations they practice aren't all for show, but are actual maneuvers that will be used in battle, in which case it's a totally different story. I really don't know. I wish my grandpa was still alive so I could ask him. Another thing I hate about those Air Force show maneuvers is that if the lead plane errs and goes down, everyone else does as well. You're supposed to stay in formation. I don't get it when it's for display purposes. I suppose in some ways the Air Force is my least favorite military branch even if it's the one most of my family is in. I don't really love the marines all that much sort of because of the "toughness for the sake of toughness" mentality even when there's no sense behind it, which sometimes there isn't. Still, we probably need marines. I'm partial to the U.S. Army and Navy.

    1. My friend's husband was only 58. He just had a birthday 8 days before he died.


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