“For a Dancer” keeps ringing in my head:
I don’t know what happens when people die
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing
I can’t help listening
© 1974, Jackson Browne
Those are Jackson Browne’s words, not mine. Mine don’t seem to be adequate right now.
You see, a good friend of mine died yesterday.
I’ve long known that Patrick might die. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. It still feels like a punch in the stomach.
Patrick had been dealing with cancer for several years. Yet somehow he seemed to be the one who was better equipped to beat it than anyone.
When Patrick first learned he had cancer, it was the worst news possible. He was told he had stage four lymphoma.
Amazingly, he did beat it. Or at least he beat it for a while.
Patrick was armed with an incredible attitude. He was aided by some gifted doctors (including another friend of mine). He had a deeply personal Christian faith. And he had a remarkable circle of friends to help him through the rough spots.
There were many rough spots. Frequently, his chemotherapy treatments would make him want to die. But within a day he’d be back on the water in his kayak. It was his way, he’d say, to remind himself he was alive.
Sometimes we’d question whether it was smart or safe for him to be running rivers as sick as he was. But he was doing what he wanted to do. He knew he needed to do it to stay alive.
I met Patrick when we first learned whitewater kayaking. We were in the same group in a clinic taught by members of the East Tennessee Whitewater Club.
The difference between him and me is evident from that moment. I dabbled in kayaking. I paddled a few weekends a year. He embraced it. He lived it. He paddled every weekend and quickly became skilled. Soon he was teaching others to paddle.
In the last couple years I hadn’t stayed much in touch with Patrick. I stopped paddling. He got married and adopted three foster kids.
Then last summer the cancer came back.
When I saw him last I asked him how he was doing. His answer was simple. “I’m alive,” he said with a big smile. And of course, he was about to go back on the river when he said that.
I know what sustained Patrick through all the hard times. It was obvious to anyone who knew him.
I don’t understand why, in the end, that wasn’t enough. But just the same, I’m grateful his gifts did sustain him as long as they did.
He taught me much.