I had a friend who passed away way too young. He was only 52, but he accomplished a lot in his life. He had three children, a wife, an extended family, and lots of friends who loved him very much. Some said that “he would not suffer the fool,” but that’s not really what it was about.
Cliff was a very loving and focused man. Perhaps he knew that his time was limited, or maybe he was just born a certain way. Needless to say, he did not like to waste time. If you were troubled, he wanted to get through the drama and fix things. He was great at fixing things, whether they were tangible like a pool filter, or emotional; Cliff was your man.
One of my last memories of Cliff while he still was healthy was having juice with him on the way to the airport. He was one of the first people to own a Tesla. He was going away on business and was driving a loaner while his was in the shop for repairs. He offered to let me have the loaner for the weekend. I offered to drive him to the airport. I definitely got the better end of that deal.
We were talking about life and death. I was dealing with a cancer diagnosis that was not terminal but still was unnerving. Cliff had been dealing with a more serious cancer that at the time was in remission.
He said to me “I know that my life has been cut short by all the chemo, but whether I live for another two years or twenty, I am going to be present and I’m not going to worry about death.”
I responded, “you beat the cancer, you’re going to be around for a long time.”
It turned out he was right and I was wrong. He passed away about a year and a half later. However, in that time, he continued to be a productive, loving human being. He never stopped helping others and went to great measures to prolong his life.
It has been over five years since Cliff died, but his memory continues to bless me. He taught me how to listen, not by being a great listener himself, but by speaking to me and sharing his wisdom. I had to listen to learn. And by learning so much from Cliff, I realized that I probably could learn from others as well just by listening. He also was a model of positive behavior. He lived every day of his life up until the end. Like Evita, he did not want people to cry for him. We did not. We celebrated his life until his last breath and beyond.
Cliff is gone now. He joins many others that have been part of my life who are no longer with me in body. These people were meaningful before and continue to guide me through life. They also keep me company when I’m alone and provide context for the simplest acts. For example, when I have an ice cream sandwich, or even dream of having one, I can hear my grandmother saying “totella, would you like ice cream?’ Just the thought of those words brings a smile to my face.
I have learned that nothing lasts forever, but love doesn’t need a body to exist. I don’t cry over Cliff. I celebrate his life when I go on a bike ride or I see a guy with a beard or when I see his family.
Next time you’re feeling down, call upon one of your departed loved ones to cheer you up. I’m sure they will be happy to do so given that they probably are not too busy these days. And the next time you feel sorry about having to wear a mask or social distance, take a deep breath in and exhale, for no other reason than you can.