By the time I met him he had been paralyzed for nearly twenty years, and his life was a routine of reluctant acceptance punctuated by the love of his wife and the depths of his faith.
We got along well enough, two men from vastly different worlds brought together by choice, circumstance, and a love for his daughter. We bonded over years of small talk, baseball, and the constant laughter of two small boys.
It was a relationship built on humor and goodwill.
Over the better part of a decade he defied the odds of medical bookies and health-based wagers. More than once his family and friends would rally and prepare for the inevitable, only to find themselves walking away in amazement and optimistic disbelief. He refused to quit, despite a body that was long past ready.
“He is only staying alive so the boys will remember him,” my wife said.
And there it was.
Our sons were his only grandchildren, and they came into the world about the time that he was ready to leave it. His health was in a constant spiral downward, and a spirit still light from years of energy and action was finally ready to rest. When they arrived it gave him pause, a second wind, and a focus that left doctors scratching their heads, checking their charts, and avoiding eye contact. The boys brought an endless supply of energy and action, and their spirits were light and contagious.
The joy of childhood spreads quickly, and soon the yard of their grandparents gave way to go-carts and rope swings. The house warmed with imagination, engines to be built, westerns to be watched, and forts long forgotten.
There was no peak, no pinnacle of time together, that could be traced by graph or memory, it just was, and it felt like it might always be. And then it wasn’t.
He stayed as long as he could, and his wife stayed forever at his side.
The boys weren’t allowed to enter his hospital room. They were forced to wait in winding corridors and stale areas full of nothing but chairs that no one wants to sit in.
But his wife was there, as was mine, and a group of people he loved quite dearly. The last thing he asked for was a picture of his grandsons, and then, sometime later, he went softly into the night.
The chairs filled, and the boys moved restlessly between the laps that formed upon them. The room was fresh with loss and sorrow; it echoed with small sounds of melancholy and laughter skipping across streams of tears and the deep breaths of a moment.
The boys were hugged tight and often, every face a struggling smile, and every whisper a memory of the man that they will never forget.