When friends leave us
It has been a while since my last post and though I’ve felt a dose of writer’s block lately, my wife has encouraged me to keep posting. “But do so with less formality,” she insists. “Loosen up and just write what’s on your heart.”
I know her advice is sound, and so with her words in my ear, I’ll attempt to “loosen up” and post more often, hoping to do so in a more conversational way.
Thankfully, one of the beautiful gifts writing affords is its ability to give shape to our feelings and help us make peace with troubling emotions. For me writing is a form of prayer that works its way from my heart through my fingers.
So here is what is on my heart at the moment:
Two friends and Christian brothers, Jim Gallagher and Larry French, left this world late last year and their deaths continue to trouble me, mostly because I know I could have been a better friend to both.
Larry had broad shoulders, large hands, etched and scarred with deep, dark cracks from years of turning wrenches. He was a big bear with a soft heart, and someone who could spin a tale with the best, often blurring the facts for the sake of the story. He was my brother-in-law for many years and early in life we were as close as brothers. I still remember Larry saying, after helping somebody financially, “I take what I need and give what I can.” For a mechanic who turned wrenches and drove trucks for a living, this was and remains a profound declaration. But then Larry Dee always possessed a sort of common man’s junkyard wisdom.
Happy-go-lucky on the surface, Larry laughed easily, much like his father. But also like his father, cared genuinely for others. What most never saw were the deep wounds he could never escape or completely hide. Perhaps the deepest was being separated from his three children after his wife left and took the family away decades ago. For a man who was all about family, the separation nearly killed him. Even more tragic is his children never knew him or witnessed the gentle giant when he broke down and wept when away from the eyes of the world. Thankfully, Larry found love again with Sherry, which made his road through life less painful.
I didn’t realize I would miss Larry as much as I do, I guess because we were not as close the past 20 years as we once were. That was my fault more than his, and it saddens me I didn’t to make more of an attempt to reconcile earlier. We did draw closer last year when Larry approached me and we apologized to each other. For that encounter I am forever grateful.
I was drawn to Jim Gallagher the first day I met him, the way one feels compassion for a stray or rescued animal, kicked around by life and wearing the scars of too many bad decisions. He tried to project a tough guy from Philly facade, but all one had to do is listen to him pray to know the tender heart of the invisible person. Jim, like most of us, had his demons. One was alcohol, the one that eventually took his life. On the surface, he seemed able to hold this enemy at bay until his wife, Patty, a sweet, sweet woman with an infectious laugh, died rather suddenly.
She was his joy, his strength, and partner in both fighting his addiction (they met in AA) and in his walk of Christian faith. Jim’s life spiraled immediately after Patty died and within six months his life was also over.
I failed Jim. I had intended on several occasions to call him after Patty’s death, but didn’t. Sure, I wrote facebook posts, but such are poor and impersonal substitutes for a phone call or a letter. I even wrote myself a reminder on a notebook I was using during a Bible class and circled it, yet still allowed the distractions of the week to keep me from calling Jim…until it was too late.
Both Larry and Jim experienced much joy in this life, but sorrow was never far away.
None of us truly or completely know what’s on the other side of this life. Are Larry, Jim and Patty finally at peace? Will I see them again? Only our Creator knows. But for now, I miss them and wish I could wrap my arms around each and tell them again how much I love and appreciate them and ask their forgiveness for not being a better friend.
But I suspect they know that.