On the way back to the airport, I had to pull over to the side of the road and cry for a while.
Jerry was dying. There was no doubt and there was no cure. I had flown to California to visit with him one last time, to let him know he had tipped the scales for the positive in this world, and that he would be missed. Through his contributions to my life, and to many others, he had earned this visit several times over.
Jerry had been a client for many years, and then he became a mentor and a friend. I hadn’t done any work with him or his company for years, and he had left the company as well, but this was a rare instance in which “business friend” is not an oxymoron. He always had an instructive story about business, about life and values, and he passed along a few jokes that I could claim as my own. He was a mensch.
On the night of our last visit, we acknowledged the obvious in about two minutes and then spent the rest of our time the way we always did, sharing stories and jokes and commiserating about the state of the world. All things considered, it was a very enjoyable evening. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want that evening to end, because that night’s goodbye would almost certainly be the last.
I’ve had many “last visits” since then; they become more frequent as you and your friends get older. Sometimes, you don’t know it’s your last visit when you have it, because nobody is aware of the fuse that’s burning. In those cases, you look back and wonder if you said the right things, if you left on good enough terms.
Often, though, you do know the reality when you come to visit, and you know you’re fulfilling an important mission. You’re letting somebody know they made a difference, they were appreciated, and they will be remembered as a positive force in the world.
My last visit with Jerry was relatively easy. He was alert and energetic, with few telltale signs of the traitors within his body. Other visits are much more challenging, such as those times you’re sitting with a friend who has lost her personhood while a machine sustains the metrics of existence. All we can offer is a gift of normalcy, an episode of the life they had, and still have, if we can ignore the demands of their impatient companion.
Every so often, you go to a really great funeral. The guest of honor lived a long and productive life, all the guests knew and loved him, and the family is comforted by a constant stream of stories from a life well lived. It’s sad, as it must be, but it’s also joyous in a way, marking the completion of an honorable, meaningful journey.
Funerals are for the survivors, though, not the deceased. Last visits are for the guest of honor, a chance to celebrate their life in the present tense, to offer whatever solace can be delivered through a promise to remember. It isn’t really much, but sometimes it’s all we can give.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.