In the book The Language of Letting Go, Melody Beattie instills in her readers the power of letting go and moving past the guilt and fear of living and to begin creating a life of love and wonder. On page 312, dated October 25 in the year of recovery, her book tells us that some of us believe that our days are planned, divinely ordered, that God knew how we were to live our lives and that each day transpires exactly to that plan. Others of us believe that we choose–the events, the circumstances that take place in our lives–that we need to learn how to master the lessons they bring. No matter what we believe about how we got to where we are today, the circumstances are exactly what they needed to be. We must embrace our imperfections, our mistakes and our tragedies, because it is what makes us who we are–real and alive.
One lesson I learned is from my friend who died of Hepatitis C on November 5, 2001. John and I became friends when we were in 7th grade. He was my first boyfriend and became a life-long friend. During high school, even though we no longer dated, we were buddies. We would talk or just laugh with each other for hours.
After high school John and his twin brother Jim went into the service. They rescued choppers and soldiers downed while on missions. They often encountered other soldiers who were injured and would have to administer medical treatment. On one occasion as John was rescuing a fellow soldier, a heavy metal part of the helicopter tore through his leg, injuring him and mixing his blood with that of the other soldier.
In the early 2000s, he became ill and was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. John’s disease could have been caused by that injury during the rescue or it could have been caused by the use of drugs and alcohol. No one really knows how John contracted Hepatitis C, but he did. That was his tragedy and he had to live with it. His family thought that his illness was the cause of his drug and alcohol abuse and were not very supportive of him after his diagnosis.
In September 2001, four days before the tragic 9/11 event, my long-long friend and I were reunited after 24 years. At a high school reunion, I ran into his brother Jim and asked “where is John?” He said he was ill and at the Veteran’s home. I asked for his phone number and gave him mine to pass on to John. John called me the next day and we talked, just like we had spoken yesterday, forget that 24 years had passed. We talked about everything that transpired since high school: families, loves, marriages, divorces, and our lives today.
We could not forget that life today for John meant living with Hepatitis C. John was ill. The Hepatitis C was causing major liver damage and he was on a list for a liver transplant. In order for him to get a transplant though, he needed someone to care for him for 4-6 weeks during the recovery period. Talking with him over the next couple of weeks, I realized he had no support from his family. His ex-wife and sons lived in California, and his daughter, who lived in St. Cloud, was too young to care for him. So I told him I would care for him during his recovery–no questions asked.
A few weeks passed and John’s illness was getting worse. The likelihood of a transplant was getting slim, and his life expectancy was getting shorter.
During this time in his life, John did not have many friends and his family neglected him. In order to get him out of the Veteran’s home for short times, I would bring him to my home. I traveled extensively at this time for my job and John would stay at my house with my children while I was away. People tell me that what I did for John by getting him out of the VA home was a blessing; they don’t know how much it meant to me to have him at my house with my children. He taught them lessons about life: about drugs and their effects on his life, what it was like to be in the service and he helped them understand the struggles in life.
One weekend when I was away, John stayed at my house with my kids. I called him every day and he never told me he was not feeling well. When I talked to my son on Sunday before I caught my plane, Ross mentioned that John was in bed most of the weekend and did not look good. When I arrived home, John looked terrible. I insisted that we go to the VA hospital immediately; he really did not want to go. When we arrived at the hospital, the nursing staff would not allow me to be in his room as I was not a family member. I called his brother and his sister to inform them that he was at the hospital. Because this was not a new occurrence to them, they asked whether or not they should be there. His sister, Beth, did arrive at the hospital about midnight and was with me when he died at 4:00 am. When I returned home about 6:30 am, my son, Ross, asked if John was okay, then without hesitation, he just said, “Mom, he died, didn’t he” and began to cry. My children were able to meet a person who meant a lot to me throughout my life and lost him even before they really got to know him.
I miss my friend and the time I spent with him during the last part of his life. If, as Melody Beattie says, my life was planned, and divinely ordered, then this tragedy was given to me to learn. If I had a choice to be a part of John’s life at that time, would I have chosen to ignore him, like many of his family and friends? No, I chose to be a part of John’s life! At his funeral, his family considered me to be John’s Guardian Angel, sent to him when he needed one. I disagree, I think John was my Guardian Angel, sent to help me understand the real meaning of life and how to live–real a