I’m headed to a wake after work today. This will be the second time I have helped my son face his own mortality by having to attend the funeral of one of his friends.
More than a decade ago, one of Joe’s Pop Warner teammates was arrested for DWI — it was not his first arrest for underage drunk driving. It wasn’t his second, either. He was probably looking at having to do some time in jail, and at the same time was probably in really hot water with his parents. At some point that night after his arrest, and after her was returned home to his parents, he took his father’s gun, put it to his head, and pulled the trigger.
Only 15 or 16 at the time, I worried about Joe and how he was handling the news. I was chatting with him on AOL Instant Messenger from work one day right around the funeral and I asked him how he was doing. He said he was fine, but that he was angry. We “chatted” a bit more about it, and I said to him “I feel bad for you kids these days — you have so many choices with which to destroy your lives.” His response was “The right choice is always there.” I felt validated as a parent with that response, but still felt enormous sadness that my son had to go through something like that — something that didn’t need to happen.
Tonight’s wake is for a young man, also a football teammate and high school classmate of Joe’s, who made the good choices, but just got dealt a shitty hand. Right around high school graduation, Ryan was diagnosed with brain cancer. He fought and battled, and battled and fought the cancer. He was upbeat and looked toward the future. He got married a couple of years ago. Life was going well for him. Cancer finally won, though, and Ryan succumbed over the weekend.
The grief his parents must feel is unimaginable.
And I’m sad for my son. He looked up to Ryan — for his courage and strength. But most importantly, I think my son regrets that he and Ryan (and many other high school friends) have drifted away from each other.
It’s easy to be mad at someone. It’s easy to drift away. It’s easy to ignore someone. And it’s exceptionally easy to allow more and more distance between yourself and others, for any reason.
Life shouldn’t be full of regrets.
That’s what I have to try to help my son remember tonight.