It was just last Friday that we talked to each other. Typical of him, he called me knowing that my schedule on every other Friday would have me probably headed for home after having lunch after my 11:00 appointment. I struggled to get my phone out of my pocket, but eventually it gave up the fight and I was able to answer before he hung up.
"Hey, Bob how are you? Are you feeling good today?" These were always the first words out of his mouth when he called me. If I called him, Rich would respond with the those same words because he genuinely wanted to know how I was doing.
Then he said, "I figured by now, after your appointment at 11:00, you would have finished having lunch and you'd be parked in front of Mary's favorite store, waiting in the car while she did some shopping."
"You can't be serious." I shouldn't have been surprised by his remark because he knows my schedule better than I do. "I'm sitting in the exact same parking spot while Mary is in the same store shopping just like I was two weeks ago when you called me. Sometimes you scare me."
But that was typical Rich. He always seemed to know what was going on and where I would be at any given time. He even reminded me when Mary's birthday was coming up so I wouldn't forget it and get in trouble with her. He also knew all the birthdays of my 3 grandkids. He never forgot a number once he got it in his head. Birthdays, anniversaries, phone numbers: he never forgot any of them. His amazing memory allowed him to recite the starting lineups of the Packers first two Super Bowl teams. He could recall specific plays from any game you asked about, whether it was Packers, Brewers, and even the Cubs, who for some reason he was drawn to.
Our phone conversation last Friday, though, was my chance to ask him how he was feeling. For the past two months he had been in and out of the hospital several times suffering from an infection of the colon called "c diff," which left him very sick and weak. Worst of all, he had to go it alone because c diff is very contagious and he wouldn't allow anyone near him lest they get infected. In the hospital he was in isolation with the staff who cared for him having to wear sterile scrubs whenever they entered his room. Naturally I was worried about him being alone with no one to help him. I could do nothing for him during his illness. I couldn't run the risk of infection since my immune system is already compromised by PD. So I was limited to supporting him with phone calls and texts. That's why I was happy that he called me on Friday. That meant that he must have been feeling good that day. He sounded upbeat and normal. We both figured that was a good sign, that maybe the latest medicine he was taking was winning the battle. Rich was confident that he was on the way to recovery.
"I just want my life back." That was his wish everyday. That was my wish for him, too. Since he was alone with no help at home, he contracted with the home health care service to help him. He had an appointment with them for 8:00 AM on Monday morning. When the health care nurse arrived Monday morning, she found him lying in his recliner. He was dead. He had passed away sometime during the night, peaceably with no sign of distress. His body just had had enough and had given up the fight.
My God, I am going to miss him. I don't know that I will ever be able to fill the gaping void his death created, or climb out of the endless black hole that he left behind. For 54 years he had been a part of my life. We didn't always agree on everything, but we had a wonderful time disagreeing. Most of all I want to thank you for the fine example of how to live a life honorably and morally right, without compromise or even the hint of hypocrisy.
I could write a hundred pages about all the interesting things that went on between us, by us for us and despite of us, but that would only serve to add emphasis to our strong friendship. It doesn't need more emphasis. Our friendship was a God given gift that we made the most of and I will never forget HOW we made the most of the opportunity that God gave us. So goodbye old friend. I will see you soon enough, so we can continue on doing it all again.