Saturday, February 19, 2011


Nothing screams STOP louder than the news of the death of a friend. Normal life just stops immediately, the world ceases to spin for a brief moment.

We came to a screeching halt this past week for a few days.
Hundreds of other folks did as well.  Schedules were trashed, cars and airplanes were gassed up, and black clothing was pulled out of closets as preparations were made.   Quick phone calls to florists and hotels finalized the details.  Friends and family members from all over America and a few co-workers from Japan descended upon San Angelo, Texas. We drove 8 hours across that vast emptiness of west Texas to get there.

Our friend and business associate, Tom, lost his fierce but short battle with cancer.  His diagnosis came just last July while he was in Europe getting ready for a river cruise with his siblings, nieces and nephews.  He became ill and flew home as the rest of his family boarded the boat for another one of those famous  vacations he'd orchestrated and so enjoyed.  He'd never married so all of his attention was focused on his family of origin and his family of friends.  He lived to spoil the people he loved.  The joy of his life was so see another person smile.

The church was filled with faces and flowers. 

Last Wednesday night after the rosary was read the family allotted time for folks to tell stories and share memories.   There were many! 

Each person that spoke revealed a personal tale of adventure, laughter, generosity and fun.  Soon it became apparent that each one felt that they alone had been treated extra special, that they alone were Tom's best friend.  The room was filled with best friends.  Everyone there had felt that designation by Tom's individual  sensitivity and care.  His influence was wide as folks from all ages shared laughter and tears.

My favorite story was of the time Tom's brother came to visit him at his lakeside home in San Angelo.  Morning came and the mailman pulled up to the house.  The brother watched as this government worker silently walked right through the front door into the kitchen promptly opened Tom's fridge, took out lunch and sat down at the kitchen table to eat.  The brother was a little stunned but then realized that this man too, was another "best friend."  He was welcome anytime to come in, eat whatever Tom had available and rest a spell.

Other residents of San Angelo turned out for this funeral as well. A young priest shared how he'd sought Tom's advice many times as he struggled with  parish decisions.  Others told stories of how  they'd faced a major challenge in their life or sometimes simply the frustrations of daily life and Tom had come to their rescue.  Many times he'd arranged to fly sick folks or heart-sick relatives to nearby towns for medical care,  planned surprise parties for local friends,  or hauled a group of teen-agers into the woods for a night of "roughing it" complete with two inch steaks for their grill. (They'd expected cold hot dogs and beans.)  His motto was, "don't suffer unless you have to." The kids of that church loved him.

Because he knew his time on this earth was coming to an end, he truly got his house in order.  He planned every necessary detail of his funeral, including a huge party at his home following his burial.  He'd ordered a caterer to supply only the finest food, told the funeral home to distribute flowers to local nursing homes,  and listed instructions to cover all his material possessions.  He left his Dallas business to his employees with directions as to how to run it. 

Yes, death screams STOP and remember.  I'm thinking Tom's legacy screams  STOP, TAKE A LOOK AROUND and LIVE LIFE to the max, giving generously to all along the way.

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