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November 21, 2012

A Tribute to My Friend John

I lost a dear friend Monday.

I met John in junior high, when the kids from the Catholic schools joined us public school kids in ninth grade.  He was always ready with a smile, and was one of the kindest kids I knew.  We stayed friends throughout our high school years.

We parted ways when we went off to college, and didn't keep in touch after I moved 2,000 miles away with my new husband.  He moved back to our small town in central Wisconsin to be with his family and the the town he loved.  I went on to become a wife and mother of three boys, and began my career as a speech-language pathologist here in Oregon.  At some point, I heard he began to work for the city he lived in on the recycling crew.  My mom also worked for the city as a secretary and she would tell me that she would run into John at City Hall, and that he would always ask about me.  And thus went our paths for twenty years; very different life choices, our paths not intersecting.

But several years ago, our paths did intersect when we "found" each other on Facebook.  As it was with many of my other friends from the Merrill Class of '82, we happily became reconnected as we shared our lives and our stories.  It always brightened my day when suddenly the chat screen would pop up and there would be a "Hello Kiddo!" from John.  He was famous for checking in with all his friends, to make sure things were going well, or just to say hello.

I went back to Merrill for my 30th class reunion last August.  For several weeks (and months!) before, there was quite a buzz being generated on Facebook on who was all planning to attend.  It was sure to be a good time.  And it was!!!  Almost all of my close friends from high school were there.  We spent good quality time together and reminisced, and oh, how we laughed!

I found out then how beloved John had become to my friends over the years.  His kindness only increased from when I knew him.  He always had a smile and a wave or a hug for everyone he met.  He loved his city and the people in it, especially his family and friends.  He would do anything for anyone, even if it meant being inconvenienced or sacrificing time for himself or his family.  He was rich with friends.  I loved that I got the chance to be with him again and get to know him as an adult.  I left my hometown with new relationships forged with old friends and new memories to add to my childhood ones.

In the months since then, I would get unexpected texts from John.  Most of the time he was just checking in.  He'd say, "I hope you're having a great day!" and then make sure I'd know that he was thinking of me.  He'd send me smiles across the miles.

Last week I got the news that he was in the hospital and that it was not looking good for recovery for my friend John.  I took the news hard.  I'd anxiously check Facebook for any tidbits of information on his condition several times a day.  I prayed and prayed.

On Saturday, my husband and I traveled out into Wine Country to attend a wine tasting event.  The tasting was at an old warehouse as the winemakers were a small operation and did not have their own facility yet.  As I walked through the rain to the warehouse, I noticed brilliantly red leaves scattered across the gravel and pavement. I took notice of the color and contrast and wished it wasn't raining so I could snap a picture, but warmth won out and I quickly went inside.  Not long into our tastings, I received a call from close friends, telling me the news I was dreading.  I stepped out into the rain as my friend cried and told me that life support would be removed on Monday.  I heard the anguish in my friend's voice as he was trying to comprehend this loss and my heart shattered.  I turned to my husband with tears spilling from my eyes and shared the news with him.  "Joy, " I said, "I need to find joy. I need to know God is with me in this place of pain!"  For several months I have been keeping a photo journal of things that bring me joy, tiny reminders of God's grace, on a quest to live a life of gratitude.  My eyes focused in on the leaves I had stared at while I received the bad news from my friend.  Joy? No.  Pain?  Yes.  Regardless, I reached for my phone, and snapped the picture which will forever be burned into my memory.

It occurred to me then, that John was just like those red leaves.  Bright and vibrant amidst the ordinary and mundane.  A bold splash of color on a gray, rainy day, whose contrast against the darkness does not go unnoticed.  There's my joy.  In knowing John.  In knowing what kind of person he was and the impact he had on the lives of many.  Even as my heart is breaking, I am grateful for his life and the blessing of knowing him.


  1. Sounds like he was a great guy and a true friend...So sorry for your loss.

    1. Thank you for sharing this post. This is the first time that I've looked at your blog and I don't really believe in coincidences. (I also posted anonymously about using your Cookie Exchange game today and finding it useful for encouraging math vocabulary ) then this post caught my eye. It touched me. Last year, on Christmas day, I lost my father to pancreatic cancer. We found out he had it the day after Thanksgiving and he lived one month. What touched me about your post was your comments about joy. " Joy " is not a word that ( for this year for me ) is synonymous with the Holiday season as a result of last year's sad and unexpected loss. There is one word for cancer. Brutal. Anyway--your post encourage me toward a photo journal of things that bring me joy as well. I think it is a a great expression of healing and gratitude that honors those we lost as well as moving us along toward continuing on and feeling joy. Thank you for your openness in sharing.

    2. By the way, my dad was a college professor of botany. He would have loved your leaf picture. : )

    3. Heather, thanks for your comment. (Sorry, Carrie, it seems you've been included in this comment string) Heather, I'm sorry you lost your father, especially so quickly. You are right, cancer is brutal. My own father has been battling it for the past 13 years and seems to be losing the fight. There's not a lot of joy in that. I'm glad my post encouraged you; it was deeply personal and I really debated posting it. But God had a use for it, if only to encourage you, and for that I am humbled. My photo journal is actually an app called One Thousand Gifts. It is a companion app to a book by the same name by Ann Voskamp, which has had a profound impact on my life. I highly recommend both. But you can use the app without the book, and basically it gives you a way to chronicle your life and the joy you find through pictures, one little bit at a time. It's free, by the way, so why not check it out? I do believe (and have experienced first hand) that you can experience grief and joy at the same time. Joy is not always synonymous with happiness. I pray for you this Holiday season that you cherish the memories of your father and honor him with the joy that you are able to find in them. Thank you for sharing your story. I'll be thinking of you!

  2. Pam, What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing how in the midst of grief, we remember how one life touches many.

    These moments are definitely part of being a SLP.
    Thanks also for sharing your creativity.