One of my oldest friends is named John. I knew him from the time I was about 20 or so, and I'm 43 now. He's the kind of guy who does things for his friends because that's what friends do; for example when Josie's front steps needed to be fixed, he swooped in with some PT lumber and a nail gun and made her a new set of steps in about 20 minutes. He drove from the North Shore of Boston to suburban Providence, RI, so he could personally inspect a house I was considering buying - the very house I'm sitting in right now in fact.
When I met John he was still going out with his high school sweetheart (let's call her S.), notwithstanding the fact that he'd been through high school and college. When anyone would ask when he would marry her, his standard joke would be to respond "May. As in, 'may the day never come.'"
But the day did finally come, and John eventually asked his girlfriend to be his wife, and she agreed, with shining eyes and an optimism for the future.
I was privileged to attend his wedding. John and I were charter members of the poker game that is currently being hosted by the Very Josies, so John and S. sat all the poker peeps together at the same table. Somewhere - I've been looking for it all night - is a picture of all of us with a hand of cards, each of us in our Sunday best, looking at the other's hand. It was a funny scene that required us to break out a deck of cards at a wedding reception, to the consternation of the other attendees.
After the wedding, the two of them set about the business of starting and raising a family. It was not an easy thing, based on some health issues that S. had, but they eventually had a daughter, E., and a son, J., shortly thereafter. And being a husband, and now a dad, John dropped quietly out of poker night, and though I spoke to him somewhat infrequently after that, I still considered him a close friend.
Shortly after J. was born, S. was diagnosed with leukemia.
She went through a round of chemo, had a stem cell transplant that failed to eradicate the leukemia from her body, had to endure a second round of chemo, and fought a case of pneumonia so severe that they had to place her in a medically-induced coma to give her exhausted body a chance of fighting off the infection.
It was a gallant fight from which she never backed down, but not two hours ago I discovered that some little while ago, S. lost her fight, and died.
And right now my head is swimming with emotion, for John, who I don't think ever loved anyone else in his entire life; for their daughter who will miss her mommy for the rest of her days; and for their son who is too young to remember his mother except perhaps as a far-off memory of his first grief.
It makes my complaining about mall walkers and Jay Leno seem petty and small, and it makes my heart heavy.
S. and I shared a running joke - we both fancied ourselves masters of the Scrabble board, and we threatened each other with the pasting of a lifetime that we both believed we could administer. But we never quite got around to it.
I'll miss her - but in truth, my heart is heaviest for those who are left behind. It's very sad, and I feel like my heart might just break in pieces.