25 Years Ago Today My Best Friend Died

The phone rang.  It was 2:17 in the morning. It’s never a “good” phone call at 2:17 in the morning.

For almost a week I had been expecting this call, but some part of me was hoping that it was a wrong number.  Perhaps my roommate’s ex-girlfriend drunk dialing him after the bar closed? However it was a Wednesday, so that was a long shot.

When I answered, the voice on the other end of the phone was the one I most feared, my mother’s.  Her normally stoic nature was absent and all I could make out was, “your father is gone.”

“I’ll be right there,” I replied.

I threw on some clothes and ran down the stairs to head over to my parent’s house.  I remember thinking how cold it was when I got in my car, even for December.  I remember thinking that the place I was going to was no longer my “parent’s” house, plural.  Now it was just my mom’s house, singular.  I remember thinking that I was now one of “those” people.  You know, the people who get spoken about at parties.

“Did you hear what happened to Brian?  His father died of a brain tumor.  Only 47 years old.”

“No, really?”

“Yes!”

“Oh, I have no idea what I would do if something like that happened to me.”

But it did.  It did happen to me.

I know now as a father myself, that the worst pain in the world would be to lose a child. But at twenty years of age, I didn’t yet have that perspective on life.

Back then the worst pain I could imagine would be losing the person you loved most in life.  The person you looked up to.  The one who protected you when you were frightened.  The one who taught you how to fish, to throw a baseball, and to charm your mother when she was mad at you.

That was my dad.  And now he was gone.

There is an age-old debate about whether it is best to go “quick,” or “slow.”  The consensus is always that “quick” is the best.  But here’s a secret…it depends on who is answering the question; the victim, or those they leave behind.

There was nothing unspoken between my father and I.  He regularly told me that he loved me and I told him the same in return.  There were no long simmering grudges or stretches without speaking that needed to be reconciled before his final exit.  If he had died suddenly, in a car crash on the way home from work, it would have been cleaner.  Neater.  More dignified, certainly for him.

But the fact of the matter is, no matter how tough it was on him, I was glad to have him for those eighteen months in which I knew he was going to eventually die.

I used to feel guilty when I thought about this. How could I be so selfish?  Those last months were hard on him as the tumor began to shut down parts of his body and mind day after day. What sort of non-caring, narcissistic person would want his own father to linger on in that state just to stave off his own fears and insecurities of a life without him?

With no kids of my own, I often assumed he would have rather gone quick if he could have. But now, as a parent myself, I know that that wasn’t the case.

If, God forbid, I was ever diagnosed with a fatal disease, I would put every ounce of my being into staying alive as long as I could.  I would endure any amount of discomfort or suffering in order for more time with my children.  A year.  A month. Even days or hours would be worth any pain I would have to endure.

I would want every precious moment I could grab in order to help ensure that my children were that much closer to being able to live and prosper on their own after I was gone.

Back in 1985, if you lived six months past the time you were diagnosed with a brain tumor you were considered “lucky.”  I think the reason my father tripled that “lucky” number was because of me and my sister.  I think he felt then just like I feel now.  I don’t think he regretted one extra moment with us, no matter how much he suffered.

I always carry my father’s spirit within, but at times he feels like a ghost to me.  A fleeting vision or dream of a time that never really existed.  I can see the man who was my father in the yellowing photos of camping trips, soccer games, and birthday parties past, but they don’t connect with me like I think they should.

In the world we live in today everyone has a video camera in their purse or pocket, but I feel somewhat cheated that there are only fourteen seconds that exist of my father on film.

Just fourteen seconds of a random video my aunt and uncle shot on their visit here from Australia.  If it wasn’t for them being 1985′s tech version of “first adopters” there might not be any moving images of him at all.

This video was shot just months before he had the seizure that first alerted us that the clock was ticking on his time left on Earth.  Though my mother naturally is “dominating” the conversation, he is very quiet in the video.  Too quiet. Uncharacteristically quiet, focusing his attention on my young cousin instead of joining the conversation.  I often wonder if he had any clue at that moment that things were not right?

Were there any pains in his head that woke him in the middle of the night?  Did he begin to forget things he should know?  Was there an inner sense in him that something was wrong?  It’s a question I will never know the answer to.

In the months and years that passed after he died I would feel extremely guilty if I had a day where I was happy.  Or a day where I didn’t think about him for a few hours here and there. I thought that that meant that I was forgetting him, or that I wasn’t missing him like I should.

Then one day it hit me.  It was the cliché’ of all cliché’s but somehow it rang so true.  I realized that my father, being the type of person he was; happy, outgoing, friendly, funny, warm, and loving, would not want me to cry over him.  He would want me to live my life.  To take all the best parts of him and make them part of me.  He would want me to remember him, but to move on with my life.

I have tried to do that in the years since he left me as a very young man, unsure about myself, my life, and my future.

A quarter of century is a long time.  I have lived more of my life without my father than I did with him.  And sometimes I wonder if I have moved on too much.

In the last few years, as my daughter has gotten older she has begun asking me certain questions like, “where is YOUR daddy.”  I have explained to her best I could about my father, who he was, and why he is not here with us. With the godsend that is youthful naiveté, she has only soaked up the joy of his story and not the sadness of his loss.

And for some unknown reason, instead of “Grandpa Kelly” he has become “Uncle Kelly” to her.  And when her school had a project where the children brought a picture of someone in their family who had “gone to heaven” she brought a photo of my dad.

Photo of my dad, Kelly Lund, and my original avatar.

The other day she asked me if we could go to see where he was buried.  Taken aback a bit I asked, “why do you want to do that?”

“I just want to remember him,” she replied.

“Remember him?” I said.

“Yes.  I want to remember all the times when he played with me when I was a baby.  And all the fun I had with him.”

“But sweetheart, ‘Uncle Kelly’ died a long time before you were born,” I explained to her.  “You never got to play with him.”

“Oh,” she said pondering my statement for moment.  “But I just want to go there and think about him daddy.  It that okay?”

“Yes,” I told her as I held back my tears.  “Yes, that is okay.  That is very okay.  I want to think about him too.”

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26 Responses

  1. Thank You for sharing your personal stories, i have been fortunate that i still have both of my parents. After reading your post makes me wants to build a better relationship with my father. I thank you for that.

  2. Thanks Brian – I wouldn’t trade the last six months of my dads life for anything. He was diagnosed with non-small cell cancer and was given six months to live. He died exactly 6 months after be diagnosed. It was Father’s Day one day before his birthday. It was some of the best times I had spent with him.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your stories and adventures…they are read frequently.

    • Thanks man. It is tough to lose a someone you love, but you handled it in the best way possible, being really present for him when he needed you most.

      Thanks for reading and for supporting the blog.

  3. Very emotional. Recently on Nov 3, I lost my mom and still couldn’t recover from that. I believe I can’t till my death. She is everything to me. This is very much remembering that.

  4. Hi Brian, I recently had the pleasure of meeting you at the Las Vegas Traders Expo. I lost my sister in 2009 from a brain tumor (glioblastoma) and she was also 47 yrs. The memories start fading, but they are always with you in spirit. Thank you for a great blog! Nancy – Portland,OR

    • Sorry for your loss Nancy.

      I have to tell you, you are the person I ran into most at the expo. I think we saw each other like five separate times :)

      I enjoyed talking with you, and thanks for reading and supporting the blog.

  5. Our stories are similar, and I offer condolences to you and respect for you and the memory of your father that you keep alive. I lost my father on December 15th, 1989. He was 41, I was 15. Cancer. Living with strength and dignity, right up until the last month, then it became a plea of mercy for the sake of his dignity.
    After the bitterness and anger subsided I live with a strong sense of appreciation in “the little things”, and maybe that was my ‘gift’ for going through so much pain.
    Sorry, didn’t mean to make your blog post “about me” but these situations bring about sharing in that sense.
    Cheers! in your father’s memory

    • It was great perspective Todd. We all deal with that “anger” but you found out how to channel and change it into something positive. No doubt because of the way your father raised you.

      Thanks for reading and supporting the blog.

  6. Thanks for sharing this Brian. I lost two grandparents, a family friend and a high school buddy in the last two weeks so I have been thinking a lot about life and death recently. I really like your perspective on spending as much time with the people you love with whatever time you have left. Great post.

  7. Brian,

    I have followed your insightful posts for some time. Trading is not everything. There is so much to life we miss by focusing on the here and now. I lost my father 17 years ago, and I still remember the call from my mother a world away. I think of him almost every day, and am not ashamed to admit that I have imaginary conversations with him when troubled. His memory has made me a better father to my children.

    Thank you!

  8. Brian, Thanks for the wonderful entry. 2 years ago we lost my 52 year old brother in law to a brain tumor. I have discovered the only video of him (sadly covering only 7 seconds). I have been hesitant to share it with his 3 kids and my sister for fear of causing pain. You have inspired me to share it this Christmas. Thank you!
    Bob

  9. Brian, This post is awesome…and unfortunately eerily similar to my own situation. lost my Dad, coach, friend 10 years ago (Dec. 5th). My parents were staying with me as it was easier to get Dad to the hospital for treatment. That day I was at work, Mom called me to come and help so I drove straight home, only took me 7 minutes and was still too late. I still cry some (but agree he would not want that), but more so still talk to him regularly and get help with my problems…just like always.

    Thanks again for writing this.
    Tommy

  10. Brian, i am a new comer to your blog. Perhaps one month ago i still didn’t get to know it, but since then i come here very often.
    From my heart, i would like to thank YOU for sharing and for beeing so inspirational.
    I do believe our children are our… extension. If you don’t mind, let me say i’m sure your father must BE a very special beeing.

  11. I think I started reading your blog with the post about dreaming of your father and bringing your loved ones to your children. At the least that is when I made my only other comment. But once again I find myself compelled to say thank you for sharing. You inspire me to be a better father and to love those around me more.

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