Adaptability / Adversity / Being present / Challenge / Fear / Gratitude / Inspiration from Others / Relationships / Self-Help / Staying Positive / We Are Connected

I Do It for Them: Debbie, Harry and Bob

More than once in a while, I am reminded my personal catastrophes are not so catastrophic. More than once in a while, I am reminded of my friends who died young and can’t weigh in their thoughts on my so-called problems. More than once in a while, I pay these friends my respects and give gratitude for their fine example of what it means to live.

death as inspiration

Debbie: I will always remember her beautiful smile, constant giggling, and her ever-present happiness despite her often-ailing body. Twenty-one and gone.

DEBBIE: Debbie was my dear childhood friend. She was one of the happiest people I ever knew, even though she was sick all the time. Allergies were a constant problem, but chronic asthma was her kryptonite. It was a constant threat hidden behind every corner. Debbie giggled as if she was constantly being tickled, but she also wheezed and fumbled for an inhaler whenever she laughed too much. I felt helpless when she had an asthma attack and responsible for its onset if I somehow made her laugh too much. It pained me to witness her own body punishing her in the midst of untethered, innate happiness.

Debbie was in her early 20’s when she made plans to marry her long-time boyfriend Keith. She was so in love and deserved the level of happiness that awaited her. A few months before her wedding day when she was still aflutter with details of bridesmaid’s gowns and bouquets, I received a phone call saying Debbie had a severe asthma attack and had been rushed to the hospital. Then, another call that she had developed pneumonia while in the hospital. And finally, the unforeseen crushing news came: Debbie had perished at the hands of asthma.

I was devastated. My best friend was gone. Even though I realized her daily fragility, I didn’t comprehend that asthma could take her life. But it had. Lousy asthma. It had finally gotten the better of her.

Frankly, when I tell of Debbie’s passing, I have to purposely tap into that moment in time. When I think of her, I don’t typically envision her in a hospital, struggling. Rather, I remember her vibrant smile, her warm spirit, and her ability to laugh in the face of discomfort and pain. I remember her focused on a goal–to live a simple and happy life, to love and be loved.

death as inspiration

Harry: Always smiling and laughing. His joy lives on in those who were fortunate enough to know him, love him, and be loved by him.

HARRY: What can I say about Harry? I could write volumes about Harry because his spirit was always bigger than his body. He and I dated when we were in our late 20’s. Although he was a handsome fellow, his real beauty was rooted deep in his soul. His laugh was a celebration of life itself–bold and eccentric, spontaneous, from the gut, and with a bit of that Three Stooges “gna-gna-gnaaa” sound to it. When Harry laughed, it seemed EVERYONE within earshot turned to see from where “that sound” originated. Those who didn’t like to laugh might’ve leered at him, but those who wished they could laugh as easily as he did, smiled spontaneously in response. Harry spread joy. It was a natural consequence of being near him.

Four years after Harry and I broke up, I met him again and knew I missed him. His hug when we met again was as warm as summer. I knew one day, not too far away, we would get back together.

Then, another three months later, a hurricane came through our area. Amongst the chaos, a set of railroad-track gates malfunctioned in the town of Farmingdale resulting in a train striking a car, instantly killing the car’s driver. I remember the moment my Dad slipped the newspaper clipping in front of me at our dining room table. His fingers seemed reluctant to let the paper go. As I read the article, my mind tripped up on the driver’s name, Harry M. of Farmingdale. I reread it. And again, and then looked to my father as if to ask he erase the words. When his expression revealed he could not, I quickly collapsed into a puddle of tears.

I didn’t know how much I loved Harry until he died. His passing has been the single most crushing sorrow I have ever experienced, and his spirit has remained with me ever since. I’ve long relied on his ‘advice’ in my life. I have consulted him whenever I’ve felt something ‘wrong’ in my relationships with men. I remember how Harry loved and respected me and how good I felt as a result. So, yes, a train may have taken away Harry’s smile but it could not claim his warm, kind, joyful spirit. I can still hear his beautiful, bold laughter resonate in my ears. All this and more is Harry’s legacy.

BOB: I dated Bob when I was in my early 30’s. We met in college, where I’d returned to finish my bachelor’s degree. He was a dreamer who enjoyed sailing, philosophical conversations, and an occasional cigar dipped in cognac. Though intelligent, he was never pretentious. Habitually relaxed and positive, he mostly saw the bright side of life, but he also saw what the future might bring. Both his parents had died before age 50 from cancer. Though we didn’t discuss it, Bob likely suspected the same fate awaited him.

Rather than run himself into the ground with fear and self-destruction, he lived his life well, eating healthy foods and exercising often. For a while, we both moved up the ranks of karate together, but eventually went our separate ways. When I saw him again a few years later at a friend’s wedding, I’d learned he even earned that black belt that eluded me. He wrote, dreamed, and fixed a crusty old sailboat so he could sail on the salty seas. Mostly, he denied pressures to conform to a lifestyle he could not embrace.

And then he died. I got the news a year after the fact from one of our mutual friends from karate. Like a heartless pirate, lung cancer stole his life in the same way it had stolen his father’s life. Some ten years after Bob and I split, he was gone. He never saw his 50th birthday, but the influence of his life wisdom remains with me today. He lived in the moment. He imagined what his life should be and he made it so. AND he was genuinely happy as a result.

*  *  *

The loss of these three individuals has had a significant impact on my life. Besides leaving me mournful, it has kept me mindful of my own good fortune. Life has its struggles. It may even give us more than our share of pain and challenges. And yet, in the midst of struggle, we are still blessed to be here, to still have a shot at a happiness only WE can control.

Whatever good I do, whatever strength I manage to conjure from within when life seems tough, whatever opportunities I seize to see the world in a beautiful light, I do it for them: Debbie, Harry, and Bob. I do it to honor them. I do it because they no longer can. My life is emptier without them but, oddly, would not be quite as full with meaning without the loss they represent. Because of them, I live with the awareness that it is only through the grace of a Higher Power that I am able to live, laugh, and love.


17 thoughts on “I Do It for Them: Debbie, Harry and Bob

  1. A powerful post that caused me to reflect on those wonderful people who are no longer in my life but who will always be in my heart. It also reminded me to count my blessings and one of them is getting to know you…thanks.

    • How sweet! Thank you so much; I feel the same way. I’m so very grateful for the connections I’ve made here, and equally grateful for your quiet wisdom and continued friendship. God bless!

  2. Beautiful Tribute Post:) It makes me think of Denise and Kevin who died young. Denise was so full of love and life:) Denise was murdered (still unsolved) and it still breaks my heart to this day. Thanks so much for sharing – Take Care.

    • I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. The very last way I’d want a loved one to pass from this world is at the hands of another person, especially one with cruel intentions. The pain of such a loss is too difficult to process. Living well and loving each other better may be the only way to balance the scales and survive the loss.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

      May God bless us all.

  3. Beautiful post and beautifully written! I am sad that you had to lose such wonderful people but I am glad that their lives touched yours. I believe that everyone we meet in life whether it is for a short or long period are there for a reason. They all teach us something about ourselves and about life.

    • Thank you, Lily.

      With a significant loss each decade, it seems I’ve not been allowed to miss the message. I agree with you, Lily: everyone we meet in life is there for a reason. Who would have thought that the ‘reason’ is sometimes revealed in the passing as well?

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.


  4. Hey SJ,

    Thanks for the sentiments for Harry! Your words and sentiments regarding my dear brother really resonates the deep feelings of not only how sad he’s no longer in our lives but also how much he’s affected and inspired our lives for the better


    • Thank you so much, Mike. I’m often at a loss for words when I think of Harry, but every so often those words materialize on paper–like here today. I have the beginnings of a longer piece, hidden inside a notebook, waiting for me to finish. I will pay my respects once again to Harry and will attempt to help others understand what they missed out on by not knowing him as well.

      I feel his positive energy even now. He is a constant comfort to me. And I am so glad this small attempt sat well with you. I know it can be painful at times, but I refuse to forget him.


  5. Hello my dear friend. Reading your blog brought back some deep emotions losing two people I loved so much. It was a tragic end to 2008. I lost the love of my life Tom and without time to mourn, my sweet niece Shannon just 19 years of age. The pain still fresh, I feel them beside me in my times of need. Then reading about your friend Debbie, reminds me of those childhood friends that are so deep and memorable in our lives. You and I have known that since we were children attending Catholic school. Many fond memories& then when life took us down different paths, we met up again on a fork through our journeys. I feel so blessed to have you back again. Although distance has separated us again, we are in touch! I love you & miss you very much! Thanks for the beautiful post & stopping me in my tracks to reflect on my beautiful experiences!!!

    • I can feel your warmth from here, Lucy. Thank you so much, my dear childhood friend, for taking the time to read and reflect with me on these memories that touch us all. I know you continue to suffer with the loss of those specific individuals. The impact can be so great, and I suppose we all yearn for that point in time where we can feel the comfort of their continued presence. I hope that day comes soon for you, my dear one. Until then, *I* will continue to think of you often and reflect on the value of our friendship. God bless you, sweetie.

      All my love,

    • Dearest Wayne,
      You are most welcome.
      I am so humbled that you are here, able to read these words I originally wrote in a silent room alone with my thoughts. I know for certain that much of Debbie’s beauty, both physical and spiritual, came from Barbara and you, and the support of a truly warm and loving family. I am blessed to have been part of your daughter’s short life. I will remember her forever.

      All my love to you and the family,

  6. i read this with tears for you and them. I often wonder if those who touch us so powerfully know the impact they have long after they are gone, how we not only mourn their passing but reach for them. This was a blessing and a reminder, a wonderful tribute.

    • Thank you so much, Val. YOU especially know the value of a human life, as you were so close to losing your own. But by the grace of something much bigger than ourselves, you are still here and doing so much in the effort to not allow such unnecessary tragedy and suffering occur to others.

      I value our connection. YOU, too, are a blessing, my dear.


  7. Pingback: “X” Marks the Spot, But Can You See It? | Swimming in the Mud

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