On this day in 2005 my friend Doug Sullivan died. He was 58. From his bed at Upstate Medical University Hospital, he asked a favor of me in his last week.
"Would you do a reading for me at a memorial service?"
"Sure. Of course. Thank you."
His dear, dear friend Debora had called me days before.
"Doug's back in the hospital. I thought you'd want to know. He's not going to be coming home."
It was a Sunday. I recall just coming back from a trip, probably to Connecticut.
I visited him a lot that last week. That Sunday, on the elevator I met two Steves. One has since died; the other is someone whose life is now intertwined with mine, or I should say vice versa.
He was in good spirits. He was in great spirits.
People paraded in.
A brother came in from Maine, I believe, in the last 48 hours. I think they had been estranged for several years. Doug had gotten a transfusion that enabled him to hang on long enough for his brother to arrive.
On the last day, a Friday, I visited Doug during my lunch hour from work. (I worked for others in those days.) I came to say good bye. Everyone knew these were good byes.
"Good bye, Doug. I love you."
I started to cry.
He looked at me, and kindly laughed.
"What are you crying for? I'm all right. I'll be all right. It's okay."
I looked at Doug. He was not kidding. He really was all right. He was fine. He was not afraid. He was even happy. I looked for a crack in the wall. I could not find any.
He tousled my hair, as if I were his beloved dog or his child.
And days later the reading I delivered was no more than a collage of words from him, from me, from others in the room, from poetry, from Scriptures. I didn't know if I could do it. Beforehand, I was surprised to see Sara Maypole at the church. She had been a fellow parishioner at St. David's, my parish. She is a retired priest. It turns out her husband Tom, who has since died, was a mutual friend of Doug and me. I had not been aware of the connection. In the pew there she said a prayer for me and with me so I could do this hard thing.
I did it.
Doug gave me -- gave all of us -- a gift in his dying. For me, his asking me to do that reading was a gesture of love. It was apostolic. Other folks knew him better, I figured. Played golf with him often, talked to him more, hung out with him more. My guess is he treasured our mutual honesty. We held no secrets from each other. Oh, we were baseball fans together, too. We would attend Chiefs games. Since his Red Sox had won the Series in 2004 he joked he could now die. There was a literal truth in that. But I don't need to have any special reason to explain why he chose me for the honor. It does not matter.
His doing so was a great gift to me. His dying proved somehow rewarding.
And when my own brother (because, let's face it, Doug was a brother too) passed away in November of the same year I was more prepared, if you will.
We miss you.
But we know you're all right.
As are we all.