SeveralBut I never really thought about it until I started reading stories in this group. Family, friends and acquaintances. Some slow, some quick, some painful, some not. Loved ones? Most definitely in many cases. One case in particular that until now, I would not have thought yes.
In a small town, one becomes familiar with death in many forms. It becomes personal because you know everyone and are related to many. It is never a callous knowledge, but even when young, it was easy to be unemotional because of this familiarity.
We were 12 years old. It was 1974. Best friends with no doubt. We did most everything together Kelly and I. He would spend the night at my house, I would spend the night at his. We did everything that you can imagine 12 year-old's doing in the country. We were both beginning to notice the girls and talked about them when we were alone and teased them when we were in public. Kelly's mom called us the bobsy twins. My mom called us frick and frack. My dad used to say, "If he is going to be here and eat with us, he better help with the chores." I am guessing that Kelly's dad said the same thing. The funny thing is, the chores were more fun when we did them together.
The summer before that summer of 12 years old, Kelly started having problems with his knee and hip. Growing pains the adults said. Osgood Slaughter the local doctor said. He will grow out of it. By the end of the summer he was in serious pain, beyond the "knock it off and shake it off" pain that everyone considered it to begin with. His parent's concern spread to the local doctor, who recommended a trip to the hospital in the city south of us.
The news was bad. Cancer. The word had a worse meaning in 1974 than it does today. Worse than the diagnosis was the fact that it had spread and was seriously rooted in his bones. Radiation, chemotherapy, no hair, weakness, weight loss...all the things you are expecting in this story. This was my best friend and suddenly he was gone for long periods of time and came home nearly unrecognizable. His mother would shoo me away from the door because he was to tired to see me, much less mess around. She said that they needed to keep germs away from him because he was weak and the radiation would make him more susceptible to even the smallest cold or flu. She was right of course, but as many times as she shooed me away, she let me in and we would sit and talk about what he had missed. He was very weak and always tired. Late in the fall, he rallied and actually came back to school. He was on a cane because the leg where the cancer was the worst had been seriously irradiated, making the bone brittle. He was skinny, but was in good spirits and hilarious as he always was. I sat in the desk in front of him and I remember him reaching past me to the chair ahead of me with the handle of his cane in order to pull the chair out from under another friend who was sitting down at the time. SMACK! right on the floor. The teacher never gave Kelly a detention had she would have had it been one of the rest of us. This led him to push the limit until she finally broke and gave him one. It took about a week of practical jokes and horseplay and we were laughing our ***** off.I think I had 4 detentions from laughing before he had one from causing the laughter. Early in the new year, the brittle bones got the best of him and he fell on his home porch and broke his leg. A trip to the doctor ended up being worse news....the cancer was spreading and Kelly hadn't told anyone, including me about his pain because he didn't want to go back the hospital and go through more treatments. The end result was an amputated leg as a last ditch effort to stop the cancer and more treatments anyway. He became a teenager two weeks after I did. The difference was that he became one in the hospital. I stole a playboy magazine from a classmate's older brother and carefully folded the centerfold up and put it in a birthday card that I sent to him in the hospital. His mother glared at me the next time I saw her, but never said a word about it. I found out about a year ago that she still had that birthday card...centerfold and all. When he came home next he was confined to a hospital bed in the living room of their house. Our class was in catechism (Lutheran) and the preacher was a great guy (I am not much for preachers, but this guy was a class act). Of all my friends I was one of only a few that had been to see him. It was scary, especially for a 13 year old. Under that skeleton with skin was my same old friend though, quick to tease and the same laugh...although very weak. When I told the preacher that Kelly had commented on the fact that I was one of the only friends to come and see him, he made a discussion of Kelly part of the catechism class and the next class, he drove us all to Kelly's house to see him. Most of the kids said nothing more than hello, only myself and another had any sort of conversation. The preacher commented on it on our way back to the church. I remember he said, "You know, that is still Kelly laying there. He is still your friend. He has been through a lot and may not survive and you should all talk to him."
That was the first real up front thought that Kelly might die. No. That was the first real indication that Kelly would die. I admired the preacher for bringing it to the light of day. I laid awake that night thinking about my friend, death and thinking about others that I knew that had passed before. About two weeks later he went back to the hospital. I saw him 3 times or so after that visit with the preacher and before he went back to the hospital.. He never came back from the hospital. That preacher was at the hospital with him and his parents and his sister when he passed. He told me that when his mother wanted the doctor to give Kelly more pain medication he told her, "No. I just want some peace." He passed away a few minutes later.
Myself and 5 of my other classmates were pallbearers at Kelly's funeral. My first time as a pallbearer....not my last, but probably my most impactful. He was my best friend. We were 13 when he died. I never in a million years would have told him I loved him. But I did love him, without really realizing it. 37 years later I can say it.