Saturday, July 17, 2010

Another Passing

Life, as we all know, is a constant flow of acquisitions and losses.  I am not speaking here of property.  I am speaking, rather, of friends.

At various points in life, we gain friends.  They may become very close and foster the feeling that this relationship will, indeed, last throughout the rest of our life.  This is a rare occasion, however, since life moves forward, taking us often to places and events that we could never have predicted.  Still, while those friendships may burn for a while, most fade with the passage of time.  We express our regrets over this but also understand that this is the way of life.

While it is true that most friendships do fade into the background, nearly forgotten, there are those rare friendships that do last a lifetime even if contact with that friend has not taken place in years.  And when we hear of the passing of just such a friend, our hearts are saddened and our spirits a little emptier because this person meant something to us even if it was years ago since we last saw them.

This is just the case with a one time friend of mine from years ago.  Recently, on July 9, Bill Finn, one of the finest people I have had the honor to know, passed from this world after a battle with lung cancer.  Bill became my friend many, many years ago when both of us worked for Eagle Foods in Pekin, Illinois.  He was the store's assistant manager and I was just one of the crew. 

One day, completely out of the blue, Bill asked me to join him at his house for a beer and an evening of conversation and fun.  I gladly accepted and that evening proved to be the start of a long-lasting friendship.  Our families shared so many things with each other.  Birthdays were celebrated together.  Anniversaries were observed.  Holidays were gleefully and joyfully entered in upon.  The birth of my children were ushered in, often with the help of Bill and his wife Judy.

We shared deep sadness as well as was illustrated when Bill's only son Billy succumbed to an illness when Billy was only eighteen years old.  There was nothing that I could say.  I only could be present for them, lending my support for them as best I could.

Now, after a long and fulfilling life my friend Bill is gone.  I have not seen him in years, still, when I learned of his death, my heart sank and my thoughts immediately turned to his wife and three daughters.  Bill reveled in family life.  The passing of his son those many years ago was the hardest thing, I think, that he ever had to endure.  His girls were like three sparkling gems in his crown and as they grew, Bill became more and more proud.

But then the course of our lives took us in different directions and, in spite of our desires, we lost track of one another.  Bill remained enmeshed in his family while I wandered the countryside in search of some allusively false life that I imagined must be out there.

When the news of his passing reached me, I was immediately taken back in my memory to the night before my twins were born.  Since learning that we were having twins, we had busied ourselves in gathering together two of everything.  The only thing we had yet to do was to assemble the second baby bed.

Now, as anyone who has had a baby knows, putting together a baby bed is similar to trying to understand the theory of relativity without knowing how to read.  The instructions seem to have been written in some form of ancient Greek and the illustrations accompanying said instructions apparently were samples of the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt.

Bill was far handier at such things than I and because he and Judy had helped us frequently throughout the ordeal known as pregnancy, I asked him to help me put together this one last piece of furniture necessary for a new born.

It was mid-August and the heat and humidity were at typical Midwestern levels.  Before we began, we enjoyed a beer in an attempt to relax knowing the great struggle that lay ahead.  Once the beer had been consumed, we launched ourselves into the construction of the bed.  A quick glance at the directions and we knew that we must have another beer.  Those directions could only be understood with the aid of alcohol!  To make a long story short, we finished the crib late in the evening, by that time well under the influence.  How that crib was ever assembled without killing its precious cargo is beyond for me.  All I know is that it lasted for years.

All through the construction phase, Bill was his typical self.  Wherever Bill Finn was, laughter accompanied.  He had an easy way about him and making people laugh at his ridiculous statements or jokes was a true gift of his.  That night, the night before the birth of my firstborn sons, Bill made me relax about what was soon to happen.  I do not remember anything that he said that evening but in my mind's eye I can still picture him puffing away at his ever-present cigarette and bottle of Miller High Life.

What this proved about Bill is that he was never afraid of giving of himself.  He was a generous man beyond any one's wildest imaginations.  Generous with his time.  Generous with his talent.  And generous with the love he had of people.

Bill will be sorely missed by Judy and his three girls who are all now adults.  He will also be deeply missed by the seemingly innumerable number of people who called him friend.  It is hard to understand why he had to go so early, but we are satisfied that he lived life to the fullest.  He never did anything half way.  His courage was great and his values were firmly embedded in the foundation of Midwestern culture.

Bill's departure has touched me deeply.  I was blessed to have such a friend and I will carry him in my heart for the rest of my life.