Everyone has to find his own path in figuring out how to cope with death. It’s never easy. And there is such a mysterious, fluid quality to death.
It takes some time to really accept that you can’t dial his phone number and hear his voice. And that you will never again feel the warmth of his embrace or have a heartfelt face to face conversation.
It leaves a void – as mysterious as a black hole. And when the relationship is dramatic and complex, when you know the other person is struggling – yet you also can’t find a way to break in and fix things – the end hits you harder.
You wonder if you’d just acted differently… if you’d had more time… if this… if that… it’s hard to accept the status quo and not imagine the “what if’s”…
That’s how it was with my father. Our relationship was complex and tumultuous. When I spoke to him on my birthday a few days before he died, it felt like a new beginning.
Was it D-Day or the Arab Spring? I’ll never know. Would there have been a permanent change in our relationship, a Marshall Plan that restored the close bond we had had for so many years? Or would it have just been an ethereal burst of hope unaccompanied by sufficient planning, ready to burst into disarray at the first hint of discord?
He was the one who taught me to be a critical thinker – so I felt he would be disappointed if I just glossed over the rough patches because he was dead. But there had been a lot of great times and I owed him a lot. So I decided I would celebrate his good qualities and remember the good times – and the life lessons he had tattooed into my soul.
So I’m ready to deal with my friend Sean’s death. It doesn’t mean that I’m not weepy. But I’m a crier – I accepted that a long time ago.
Sean is one of my oldest friends. I’ve been trying to figure out how to capture over 30 years in a few brief paragraphs. I know I just have to accept that this will scratch the surface and that memories will continue to bubble up unexpectedly for the rest of my life. That’s how life goes… personally, I think it is one of the greatest pleasures of being a little more sophisticated than the average monkey 🙂
I met Sean in 1982, more or less my first day at the University of Western Ontario where I had somehow managed to get admitted to this mini-Harvard undergraduate MBA program that I had quickly discovered would be the most intimidating experience of my life.
I wasn’t even legal to drink in the USA yet. It’s hard to remember being that young. But I do remember how freaked out I was by the country club school. In those days the Preppie Handbook ruled and I was in the middle of all these kids with money and a secret code I couldn’t decipher.
We were arranged in a “participation circle” for classes and every class we sat behind our name plate in the semi-circle around the professor so that if we spoke, he could call out our name. The name plates were organized alphabetically so many of my friends were made based on the alphabet. I am an “H”. He was an “M”. So he sat directly behind me in class.
I can’t remember how it all began but one of the first things he did was explain the “preppie code”. The more significant thing that he did was ask me to join his group for the final year project. I couldn’t believe it as he was easily one of the smartest people I have ever met – and likely the smartest at that point – so I couldn’t believe he would consider me worthy.
But it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship 😉
At the time I just thought he was a great guy. He gave me confidence in a new environment when I was mostly intimidated. I became a confidante when he started dating one of our classmates. He broadened my horizons by introducing me to new cuisines.
Like so many of my great friendships, it spanned cities – and continents. His son was born in New York. His daughter was born in London. He travelled to exotic places. He went to Virginia to learn how to be a southern gentleman. He went to Wall Street to learn how to work for weeks on end with almost no sleep. I knew all about Notting Hill before the movie because I got to go and hang out at his house there.
There is no doubt he had an impressive career but what was really impressive about him was his generosity, his warmth, his interest in the people in his life. As I started to write this, I quickly realized it would be impossible to capture our relationship and all the incredible memories in this short space so no doubt, like my dad, he will just keep popping up in other posts.
For now, I just want to pay tribute to him. He is one of the people who changed my life. When we met, I was a geeky kid from a small prairie town who didn’t even know there was such a thing as investment banking. I might have dreamed of going places and doing things with my life but they felt like pipe dreams. I didn’t think I really had the tools to make them happen.
But Sean blew my world wide open. He bolstered my confidence. He introduced me to new worlds I hadn’t even realized existed. He was a guy from a modest background who conquered the world. And took me along for the ride.
He grew my dreams. And helped me develop the tools to realize them. A beautiful friendship indeed… :)))