The Truth About Losing A Friend

by Kevin Burton

   There was a day in 1995 that shook me and shaped me.     

   My best friend from fourth grade up into young adulthood had died the night before. I didn’t know it yet. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, because I had moved out of state. 

   We were the kind of buddies people write songs about. Couldn’t stop talking in class, couldn’t stop dreaming out loud. We knew everything back then, so you just couldn’t stop us at all, not for long anyway.

   I took a Greyhound bus an hour to Columbus to see him. Columbus was “the scene of the crime,” the place where we had grown up at the Ohio State School for the Blind. The friends I came to stay with were subdued when I arrived but I didn’t see that yet because I was so psyched for the reunion of brothers.  

   Then the news.

   A gut punch, or a hundred of them, would have been better. And your mind, scrambles. Circuits fried hard, into silence.

   The tears didn’t come until the phone rang. That jarred me, unleashed the torrent.

   Suddenly there was no solid ground for my mind to land on. I had read somewhere that Paul McCartney passed out when John Lennon dies. I came close to passing out.

   We were just one day away from that joyous reunion. In that moment, my mind actually went to, is his girlfriend pregnant? I just wanted a part of him to be alive.

   We had lived and grown together through the life stage of pushing limits, making discoveries about ourselves and the world around us.  We didn’t win all our battles, but it felt like we did because we had each other and the rest of our friends from the school.

   Undefeated champion brothers.

    It took some time, but after he died I realized that half of the fun of a new discovery, of doing something cool, was doing it and half the fun was telling Brandon about it. 

   A big part of me died the day he died.

   And that’s the truth about losing a friend, losing friends one by one. You’re losing a piece of you. 

   A big part of your friend is still there. There is no tool on earth that could come close to extracting the memories of our exploits. In that heartspace Brandon can be felt as vividly as ever. It’s just that the smile that maybe leads to helpless fits of giggling can not lead to a phone call. That hurts.

   Brandon had already taken to reminiscing, “We’ve been partners since 1972…” in our conversations before he died.  How I wish we could have that talk today. But we will be partners forever. That’s why the separation is an ache that lessens, but never quite goes away.

   I am forever grateful that when I got the news about Brandon. , I was with some other longtime friends, a sister and a brother from the school for the blind.

   My father once said that it was strange getting older because one by one the people you grew up with die. Pretty soon you are left all alone or mostly alone and you wonder, what am I still doing here?

   You live your life as an individual but you live in a context.  When your context is taken away, a piece of you is taken away.  Take away enough pieces and where are you?

   I am writing this today because I have just lost another piece from a different context.  This was a beep baseball context.  A team mate, brother and friend from the Columbus Vipers. This is the third teammate from this group that we have lost just since July. 

   Today I’m going through all the same emotions for the late Greg Gontaryk. He died of cancer Wednesday. I just found out a bit ago and my fried brain has not found that place to land. When it does I hope to say more about him. A glove story begs to be told.

    One other thing that happened when Brandon died: I got serious again about my faith.  That pain was God-sized. It was beyond obvious there was nowhere else to take it. There was nowhere else to go.

   Losing your loved, ones, your context, piece by piece makes no sense to the natural mind.  The only explanation I come to is, there must be a bigger reality we are a part of.

   Life on earth is so short. It can seem so random. There must be more.

   And another thing: why do you suppose they put the family up front at funerals, closest to the casket? Is there not an inevitable conclusion?

   You’re next. 

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