Today many of my University pals are gathering to celebrate the life of our friend Riggsy. I told you about him in the post titled RIP Riggsy et al.
These are the toughest of days. Days where you are not only paying homage to a fallen friend, but you are losing yet another Cancer Comrade.
And that makes it real.
Every. Single. Time.
In that post, which was only June 23rd, I mentioned three friends that have recently died from cancer, now I'm adding two more Celebrations of Life to attend making it five losses in a seemingly very short period of time.
That ain’t good. But it’s real, it’s happening and it’s part of life, at least my life. When you join a group, any group, you start learning that there are more people in the group than you could have imagined. Also you start seeing references to your new found organization everywhere. In large part it’s because you’ve opened up a part of your consciousness to a new thing and are now open to seeing it anywhere. In the case of Cancer you start noticing how many plot lines in movies include cancer or how many commercials/fundraisers/GoFundMe pages are about cancer. Also my blog and other endeavours like Dave Kelly Live invite people to come up to me to talk to me about cancer. And that was a conscious choice I made as I want to normalize these conversations on Cancer and death. So maybe losing five friends was happening this often and since I wasn’t in the Cancer gang I didn’t notice it, or it didn’t impact me as much. I doubt it, but certainly something for me to think about.
What I come to find interesting is the way we address death and gaining closure to someone’s life. I find it interesting that what we used to call funerals we are now calling Celebrations of Life.
This makes sense to me as I used to despise all the sadness and solemness of funerals. I hated going and didn’t want to be surrounded by all the grief. Maybe that can be attributed to the naitiveté of youth or maybe it was just me. Either way I’ve now become comfortable with the ceremony and always come out of them re-inspired to make better use of each day.
Now back to the change from funeral to Celebration of Life. Just by telling people that you are going to celebrate a life well lived you are perhaps removing a bit of the sadness out of the gathering. Not that the sadness doesn't occur in a life celebration but these days I think we are packing it away with a better process. Celebration of a life and remembering seems to me to be the right way to honour someone. Be happy you had a chance to know the individual and revel in what made them unique. Less lamenting, more celebrating. More inspiration.
Days like today force you to think about your own life and that’s a great thing. We can always be better, a ceremony of life and recounting what made someone great gives us a chance to reflect on what parts of ourselves we want to pay attention to.
One of the greatest gifts of time I was ever given were the 17 seasons of soccer that I got to coach my two kids. I remember being seriously stressed those days, work was always busy, our family life was busy and we were in that fantastic storm of growing a family while balancing work, friends and family. Looking back I can’t help but smile at the chaos and all the memories.
I often run into kids or parents that I coached (yes, I had to coach parents as much as kids) and we get caught up. One of the families that really stuck out in my mind were the Alefantis family, they were such a tight knit group, full of fun and energy. Theo and Thanasi were a pleasure to coach and their parents Melanie and Vic were as loud and gregarious as any family I have ever coached, but always in a very positive and fun way. Vic’s Greek background was always on full display and he was a bigger than life character and an even bigger role model for his sons and the community.
Sadly he passed away at the beginning of July of scleroderma, not cancer but the ravages are similar. I used to visit him when we’re both on the same floor at the Peter Lougheed , his spirit was strong right to the end. Tracey and I paid our respects and his impact on the city was on full display as we had to stand outside of the church due to it reaching capacity. You will be missed but not forgotten Vic.
At the end of July the city lost another great man to Cancer. When I first met Mike Peters it was at the Starbucks Brittannia. We had been introduced by mutual friends and Mike had wanted to connect as he was following in my footsteps, and not in the good way. He had renal cell carcinoma, had his kidney removed a 18 months after I had my kidney removed. Then his Cancer got serious and Mets appeared in his lungs 14 months after they appeared in mine. Following in my footsteps wasn’t necessarily a good thing but what it did do was provide us with a bond that others couldn’t really understand. We could talk at a level that removed the niceties and we were able to be fairly honest and brutally open about what was going on physically and mentally. For the longest time I was Yoda, he was Luke, until one day he sent a note that said the student now becomes the teacher as his mets had jumped to his brain. He had leap-frogged me and his cancer was progressing faster than mine.
We would meet occasionally to chat, we would email, text and simply be there for each other when things were rough. Mike was a big deal in the Harry Rosen world and you could sense his determination and focus in trying to beat his cancer. He dove in deep and worked very hard to fight the disease, most likely in a very similar fashion that he successfully did at his job. He appreciated my creative outlook with my blog and we had quite a bit of fun creatively talking about what 1KidneyMike could accomplish when he combined two of his passions - film and cycling. He really wanted to help by raising funds for Cancer research and joined a team riding for the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer. To raise money he created a profound film that you can see on his website at 1KidneyMike.com. Not only am I proud of his film, I was seriously proud that he was able to do the ride, and equally proud that the Superjocks donated $2000 to his cause. Mike your humour, intensity and drive will be missed, but trust me when I say you will not be forgotten.
When you have to say goodby to friends it is always a bittersweet moment. Of course you lament the fact that you cannot share stories and adventure with them anymore, but you also realize that their lives meant something. They had an impact on the world and their input mattered. The Ceremony of Life is a great tool for grieving and an equally powerful mechanism for ensuring reflection on your own life. Hearing their stories and accomplishments makes you realize you can always learn more, you can always be a better you, and you can always get more joy out of each and every day.
These three gentlemen have each taught me lessons; Riggsy was entrepreneurial and taught me to stick to my beliefs, Vic taught me to enjoy each and every moment and Mike taught me the value of persistence, details and dressing well. I will miss each and every one of you. Rest in Peace my fallen cohorts, you are giants and I am standing on your shoulders as we speak.
Now, it wouldn't be right if I didn't discuss the elephant in the room - does their death by Cancer affect me and my journey.
The answer is yes, yes it affects me profoundly.
Not only does it give me the opportunities that I mentioned above, but it also impacts me by rattling my cage each time. It reminds me that the journey is relentless and unforgiving. That Cancer is a tough challenge and you need to be in the best shape physically, mentally and spiritually in order to prolong attending your own Ceremony of Life celebrations.
In the last three months I will have been to my fair share of ceremonies - ceremonies that all came as a result of friends succumbing to Cancer. That alone messes with your head in ways that you cannot imagine unless you experience it yourself.
I am a very positive guy, I take these scenarios and use them in whatever way I can in order to stay positive and feed my soul with the energy it needs to keep going. But I'm not going to lie or sugar coat it - every death makes it even more real that this isn't a game, this is real life and real death.
So what do you do with these inputs?
From my vantage point you dig deeper and you make sure each and every moment counts. You make sure that the important things are being looked after. You make sure you are honest with yourself, your friends and family members as they are on the journey alongside you. You stay in shape. You be more mindful. You manage your affairs so others don't have the burden. You eat pie and ice-cream for breakfast. You take your pills and constantly manage your gastrointestinal system. You kayak, and you take others kayaking for the first time. You prioritize people over things. You stare at trees, you watch birds circle french fries, you listen to moving water. You laugh, you cry, then you laugh again. And most of all you tell people how much you love them and how important they are to you and others around them. In short you do your best to enjoy each day while knowing death is around any corner.
But this is true for each one of us, mine’s a bit different and seems more tangible but in reality none of us know when our jig is up.
I've said it before and I will say it again. We are not promised tomorrow so you best damn well take care of today for it is all you are given. This is the gift that Lois, David and now Riggsy, Vic and Mike have given us; they have given us the gift of time and it's up to us to do the best we can with the time we have.
I for one am going to spend today thinking about how lucky I am, then I am going to eat a butter tart. And I am going to take my daughter shopping at Chinook Mall for her 17th birthday. And then, after spending quality time in the mall I am going to have a beer.
And I think I will really revel in that beer.