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Over the past weekend, I attended a wedding in Austin, Texas, a lovely affair on the back lawn of the Four Seasons Hotel, overlooking Lady Bird Lake. It was a bittersweet return to Austin for me. Between the rehearsal dinner and the wedding festivities, there wasn’t much time to explore the city, but we had visited Austin a couple of years ago to celebrate my birthday.
On that trip, we golfed, kayaked the lake, and sought out good food and live music. We also visited a childhood friend of mine who lived in the area. Bill (or Billy, as I will always call him) was in the hospital after hip surgery and we went to see him for a couple of hours.
The surgery hadn’t gone as planned, and Billy had been in the hospital a while, yet he was his usual jovial self, full of humor and as familiar to me as all the years we spent together in grade school, junior high, high school and college. Billy would describe us as soul mates, not the romantic kind, but the kind that kept two souls connected through trials, tribulations, and triumphs across the miles, across the years, across the decades.
Because even though we had been in touch via phone calls, texts and emails, and, increasingly, through Facebook, it had been more than 15 years since we had seen one another. I enjoyed spending time with Billy as much as I ever had, telling jokes, talking politics (this was in 2016), and, mostly, reminiscing about our school years together.
And I’m so glad we didn’t pass up this opportunity, because in early January this year, suddenly, inexplicably, shockingly, Billy died. I was here and he was there and from what I’ve learned, he became ill during the flu outbreak, was rushed from his home to the hospital, where he suffered two cardiac arrests … and then he was gone.
I don’t think much about my own mortality, although events like Billy’s death do remind me that our time together on this planet is finite. And when most of us suffer a heartbreaking loss such as this, we tend to take stock of the time we do have left to us. But then, as I suspect many of us do, I usually let that perspective of gratitude coupled with urgency slip away.
Losing Billy so unexpectedly left me fervently grateful that we had planned our trip to include visiting my lifelong friend, and it renewed my commitment to enrich my life, and the lives of others, now, every day.
While we’re saving for that trip abroad someday, how about visiting a nephew in college this year? How about putting family reunions, high school reunions, and roommate reunions on the calendar … in ink?
If travel is not in the budget right now, pick up a pen (or a smart phone) and write a newsy, heartfelt letter. Touch someone with a thoughtful text. Make time for a phone call to really connect with someone important.
Losing Billy was a wake-up call that people we care about can be gone without warning. I want to fill the time I have left with the types of memories I am so grateful Billy gave to me.
Andrea Doray is a writer who will join friends and classmates to honor Billy at a memorial in their hometown later this summer. Contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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