“I’d like to see him.”

In between my sips of cabernet and the passing of crispy blue cheese potato bites, my words surprised me.  At happy hour with my girlfriends, I learned that Gary had entered hospice. 

I have not seen Gary in a couple of years. Maybe three. While I’ve asked others how he was doing, I made no effort to connect. Now I heard myself asking for the phone number so I could visit.

Gary was my neighbor. Developmentally disabled, he came to live with the couple next door as an adult, joining two other men who’d found a home there. For years he’d smile and say “You’re still purty,” every time I saw him.

Eventually my next door care providers were no longer able to continue their devoted support of their family. Fred died, his husband’s health declined, and the house had to be sold. Everyone found new homes. Our contact grew less and less.

For some, being near the dying is foreign or frightening. For me, it is an invitation. When we knew my younger brother was dying of AIDS, I was aware of the preciousness of the present. Every K.D. Lang song listened to in his apartment, every bite of pie shared on our Wednesday date night, was gold.

My longest lesson in living with death and dying came when my late husband, John, was told he could expect to live two to three years with metastasized cancer. He would live more than a decade. Death eventually drew nearer during the final months of home hospice. I was grateful for the knowing of what I had each day.

This Memorial Day is to honor our veterans who served our country and to salute their sacrifice. We’ll also carry out other traditions of parades and barbeques to kick off the summer season.

I’ll travel to Iowa with my sweetheart and join his family in their annual visit to the Oak Hill Cemetery on the hill south of Irwin. They will pay tribute as they carry on the tradition started by their father when they were children. Their mother died when they were just boys and their father raised five sons on his own after her death. The laying of flowers has been a lifelong ritual.

For me, visiting sacred ground of graves and spending time with Gary feels like the perfect way to cherish the life I am fortunate to live, and to remember those who sacrificed so I could. Maybe Gary will even tell me I’m still purty. I’ll celebrate and savor.          

Coach Koenig

Whose sacrifice for your good will you remember this holiday?

Is there a tradition you want to revive or start?

What might you celebrate today?