Saying Goodbye to Sam

I have not been writing much lately. I can blame that on COVID inspired travel restrictions or COVID induced malaise. In any case COVID is going to get the blame. Lately I am reading more and pickling everything that I can think of (I have a cellar full of pickled cucumbers, beets, jalapeno peppers and watermelon rind). Usually I delight in putting my rambling thoughts out into the ether but this post is something different. And, this post is truly a struggle for me.

I posted a while ago that my friend Sam and I reconnected after about a fifty year hiatus. We were friends in High School but lost track of one another after graduation. We reconnected around the time of our class fifty year reunion. Sam and I went to the New Mexico Military Institute, NMMI, a military boarding school in Roswell, NM (Although famous for aliens, I did not encounter a single one). Last October Tina and I traveled to Texas where I reunited with Sam in person where we met his wife for the first time. We had a fun lunch with them near their home outside of Dallas. Reconnecting after such a long time was an interesting experience and delightful experience for me. Seeing Sam was a truly a joy, we picked up conversations from half a century ago without missing a beat, I cannot explain how that can happen after fifty years.

Sam and his wife are christian, as Tina and I are. And, with his scholarly background (Sam has a PhD in Literature and taught at University) Sam studies scripture in detail and teaches others what he comes to understand. After we reconnected Sam and I would communicate on a regular basis many time discussing our Christian beliefs. He challenges my beliefs in areas like predestination and free will. He led me to explore my thoughts more thoroughly and find deeper understanding.

A few days ago I got a call from Sam. He wanted to let me know that he had been released from hospital after a tough go and was entertaining hospice. (I do not know how to express that, does one enter hospice?) I was dumbfounded, literally. I didn’t know how to respond; I couldn’t properly respond, emotion got the better of me (not at all like me). I was not the person my friend needed at that point, he did not need my blubbering.

Sam had been told that he has a month. Fortunately Sam is married to an angel who is, with hospice, taking care of him. At the end of the first call Sam’s wife got on and asked if I would continue to call periodically. Without question I agreed, I just hope that I am gifted with the means to be a net plus in the process. I do not believe either of us want to wallow in sadness and sympathy. We just wanted to enjoy each other’s company while we could.

Before I made a second call to Sam I sent him a short letter. There is something about putting pen to paper that makes the communication more real, more earnest. I wanted to let Sam know that I truly value our friendship. And, that true friendship is a rare thing to be cherished.

I called Sam tonight. I don’t want to be a pest so I had let several days pass before I called. I wonder if my hesitancy is due to denial of the situation or that I don’t want to deal with the situation. Sometimes we have to do what we need to do. Being an adult in an adult situation is not fun, and sometimes it should not be fun. Sam and I had a good talk, we talked about our day and recalled some things from our days at NMMI (One memory that I had was that Sam would mimic Sam Jaffe, Dr Zorba, from the television show Ben Casey). I don’t believe Sam wanted to talk about his situation and, frankly, neither did I. But the conversation was not light and happy. Sam made me aware of the value of the value of long term friendships. We both regretted that there had been such a long time without contact. But, we considered ourselves fortunate that we both made the effort to rekindle the friendship. Sam was struggling to keep the conversation going, not struggling mentally but it was a physical effort.

Years ago I recall a similar position, I learned that a friend who liver near Chicago was dying of a brain cancer. I was living in Pittsburgh at the time. I did not want to call, just wanted to ignore the situation. I decided that was a pretty gutless response so I gave him a call. At the time he was meeting with company people regarding benefits that would go to his wife after his passing (we were both working at Westinghouse). I could have easily called back but he told the company guys to cool their heals, he wanted to talk to me. He was light and happy, he cheered me up. I thought that it should have been me cheering him up. I never forgot that profound and moving experience.

This morning I received a call from Sam’s wife, he passed a couple hours before. It is about two weeks from the call that informed me of his situation. I wanted so much to have another talk with Sam, but it was not to be.

As I write this I am profoundly sad but feel a degree of comfort, I can feel Sam’s presence. Its like he can see all my weaknesses and strengths, my life triumphs and failures. It’s all OK. I will see him again soon.