On Monday, my friend Greg Joos died. Greg was married to Brooke (Henderson) Joos, a childhood friend I’ve known since I was two years old, and he left behind her and four children: two now-adults from a previous marriage and two sweethearts that play and go to school with my own kids.
Greg had been sick for a while, battling cancer, and we’d thought he’d been beating it. Then Brooke called on Sunday to see if we could watch their two children while she took Greg to the hospital, just until her parents could come get them. They thought he’d pulled something in his chest while coughing, and they wanted to make sure he was all right.
Of course, we said yes. The kids all had a wonderful time that afternoon, racing around outside in the crisp fall air, charging through the scattered leaves, tumbling about in my hammock as all seven of them tried to climb into it at once. When Roxanne and Max’s grandparents—Bill and Missy Henderson: great, wonderful people who babysat me as a boy and regularly came over to help out with the quads after they were born—came to pick up the kids, we learned that things were more serious. Greg had been checked into the hospital at least for overnight.
The next afternoon, in the playground outside the kids’ elementary school, I learned that Greg had died at noon.
I’d like to say I can barely imagine what Brooke and Roxanne and Max are going through, but I spend all day long imagining things. Of course, I can imagine it. But I hate to contemplate it.
Bear with me being selfish for a moment here. Greg and I weren’t the best of friends. We never had the chance—the time, really—to develop that.
Both of us had young children who occupied most of the free time we had. That’s the right and natural way of things. When you’re staring down the fact that someday soon your kids won’t likely want to have much to do with you (they’ll be teenagers), you want to spend as much time with them as you still can. Things like adult friendships can wait.
Once my kids hit those years when “separation anxiety” switches from “wondering where my parents are” to “wondering if my parents know where I am,” I figured I’d have more time on my hands to grab that beer, watch that ball game, chew that fat with all sorts of people. Greg was high on my list of people I thought would be a part of that. Until then, we’d just have to enjoy those few moments we could grab while watching our kids on the playground—or those even rarer moments when we all had babysitters on the same night.
And now that’s never going to be.
Then I think about how small, how tiny that is when compared to what Brooke, Roxanne, and Max have lost. All those moments with Greg that will never be. Plays. Games. Graduations. Proms. Weddings. Grandkids. The list goes on for their entire lives.
But while I might not have known Greg like a brother, I’m sure that he wouldn’t have wanted his family to bear that horrible burden forever in their hearts. Instead he’d crack that big, broad smile, give them a little laugh, and tell them to not wonder about what they’d lost but to remember what they’d had.
Life’s short. Too damned short. You don’t let the thoughts of what might have been drown out memories of all you knew. You take from it what you can in the time you’re given, and you treasure every bit of it for as long as you can.
I’ll treasure my memories of Greg—the good times we had and the laughs we shared, the delight we took in watching our kids play together—and I’ll use those as a light against the darkness of loss that comes with them.
While that illumination might sometimes seem like a small flame flickering in the vast night, the darkness doesn’t shine in the light. It’s the other way around. And that’s why we love the light.
Good-bye, Greg. I’ll always try to look for your light, and I have no doubt I’ll find it reflected in the hearts of your wife, your kids, and all those lucky enough to have called you friend. You burned bright.