My telephone rang at 7 a.m. yesterday, which is never a good thing. Anybody who knows me well enough to call at that time of the morning also knows that I work late, and seldom wake up before 9 a.m., and 10 or 11 is not unheard of, depending on how well the words were flowing and how much writing I did the night before.
As soon as I picked up the phone and saw who was calling, I already knew what the message was. It was Peggy Cook, calling from Traverse City, Michigan to tell me that her husband, my cousin Terry, had lost his fight to cancer an hour earlier. Yeah, that’s a bad way to start the day. About the worst way I can think of.
Terry was two years younger to me, and pretty much my kid brother. He had polio as a child, which left him with a severe limp and some other challenges that he dealt with all of his life, but he never let it get him down. His mother and our grandmother, who lived with his family, smothered him when he was growing up, and would have loved to keep him in a hermetically sealed chamber. But as soon as he was old enough to make his own way in life, he was done with all of that. They may have considered him crippled, but not Terry. He always laughed at his problems, calling himself a gimp, and making the most of what life handed him.
From the time we were kids, I teased him mercilessly, always letting him know that no matter what the grownups thought, to me he was just another kid, and a weird looking one at that! 🙂 And just because we grew up, I never figured that was any reason to stop. But, it was never done to be mean, and Terry told me many times that he was always grateful that I always saw him as just another guy, and refused to play the cripple game with him.
We exchanged Christmas cards over the years, but had not seen each other in over 20 years, before Miss Terry and I stopped to visit Terry and his family after we became fulltime RVers. We spent a few days parked in their driveway, then left to go to an RV rally. A few weeks later, we returned, and it was during that visit that Miss Terry was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer. Terry and Peggy let us know that we were welcome to stay as long as we needed to, while Miss Terry underwent the months of hellish treatment necessary to save her life, and they were a great support system to us during that very bad time in our lives. Though they lived with modest means, they refused to accept one penny from us, even for the electric we used. We have retuned to their driveway ever since for Miss Terry’s follow up visits, first every three months, then every six months, and then annually. We were just there in early August for her checkup this year.
A couple of weeks after we left, we got the news that Terry was in the hospital. We knew he had not been feeling well, but none of us had any idea just how serious it was. After his diagnosis, we drove back to Traverse City for a short visit, and we were saddened to see how fast he had gone downhill.
Terry and I spent some time alone talking, and as all of our conversations were, it was open and honest. He knew what was coming, and was prepared for it. He said he wasn’t scared of dying, only of not being there for Peggy and their two grown children, Patrick and Michelle. And his good sense of humor never left him – when a nurse came in to put an oxygen mask on his face, I teased him and said if he didn’t get out of that damned bed and get back home, I was going to pinch the hose shut right then and there. It was the last good laugh we would share.
I hope when my time comes, I can face it with the same dignity and courage that Terry did. Rest in peace, little brother. And wherever you are walking today, I hope it is on two strong, healthy legs. I love you.
Thought For The Day – Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.