Every Day is a Blessing: Reflections on the death of a friend

My friend is gone. He left this world today. I need to talk about him, to tell his story.

He has lifelong friends, people who were much closer to him. And yes, they are probably in better positions to give witness to his life. But I’m the writer and this is what I’m called to do. And for whatever reason, I was there at the end to tell the story.

It was a long time coming. The bad cells inside Alan Perkins’ body had long ago laid claim to his mortality, slowly finding new ways to taunt the healthy cells.

I saw him just a couple of days ago. He wanted to know what was happening with the kids, with my job, with my dreams. But he was the one who lived the amazing life, the curious life, the life of wonder, and yet he was always interested in my mundane.

We prayed, his hand still firm in grip, despite his wasting body. He smiled and reminded me – several times – that “Every day was a blessing.”

For the last few months, as the cancer started to outpace the treatment, those words became his clarion call. Every phone call, every person visiting, every doctor visit, it was the same. “Every day is a blessing,” he would say.

It could be the stuff of a greeting card or a bumper sticker, but to him it was a reality. He really believed it and lived it.

I never knew him before he had cancer, so maybe I got the best of him. But what I did know amazed me. His job took him to international destinations – dozens of countries. He did all of this while he was being treated for cancer. I don’t know how he did it – and he still found ways to ski the big slopes and then find a way a few days later to be on the opposite coast with the wind in his sail.

He knew there was something beyond the horizon

Just last year, he took his his wife, two daughters and step daughter on a sailing trip in the Atlantic. It wasn’t one of those trips where you pay others to do all the work. He rented the boat, raised the sails, set the course and off they went for more than a week. I wouldn’t dream of doing that, but not only did he dream, he did.

I asked him what it was like to be on the water with no land in sight, responsible for the safety of four wonderful women. He smiled wryly like he did, and said it was “a little bit of skill and a little bit of faith. That’s what makes it fun,” he said.

He knew the cancer was there, yet he still choose the salt air to fill his lungs as if infinity could be touched. He saw the horizon bending around the world, no end in sight. He didn’t deny that the day would come when the sail would run slack. He just didn’t focus on it.

For years, he lived with the cancer, choosing hope over despair. He lived his life with great abundance, making “Every day a blessing.”

Cheering others onAlan Perkins

Although he was weak, he insisted on going to church last week with his family. There is a taxi service that specializes in transporting wheelchairs and they took him to the front door Red Rocks Church. The service highlight was a testimony of a young girl who had been fighting leukemia, her faith unwavering.

He sent me this text after the service. “Truly an incredible witness and story.” She was fighting for life even as his was slipping away, but there was no sadness, no regret.

Our small group met without him yesterday, We were going to meet at the house to sing and laugh and eat, which is what he wanted. But his breathing had become too difficult and his wife wisely called it off. So we sat in a circle at another home, mingling sadness and joy. One by one, we prayed, sharing with God our best memories about this man who had impacting us all, and praying for peace on the family.

Later in the day, he was moved to hospice, his breathing labored and heavy. His wife had cared for him as long as she could – what a beautiful promise kept, to the end.

I sent him a note, promising that I would visit today after work. But pulling up to the facility, the text message popped up, saying he had left this world.

At first, I was sad that we were just a few minutes late, but really we were right on time. There is no greater honor than to share fresh tears with those you love.

His wife Kathleen told us that for much of this morning his hands were folded in prayer. She at one point asked him what he was praying for. He said this with clarity and certainty – “Quick.”

And God answered his prayer.

I wonder if this is the way death should be, a soft and gentle heavenly lullaby, sung over the weeks and months.  He was surrounded by friends and family, all of them silently sensing the inevitable and yet delighting in his sharp mind and beautiful faith.  In the end, all his accounts were settled. All of his goodbyes were said.

He danced between this world and the next and the closer he got to heaven, the more peace he felt.

I sent him this note yesterday. I’m not sure he had the chance to read it:

“Thanks for reminding me that Every day is a blessing. I’ve taken them for granted. “
Your pal,
David

Peace upon your family and friends.

 

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