Monday, November 22, 2010

The Last Day with My Friend

A friend of mine passed away at the end of the summer. He struggled for months to try to overcome an illness that ultimately neither he, nor modern medicine could conquer.

There was no funeral service, no grave, no ceremony. As he wished, my friend was cremated.

Years ago we bonded in a common love for a little mountain in Massachusetts. In truth, we may have also shared a common love of my wife. My friend's wife often advised that, in the event of my demise, her husband indicated he would immediately divorce her and marry Joanne. But that is not the focus of this tale.

The morning was cold and drizzly, raw for mid-October in the Berkshires. Jo and I, along with several others, met, as planned, at ski patrol. Some dressed in rain gear, all were readied with gloves, hoods and other garments designed to combat the elements.

The parking lot was nearly empty. The patrol room we entered had not yet awoken for the coming ski season. It was full of clutter, unlike the way my friend had seen it for over 3 decades.

Images of other times in this room came flooding into my mind, and I am certain to all those gathered. For some it may have been of my friend addressing the urgent needs of those lying in pain, or maybe putting on his patroller's jacket as he prepared to meet the cold awaiting him outside the door. It could have been of his observing quietly as the events of the moment swirled around him, or as his wife told her tales. Maybe he was emerging from behind the door of the patrol director's office as he finished up a conversation with his good friend for whom he served as both sounding board and sometime mentor. I always pictured him, much like my wife, in the role of the sherpa, in charge of dealing with almost everything related to readying not only himself, but his other half for the day's events on the slopes.

The colors of the fall were all around. As we looked up towards our destination, we saw the oranges, yellows, reds, browns and greens that our little mountain offered as gifts to those assembled.. We all headed to the chairlift, which was started up for the sole purpose of taking us, and the remains of our friend, toward the heavens.

In groups of threes or fours, with flowers, booze, shovel, prayers, our thoughts, and one small box we ascended.

When the lift could take us no further, it gently stopped. We all stood as one, on familiar ground but in a very unfamiliar scene. The white of winter that had always been our partner at this spot was no where in evidence. Instead, we huddled against the damp and cold and discussed where we were heading.

This was where he had stood guard so often, waiting for the call to come to the aid of someone in distress. It was here he also met up with friends and fellow patrollers to begin a joyous descent down these slopes . It was here that so much of what was important to him resided.

Finally, a decision was made and we all walked along a trail that our friend had taken literally thousands of times over the past decades. After a short while, we halted. This was where he, and we, wanted his journey to end.

A small hole was dug just off to the side of our path. A portion of what had once been my friend was gently placed inside. A bottle of his favorite scotch was opened, and a shot or two poured where he lay. A prayer of thanks was said, a poem was recited and then we all put flowers on top of our friend's now covered new home.

Then we were done. It was short and it was peaceful, and it was wonderful.

What better resting place in death then in a place you loved during life. Where better to be?

While this little mountain in Massachusetts has always held a special place in my heart, it will forever more have a deeper meaning. Each time I pass my friend along the way, I will stop to ask him how his day is going. I hope he will tell me to wait a moment so he can snap into his skis and we can take a run. See you on the hill my friend.

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