I remember the first time I heard about you.
It was after my hip replacement surgery. My health insurance approved two weeks of inpatient rehabilitation because of my complex medical history and me living in a basement apartment all alone.
Unlike others and because every person and their body is different, physical therapy was rough for me. To try to get through the pain of only the small amount of pain meds I could tolerate as well as the obvious physical post-op pain, I counted backwards rather than forwards whenever I did my physical therapy exercises and sessions. Counting in reverse stimulated my brain and made me feel like I was a rocket that was blasting off to bettering myself and my brand new hip that was on its way to recovery and normalcy.
While I was counting backwards at one of my usual physical therapy sessions, “10, 9, 8, 7…” , I heard a lilting voice ask me: “Why do you count backwards?”
Your mother with her silken blonde hair, blue-gray eyes, and warm smile was the face of the voice. Our joint replacements, physical therapy sessions, and positive attitudes were glued qualities to our newfound friendship. But, our conversations delved beneath the surface into the depths of God, life, food, family, friends, relationships, and, especially, you.
Did you know how much your mother loved you? Your mother loved you a lot. She still does. She always will.
She told me, “I have a son John. Do you know that he weighed about 10 pounds when he was born? Oh, my God…the pain, I thought I would never get through it, but God gave me the grace and strength to get through all of that. And, John’s face when he was born…that face….I can’t even explain the feeling of love…”
At another encounter with your mother, she told me this about you, “John is the sweetest and best man you could ever meet, even after all he has been through. Several years ago, he was in a hit and run accident. Someone just hit him. Just like that. And left. Walked away. Just like that. Can you imagine? I don’t understand people. And, I thought, this was it, this was it…my boy John is going to die, and God is going to take him from me. But, no, he survived. He’s a survivor. He went through all these back surgeries and rehabilitation. He still has his issues, but who doesn’t? I’m so proud of him.”
She paused and continued with her eyes glittering with such immeasurable love for you, “John’s always looking out for me, Mary. He protects me and checks up on me all the time to make sure I’m taking care of myself. I don’t know what I would do without him.”
I remember the first time I met you.
Of course, everyone is taller than me, but you towered over me at over six feet inches tall. My neck started to strain when I looked up at you, like I as looking up at a sky high New York City skyscraper. There you were with your gap-toothed grin and massive block of a burly body, arms crossed over your chest as you leaned against your mother’s counter in a slight slouch and looking down at me. The radiance and brilliance of joy and innocence in you was larger than your physical shell body. I was not frightened of you because deep within your thick skin and big body on the outside was the sweetness of a little boy that could do no harm on the inside.
Your mother admired you adoringly. Your father looked at you lovingly. You spoke animatedly, happily, warmly, and excitedly about your hobbies, interests, and dreams. You told me about your girlfriend. You told me how you were helping a woman who was blind in promoting her published book. I loved your energy and spirit, and could see in your parents and especially your mother who had come into my life from our physical challenges and pain that you were and are very special.
To communicate with your mother via email, I had to go through you. Your mother loathed email and preferred a good old-fashioned phone call. True to your mother’s word, you were your mother’s protector, gatekeeper, bodyguard, and filter. But, you always welcomed my emails and passed them on to your mother.
But, something happened. As soon as your mother and I began to literally get back on our feet again and our new normal of our new joints set in, we lost touch. And, the days went by. And, the seasons changed. The days turned into a year. I had to have another surgery—specifically, a hysterectomy. I had to fight to get back on my feet again. The friendship your mother and shared kind of fell to the wayside. Through no one’s fault. But, through life circumstances that certain people come into our lives at certain times and particularly during a time that tests our faith and strength and then life goes on and the certain friendships, relationships, and people that you believe would always stay somehow drift away on their own accord.
A couple weeks ago, I sent to you a link to an organ donation/transplant video that one of my friends created. I do not remember when I last spoke to your mother, but I knew that she would be inspired and enjoy the video because of the kind of beautiful and grateful spirit that she possesses.
Imagine my shock and devastation when I received an email response from your girlfriend that you had died about two months ago from a sudden blood clot in your brain. When I read this email, the world stopped. I could not believe it. Here was this video that I had sent to you to share to your mom about life and death and this was the response I received. I felt like God or the higher heavens was somehow talking to me. I racked my brain as to when was the last time your mother and I even spoke and I could not even recall. More than that, I felt sick to my stomach that the first time I met you was the last time I would ever know you.
Dear John, it took your death for me to re-connect with your mother again. Why did it have to be this way? Why does it have to take heartache and tragedy to strike for people to reach out and be together yet again?
On a beautiful day with the sun shining and the blue sky above me, your mother sobbed on the phone about how you collapsed right in front of her on the kitchen floor. She cried, “Nothing could be done. He just dropped dead right in front of me. He is gone…my boy is gone. How is life supposed to go on? How can I ever go on?”
I didn’t know what to say. So, I didn’t speak. And, she cried. Then, I started to cry, because when other people cry it is my knee-jerk reaction that I just cry. And, my insides twisted and turned until I was sure I was going to vomit. All I could muster softly was, “I don’t know what you are going through. But, I’m here for you in whatever way I can be.”
Your mother asked me, “Why do bad things happen to good people? You are a good person. My John was a good person. Why?”
I said in a small voice, “I wish I knew. I do not know. I do not think we will ever know until our time is up and we leave this earth to a place beyond our scope of understanding. But, I do not think that people ever leave us. Yes, they leave us in the physical form, but their spirit and energy lives on and they watch over us. They are just in a different place and we will be with them in that place when it is time. ”
Dear John, I was thinking and have been thinking of your mother’s question as to “why do bad things happen to good people.” This is a question that I thought about first when I was 8-years-old and my mother left my father, sister, and me. This was a question I then asked aloud when I was 11-years-old and my first kidney transplant was failing. This is a question that has always lingered and lived in the back of my mind, and I do not foresee it ever really going away. I do believe this is a question that every single human being has asked at a certain point in their life and most definitely at their lowest and weakest points to try to find the strength, courage, faith, and hope to carry on.
I could not answer this question while I was growing up. I could not answer your mother’s question when she asked me. But, I’ve been in my quiet contemplation mode and this is what I am determining, yet not fully concluding is this in response to this question:
I do not think that people and life experiences are black and white, cut and dry, and can be categorized so strictly and simply as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ I’m slowly realizing and learning now that there are many variations and shades to people and the experiences we endure in life that are full of indescribable and unexplainable wonder that cannot be so simplistic as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Furthermore, what actually defines a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person anyhow? Or, what determines ‘evil’? We are quick to point fingers, riot, and outrage that a murderer, a killer, a rapist, and pedophile, etc. are bad and even evil people, but what were the roots and what was in their history and past that led them commit such actions identified as horrendous?
What determines a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ experience? Yes, death is sad, but it is not bad--death is just a part of life. Just as we are born, we also die. I think it is the cause or means of what led to death that can be maybe thought of as what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’—a quick, short, shocking, and sudden death that did not show any signs of pain or suffering so your loved ones could remember you how you were before you died or a slow and agonizing death racked with pain but given the time to be with that person…which is supposedly ‘better’?
So, perhaps the “answer” to this age-old question of why bad things happen to good people is that there is no answer because there are no such things as anything so rigid as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ You have left your legacy with me to me thinking, learning, and maybe even finding a response to this question.
It shatters me inside that your mother/my friend witnessed your death in front of her eyes and that she is suffering in ways that do not allow any shortcuts. Please know that your mother is being surrounded by enveloping love that will not take away the breaking grief, but, hopefully, lessen it just even the littlest of ways. Your death brought your mother and me life of re-connecting again. And, most of all, though I only met and spend time with you for the short time, you have left me with a penetrating understanding that life and what happens or does not happen is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but is LIFE in all its variations and wonder.
Dear John, as you are surrounded by all the angels around you, keep on towering above them with your gap-toothed grin and your innocence, brilliance, and radiance. I live in such soothing comfort that you are still your mother’s protector, gatekeeper, bodyguard, and filter…you just happen to be in a different place right now to provide all that and more.
Keep smilin’, dear John,