A little over a week ago, a very close friend of mine contacted me with some terrible news. A mutual friend of ours had passed away from a work related injury. I was floored by this information. Even though Kenny, or “Skinny” as he was more commonly called, had never really taken very good care of himself, it still came as a tremendous shock.
He lived a hard life and probably drank and smoked way too much. But that’s just the way he was, despite a number of health issues, he seemed to show a total disregard for his safety or well-being. He battled diabetes for close to thirty years, but never let it slow him down, working his ass off doing roofing and siding jobs for most of his adult life.
He certainly wasn’t the biggest guy you’d ever meet, but nothing seemed to scare the man. I remember watching him jumping off cliffs at the quarries when we were younger. It could be debated whether it was bravery or stupidity, but he would do back flips off ledges that most of us wouldn’t dare jump from. He also never took shit from anyone either. He stood his ground always, no matter who you were, and get a few beers in him, he’d throw down with anyone no matter how big they were.
Without a doubt, he was fearless, and tough, walking away from a number of misadventures and accidents that would’ve laid any normal man out. Because of this we all knew that someday his life style would catch up to him, but we didn’t think it would be so soon. Last week, Skinny’s luck ran out. For whatever reason, he had fallen from the roof he was working on, and just like that, one of the bravest, and kindest hearts I ever knew left us.
A few days later, a bunch of us that had known Kenny for years got together at my friend Mark’s house. Although his real name was Mark, he was called Moocha by everyone who knew him. In fact, it wasn’t until half way through our freshman year of high school I found out what his real name was. Mooch had been the one who had contacted me to let me know we lost Kenny. We have all been friends for more than three decades and have done a lot of stuff together, to include playing in a fantasy football league we’ve been in for close to twenty years.
For those who aren’t sure how fantasy football works, basically it’s a bunch of “grown ups” making pretend they own a football team. They pick real players in the NFL for their team and then compete against each other with their make-believe teams in games throughout the football season. If your players do well in real life, then your fantasy team does well, if not, then you suck. It’s a combination of luck and skill. Mostly luck if you lose, but if you win, it was all skill and you take great pride in rubbing your friends nose in the fact that their team sucked.
We have all done this for a while, in fact Kenny was one of the founding members of the “Capital City Football League”. It was started back before the internet and all the modern stuff that makes it so easy to play today. His absence, especially this close to the beginning of the season, would be painfully felt, so we figured we should get together before draft day and go over our plans for this year.
We all talked about what we should do with Kenny’s team and how we could raise money for a memorial in his honor. There was some debate and a little bickering between us, after all, we had all known each other since we were kids, and when we got together, especially after a few beers, it was not uncommon for us to act that way. We came up with a few good ideas, shed a few tears and vowed to put our plan into action in two days, at our fantasy football draft.
I was the last to leave Mooch’s house that night. We drank a couple of beers in his driveway and talked about how stunned we were by everything that had happened. Events like these tend to cause old friends to delve into deep conversation, and this is exactly what we did that night. We reflected on life, what we had both achieved and failed to achieve in our lives. We talked about how proud of our kids we were and how fortunate that our wives had stuck around as long as they had. While neither of us said it out loud, looking back at it now I can see we were both feeling very lucky for what we had. Kenny’s death had made us realize that we weren’t going to live forever and like it or not, the best years of our life were behind us, so we shouldn’t take a single day for granted.
I hugged the guy when I left and said my usual “we got to get together more often”, line I always say when I leave an old friend, then got in my car and drove home. During my ride back to my house that night, my mind kept rehashing the whole evening. I was tired, both physically and emotionally, and pissed off at myself for staying out so late, knowing I had to work that morning. Little did I know that night was truly a blessing in disguise, and a memory I would cherish for the rest of my life.
We had the draft that Sunday like we have every year. For most of us, this has become the only time we are all able to get together. Traditionally every year, we pick our teams, eat a bunch of food, and drink a shitload of beer, all the while ragging on each other for looking older and fatter, and reminding each other how bad their teams are. This time we were not as jovial. We drank a toast to Skinny, put on matching tee-shirts with his picture that Mooch had made just for draft day, and did our best to have a good time in a manner that Skin would have wanted us too. After all, if Kenny was looking down on us, we didn’t want him to think we were lame.
Half way through the day though, Mooch didn’t feel well and decided to leave early. We didn’t think too much of it figuring he was fighting the flu or maybe drank too much the night before. But A few hours later we got the call. Mooch’s son had found him unresponsive on the floor at his house. We rushed over there as quick as we could but by the time we arrived it was too late. He had died of a massive heart attack. My oldest friend was gone.
It has been almost two weeks since I wrote those last paragraphs. I had to stop because it felt like I’d had the life sucked right out of me. In less than a week, two men that I had known almost my whole life, and were like brothers to me, were no longer with us anymore. The shock was almost too much to handle and made me call into question so many things in my life.
I felt like this whole endeavor to get healthy was a waste of time. In fact I had told myself that it was flat-out stupid. I hadn’t worked out or ran since I got the news of Kenny’s passing and I had no drive to do so. One would think that these events would’ve pushed me to work harder, but I’d found the opposite to be true. Instead, I couldn’t seem to find the energy to get out of bed, I hadn’t had a good night sleep in days (I still really haven’t) and the negative thoughts just wouldn’t get out of my head.
I couldn’t find the reason for getting in shape and living a long healthy life anymore. What’s the sense if I have to watch all the people I care about leave one at a time? And if I don’t take care of myself, I’ll be the one everyone mourns for earlier than they need to. I figured the only smart thing to do was to just get on my bike, ride into the desert, and leave everyone behind (the desert always adds some degree of coolness to the concept of riding off on a bike alone). After all, you can’t lose anyone if there is nobody in your life, and no one can mourn you either.
At this point I should make one thing perfectly clear. These thoughts are 100 percent the product of depression. I know this, and don’t truly believe any of them. Besides, I’m certain that if I ride off into the desert alone, my wife will hunt me down and kill me, so that idea would never pan out well at all.
Still, I have to acknowledge them for what they are and deal with them accordingly. The reality is I just lost two very close friends in less than five days. For me to just shut these thoughts off or suppress them would not do any good. But I can’t let them take me over completely either. I simply need to recognize them for what they are and try to keep everything in perspective. If I wallow in them for too long, they will consume me and drag me down to a point where I won’t be able to get up again. I can’t let that happen.
For instance, after I had lost my friends, I had this dream I was a soldier in the Civil War, marching across the battle field with my company, towards our objective. As the battle begins, with my comrades to my left and right, the enemy begins to fire on us. As they do, some of my friends begin to fall under the hail of gunfire.
I am consumed by fear, sadness and confusion. What am I supposed to do? Am I expected to just keep marching forward while my friends fall around me? What other options do I have? If I try to stop and stay with them, I’ll be cut down by the enemy’s gunfire, and if I turn back and run, I”ll surely not survive.
So within this analogy, lies my answer. As Rocky Balboa once so elegantly stated: “…Nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward…” Life, just like the enemy gunfire, is going to keep coming at us. I have to keep moving forward.
We all need to keep moving forward, and motivate all those we love around us to do the same. Just like those soldiers, we have to keep advancing towards our goal. Take the time to mourn for the ones we’ve lost, remember them always, but keep moving forward.
So now I’ve got to get back on my quest of pursuing better health, and try to get more of my friends to do the same. Was there something I could have done to prevent those tragedies from happening? No. Mooch took pretty good care of himself, his heart attack was a shock to all. And Skinny, well he was pretty set in his ways, I doubt there in anyone who could have made him change his lifestyle. Besides, we really don’t know if his health was a factor in his accident, and it’s probably better that way.
No, I’m new to the whole “fitness” thing so I doubt that I could influence anyone else, let alone inspire anybody. But if I apply myself to this endeavor, is there a chance I just might be able to motivate someone to pursue a healthier lifestyle? Well, I guess we’ll see.
Believe me, I have no delusions of grandeur here. In my very first blog post I made it crystal clear I am not a fitness guru (yet), so the thought of me inspiring anyone is still pretty laughable. Not to mention I still need to convince myself I can get healthy before I can lead anyone else to believe they can.
One thing is for sure, I need to start with myself first. This depression is still consuming me and it has to stop now. So I am going to do something tomorrow no matter how I feel, no matter what excuse I come up with. I am going to force myself to get back in the gym and get back at it . We have to all keep moving forward, not in spite of all we’ve lost but because of it.
The best way to honor those we leave behind is to live the best lives we can, get the very best out of what time we have left and help others in our lives do the same. Get back to the gym and take someone you love with you. Run a 5K with your friends or try a yoga class and make your spouse go with you. Constantly talk to people about eating a healthy diet, and for the love of all that is holy, if you know someone who smokes, never stop trying to help them quit.
There are a thousand different things we can do to get healthier and help those around us do the same. Just like those soldiers back them, we need to stay in formation and keep moving forward… together.
I love this ! Writing out the details of the days surrounding these tragedies is one of the healthiest things you can do to process the grief! I love the level of details you included – you will look back on this piece of writing in later years and be so grateful that you captured these sentiments while they were fresh . You are an inspiration , Mark ! You have a sensitivity toward life that is special , and I’m so happy you are learning how to accept that part of yourself with grace, and share it with confidence !!
Beautifully written Mark. Thank you very much for sharing.
I am so sorry you had to endure the loss of two of your friends in such a close period of time. It is bad enough that you had to lose them at all. I know it is painful. I hear the depression so clearly. But, you are right…you must keep moving forward. Take the time to grieve, but do not let the grief consume you. Remember also that there is no time limit on grief…you will no doubt feel their losses to varying degrees throughout the rest of your life, but the trick is in not allowing the end of their lives to bring an end to yours. You must always find reasons to keep moving forward. May I offer a suggestion? Maybe you could dedicate a walk or run to the memory of one of your friends one day. Spend the entire walk or run thinking about all the good qualities of that friend, or good memories that you hold dear, or anything that you feel would honor them. On another day, do the same thing for your other friend.
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