Remembering life's lessons

Life is full of interesting lessons.

We learn from our parents, our teachers, our clergy and our friends. We learn from television shows, newspapers, talk radio and stunningly-handsome Irish-American columnists. We learn from touching hot stoves, drinking spoiled milk and getting sick in the back of a limo during our senior prom after some pinhead you considered a friend convinced you that drinking four different kinds of wine coolers with a vodka chaser would ...

But I digress.

The point is, we learn. That, or we doom ourselves to a cyclical life of failures and never-get-theres.

Or, in some cases, regret.

I heard from a friend last week — the kind of friend I think of often, but only get the opportunity to talk to every couple months. Be it my work schedule, or the events of his life, we don’t get to talk nearly as much as either of us would like, or, for that matter, as much as we should.

Like me, he has ink in his blood. He loves newspapers and, unlike me, he is extremely gifted in his craft. He is like our own Shaun Lambert in that he is a magician around a computer, and he is also a wizard with a quote. The highest compliment I can afford him professionally is that he is an honest-to-goodness newspaper man.

The highest compliment I can afford him personally is that he is a man. He is stand-up and honest, funny and emotional. He was my one true mentor when I was just getting started in this game.

And he’s dying.

As much as I would like to ramble on in this column about what a tremendous person he is — and I could truly ramble on for days — I’d rather take a different route, and discuss the lessons I’ve learned. Besides, it’s his life and not my place to discuss it.

Those who know me well realize how I deal with things that are personally difficult. I laugh them off with a joke and do everything in my power to change the subject. The typical mode for me is not going through the progressive stages of grief, I go straight to denial and cling to it until I need to keep a bottle of Tums in a holster on my side. My mother once said she always knew when something was bothering me because I acted like nothing was wrong.

Yeah, I don’t get it, either. But she’s my mom. What can you do?

I have had others close to me pass on after long illnesses, and I didn’t react in a way that makes me very proud. Quite honestly, I did the selfish thing by keeping my distance. However, this is what we talk about with personal growth, and learning by mistakes.

I’ve learned that keeping my distance from someone in such an instance not only cheats them of an assumed shoulder to lean on, but also robs myself of precious moments with that person I will never have again. For those who have never faced this situation, let me stress this again: You will hate yourself if you don’t visit or call that person every last chance you have. And you will truly treasure those memories from each opportunity you have to interact with that person.

I made an effort with my grandparents when they were at the end. I drove to Dover to help them move into an assisted-living home when the duties of their own home became too much, and I visited my grandmother in the hospital during those last few days of her extraordinary life. It is the last cluster of jokes she made to me that still bring a smile to my face, and it was that last distant smile on my grandfather’s face that runs through my brain. My father tells me to remember them when they were healthy and closing down bars on a regular basis, but I can’t as readily as I can remember them at the end.

And I treasure those memories.

But, like I said, we learn things from our own experiences, or we don’t. I’ve learned that it’s important to be a friend when a friend is needed, that the weakest link in any organization is the link that is most critical ... and that Heather Wiles should never be allowed to use a staple remover. Funny story behind that, but we’ll wait.