My good friend, Wally

A close friend has died. It took two years for cancer, a brain tumour specifically, to claim Wally, while we looked on with encouragement and positive thoughts, looked on with fear at times, wanting to beg of those or that which seems to be in charge of our inevitable departure, not to take him from us.
We will all leave this world; we know this. We don’t know how or when and I think most of us spend little time pondering our eventual demise.
When we lose someone we love, someone we admire, the world seems less for a time, but then we are reminded of the great privilege of having our breath continue to go in and out, our lungs filling and emptying and we are so very glad we got to spend the time we had with them.
We’re not always able to hold on to the reminder of living life as full as we are able to each day, but we try.
I had the honour of helping to care for Wally during his illness while his family waged a Herculean battle to do everything in their power to try to defeat the beast.
And I was witness to love of the highest order, witness to the true definition of family while they became Wally’s strength, fed his laughter, held his hand, moved heaven and earth to find a solution.
Wally had been a Physical Education teacher and he did so with passionate enthusiasm.
“If you can’t be on time,” Wally told his students. “Be early.”
Those may be borrowed words, but he used them well. His wife cared for him gently and with grit and every single moment was love-filled, love-shared and as Wally would have said, they left everything out on the floor, nothing held back.
His sons were tender and gentle, while whispering for him to cling to them for strength, to keep fighting.
They stepped out of their own lives to honour their father who had given them so much, who had led by example.
They each saw him through to the very end, never leaving their post, never wavering or tiring in their love, keeping him at home. There is no finer gift to give.
Wally was always game for fun. “Let’s do it,” he said of every opportunity that came up.
He laughed and teased and loved and inspired and cared what happened to those around him, just as much as he cared about what happened to the planet.
Whenever I would hum a song absent-mindedly in his presence, he would lean over and ask me who recorded that particular song.
I would give it some serious thought and come up with an answer.
“Then let’s let them sing it,” he would say, patting my arm as he did so, and he would get me every single time. Oh, how we would laugh.
At his parting and at the celebration of all Wally was to this world and what he meant to those of us who had the great fortune of knowing him, stories were shared, stories told with laughter, with tears, with gratitude and respect. It truly was a celebration.
I read Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes. My heart was pounding so hard it hurt my chest.
Public speaking appears nowhere on my list of personal attributes, but then a calm came over me as if Wally himself was whispering his encouragement in my ear and the pounding stopped and my breath slowed and my voice strengthened and I delivered a message that Wally lived by.
“When it’s over,” Mary Oliver wrote, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
wendistewart@live.ca

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