Goodbyes. They Don’t Get Easier Just Because They Get More Frequent.

I guess I am at that stage in my life where I start losing friends, and mentors.  Just last month a dear friend died, and today I get word that another is gone.  In this case, it wasn’t just a friend and mentor – this guy actually saved my life

It was 1981 and I was stationed in San Diego, CA.  We were at a beach party on Coronado Island when I swam out to a friend’s catamaran.  It was nearly dusk, and it had been a long day on the beach.

I was tired, and I quickly fell asleep on the boat.  It was a gorgeous relaxing evening on the bay.

Suddenly I found myself tossed into the water, struggling to breath, or even determine which way was “up”.  About the time I gained control over my circumstances the hull of the catamaran came crashing down onto my head – I didn’t know it had flipped, and that it was falling back on top of me.

I don’t remember anything from the next 15 minutes or so, but it has been recounted to me many times by others.

My apparently lifeless body was caught in an undertow, and being dragged further and further from shore (I DID have a loosely tied life jacket on).  Since it was getting dark, my friends back on the shore were very concerned that I would be lost at sea at night.

So my boss at the time (by request of his widow I will not share his name) swam nearly a mile out into the bay and grabbed me – and dragged me back to shore.  I came too many minutes later, and all I remember from the first moments is throwing up salt water all over someone’s beach towel.  I was 20.  He was probably 40 – and he was a big man.  But he had a large heart, and he cared for the people that worked for him.

My next recollection was crossing the Coronado Bridge in an ambulance.  I woke up just briefly – long enough to realize that I was in trouble.  I spent the better part of 24 hours on a ventilator – I was pretty sick.  3 days later I left the hospital.  I had a concussion and had inhaled/swallowed a LOT of sea water.  Sea water has a way of messing with the electrolyte balance in the human body.  It took time to get back to normal.

He was my boss, he saved my life, and he taught me a lot – mostly he taught me how to make work fun, and to keep it fun.  He could party, he could be friends with his employees, and he demanded the best of each of us while we were on the job.

He was a leader, a friend, a boss, and a buddy.

And he saved my life.

I learned that later in his life, after he had “retired” from the Navy, he helped others adopt children from China, and Russia, and Vietnam.  He adopted three himself.  He was always doing more, giving more, and caring more than almost anyone I have known.  And he never stopped.  Until he could no longer continue.

To his wife, and children – I owe my own children to this man – this giant of a man – I owe the last 26 years of my life to this man.  He had a personality that entered the room ten minutes before he did, and it will last long after this loss we have suffered.

He was my friend.

Comments

  1. @jon – thanks for your kind words :). Yes, I have some stories – but I hope you never have to experience some of them just to get a blog post! Near drowning wasn’t fun 🙂

    I read your post on the loss of your friend and you wrote a very compelling post – I could sense the pain you were feeling. It is never easy. So whenever I lose a friend I try to tell a story that highlights the best of who they were. It isn’t for them, (they are dead) – or even for the family. It is for me – my attempt to say goodbye, and to allow them to leave with a good memory etched in my brain!

    But it is never easy to say goodbye. I imagine that is what makes us human.

    Rob

  2. Rob, I wish to someday have as many great stories as you and to be as fortunate to have met so many great people.

    Your post title really struck an odd chord with me, just on Saturday after getting out of the funeral service of a close friend I looked to another mutual friend of the deceased and myself and remarked, “you know, no matter how much practice at this we get during our lives, it just never gets any easier.”

    Which pretty much sums it up.

    Thanks Rob for sharing a very personal story of what sounds like another great man that the world is now missing.