And Another

Sixty isn’t old, right? I browse the obituaries daily. As part of my job managing finances for the county library system, I keep up with local current events. In a small town like mine, knowing who died might be the most important part of that effort. As I inch closer towards the end of my life, the age of those who died grows in importance to me. On occasion, I find people my age, in their late fifties and early sixties, but most deaths on the obituary page seem to average around eighty.

My father is ninety-one. If I live to be his age, I’ll be around another thirty-one years—half again as long as I’ve already lived. I’m just getting started. Or at lease I’m still squarely in the middle. Not so old yet. So why do my friends keep dying?

Chris Manion died this week. I knew it was coming. I reconnected with him in 2016 when I first joined Facebook. He already had ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. It’s always fatal. The average life expectancy after diagnosis is two to five years, so living seven more years, Chris easily beat the odds. About a year ago, he disappeared from Facebook altogether. I suspected that his disease progressed to a point where he became incapacitated.

Unfortunately, I’m becoming accustomed to losing friends from my past. I created a list. These aren’t random acquaintances who died. All were among my closest friends at various points in my life. I wrote a blog post about each. None of them reached retirement age. All died in their fifties except for Chris. Since I just turned sixty this year, I assume he did too. We graduated high school together. We both ran cross-country our senior year—me near the back of the pack, Chris, number four on our squad.

When I look at this list of early deaths, the first five leave me unsurprised. Four of them lived a chunk of their lives as substance abusers. Alcohol and drugs take a heavy toll on internal organs. We abusers plant timebombs that one day blow up when we least expect it. My fifth friend on the list had chronic depression for years and finally took his own life.

John
Andy
Alan
Mike
Joe

Chris

Chris doesn’t belong on this list. I belong on the list.

I sent a Facebook message to my friend Scott yesterday. He ran in the number two slot on the cross-country team. “Sorry to bear this bad news, but Chris Manion has died.”

Scott replied with “Such a terrible disease. These last couple of years must have been difficult.” Exactly true, but what an understatement. Most people my age, I assume, worry about getting cancer. ALS is the one that keeps me up at night.

I posted a message on the “70s and 80s Shakey’s Rockville” Facebook group. Chris and I worked at Shakey’s Pizza throughout high school and college. This morning, I realized I’m reaching out to those who knew him in hopes of reminiscing with someone. But other than some brief back and forth messages on Facebook, I’m completely out of touch with these people. There really isn’t anyone to talk with. So I decided to write this post.

By the way, everyone on Facebook responded exactly the same way when I shared the news: “God, he was a nice person.”

I’ll leave you with one image from my past. As our senior year wound down, Chris and I never got around to asking anyone to prom. On the night of the dance, in a move dripping with cliché and irony, we sat in his basement with a couple of friends playing Dungeons and Dragons instead.

Photo: Shakey’s Reunion 2002. Chris is front left. That’s me in the black sweater.

28 thoughts on “And Another

  1. I’m sorry for your loss Jeff, and the lack of anyone to connect with that you felt you could chat about your friend. There are many horrid things to live and die with. It makes me grateful when I think of it, that so far, so good, touch wood and cross fingers, I haven’t succumbed to any.
    Losing to death makes us aware of our own mortality, our own fragility – we are only here temporarily. And yes, 60 is not old at all.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. So far I have played the Big Star No. 1 album (a vinylconnection reco) whilst preparing stuffed mushrooms and a few other things, and all the while thinking on and off about your post.
    This is tough territory and at the end of a ruminative hour, I’m still thinking: Thank you, Jeff Cann for honouring your friends in this way.
    Be well and do good.

    DD

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks David. It’s cool how wordpress can offer such sessions of introspection (and a good playlist). My favorite posts. articles, books, etc are the ones that keep me thinking long after I put the reading aside.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What a nice looking group of friends Jeff. I tried to pick you out but couldn’t expand the photo enough to do so, so I guessed you were the guy with the orange sweater and red hat. But knowing you as I do on the blog maybe that doesn’t square with your personality as I perceive it (perhaps those colors are too loud?). Sorry to hear about Chris, happy you put this post out there though as a kind of remembrance. It’s strange you’ve lost so many of your friends so early on. Yes, think as you do with that math and your dad, I try to think like that. Can just be too bleak otherwise, for me. Happy Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, not the guy with the hat. Guy with the black sweater standing behind the seated row. I’ve never been one for bright colors (except when running and cycling to avoid cars and hunter’s guns). It was a long time ago, I still had most of my hair. You’re right about the nice looking bit. It really doesn’t square with my memories of us. We were ALL pretty huge burnouts in our low 20s. Middle age seemed to suit everyone well. I’m glad you’ve returned from your hiatus. Of course, I was thinking the worst.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sorry, Jeff. That really is a sucky loss. I agree, some losses just don’t seem fair. I myself have been MIA as I lost my brother. Alcohol abuse. He was 48. I always felt like he thought he was invincible or just didn’t care. He spent most of September in the hospital and by the end of his three-week stay he was an absolute pleasure to be around. He was detoxed and himself again. Sad to say the damage had already been done and his organs shut down at the end of October. I’ve been busy helping my parents and am just now getting back into a somewhat quasi-normal routine. Anyway, losses suck and yours seems unfair. Thinking of you.

    Like

    • Robyn, this is such a shocking comment. I’m so sorry for you, your brother, your parents, kids, et al. It must be really painful to watch someone kill themself in slow motion. I’ve been wondering if you were OK. Clearly not. Please take care.

      Like

  5. A poignant post, Jeff. Yes, its difficult as our friends fade off the list, and for a variety of reasons/causes. It really hit me this year when I discovered the death of one of my college friends. Certainly not the first, but somehow it hit me more. Michael gone, really? Strange this aging thing. Be well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Steph, great see you. I’ve had that gasping shock at most of that list. Fifties are just way too young to be dying (says the guy whose mother died at 49). I watched my father go through this loss throughout his sixties and seventies and now no one is left but him. It’s a frightening future to face.

      Like

  6. Dear Jeff, I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend, Chris, at such a relatively young age, and also sorry to hear you have lost so many other friends, too. I’m glad you felt you could share your grief and respects for your friend here on WP, where you are amongst different friends from different worlds, but we still really care about you. I’ve always known you as a kind and caring person with, perhaps, a similar background. You’ve been well and free of all your past demons (if I may use that word as someone who has been there, too) for a long time now, and that bodes well, although none of us knows what our futures hold. Sixty is no age, though, but I can appreciate it does begin to feel scary as we get older and start to lose friends, especially those of a similar or younger age. I hope you live to the age your dad is now. That gives you a lot of life to live between now and then. Take good care of yourself, Jeff, and I am thinking of you with love this evening. X

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely been sobering (haha) to lose several party buddies from my years of excess. The worst was my friend Mike (on that list) because he and I were on the exact same trajectory until suddenly we weren’t. Grace of god and all that shit. It could easily have been me with organs shutting down. The WP community is a really warm place. I’m so thankful for my global network of friends. You all rock.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, mate, the bad news is that these bellows of mortality only get more frequent and more alarming. The good news, of course, is that for someone born in 1931 (if my arithmetic is correct), you father is batting well above the odds. All power to him and his son.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I certainly realize these deaths could hit much closer to home. My father is a fan of checking the odds of his still being alive. He gives me annual updates. He played competitive recreational tennis and squash his whole life and then morphed into a pickleballer in his 80s. Its a good way to stay alive (but he can barely walk now).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: BIRTHDAY | Lonely Keyboards

  9. So sorry to hear. ALS is, I agree, one of the worst possible ways to go. No one wants to be cognizant of every little capability you’re losing. No more lists.
    Mourn and keep moving, and savour it all?

    Like

  10. a moving post, Jeff. I am sorry to hear about your friend. He sounds like he was a good man. One of my childhood friends, and future groomsman in my wedding, passed away this year as well. It’s tough when these hit so close to home…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. We are of the same vintage . . . my last class reunion 2015, 2020 was obviously a bust, we had a “memorial board”. Way too many gone. Murder, suicide, cancer, ALS, not to mention one of our classmates that died in a car crash before we even graduated. It is so disheartening.
    This summer, one of my closest friends, lost her YOUNGER sister. She was our gang’s “little sister”. Literally, luck of the genetic short straw–lung cancer. Never smoked, did drugs, kept a healthy weight, and exercised regularly. (And drank only red wine, on occasion.) It was heart-breaking. She was 55. I empathize with your losses.
    However, the lesson for me is, we have to celebrate life and live life while we have it! Leave no regrets behind! My auntie lived to 95. She had reason to be sorrowful, she lost her first husband in WWII. However, she made a life with her new love and they were married over 60 years with 3 children and several grandchildren. She said, “Getting old ain’t for wimps.” When she’d say that I’d initially thought it was all the health problems that seem to come with aging; but now I often wonder if it’s more about the sadness we carry as we live on without those we love. In any case, every birthday, anniversary, or holiday, was a reason to celebrate with auntie. I’m trying to do the same. Celebrate life every day!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s