I got the call at four in the afternoon. It was time to come. Steve was failing. Forty-four hours later, I was at his bedside, able to greet him, hold him, and kiss his forehead for the last time. Twenty-nine hours later, he passed away.
I had made it. Just. This is one of the great trials of living so far from home: I simply can’t get home quickly.
But I did. I saw Steve, spoke with him, reminded him that it was me, despite the lighter hair, and received a smile of recognition. “I THOUGHT it was you the whole time!” We had all gathered, his wife Jan, his two children with Jan, his parents, and his four siblings. Gathered to say good-bye to him, and to comfort one another upon his death. It was our parents’ pain that most devastated us. But they gave him their permission to go; they gave him the greatest love he would ever know.
And, finally, we bid farewell and fair weather to him. An Army veteran, he received military honors on the dock, followed by the farewells of family and friends offshore at the three-mile mark as we distributed his ashes upon the ocean he loved, marking his way with rose petals that rode the same current as he will now, blessing him and saying our good-byes to the sound of bagpipes drifting on the wind.
It is said that you are known by the company you keep. At Steve’s wake that evening, I met friends from the various facets of his life, each close to him in some aspect, each loving him for a different reason. We all knew that Steve, as each of us, had flaws, but none mentioned those, focusing instead on the man inside, the man they loved despite the flaws. As it should be. And so I wish to be remembered.
A table at the wake held photos of his life. The photo of him in Antarctica crumpled me: twice he accomplished what the rest of us will never accomplish, and there he stood in the back row with his colleagues, unassuming, capable, and thoroughly contented. THAT was Steve for me, reaching beyond normal boundaries and succeeding.
Only 59, Steve died before we were ready to let him go, but our faith and understanding have eased our loss. My best friend from childhood is gone, but I will see him again in the Hereafter. In the meantime, his ashes will circle the globe on ocean currents, continuing his travels in death as in life.