Oh, Don!

In these days of high technology, people forget to spend time with each other, have conversations and create memories. Life isn’t so much about hashtags or followers but about who you follow and where they take you.

Just a few months back Jackie and I were out to breakfast distracting ourselves from the rather large and ominous elephant in her living room and having another one of our life-changing 2 hour chats on current events, philosophies and things that seem to matter most in life. It was then that she interrupted our stream of conversation with an observation that sounded like the steady push of a needle across a 45 record… “You know Don, this thing in my head is gonna be the death of me and everything I am.”

Rarely am I without words or at least a funny comeback, but after taking the pause we needed to finally turn this corner, I said, “Well yes and no Jake. It may indeed be the death of you but it will never be the death of who you are, were or will still be.” And that’s the moment she again smiled and said “Oh, Don” and asked me to speak at today’s memorial and to make it something inspirational because that’s what she was to so many of us, and inspiration is what I enjoy most in life. Conversations with Jackie were often my source material.

She’s been gone from us now for over a month during which time many things have crossed our minds about our own memories of Jackie since.  For me, it’s that little tremble in her voice when she would say “Oh, Don.” And I can hear it still like it was yesterday. It usually followed something I said that resonated, a joke we shared or some epiphany we stumbled upon while out day driving to nowhere in particular.

So in the spirit of Jackie, my words for you here today are about things and experiences.

She and I pondered this topic more than once and from afar, I’m certain she approves of this message.

When she had only months left we were talking about my own recent medical history and how I might not be very far behind her.  She asked me “How do you know when you’re ready, Don?” And of course, we spent another two cups of coffee speculating on the possible answers as if we knew them.

It’s no surprise that her cancer, of all opportunistic places, took hold of her brain. Cancer has a habit of stealing our most beautiful parts, and that seven pound diamond mine atop her neck always produced gems and wondrous moments. It was among her most stunning features.

Jackie was a question mark looking for life’s answers. She was self-examining and philosophical since the day we met 35 years ago all the way up to her quiet end last month. I visited her again the day she died, hoping for just one more conversation but she was already on the way out of this world into one better.

Rarely did we waste time on small talk or trivial matters. Our most memorable times together over the years were simple talks turned complex about everything and anything that seemed to matter in the world, and years back, ending in either decent answers after two bottles of wine or a good joke. And always that “Oh, Don!”

For Jackie, everything mattered and nothing was off limits. Ever. “I wonder if everyone considers the things we do” she would ask, when really she was hoping everyone did and enjoyed them as much as we did together.

And I think the most important question Jackie has now answered for herself might be the one we ask our own selves about the life we’ve been living. The pensive, internal things we think upon, ponder and discuss within ourselves and with those few we let in on the conversations.  Because those are what kept Jackie alive, took with her, and what she leaves behind for all of us. The important experiences, not the urgent things. For the things we grasp at the very end are never things.

The holidays now upon us once again with Veteran’s day this week, Thanksgiving next, followed by Christmas and the New year, all are laced with memories, traditions, those we love and those we loved, and others who still need to be.  We look forward to our celebrations with family and close friends, long talks and reminiscing around our fake fireplaces with real opportunities to gather our thoughts about life, friendships and what makes us tick and what matters most.

Jackie never missed these opportunities. Her favorite gifts were always memories and experiences.

We all will miss her at the fireplace, the table, the tree and our celebrations. What took her from us and took from her her most beautiful part has left us with fond memories and asks us all the question “What if I’m next? And what will I take with me?

Will you, like Jackie, leave this world for the next having fully examined the most important questions of life while you still have one? Will what you leave be bigger and more glorious than what you worked at for a living, where you vacationed, or things you own? Or will you leave the remnants of your thoughts and ponderances indelibly imprinted upon others to carry on that which is the most beautiful part within you?

You see, the things that accompany us over that lonely narrow bridge to the other side are never things. We won’t be grasping ceramic mementos or tchotchke but memories of those long conversations, words and experiences that mattered most while we lived. And for me they will certainly include Jackie’s beautiful trembling voice so many times when she would say to me,  “Oh, Don.”