I lost a friend last week. I’ve been writing this post in my head for days, but I’ve been hesitant to commit to any words, because that would make it real. But it is real, whether I face it or not. My dear friend Dana Freeman died last Sunday.
Dana and I shared a love for teaching, a passion for writing, the same Starbucks order, and a diagnosis of cancer. It is unfathomable to me that a person so full of life could be dead. Dana was one of the friendliest people I’ve ever known. He was always smiling, always making cheesy jokes, always making new friends. Always positive. It never occurred to me that he would lose his fight. He was always “doing better,” “doing well,” “getting better.” I can’t help but wonder if it occurred to him that he might lose the fight. If I had not just gotten such a great scan, it would give me great pause about my own fight. It may just be that he wanted to focus on the positive. He didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. He may have known all along that his time was limited and chosen to continue to live life without a shadow of fear. That sounds like my friend. He was brave. Most of all, though, I will remember him as being happy. I rarely saw him without a smile on his face.
I met Dana when I was the director of Sylvan Learning Center in Douglasville. He walked in one day and asked if I needed teachers. He was wearing a T-shirt with a smiley face on it. He was a retired teacher who also taught at other Sylvans, so he knew the programs. He became one of my most reliable teachers. He could teach science, reading, math…and he was always willing to help out. Stay an extra hour. Cover for someone else. Anything but the beginning readers. Dana loved to interact with the little kids, but he preferred to teach the ones he could really talk to, have discussions with. Make a difference for. And he did. Students often worked their schedules around the days Dana taught. He was a great teacher and a great employee. When Sylvan closed and I became a stay at home mom of two, Dana turned into a great friend. But he still always called me Boss.
I am sad and grieved at the loss of my friend, even though I know he wouldn’t want me to be. It feels like the world is off-kilter somehow, like it’s a little bit darker without Dana’s unique brand of sunshine in it. I know that in time, things will right themselves. I will finish my treatment and become a cancer survivor. But it doesn’t seem fair that Dana won’t be in that club with me. It was something I had counted on. Now I will have to wait until my race is run until I see him again.
This is Dana with his buddy, Fi, just a month or two after she was born. I have not told my kids about his passing yet. Even though I am a writer and words are my medium, I have no words to explain Dana’s death without implicating the possibility of my own. Perhaps they are stronger and more resilient than I give them credit for. But I can’t help wanting to shelter them. Childhood is such a magical time, and I’m not yet ready to cast a shadow over their sunshiny dispositions. Or maybe I’m just not ready to talk about it yet. Either way, not today. Today I will simply remember my friend and buy the person in line behind me at Starbucks a drink in his honor.