Six years ago my husband invited me to hang out with a handful of new friends he’d recently made. Dave was one of them. Walking away from that evening I shared with Mason my first impression of Dave: “He’s so full of life!”
Which is why it felt so cruel that less than two years later he received a death sentence: ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. The prognosis was grim, and I cried upon learning of his diagnosis, because in those two short years since I first met him he had already carved out a permanent place inside my heart. He became a treasured friend to both my husband and myself. I was pregnant when I first met him, and he quickly became “Uncle Dave” to my daughter.
Just before his diagnosis we had planned an upcoming trip to Italy where my husband and I would meet up with Dave and two other dear friends. When the ALS news arrived, we knew that trip was even more important to take. EVERYTHING became more important. And yet everything became less important, too. Things quickly snapped into perspective, not just for Dave, but for all of us walking him through this journey. If we thought he was full of life before—well, there’s nothing like staring death in the face to make you live life larger.
He began Dying Out Loud, right there in front of everyone. He reminded us all that with or without a diagnosis, we’re dying too and what are we gonna do about it? We can maintain the status quo, living and dying quietly, or we can grab the Moments and carpe the effing diem.
We chose to grab some moments.
Leading up to our trip to Italy, Dave and Mindi stopped by our house to plan out some logistics. While there, Mason put Dave in our Oculus headset and via Google Earth, transported Dave from our Nashville home to the place we’d be staying in Naples, Italy. I watched him cry at the mere virtual sight of our upcoming European adventure. It was a Moment.
Several weeks later, I got to see the Moment again, this time in person. Our bright yellow hotel smack dab in the middle of a long row of pastel buildings lining the Amalfi coast and looking out over the water, with Mount Vesuvius just off in the distance. We ate delicious food, drank Italian wines, strolled along the water at sunset, shared loud laughter, took a ferry to the Isle of Capri then boarded a boat to circle the exquisite slice of paradise. We rode a cramped bus up the narrow winding roads to dine atop Capri. And just when we thought we were on top of the world, we hopped on a chair lift (some of us more willing than others) that carried us even higher. The view took our breath away. Overlooking a cerulean blue sea, Dave called his new love Bevin from the top of the mountainous island, eager to share this Moment with her in any way he could. We took pictures, we toasted drinks, we sat awestruck at the beauty around us, none of us sure how many more Moments like this may lie ahead.
Thankfully, we’ve gotten many, many more: Casual hangs at our house when Dave & Bevin stay with us as they pass through Nashville, cabin retreats, meetups, check-ins, book events, speaking engagements, a cruise to the Caribbean, rolling cigars in the Dominican, and several “Last Annual” Beach Weeks.
Moments Worth Missing
The problem is there could never be enough Moments together. I already feel like we’ve stolen more than we expected to have, but I wince at the thought of the ones we’ll miss. And believe me, I will miss them. Some may say anticipatory grief does no good, and if all it does is rob you of living in the moment, I agree. But for me, anticipatory grief—thinking about the things I will miss before they’re even gone—brings me deeper into the present. It amplifies the joy I find in the little things.
I will miss the way his eyes light up when he sees the faces of people he loves. I will miss the way his eyes tear up when the beauty of a Moment grabs him by the heart. His heart. I will miss his tender heart. A heart that could very easily have been hardened by the hand life dealt him, but stayed tender instead. I will miss his laugh. I will miss his sense of humor, sometimes playful, and sometimes dark, but always just right. I will miss his honesty. I will miss his determination to fight for the things that are most important to him. I will miss traveling together. I will miss the way he is a powerful magnet for remarkable humans—he has brought together some of the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever met, and created priceless friendships that otherwise would never have existed. I will miss the way he dotes on my daughter and plays along with whatever new idea she has when she greets him. I will miss his hugs. I will miss countless more intangible things about him for which words do no justice.
But I do not have to miss them yet. Today is Dave’s birthday, and I am about to go hang out with him and a host of other friends while we watch my husband play live music in Nashville. We will celebrate that Dave got another birthday. We will grab a Moment or two. We may be dying, but tonight we will live.