We all want to live a long life and many do whatever they can to prolong their lives as much as possible. However, there are costs for longevity: Alzheimer’s, physical health problems, and financial restrictions to name just a few. The list goes on. To me, what has become one of the toughest results is losing others. Whether it be friend, family, or just an acquaintance, it’s never easy.
Today is the birthday of one of my best friends, Dan Watson. Dan was a good husband, an Air Force vet, and one the best people ever to have at your back. This past June was five years since Dan left us and today would have been his 67th birthday. I still “share” at least one Gentleman Jack with Dan every Friday night to continue the tradition we started a couple decades ago.
Two days ago, another long-time veteran friend passed. I met Paul Gary Eaton over 30 years ago at a veterans’ organization meeting. My mother was Jewish. His grandfather had headed a Klan group on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I thought Richard Nixon was an arrogant monster. Gary thought him to be a great leader. I had been in the Army. Though in the Navy, he was attached to a Marine infantry as a corpsman. I was a REMF in Viet Nam fixing electronic equipment and he spent his time in the field with a Marine combat unit. He was a conservative and I resided on the left side of the FM dial.
Of course, we instantly became friends.
Gary was a good man, and, like so many good men went gone to war, he had his demons. Between his experiences in Viet Nam and life in general, Gary wasn’t always dealt the best hand. But he was always ready to fight back and take on life as well as any of us can.
Gary was always searching for that “next big thing.” When a comic book about Viet Nam came out in the 80’s, Gary purchased multiple copies of all editions to save and eventually sell to collectors. I’m not sure if they were ever sold off. He had a habit of collecting things with thoughts of investment that didn’t always pan out. He was also an inveterate poet and bumper sticker slogan writer. I don’t know how many slogans I received over the years with Gary proclaiming, “This is the one!” The one he could sell and make some “real money” as he would say.
Though estranged from his son when I first met him, they did reconcile somewhat in later years. Gary was very proud of his son’s accomplishments as a successful businessman and his daughter-in-law, who is becoming a pediatric doctor. When we last spoke, he was also excited about his new granddaughter who has now been joined by a grandson. Gary also spoke often about the “women in his life,” his wife and granddaughter, and how much they meant to him. And, of course, there were The Dogs, the dachshunds that he and his wife raised.
And therein lies the sticking point – I hadn’t actually spoken to Gary in a couple years. In the course of major moves and upheavals in my personal life, Gary and I just sort of lost touch. He knew where I was and I knew where he was, but it just worked out that we didn’t have a lot of contact in the last couple years. It was no one’s “fault.” It just turned out that way.
Life goes on, things change, and, one day, you look up and say, “What the hell happened? Where did all the time go?” And you realize that your brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, and acquaintances have all aged along with you. Faces gradually disappear from your social scene. You’re attending more memorial services than you had in the past. Familiar names start to show up in the obituaries in the local paper. You start receiving more emails, notes, and texts about funerals than weddings.
This is not necessarily something to be sad and depressed about. Sure, losing someone is never easy, but it is an inevitable aspect of life. We are all well aware of that from Day One. “No one gets out alive” was the gospel according to Jim Morrison. We just need to accept it.
Dan Watson and Gary Eaton enjoyed their lives. I know because I spent an enormous amount of time enjoying life with both of them. And that’s the key. In spite of everything, you’re personally responsible to enjoy your life as much as you can. No one else can do that for you. Don’t let yourself reach the end and look back with regret. Enjoy each and every day as much as you can. Take advantage of life’s joys, pains, discoveries, and grief. It’s what makes it all worthwhile. Enjoy your life. You never know when life’s path will reach the end of the road.
At the end of life, if someone asks if you had joy in your life, it’s completely up to you to make sure you can say yes.
Happy Birthday, Dan. Peaceful Journey, Gary. See ya, Dudes.