Monday, January 17, 2011

Loss of a Good Man

I received the most poignant email forwarded from my mom this morning. It came from some friends in New Zealand.
I am very sorry to tell you that Rex was knocked off his bike and has died.
Of course we are all devastated and find it hard to believe.
We are coping,somehow.
I'll be in contact again later.
Just wanted you to know.

Joy and Rex are in their 70s like my parents.
I met them a couple of times when they travelled here to the United States and my parents went to New Zealand to visit them once. If I had to describe Rex, I would say alive is the best word. He was always moving, always had a plan. He played every sport every invented, and if he hadn't yet, he would try it. He was very "fit," I think is the word the New Zealanders would use to describe him.
It seems appropriate that he didn't grow old sitting in a chair and losing his memory, yet no one was ready for him to go so unexpectedly.
My parents' friendship with Rex and Joy came about through me.
I met their son Mike when he was bicyling through the United States. He was staying with a couple in Middletown, Ohio and I was a reporter there. When the editor told me to interview this guy from New Zealand, I didn't know anything about the country.
"Do they speak English?" I asked.
I immediately fell under Mike's spell -- tall, blonde and athletic with the dulcet New Zealand accent. He tried to explain to me the difference between the Australian and the New Zealand accent, moving his tone up into his nose to talk like an Australian. We talked for hours: he was an accountant, he wanted to own race horses, he'd worked in Australia and they always wanted to fight. I returned to the newsroom to write my story and when I went home that night, I told my younger brother Kevin that I had met the man I was going to marry.

I misspelled his last name in the news article.
Still, when I called and asked if he wanted to go out to eat, he did. We shared some meals and time. He planned to continue biking and I asked if he wanted to go to my grandmother's house in Kentucky.
He did. We went boating with my cousin Mike, and Mike from New Zealand worried that we might run into alligators as we swam in the lake. I laughed at him because, obviously to me, no alligators live in Kentucky, and he kissed me that day for the first time.
I took Mike to a truck stop/bus station so he could hitch a ride or continue his bicycle journey. A few weeks later, he called and returned to Ohio on a plane. I met him at the airport. When he flew out again, we looked at the travel posters on the wall and talked about how we would love to visit Greece. I thought, "Who knows." But I was starting grad school that fall and he was off to New Zealand.
We stayed in touch for a long time, writing letters that probably sound overblown now.
A few months before Earl and I got married, I sent him a letter to let him know. Our letters must have crossed in the mail, because I received one from him about his new wife, Leigh. Leigh and Mike visited once with their girls and Leigh was here again a few years ago to stay with us.
Today, I sorted through photo albums to find a picture of Mike. I called Grace down to the basement to look at some old college pictures.
When I finally found the picture of Mike that the newspaper used, I pulled it from the sticky page.
"Who's this?" Grace asked.
"It's Mike. From New Zealand," I said.
"And you didn't follw him?" she asked.
She turned as Earl came down the stairs. "Can you believe she didn't follow him?"
"I don't think he's the one you want to ask that," I told Grace. "Besides, you wouldn't be here if I did."
Plus, life isn't like a romantic comedy movie, well, maybe the comedy part.
Funny, because I was never sure how much I meant to Mike, until his wife visited a few years ago and told me he thought very highly of me and felt strongly. Maybe if I'd known then...
But the reason I wrote about this lovely family today was to mourn a great man and to send sympathy to his family, who will always be looking out the window to see if he's returning from his latest run, his latest bike ride, his latest cricket match. The road will seem so empty without him there.


Linda said...

An interesting story. So sad for someone to die that way but, as you said, better than suffering. My Dad is suffering and I wonder if he would like to go quickly.

Mixed Comments said...

Per Stephanie, I would be so proud to be eaten by a bear on the AT....
And then me... are we allowed to be proud too?

My Heart Sincerely Goes Out To The Family .

I remember when Mike and Leigh and the girls came to the states.

The story was sad, heartwarming, romantic and funny.

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