FLINT - My friend Greg died recently.
I hadn't seen him for months, not since last fall in fact. We were at a cross country meet to see our respective progeny run. We got to talking and catching up. And when it was time to go we shook hands and said we'd get together soon to play some basketball.
But you know how that can go. We never did.
The next I heard he had a heart attack at the auto plant where he worked and that was that. No ceremony. No chance to say goodbye. Just gone.
It doesn't seem right. Death never does.
But his was one of those deaths that particularly shakes people up. There was his age, of course. He was just 48, and I know what you're thinking, "He must have been fat and out of shape."
Wrong. Like my brother, Dan, when he died at age 40, Greg was trim and in great shape. He ran daily.
And yet it happened anyhow.
I know what you're thinking, "He must have been a Type A then - all wound into a ball with stress and anger."
Except that wasn't him. That was the opposite of him, in fact. He was a big, tall guy, but despite his size he was one of the most easy-going guys I've ever known. He smiled and laughed easily and he tended to make you feel good just being around him.
Yeah, he could be goofy from time to time, but I liked that about him. One time, for instance, for reasons I still don't quite understand, he decided to fight in a Toughman contest.
I don't remember how he did, but I do remember thinking how funny it was that that this gigantic teddy bear of a guy would do something like that. I mean, c'mon, he was the type who would say sorry if he bumped you too hard on the basketball court. And he was going to bash people in the face? Yeah, right.
At the funeral home, his wife reminded me that I'd written a column about Greg's brief Toughman experiment. I had forgotten - when you write 200 columns a year for 20 years, it happens.
Greg hadn't forgotten, though.
"He kept it with his important papers," she said.
The lump in my throat could have choked me.
There was a lot of that going around at the funeral home. It was jammed to overflowing. Is there a better testament for a man?
If there is, it's probably this: "Greg enjoyed playing basketball, running daily with his great friend, Kirk, and going on vacations and trips to the beach with his family. He was well known for his friendliness, his exuberant laugh, his 'spiritual gift' of sarcasm, and most importantly, his big heart that never stopped giving."
That's what his family wrote about him in the obituary. A finer epitaph there never was.
I have to admit - Greg's passing has been difficult for me to swallow. Death is never easy, of course. But with some people the sheer unfairness of it all can be overwhelming.
I've been trying to combat that feeling by reminding myself over and over again that Greg did about as well as a man can hope to.
He wasn't wealthy or famous. But he was loved. And he made those around him feel good. He lived life well in the time that he had.
Maybe that's death only value to those of us left here on earth.
It reminds us to live and live right.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.