I posted before about hearing the news that one of my co-workers had reposed on February 1, 2021. He went to sleep on the night of January 31st and did not wake up. His memorial service is tomorrow and I learned today of a page that his family set up to keep all their memories. One of the things included on that page was a video that his wife made talking about their life together. She spoke of how they were made for each other and he was her left to her right. The video can be found here:
"Life doesn't give you do-overs; it doesn't let you hit rewind; it doesn't warn you when you are approaching a cliff; our world although tightly intermingled and wrapped in love, had lost its way. The job had taken its toll on Jimmie and he spent many of his evenings physically present, but emotionally checked out." "That facade of separation prevented us from making changes in our own lives. It wasn't enough to shift our priorities."..."He left the work he loved to heal the wounds he didn't know he had until it was too late. When you shine light into a dark world, it can consume you." "We thought we had more time".
He was one of the best agents I knew who worked child exploitation matters. The consensus in our forensic lab was he was the last person on earth you would want tracking you down. For as long as I knew him, he worked child exploitation cases. When he stepped away from that violation last year, none of us knew why he stepped away. In listening to his wife's from the heart video, it seems that he did so for his family and his own well being.
In my little world, of the last 5 people that I knew from work or from a family tie who died, 4 died suddenly and without warning. Jennie's dad died suddenly in his living room; an intelligence analyst died in the stairwell at work on his way upstairs for work; an agent died while out for a morning jog; an agent went to sleep on January 31 and never woke up. Only one, my first wife Theresa, knew it was coming and had time to prepare. As Christians we all know that we are not guaranteed one more breath in our life. In my little bubble, 80% of the people did not know that they would be called home suddenly and without warning.
"We all have things we put off until later. Until there is a better time. Until we finish that one last project, that one last case, answer that one last phone call, respond to that one last email. Life brings us many purposes, but the biggest purpose of all is connection and love. It is more important than all the noise in our chaotic life." "It is too easy to get lost in the daily grind of life. To be together, and yet be so far apart. To be lost in a parallel existence of iPads, cell phones and work."
One of the things that came out of the death of Theresa at such a young age was that I lost any preconceived notions that I had that life will go according to my plan. That there will always be another day to be "in the moment". That there will be another chance to tell someone how I feel about them. Theresa died on a Monday morning. The next day I had an appointment to visit the mortuary to finalize the business of dying. I woke up around 4:30am and decided to go for a walk on the back trails. As the sun started to rise and more people came outside, people were going on with their lives. They were walking in groups, talking, laughing, smiling. I wanted to scream at them that my world had just blown up and they were laughing. It was such a strange feeling and experience. The reality that quickly came over me was life goes on, with or without you.
JJD also died on a Monday. Two days later, his supervisor and a co-worker were going through all of his things looking for "accountable property" that belonged to the FBI but was assigned to him. I had the same strange feeling that I had on April 19, 2016. I wanted to scream at them, "the body is not even cold yet and you are scavenging for stuff". Yet, the same reality came to me that day too. Life goes on, with or without you. Our society has allowed work and noise to permeate all parts of our day. With many people now working from home, the line has been further blurred. However, at the end of the day, each of us will die and all that will remain for our family are memories. I might be the most successful forensic examiner in all the FBI, but when I retire, or repose, someone else will pick up the ball and move it down the field. Do not fool yourself. Despite what some may say at memorial services, we are all replaceable. At work that is.
I am coming up on the 5 year anniversary of Theresa falling asleep in the Lord. At her funeral Divine Liturgy our parish priest talked about how competent she was in all the tasks that she undertook, in her work life and in her volunteer work at the parish. He was absolutely spot on in that assessment. Yet, I don't remember her for how good she was with spreadsheets, balance sheets and other financial tasks. I remember the vacations we took; the quiet times we had before Ryan was born; the absolute joy in her voice when she woke me up to tell me that she was pregnant; the fun times of watching Ryan grow up all too fast; the sad times that we endured as a couple (the death of my dad, the loss of a baby to miscarriage, the death of her mother whom she was estranged from, the heartbreaking news that all the treatment she undertook was for naught).
I am far from being a perfect husband. However, I often tell Jennie that she got a better husband at the start of our marriage than Theresa had. I am a better husband because I know what matters in life and it is not spending all my time on work related things. I sent the video above to Jennie and told her that it was a tough one to watch. That JJD knew what needed to be done, that he needed to focus more time on his family and that time was cut short. Jennie asked me a simple question in our exchange: "What is something you would be sad we didn't do or finish if I were to die suddenly?" I responded with "that we would not have a long marriage". Jennie countered with, "But anything you've wanted to do with me that we just haven't made time for..I know travel is limited obviously." My response was a simple but profound, "not really". I said, "Mrs. Cullen getting sentimental. Jennie responded with this gem:
All of the sadness and trauma that came from having a spouse die at 44 years old, or a father who died suddenly at 67, has changed both Jennie and I in one profound way. We know what matters in life and it is the connection with your close family and the memories that you make. Everything else is really just window dressing. JJD's wife ended her video with the following words:
"We all have a gift. We all have love and connections in our lives. How often do we nurture those connections? How often do we carve away time to just be present, to just be in the moment with those we love? How often do we let go of the burdens the weigh us down in order to dance to the beat that life has always been playing for us? My hope for you is that you strain your ears and find that beat, because in all reality that is truly why we are all here."
One of the best messages I received came from Fr. John Petro, a co-director of the Deacon Formation Program, on the evening of 4/18/2016. "There are some journeys in life, Patrick, that we must walk alone. And this is one of them for you. Others may offer their support, their prayers and their help in many wonderful way, but, at the end of the day, it is a journey that only you can walk. No one can enter that sacred place the defined your relationship with Theresa. And, no one can ever take it away from you either. Please treasure that sacred place as Theresa's lasting gift to you."
Focus your time and energies on things that matter, the people in your life. Don't waste an opportunity to tell them how you feel, don't go to bed angry, don't leave the house angry. The last thing you say to someone will one day truly be the last thing you say. In your charity, say a prayer for the soul of JJD and for peace for his family that can only come from above. We pray in our tradition, "Great peace to your world, to your churches, to the priests, to our government, and to all your people. For all generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from you, the Father of Lights; and we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever."