I’m sorry this newsletter didn’t arrive in your inbox Monday morning as it usually does. This one is a little “heavy” but I share my experiences with you in the spirit of helping, teaching, and encouraging. The newsletter didn’t go out Monday morning because I was taking my mother to the hospital. Family first. (My mom has a heart condition and it scares the hell out of me. She goes to see a specialist tomorrow.) It was also a snow day today so when I got home I helped my daughter study for a test on the American Revolution. Family first.

December is my least favorite month and it’s hard for me to get in the Christmas spirit. My dad died in December (2001) and my parents wedding anniversary was in December so every year my mom gets depressed this month. Truth be told, so do I. Now add to my December list, a friend dying.

My friend Chris passed away last Saturday. Our friendship began in a most unique way. I became friends with him because he called me after I spoke at his daughter Gabby’s high school on December 6, 2013. She stayed after my speech, ate lunch with me and we talked for about an hour and a half. Then apparently Gabby called her dad to tell him about me. Chris then called me to thank me for sharing my story because it was exactly what his daughter needed to hear at that time. That unexpected call from someone who was a stranger to me at the time lasted a few minutes and turned into a three year friendship. I consider myself lucky to have known Chris and feel fortunate to call his daughter a friend.

As much as anything I said that day may have helped her, little did she know she helped me even more. It was my first trip back to back to my hometown after burying my father 12 years earlier. My mom made the trip with me and right before my speech she had just returned from my dad’s grave site. Neither of us were in a great place emotionally that day. The fact that my message resonated and made such a difference in Gabby’s life made the entire trip worthwhile.

The strange coincidence of all this is that Chris’s funeral was exactly three years to the date of that speech and phone call; Tuesday December 6th. He was just 50 years old, passed away very unexpectedly and is survived by his parents. No parent should ever have to bury a child. Ever.

Furthermore I can’t imagine being just 20 years old and burying your only parent knowing they won’t be around to experience the many milestones in your adult life. No kid should ever have to deal with that. Ever.

Some people come into our lives for a reason, some for a season and others for a lifetime. Chris came into my life for a reason, as a shining example of how to be a father. Chris’s wife died when Gabby was very young and he did an amazing job raising her by himself. He was the model of the type of father I strive to be for my daughters: a parent, friend, relentless advocate, coach & always their biggest fan. I’m just incredibly sorry I never told him that.

I share all of this with you for two reasons:

1. The holidays aren’t a happy time for everyone. 15 years later and I still feel empty this time of year without my dad around. I wish I had five more minutes with him. Notice how your friends and family are feeling; I bet some folks you know are hurting. If you think someone seems like they’re in pain, nine times out of ten you’ll probably be right. Be a friend, listen, and help them find their smile. Christmas time is about presence not presents and the greatest gift we can give people is our time.
2. Life is short and we never know how much time we have left with someone. The most valuable life advice I’ve received was from my best friend Paul in 2001 when I told him my dad was going into hospice care. He told me “Don’t leave things unsaid with those close to you, you may not get the chance to tell them later.” He was right and I’m just glad I heeded his advice and had the opportunity to say goodbye to my dad and make sure his affairs were in order so my mom didn’t have to do that alone. Within hours of my father passing away, Paul showed up at my family’s home to help and provide emotional support. In the weeks and months after he never let much time go by without checking on me, listening to me and making me laugh or smile. That’s the kind of friend you want and that’s the kind of friend you want to be.
Life is short. Tell people you love them. Be a friend. Maximize the moments you have, time is too precious not to.

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