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My Friend Died

Understanding the Loss of a Childhood Buddy

Donald C. Mueller  (1963-2017)

For the past few weeks I've been experiencing an incredibly weird sleeping pattern.  I can't seem to stay awake much past 8 p.m., then I find myself wide awake around 2 a.m.  That schedule makes for an agonizingly long work day, which exacerbates my weird sleeping pattern even further.  Last week, I woke up at 1 a.m. and couldn't fall back asleep.  I grabbed my cell phone to play a few games of Word for Friends, but unconsciously opened Facebook instead.  There a strange post drew my attention.

This particular Facebook post was to a page that listed all the students from my high school that had died since graduation.  I strolled through the listings.  I knew a few of them, but they weren't really "friends" of mine—then or now.  Then I saw it.

I was never very close with my classmates in high school. I had a few good friends, but I mainly associated with people from my church, not my school. Needless to say, our class reunions have held little interest for me over the years. There were a few exceptions. A few high school friends are still in my inner circle. We communicate irregularly, but we are still in touch with each other.

But there in front of my eyes was the last thing I could possibly have imagined:  an obituary listing for my high school best friend, Donald.

I had no idea. 

I don't live in the area where I grew up any longer, so I'm naturally a bit out of touch.  I didn't even know he had been ill.  I certainly didn't know he had died five months ago. 

I was devastated. 

I laid in bed sobbing my eyes out over the loss of one of the very first people I met in high school.  I felt such an emptiness at learning so long after his passing that he'd been ill.  I felt so bad that I didn't get to attend his funeral and to offer my condolences to his family and his partner.  We used to text and occasionally talk by phone, but for a few months I hadn't gotten a reply from him.  Now it all made sense.

I met Don during freshman year right after classes began.  We didn't have any classes together that year, but I saw him and his twin brother every morning in the cafeteria.  Don was the first person to sign my petition to run for student council and, in fact, he walked me around to all his friends so I could gather all the signatures I needed right then and there.  We had lunch together nearly every day for the next three years.  He was the only friend I had in school that wanted to know every detail of my trip as a foreign exchange student.  We talked for hours and hours about it.

The only class we had together for all four years was PE.  We both hated it, so we always signed up for the same sport each quarter.  Don and I played badminton every single day for our entire sophomore year. Some days we played one single match for all 45 minutes of class—just to say we did.  Needless to say, we were pretty good players by year end.  We laughed, joked, and had a really good time.  We were friends. 

We lost touch after graduation only to run into each other five years later when my wife and I went to eat at the restaurant he worked at.  We reconnected immediately.  It took more than a few beers to catch up on everything, but we did and swore to not fall out of touch again.  And, we never did.

Don helped with my friend Vickie and I organized our five-year class reunion—the only one any of us three ever attended.  We had dinner together many times over the years.  We stayed in touch just like lifelong friends do.  I never expected he'd be gone at only 54 years old and to such a dreadful, rare disorder like Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease.

The past two weeks have been difficult.  It's not the first time I've confronted death, nor is it the person I've known to die.  I don't know exactly why this loss has bothered me so much—but, it has.  I miss my friend.  I miss that there will be no more conversations, no more laughs, no more memories to make and share.  I miss that Don is no longer a part of our world.

Don was a kind, gentle man.  He made me laugh.  His friendship was unconditional.  We shared great times together in our youth and I always will have fond memories at the mere mention of his name.  Don was my friend and I miss him.

Rest in peace brother.