Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Thoughts On A Friend

Yesterday I heard that a good friend, Matt, had finally succumbed to the cancer that had been wracking his body for the past 2-1/2 years. Matt was a friend of ours since the late 1980's or early 1990's - I can't date that exactly, but somewhere in there. When we first met him, we were season ticket holders for the North Stars - the professional ice hockey team up here in the Frozen Northlands. (We sent the Stars down to Dallas, and we now go wild with the Wild - although tickets are beyond our budget now.) Back on course ... 

Matt was our bartender in the concourse area, and we would gather during period breaks, have a beer, and shoot the breeze with other season ticket holders in our section. Eventually we all pulled away into different jobs, and Matt started working with Johnnie, another North Stars season ticket holder who had seats near us, in his jewelry store. That lasted for several years, but Matt always had his eyes on a larger goal - a wife and a family. 

I remember visiting Matt in the hospital. We had a chance
to talk about all manner of things for a while, and even though
he was in some serious pain, he was smiling. He had a
wonderful smile, didn't he? 

Eventually Matt met Liz - an awesome woman with a great sense of humor and a wonderful grasp on down-to-earth realities. Liz was a divorcee with a young son, Derrick. I still remember a trip to the local amusement park with the three of them, early on in their dating. It was a great afternoon, and we got hot and wet and that's what it's all about at Valley Fair. Derrick is grown up now, married, with a family of his own, and Matt and Liz got married and had five wonderful kids of their own - Grace, Meghan, Jack, Gianccola (forgive me if I blew this one out of the water, we just call her GiGi), and Jimmy - named after DH. 

Matt never lost his desire to shoot for the moon. He tried this job and that, and always was striving to strike it rich for his wife and kids, but he also realized that his true riches were surrounding him and enriching his life by sharing his life with him. He was family oriented and focused, and loved his kids and his grandkids. We ran into him here and there - at the State Fair or at other events. It was always wonderful to see him and we picked up as if we had just seen each other the day before. It was a really comfortable friendship, because Matt was like that - he could make anyone feel like his best friend. 

He loved kids, and his family was everything to
him. I'm absolutely sure they'll never forget
his humor and his courage. 

A few years ago, he, Liz and the family moved back to the Twin Cities from a town farther south, and we started getting to see them more regularly again. DH would join him and "the boys" for drinks every now and again, and sometimes I would join them after a long day's work. It was great to catch up again. After one of these impromptu get-togethers, he was feeling poorly, so went to his doctor for a checkup. His doctor found advanced prostrate cancer - a shock to all of us. That was in the summer of 2015. That was the start of rounds of hospitalization, eventually resulting in the cancer moving to his spine and paralyzing him from the waist down. He moved on, though.,working it in a motorized wheelchair. 

The last time I saw Matt was at the final day of Renaissance Festival this past September. It was rainy, cold and wet, and we huddled in the Vikings bar with Liz, his youngest boy Jimmie, DH and I. It was a miserable day of weather, but we had a great time catching up. When it came time to leave, it was a real struggle getting his heavy wheelchair through the thick, deep mud - but we managed and the fest attendees were very helpful, moving aside to allow us to stay on the more packed earth in front of the shops and stalls. We left him with hugs at his fancy mud-covered van, for the trip home. I think DH also caught up with him once more, along with "the boys" at a local bar in October or early November, but that was the last time I had a chance to see him. 

So today I'm remembering a good friend, a great father, a loving husband, and a courageous man who always tried to have a smile on his face, even when he was feeling like crap. I'm really going to miss you, Matt. Safe travels and much love speed you onward. 

Have a great Wednesday, I'll be back tomorrow. 


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