My friend Bruce Flagler died Tuesday. I wasn’t expecting it. Oh, he had ALS, and I knew it could only go one way. But I just saw him two weeks ago, and – while he was obviously deteriorating – death did not seem imminent. May 26 was his birthday and I sent him a card with a promise of a birthday hug when I saw him next. I planned to visit him on Wednesday. A day too late. I thought I had months, or at least weeks. But you never know.
It goes back to what I said in my earliest posting, Gaining and Losing: don’t wait to tell someone how much you care, because five minutes from now you may never have the opportunity again.
Bruce’s lungs failed before the last of his skeletal muscles did, and it was a blessing. I couldn’t conceive of the terror of being locked in a body with no way to communicate and no way to do anything for yourself. According to his sister, he died as he lived, with dignity and on his own terms. He took a couple of slow breaths, and then closed his eyes, never to take another.
Bruce’s funeral was today. I went with a couple of friends. I was proud to make it through the service without breaking down. A color guard consisting of 6 or 8 motorcycle-riding buddies, at least some from ‘Nam, drew attention to the long line of cars on the way to the cemetery. A couple of military reps did the flag folding ceremony and handed the flag (there actually were two, as Bruce had twin sons) to the boys. Then someone began playing Taps. My self-control faltered and failed. I didn’t do any all out sobbing, but there were a lot of tears and sniffling.
We all placed flowers on the casket and said our final goodbyes. It’s never easy to lose someone. And it always seems like you had some unfinished business. I never gave him his birthday hug. But I’m grateful that he escaped the body that was fast becoming his living tomb.
So long, Bruce. It’s been a privilege.