Ten years ago today my friend Todd died. In the paper today was this tribute from his family. It was perfect. Every word they wrote about him is absolutely true. I really don’t know of anyone who knew Todd that didn’t like him. He was a friend to everybody.
We met in 1st grade when I moved to North Ogden. He lived two doors east. His older brother was my older brother’s best friend. We were in the same grade, and our older brothers were also in the same grade. On snowy or stormy mornings the four of us got rides to school together. Because my mom had her hands full with five little kids and his mom had two, it was usually Todd’s mom Mel that drove us. The best days of all were when we got to ride in the white Corvette. I think it was a ’74 or ’76. I don’t remember for sure, I only remember that it was cool. It didn’t matter that two of us had to squeeze into the front passenger seat together while the other two lay down in the back, contorting to fit in the cramped space. Who else was cool enough to be dropped off at school in a Corvette by a glamorous woman who even at that early morning hour always had full make-up and her false eyelashes on? Sometimes her commercial voice-overs would come on the radio during our ride and we’d all listen, completely enamored with her fame. Well, at least I was enamored. I don’t know if the boys were equally enamored.
Todd was my first crush. For most of elementary school I was convinced he was the man I would marry and have babies with. I think there were periods when he also had a crush on me. Somehow we never seemed to have crushes on each other at the same time. Maybe that’s because even then we somehow knew we were destined to be just friends, which in the end was even better. Still we learned how to flirt with the opposite sex by flirting with each other.
We played a cat and mouse game of periodically chasing each other through 6th or 7th grade. During the summers when my friends and I would sleep outside in the backyard, it was Todd and his friends who would sneak up on us, scaring us and making us squeal with fear mixed with delight.
By junior high we’d settled into a very comfortable friendship, bordering on a brother/sister relationship. Our homes were very familiar to each other. Even today I remember his home phone number from those years. His brother was often at our house. He’s ever present in my childhood memories. Many were the evenings when I was sent up the street to knock on their door to tell my brother dinner was ready and it was time to come home. There was an easy familiarity between our families.
Later when my parents separated and divorced, it was Mel who was there for all five of us kids, in different ways, at different times, but always in exactly the right way. Her love, compassion and concern was a lifeline to me during those years. It’s no wonder she has such amazing sons. They learned by example from her.
In high school, Todd and I shared many classes and frequently passed notes back and forth to each other during classes. We told each other about whom we were dating, why we liked them, who we were going to high school dances with and so many other meaningless tidbits of high school life. We were buds. When Todd met Amy, who would become his wife, I remember him telling me how in love he was with her. When he talked about her, his face glowed. It was obvious to everyone she was “the one”.
Later in life after we’d both married, we saw each other less frequently but our friendship endured. Through fate or coincidence,Todd was in the hospital recovering from a treatment for his newly found brain tumor at the same time that my brother and sister-in-law had a baby. I visited Todd and Amy while I was at the hospital waiting for my sister-in-law’s labor to progress. I vaguely remember talking about his tumor with him then - what he was doing for treatment, the long-term prognosis. Nobody was more optimistic than Todd about his likely outcome. It was almost impossible to think about his tumor being terminal because he had such a positive attitude about things. His optimism was contagious. Even a few years later when it was obvious that his tumor was terminal, it was hard to be sad about it because Todd simply didn’t live in a state of pity. He embraced life, loving his wife and children, working as long as he could to provide for his family, continuing to be a good friend, never losing his perfect smile and cheerful outlook on life.
Even now, ten years later, it’s hard for me not to get emotional when I think about the last time I saw Todd. He was home being cared for by hospice, in the last weeks of enduring the ravages of an aggressive brain tumor. I knew I had to go see him, but I was terrified. What would I say? How would I say goodbye? Should I even say goodbye? I didn’t have any idea what to expect or do. Since we were only 32 years old, we were both far too young to have experience with those type of circumstances.
I should have known better than to be scared or apprehensive. The instant I saw Todd he put me at ease. I don’t know how, since he couldn’t speak at that point. His words came out as unintelligible, garbled sounds. I just know that when he took my hand and pulled me close to his face, I was talking to a cherished friend, a friend who even when he was dying somehow made me feel better. I’ll never forget that afternoon. The sounds, sights and smells of it are embedded in my memory. Mel was at the sink slicing strawberries for Todd’s girls while they were in another room with a hospice worker. Sometimes the smell of freshly sliced strawberries takes me right back to that moment. I’ll be forever grateful that I overcame my fear and went to say goodbye. It was important for me to honor our friendship, to let Todd know how much he meant to me. I hope somehow he understood that.
A few months after Todd died, I visited his wife in the hospital to see his first and only son, Todd Jeffery. That was another hard moment, but just like Todd, Amy managed to put her own feelings aside and acknowledge the bittersweet happiness of the moment. Like Todd, Amy is a sweetheart. Today, ten years later, through the magic of Facebook, I’m fortunate enough to be able to see Todd’s family grow up . Seeing pictures of his daughters and son never fails to put a smile on my face. They’re beautiful, living legacies to Todd’s amazing life and spirit. There aren't many people who at the age of 32 have lived such a good life or made such positive, lasting impacts on so many. Todd was one of the few. He truly is remembered for the way he lived his days, and he lived his days well.