My good friend Walter’s mom Gertrude passed away last weekend at the age of 78, after a long and valiant battle with ovarian cancer.
Most of my friends and I are now at the age where parent departures are happening with more and more frequency. Most of my buddies have lost at least one parent; many have lost both of them and are now middle-aged orphans, as am I. As Walter said in his email, Gertrude had a wonderful life. Given her age and her cancer diagnosis, her departure wasn’t really a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to the folks who raised you.
Walter has led a very Forrest-Gump-like life. When he was a young kid, his parents were good friends with Tom Cruise’s parents – Walter has a picture of Tom Cruise at his 6th birthday party. In high school, he was a star defensive back for a team that won state, and also had a bit part in the movie Stripes, appearing in the opening scene as one of two kids who run away without paying after getting a taxi ride from Bill Murray. He was in ROTC at Xavier, and has dozens of great stories from his summers at Army training camps. He graduated from the University of Kentucky law school, worked as an attorney in Horse Cave, KY (more great stories from this era), got his Masters in tax from the University of Denver and worked for big accounting firms in Minneapolis and Cleveland, then became a border patrol agent before returning to Louisville to teach high school and coach football. Now he’s a practicing attorney and still does some tax law work on the side.
Walter was also one of the groomsmen in my wedding in June of 1997. He had to race back to Fort Wayne, Indiana on the night of our wedding because his father had suffered a massive heart attack. Sadly, his dad died a couple days later. So June 21st, 1997 is a day that is etched into both of our memories, for polar opposite reasons.
I met Wally during our freshman year of college, way back in the Jurassic Era (a.k.a. 1982). He’s always been one of those guys that you felt comfortable talking to, even about the most difficult subjects. With Walt, you can always have a discussion that is deeper than the typical guy conversations about sports and… other sports. I think a lot of Walt’s simpatico in that area comes from his mom. After her first career as a mother, she spent more than 20 years as a counselor, seminar leader, speaker and workshop facilitator. She always had a deep spirituality about her and she passed that on to her kids.
Here’s an excerpt from her obituary:
Whenever a parent of one of my friends dies, I like to pass along the Ray Bradbury short story called “The Leave-Taking,” partly because Ray Bradbury is the greatest author that ever lived, but mostly because truer words have never been spoken than the line in the story that says “no person ever died that had a family.”
Tomorrow I’ll make the 90-minute drive down to Louisville to pay my last respects to Gertrude Martin, but her spirit is so strong that I know there ain’t no grave that can hold her body down.