Last Friday night around 7:00 the phone rang, my mom picked it up, "Hello? oh hi Norman!..." There was silence..."WHAAAAAT!!!!...OH NOOO IT CAN'T BEEE!"
"oh oh" I thought, this doesn't sound good.
I got up and walked into the kitchen, my mom had a look of shock. When she hung up, she was already in tears, with her hands on her cheeks she said, "your cousin Mike died."
"WHAAAAT?" At first I just didn't believe it, there must be some mistake...not Mike. We had just seen him a month earlier, at Uncle Friney's funeral in LA, and he was as robust and full of life as ever. "How?"
"Well, he was coaching soccer and he said he didn't feel good, so he sat down on the lawn, then he just keeled over, and that was it!...must have been his heart..."
I was overcome with a kind of cold numbness, the kind that comes with a particular shock and disconnect. This couldn't be true...Mike was the last person I had expected, there are so many relatives who have gotten older, and sometimes you half-expect to get a 'call' once in awhile about them...but not Mike, he had just turned 60, he had soooo many years left. And he was always youthful in his ways, the way he related to everyone with a sense of humor and a genuine kindness. From day one, he was always a favorite of the family. During family get-togethers, "oh, Mike's coming? coool!..."
Whatever spark there is in humans that gives them a certain kind of 'goodness', Mike always had it.
I remember when I was 5 years old, Mike and his brother Art were in town for a visit, around Thanksgiving. Mike was 12 at the time, "Hey Danny! I got something for ya!" He handed me a small package, it was a balsa wood airplane, the kind you put together and attach a propeller with a rubber band. He got one for himself too. We sat down on the curb, "Here, I'll show you how to put it together..." And with a patience and understanding far beyond his 12 years, he helped me put mine together and we flew them. I will never forget that day.
When our grandfather died in 1970, Mike spoke at the funeral in Tulare, he was only 20! But even then, he gave one of the most eloquent speeches. He spoke of the Giant Forest in nearby Sequoia National Park, how our grandpa was like one of the Giant Sequoias, now fallen, but a great grove still existed among the rest of us, and how the forest carries on...we were all moved by his speech. He became the go-to guy after that. Grandma, Uncle Bob, Uncle Toody (his dad), Aunt Carmen...Mike always spoke with a gentle passion that was just right.
As we got older, all of us cousins were busy with our own lives and didn't stay in as much contact as we liked, but it was always a grand reunion when we got together. Mike drove a Chevy van in the 70's and took road trips all over in it. Sometimes he would stop in San Jose on a surprise visit, and it was always a wonderful surprise, as he filled the room with his wit and humor, and genuine good nature. It was always good to see Mike.
We played golf a few times, and always bought a 6-pack of Bud for the back 9, and laughed at how it consistently improved our golf game. Mike later became a pastor, and also a teacher and coach, which he loved. He was deeply spiritual, but never 'preached'...
After we heard the news, we settled in with the sadness and we keep shaking our heads, "I still can't believe it." I kept thinking of his Forest speech, and how so many great trees have since fallen, some only recently. And his was one of the highest, and strongest in the family, and we all basked in its shade, and in its presence...it wasn't supposed to fall this soon.
But the forest will carry on as it always does...but right now, the forest is a quiet and lonely place.