Vaughn Hardacker here. Since my wife passed (thirteen years ago on October 16) I
have dreaded October and the feelings it invoked. Well, September has surpassed it by far. On September 3, 2017, my youngest grandson died from injuries incurred in a motorcycle crash–he was just shy of his 24th birthday (which is today as I write this.)
This year, my partner, Jane, lost her older brother to cancer also on September 3…what was it baseball great Yogi Berra said: It’s deja vous all over again.” Later that week an old friend of Jane’s called and informed her that his partner had passed a few days before.
I only wish that I was finished. On September 12, I lost my biggest fan, my sister-in-law passed. Other than my late wife, Shirley had been one of the most faithful and supportive forces in my writing career. When I visited her brother, my brother-in-law Jimmy, he informed me that a niece had also passed away.
This year has been horrible when you consider what we’ve lost. In August, Lea Wait lost her valiant battle with pancreatic cancer. Throughout my life there has been any number of people who taught me (or at least tried) how to live. My late wife, Connie, and Lea showed me something that is possibly more valuable–they taught me how to die. While serving in Vietnam I saw a lot of sudden violent death; in no way does it compare to the way these brave people died. In Vietnam we knew death was always hanging over our heads, but we were able to push it to the back of our minds because when it would happen was still an unknown. Jane’s brother, Skip (Marvin Hartley Jr), kept telling everyone that he was doing fine and going to beat the cancer in his shoulder, lungs, and brain. He stayed upbeat and did all he could to take care of those around him. No one in our family knew that Shirley was dealing with major health issues. Through out her battle against cancer, my wife maintained her sense of humor laughing and joking with me while we filled out paperwork for her cremation. She consoled our grandson (the same one who I like to believe is with her now) and was so positive that we all were certain she’d win. When the end came it was quick, shockingly so.
After her diagnosis, Lea continued attending writing conventions and events. She smiled and was her usual amiable self in spite of the fact we all saw the weight she had loss and how pale she was. Because I’d fought this battle with my wife, I knew she was in pain and suffering the effects of chemotherapy. Not once did I hear her complain or ask “Why me?”
I don’t know if I have the courage to act as these brave people did. I’m well aware that death is an appointment we all have ahead of us, but we don’t know the date and time. I am now 72 and pretty much stay to myself. However, I have come to realize that there seem to be only three times when a family or old friends get together: weddings, class reunions, and funerals. Unfortunately, there seem to be more of the latter than there are of the other two. A website which keeps track of all of the Caribou High School grads who leave us has become larger and larger. It is fast reaching the point where the list of those who can’t attend reunions exceeds the list of those of us who can. If I had any clue that old age was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have worked so hard to get here.
Many years ago, the Marine Corps taught me: “When you get a chance to eat; eat. When you get a chance to sleep; sleep. You never know when you’ll get another chance.” I am realizing how valuable a lesson that was: When you get a chance to help someone–do it. When you get the chance to tell a loved one that you love them–do it. When you get the chance to forgive someone who has wronged you–do it. Because you never know when it will be your last chance.
I will always miss these people and as I look around at my immediate family I see how old we are and the battles with declining health they are fighting. I will do everything I can to help them and stay positive while around them. As I did with my wife. Until then I’ll do my crying in the dark and while walking in the rain.