“The roll of the workmen has been called, and one worker has failed to report”.
I dutifully hung my head as the familiar dialogue of a Masonic Funeral was read. I’d been in many Masonic funerals in my years as a Freemason. It is a beautiful ceremony, the same one performed for George Washington, and a show of respect for the fallen brother and a glimpse for the family into the ways of the fraternity the brother’s family never saw. They always make me sad, but this one really hurt.
This brother was also a very close friend whose loss I know I will feel for a very long time.
I first saw Adam from across the room at a meeting. The first thing I noticed about him was the absurdly round face. I observed that he was heavy, but his face was bloated beyond that. When he stood up I could see that he was in pain. This man had a story to tell.
As the room cleared at the end of the meeting I saw the small crowd gathered around him. Handshakes, hugs and greetings abounded, it was obvious that he was a beloved member of the lodge. I made a goal of getting to know him.
During cocktail hour I walked across the room and introduced myself. Never one afraid to approach a stranger, I stuck out my hand.
“Greetings, Brother. My name is Bill”. He stuck his hand out, “Adam.”
And thus began a beautiful friendship.
Adam had joined Freemasonry at the suggestion of his father. It was suggested that he would make friends, enjoy the fraternal bond, if nothing else to have something to do to get his mind off of his problems. He had many, chief among them being a Cancer survivor.
Adam was diagnosed at the age of 30 with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a highly aggressive cancer with a very low survival rate. Newly married, with a flourishing career and a young son, his life came crashing down. He survived, thanks to the wonderful gift of a bone-marrow transplant from his brother. It was an agonizing, extremely painful surgery for both, but his family continued to make every sacrifice they could for him.
A year later, Adam was living with his parents, sleeping in his childhood bedroom, a mountain of prescription bottles at his bedside. Divorced and friendless because his wife couldn’t handle his illness and his friends stopped calling him. Seeing his son every other weekend was the only glimmer of hope for him, he would tell me one day, keeping him from taking his own life.
I learned part of his story from mutual friends before he and I actually spoke of his travails. As our friendship blossomed he gladly told me the rest. Over lunches, cocktail hours at the lodge (his lodge, that I joined to spend more time with him) and hanging at his house he would tell me the stories about the events that led him to this point.
He was grateful for his new friends and humbled by the support of his new brethren. His father had been correct. His father was a 50 year Mason when Adam entered the fraternity and his father was enormously proud. His mother proudly beamed at the results his new circle had created for him. I vowed to be one of the best friends he would have.
Adam didn’t just take friendship, he gave it back. When he learned of my health issues he became one of my biggest advocates. He spent time at home on his computer researching possible treatments being developed, texting me his findings and always checking in to see if I was eating right, taking my meds, or just to see how I was doing. It isn’t lost on me to this day how someone who felt like garbage almost every day could manage to check up on me, and all of his friends for that matter, to see how we are. He was a special friend.
In the course of our friendship Adam had a rollercoaster of health challenges. On a flight to St. Louis he contracted a virus that caused him to spend 7 weeks in the hospital. He almost died, but he pulled out of it. He had two knee replacements, a hip replacement, a pacemaker and was hit by two more staph infections, one that required removal of both knee replacments. At the end of all of it, there he sat with his absurdly swollen face, a result of a massive amount of steroids and other medications. He was a fighter like no other I have never met. As his Facebook announced another setback, myself and all of his friends had faith that the tough sonofabitch would bounce back and smile that huge smile again.
This past December, Adam met a foe he couldn’t overcome. Another staph infection that the Doctors, despite their Herculean efforts, could not pull him out of. He was forced into a medically induced Coma at the end of January.
I found out too late, for some reason his father’s FB wasn’t showing on my newsfeed and by the time I knew it was too late to visit him. Had I been sitting next to him he wouldn’t know I was there. All of my prayers from afar wouldn’t change it. His parents thanked me for my friendship and support, I knew in their voices they had given up this time.
He died a few days ago.
I miss my friend. I regret not being able to thank him for his unwavering friendship and his eternal optimism. His selflessness in the face of adversity that would cause so many to wallow in a pool of self-pity. He was an amazing human being.
As I stood silently in a moment of prayer, I was flanked by dozens of brothers who knew Adam as I did. We all knew his family. We all knew the efforts he made for our lodge as he took different assignments to keep himself productive, a concept that meant the world to him. We all knew what a loss we had experienced.
I waited patiently as the procession slowly entered the funeral parlor, each waiting our turn to place a sprig of evergreen, a masonic symbol of the eternity of life, on his simple coffin. A rare tear fell onto my cheek, one of many that would fall that evening.
He is resting now, his pain is gone. The irony of it is that the cure for his disease killed him. If he were here right now he would laugh at that line, we shared a morbid sense of humor. Sharing the burden of Chronic Illness, we knew that laughter is the best medicine. I want to laugh at the funny exchanges we had over the years. I can still see his big, round face that initially caught my attention. The smile that shone through some tremendous sadness, the face of a truly great person.
Rest well my friend, I hope to see you again someday in the Celestial Lodge above that we, as mere mortals hope to achieve at the end of our journey.