I’ve been throwing the term “warrior” out there a lot recently in describing myself and others battling in my world. For a while now I had been searching for an appropriate word that depicts a fighter. This is because that’s the mentality I must have to push myself forward each and every day. Almost like a mantra I repeat to myself each day. It seems so silly to me sometimes. But even when you know in your heart there’s no giving up, for me I have to acknowledge it out loud and hear myself say it. I’ve been advised by friends to come up with a #hashtag that would stand out and could describe me. The only thing that came to my mind (that wasn’t already taken out there in the interwebs) was #ALSWarriorRich. Yeah I know… slick and sexy, it is not!
So in this post today I would like to write about what a warrior means to me, because it became very clear and very real to me this week. You see this week I lost someone in my world. A fighter, a brave man that looked down the belly of a beast and battled heroically till the very end. A Warrior.
I’d like to introduce you to my friend Jack. Jack was a good friend. We met under difficult circumstances about 10 years ago. We were joined in a different type of battle back then. We built a friendship. We laughed, played guitar together, learned a lot and we were there for each other for a short period of time which felt like ages. After that we would share a front row seat next to each other from time to time and have a chance to check in. Jack was strong and brutally honest and emotional, just like me. He got even stronger in the end. We weren’t best friends by any means, or long time school friends. After 5 or so years we would rarely connect very much. We could see that both of our families were doing well. He posted pictures of his cute son and photos of the food he’d prepare like a professional chef. That’s what happens with friends sometimes… and it’s ok. Life happens and the world spins on. But I didn’t forget that bond we had built and neither did he.
You see over this past year I was struggling privately with my ALS diagnosis. I told no one for many many months. One day I saw a post from Jack and he was in a hospital bed getting tests done. I didn’t know what to think or how to react. At that point I didn’t know that Jack was undergoing cancer treatments. He was brave and so open as he shared his journey, his fight, with his followers out in the open… he battled. As it turned out Jack was dealt a very rare, aggressive cancer.
I finally got the strength to reach out to him by text and see how he was holding up and we once again laughed and we cried. I shared with him that I was also battling a rare and terminal disease. I told him that I don’t know how he did it, sharing so vulnerably to the world? I was terrified of that. He counseled me on the therapeutic and medicinal effects of opening yourself up. And not just the bad stuff. I’d see photos of his smiling face with his beautiful wife and handsome son. He was putting together a cookbook to leave behind with all of his amazing recipes. I marveled at his strength.
Well a few weeks later I decided to share my story with others in the rest of my world. The good, the bad and the ugly. After I wrote out a long post on social media telling the story of my battling an ALS diagnosis, Jack called to check in with me this time. He asked how it felt to let others in and open up about my struggle. He was right, the outpouring of love, compassion and support was overflowing. It was such a nice moment, we joked as only two friends can do. Two good people who have worked so hard to be better people, great dads with bright futures ahead, only now we were dealt really shitty hands in life that were completely out of our control. After sharing some tips and advice to stay strong, we wished each other Godspeed and promised to continue to check in every now and then.
That would be the last time I’d hear from Warrior Jack. Three or four weeks passed, and I didn’t see any social media posts. The other night I saw the the most beautiful sunset from my apartment window. I could feel something greater than myself, something so peaceful wash over me and bring a tear to my eye. I went over to visit Jack’s’ FB page and saw the announcement of his passing. His heroic fight was over. His beautiful family by his side. Jack’s pain and suffering was over. He rests peacefully now, a Warrior. A brother in arms.
The term Warrior now has the meaning I was looking for. This is how I must lead my life. Everyday. Every minute.