I was sitting gin a hotel room in New York City last Thursday on the second day of the PhotoPlus convention I was attending with my colleagues. As a pro photography lab, our company was an exhibitor, which meant 10 hours on our feet each day, no time for breaks (or eating for that matter) during the show, and horrendous color coordinated outfits. On Thursday night, we all drudged back to the hotel exhausted and ready to finally sit down for a meal. My cell rang as we were deliberating whether or not to make reservations or venture out onto the street without them, and my Dad was on the other line.
"John Shank passed away," he almost whispered. I didn't understand what he said at first and asked him to repeat it. "John Shank passed away," he said again in a slight yell. I think he must have been terrified knowing that John, just a few years older than himself, dropped dead without warning.
John was the father of Carrie Shank, a dear childhood friend and friend to this day. Although we lead very different lives, mine in the city and hers in the country, we always manage to reconnect whenever it is that we see each other again. Carrie is expecting a baby in mid-December and I actually visited her just two weeks ago at the baby shower. We had spoken when she found out she was pregnant and again when she found out baby Grace's sex, but I hadn't actually seen her with that tummy. I teared up as I wrapped my arms around her for a hug and that bump hugged me back. She looked just gorgeous.
That Shanks were the family always brave enough to invite all the kids to their house, so growing up, their farm was the epicenter of parties, sleepovers, and swimming in the summer. Mrs. Shank, Sharon, loved a busy house and John just went along for the ride. Although there was a time or two when my Mom dragged me away from such parties because the Shank's weren't home to supervise, John and Sharon were always on their way home or not far away and would call my Mom to explain and ask if I could come back.
Sharon was so proud at the shower and thrilled to see me there. We too hugged and she asked about my upcoming wedding, my parents and brothers. It had been a long time since I had seen her so happy. She had a particularly hard time when Carrie, the only girl in the family, went away to college. She shut down and just looked empty when I happened to bump in her the few times I was back in our hometown. Yet, at the shower, she was surrounded by several old girlfriends with whom she had reconnected, laughing and telling stories.
When I got the news, I collapsed back on the hotel bed and asked a blur of questions. John had celebrated his 55th birthday with his entire family and headed home after dinner to fix the mailbox he had accidentally run over with his tractor. A neighbor found him minutes after he collapsed. He died at the end of his driveway from a massive heart attack. When I got as many answers as there were to be had, I hung up the phone and started to cry.
I wasn't exactly what I would call "friends" with John, he was my father's age after all, but he was a part of my life as a teen and most importantly, Carrie's Dad. What hurt most was that my friend had lost her father. It stung even more knowing that baby Grace was just a few weeks away from meeting her grandpa. And what about Sharon? I'm sure when Carrie left home for college and eventually got married and moved out, Sharon turned to John for support. I am confident he was an integral part of helping her cope and bringing her back to life. Now, he had left her too, but this time it was forever.
Of course friends and family asked the typical questions, "why did John have to die?," "why was he taken at such a young age?," but all I could think was "why right now?" People die, I've come to terms with that, and it can sometimes happen when least expected, but didn't John deserve to live just two more months to see the birth of his first grandchild? Kiss her just once? What could the family have done to be punished so severely? This is something I don't think I'll ever be able to wrap my head around.
I am not a religious person, but I think I am spiritual, and I truly believe that John will be a part of baby Grace, beyond simply genetics. I want to hope that he will be felt in the hospital room that day in December and when Carrie and Sharon look at that precious newborn, they will also see a rebirth of John.