“George died today.” That’s all the e-mail said. That’s all it needed to say. I stared at those three small words for quite a while.
George has been living with brain cancer for more than a year. I remember him telling me so long ago that he was having trouble getting the kick stand on his bike up. “My balance is fine,” he said, “but for some reason my leg just won’t move right to put the kick stand up or down. I’m afraid someday I’m going to pull into the garage and have to let the bike fall down so I can get off it.”
George’s wife, Kim, would bring George to our American Legion Rider (ALR) meetings. We’d pass the hat to collect money for those in need. George would invariably put ten dollars in the hat himself, even though we’d sometimes collected the money for him. One of our new members noticed it right away. “When I saw a terminally ill man, dying of cancer, donating money to those less fortunate — when I saw that I knew I was seeing a rare form of humanity.”
The ALR held a fundraiser last year for George. He didn’t know he was to be the recipient of the funds; all he knew is that there was a fundraiser being held, and that meant someone needed help. His wife drove him in their car along the route of the poker run. George donated extra money, not knowing he was the guy we were raising money for. We raised a fair sum… turns out, though, that we were only able to pay for three of his pills. It’s expensive to be sick today.
A few months later we went to visit George and Kim and sat in their home, surrounded by Army memorabilia and rodeo posters. George had been in the rodeo in Europe for years. He said he wanted to go to Texas to visit his family. A long trip. The ALR helped get some gas money for them to get to Texas. I gave him and his wife a photo album. Our chaplain gave him a special cross.
Four months ago George came with us to stand in the flagline for a young soldier killed in Iraq. He stood tall in the snow, flag in hand, honoring the dead soldier. His wife quietly told us that George had been ill all day and hadn’t been able to keep any food down for quite some time. Yet there he stood, tall in the blowing snow, holding the American flag.
A month or two ago we took George on a ride with us. A couple of our members knew a lady with a trike. We all rode to George’s house on the appointed day, lined our bikes up and stood at attention in front of our bikes until George came out the door. We came to full salute — a way for us to respect our buddy. He thought that was neat. We got him on the back of the three-wheeler and roared off to a nearby town for a couple beers, then rode back again. He had trouble walking, and seemed a little confused at times, but he sure had a good sense of humor!
A few days ago I got an e-mail from George’s wife. “He’s fallen several times,” she said. “He’s mostly just sleeping now. They’re giving him morphine.”
Then this morning, “George died today.”
I sat quietly staring at the words. I told my wife. We held hands for a while and talked about George and his wife, Kim. I e-mailed the ALR and told them the news, and left a voice message for our group’s chaplain. Then I got another e-mail from George’s wife…
“GEORGE IS ALIVE,” was the subject.
George is alive. Turns out his wife had written and addressed the first message earlier, presumably so when the time comes to send the fateful three words she could do so easily. She had been planning ahead. But this morning she accidentally hit the “Send” button.
“George is alive,” the new message said. “He’s watching TV…”
Rarely have I been so happy to have emotional whiplash! George is alive. His time will come soon, I’m afraid, but not just yet…