I just found out that someone I knew, and cared very much for, died last year.
He was my boss and co-worker for a short period of time. But, even after I left the company and he subsequently moved across the country, we remained friends. I visited him in Los Angeles a couple of times. He reciprocated my annual Christmas cards. We talked on the phone periodically - just to catch up.
Then, as it happens, we drifted apart. He left the industry that had brought us together. My life got infinitely busier with a teen-aged son and a job with some responsibility. Every 6 months or so, I'd think of him and wonder how he was faring. It became increasingly hard to find him with Google searches and his seemingly meteoric career path had suddenly stopped in its tracks. And I started to worry.
You see, my friend was diagnosed HIV positive when we worked together. I don't know how many people knew this but he had told me and, while he was always upbeat and optimistic about his life, carrying this knowledge meant that I got to worry about him - even if it was my own, private worry.
I guess I always assumed that we'd cross paths again someday. That, somehow, we'd find each other on Facebook or LinkedIn or some mutual friend would mention that he'd seen him and gotten his email address. It never occurred to me that he would die before I got to talk to him again and catch up on our lives.
There's little information in the obituary but I'm assuming that he died from complications from AIDS. He was 45 years old and had moved back to the east coast prior to his death to be closer to his parents and siblings. This is the tell-tale sign of a chronic, mortal illness - going home to die.
Someone built a "guest book" on Legacy.com where people can leave messages for the family and friends of a dearly-departed. My friend's page is a cavalcade of names I'd forgotten - long-ago coworkers, bosses, and acquaintances all eloquently expressing their pain. It's a huge comfort to me knowing that I wasn't the only one who regarded him as a special light in their lives. I want to reach out to these people and commiserate, but I feel guilty that he's been dead for a year and it's new news to me. What do I say? "Sorry I'm just now grieving but I was too busy to know what had happened?"
When it's all said and done, there's nothing I could have done differently I guess. I made the occasional effort to keep up with where he was and what his life was like but I feel like a heel for not trying harder. I'm going to miss him worse now than I've missed him for the past 8 years because before, at least, I knew that we'd reconnect - someday.
Rest in peace, Dan. I hope that they're right and we still have a chance to find each other again. My life is less without even the possibility of your friendship in it.