“We were more than friends. Neither time nor memory can honestly measure all that we shared over the years. I made the mistake of believing we would be doing even more than that in the years ahead. But too suddenly, too tragically, Tom was gone.”
I wrote the above just over two years ago, but the feeling has yet to diminish. Tom Sheehy, architect and longtime Evanstonian, died after an auto accident on his way to meet me for breakfast. I am still angry about the unfairness of his dying. No one deserved more what Tom was looking forward to in the years ahead, especially with his family. He had a bucket list, but I don’t know what was left on it.
More important than what was ahead of Tom, though, was what was inside him. A man of strong faith, he also had questions challenging his Church to be more Christian, more grounded and radical in Jesus’s teaching, more relevant to today’s world and its needs. Tom, a Peace Corps volunteer, was a peace corps all by himself because of how he lived. He did not love lightly and moved in a very wide world.
He said he never wanted to be limited in any way. I envied him that attitude since I had so many boundaries left over from my seminary years. He was good for me, helping me to grow, listening to my questions and sharing his own. His caring and presence were unconditional, nonjudgmental and always encouraging.
I had also written after he died that “Male friendships…rarely go deep – at least not as deep as ours did.” We met more than 30 years ago in a men’s sharing group. Though it took a while (extraordinary weekend retreats, personal crises and other issues) for the group to go deep, Tom, I felt, was its principal catalyst in getting there.
So, too, in our relationship.
Tom took the risk to be vulnerable with me, and I returned the compliment. The two of us began to meet for breakfast, sometimes lunch, to share our lives, ourselves and eventually the challenges of aging. We talked books and movies, religion, philosophy, politics, relationships and, of course, bragged and worried about our kids and grandkids. And we talked about death. Neither of us feared it, though we clearly had concerns about how we might die. Heavy stuff that we would laugh off with a wish to die with dignity, preferably while sleeping. Tom did not get his wish. His loss remains almost beyond bearable.
I foolishly thought that things like that only happen to other people and still chide myself for such arrogance. The precious gift of life is fragile for all of us. The suddenness of Tom’s death was no different than that of so many victims of gun violence and airline tragedies. So sudden, so unnecessary. I can only imagine how his family must still feel.
Tom had many friends. What I found in him – an acceptance, unconditional love, a humility that gilded his values and creativity, and an ever-seeking faith that shunned the darkness with an always encouraging light – I am certain they did as well.
I miss him terribly, still, at least as much as I miss my twin brother. Tom’s dying was not kind – either to him or to me and all who loved him. Yet, I am grateful for my memories – and knowing just how healing, over time, love can be.