Monday, June 04, 2007

Only the good die young

I went to a funeral last week for someone only four months older than me. Kim Delgado, 31 years old and a former employee of mine, passed away only six weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She had been sick off and on since returning from a vacation to Aruba in November, and the doctors figured she just had some exotic strain of a virus that would clear up.

Over time it became evident that something more serious was going on. That’s the problem with pancreatic cancer, and the reason it’s the most lethal form of cancer – it looks like a dozen other things before it’s usually diagnosed.

The funeral was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Plantersville, TX, more than 50 miles north of my office, and my office is already in North Houston. This was way out in the middle of nowhere, Texas. It was funny driving to the funeral. At one point at a stoplight in the small town of Magnolia, there were eight vehicles waiting: two Lexus sedans, two BMWs, a Jaguar, a black Dodge Intrepid (me), and two white Ford F-350 trucks. Guess which vehicles had driven in from Houston for the funeral, and which vehicles belonged to the town’s citizens who were merely coming in for lunch after working on the farm all morning.

The church was absolutely beautiful and the funeral service was well done. Somehow I don’t think I’d ever been to a Catholic funeral before, and for the most part it was pretty standard. One nit, though – the entire affair took more than 80 minutes, but less than two minutes was spent remembering, talking about, or otherwise focusing on Kim. It was basically a standard Catholic Mass, with a 90-second eulogy. It’s totally the family’s choice how they do things, so I don’t begrudge them that. But note to my own family: let’s spend some time sharing about the special person we miss at our funerals.

The most touching point was when Kim’s father spoke a very brief, 30-second message to his daughter’s remains (she had been cremated). He said, “Kim, we used to love going to movies together. Remember when we’d get into the theater early, then I’d leave to hit the concession stand? I’d always ask you to save me a seat. Well, that’s still what I’m saying. You’re in a better place, and you’re not sick anymore. I’m glad the pain is gone. And please save me a seat.”

Kim worked for me for about a year at my last company. It was typical high-tech corporate matrix organization – Kim reported to me although nothing in her job overlapped with anything in my job. But there was no other manager available for her, so I took her on. She was extremely sweet and we enjoyed working together. Well, not together since our jobs were so different, but we at least worked in awareness of each other.

We had at least one meeting face-to-face every day, but much of our working relationship took place through instant messaging (IM). I’ve never been a big fan of IM, but she liked it so I went with the flow. It actually worked out pretty well, because she could send me a quick question, and if I was busy on the phone or in a meeting, I could wait to answer until later.

We stayed on each other’s IM list after I left the company, and every few months we would have a quick online chat. Her avatar picture was a self-portrait of her face, so it was kinda neat to get a popup window on my screen every morning when she would log in to her computer at work (I get to the office earlier than just about everybody else).

It dawned on me a few weeks ago that I hadn’t seen her face pop up on my screen in a while. Now I know why.

31 years old. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on April 4. Died on May 26.

The priest mentioned the song, “Only the Good Die Young” during his comments. He said that was certainly true in Kim’s case. He also said that for some of us, it means we might be around for a long, long time.


~aj~ said...

Michael, so sorry about the loss of your friend. Last year, I had a family friend that died within weeks of being diagnosed with cancer. It was such a shock and impossible to understand.

I'm glad you were able to make it to her service and say a last good-bye.

Bob Barbanes said...

You know I never liked that song. *Only* the good die young? I don't think so, don't believe it. What does that say about the rest of us? *Sometimes* the good die young, yes. Just like sometimes the good die old. My father lived to a ripe old age, and my mom is still going strong at...what...88 now? So don't give me that "only the good die young" stuff, thank you very much.

This is not to diminish the loss of your friend/coworker. It's always sad when somebody we know dies, especially if it seems "before their time," whatever that means. But we all die. No one gets out of here alive. If we believe in life-after-death (and I do), then this mortal life is but an eyeblink compared to eternity, especially if that eternity is spent in God's presence (instead of the slugs I sometimes have to associate with in this reality).

The Catholic funeral mass is more about the soul's transition into heaven, which we celebrate while other religions put less emphasis on it. For Catholics, the time to celebrate the person's life is during the wake before the funeral, although eulogies can be as long as necessary during the mass.

I've been to funerals in other religions, and I've always left feeling...I don't know, "unsatisfied" I guess. In some, it was more about the loss of the person themself rather than any concern for their soul and where it's going now. There is a reason that we hold funerals in church, and not in a gymnasium.

I'm sorry for your loss. She must hvae been a very nice person.

MamaRose said...

SO SORRY about Kim's shocking death--shocking because she WAS SO YOUNG & shocking because she 'went' so quickly! There are pros & cons to dying quick & knowing for a while--so all your loved ones can come SEE you & get their 'last words' INTO you. And, of course, the EASIEST/best way, most of us think, of dying is IN OUR SLEEP--for the one dying, anyway.
I do TOTALLY AGREE with you, for our family, that since we KNOW where our souls are going & are already there--our funerals should be to REMEMBER the nice, funny, endearing, and unique things we said & did that MADE US ME/US!!!!!
Lots of families DON'T EVER get together, except for at funerals--which is very sad.
After my recent Lasiks surgery this Monday, Dad reminded me that I'm going to DIE SOME DAY, ANYWAY!
Which I knew/know--but, I reminded him that I was going to be SEEING MUCH BETTER BEFORE THAT HAPPENED!!!
LOVE YOU BUNCHES!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mom

Redlefty said...

Thanks for the comment, Bob, and for clearing up the Catholic approach to the purpose of the funeral. That is very beautiful and other religions could certainly learn from it. It sounds like funerals I've been to are about grieiving, while the ones you've seen are about transition. One is looking back and one is looking ahead, and both seem to have value in the process of losing loved ones.

And for what it's worth, I 100% agree with you on the "Good die young" thing -- I mentioned it because the priest quoted the song. There are jerks who died young, every day, meanwhile there are great people who thankfully have blessed our lives with their long presence on earth.

Thanks again for your input -- it was educational for me.

Bob Barbanes said...

Ahh, "...the process of losing loved ones." If only there was an instruction manual! We have these traditions (funerals and such) that try to give us such a "process," and it's good that we have those. But they can never tell us how to feel.

I was moved by your recent story about the boy who was gunned down in the street on his way to school. I felt sad for him, and then I thought, "Why? I didn't know him. And he's undoubtedly in a better place now." Still, death...especially young disturbing, as if the natural order of life is being messed with.

When my dad died, I took it fairly well because we had a long time to come to terms with it prior and prepare. But later, my best friend unexpectedly killed himself and I felt like a part of me had been ripped out (he'd been in a lot of emotional pain).

So we do the best we can. We focus on the person's life, or we focus on conferring their soul to heaven...but it still doesn't completely help diminish the hurt in our lives of losing them. That's the part I haven't figured out yet.

By the way, I greatly enjoy your blog. Your stories always touch me. (Good touch...not bad touch.)

Hal Johnson said...

Yeah, I'd guess that the cognoscenti would tell us there's nothing to the idea that especially good people are taken from this earth early. I've read that our memories put an accent on the deaths of those we consider among the Especially Good, thus the perception that good people leave us while young.

I dunno. Yep, lots of good people live long lives, and lots of nasty ones check out early. And yet, when I take stock of those in my circle who've departed this earthly plane at a young age, I can't shake one idea that runs through my head: "Their mission on earth was done." Silly, maybe. Maybe not.

Redlefty said...

Great thoughts; pilots!

Anonymous said...

Kim was a close friend of mine when I moved to Houston the summer before my junior yr of highschool...she helped me to adjust to living in a place where I knew no one...sadly we lost touch after highschool and I had been for the last few years, trying to track her down, only to find out inadvertantly just the other night through a class of 94 group on facebook of her was a horrible shock and I wish all the more that I could have reconnected with her...I am so glad to know that she had a friend who cared so much about breaks my heart that she never got to achieve all of her goals in this life, but it helps knowing that people cared about her....thank you for the post....jennifer