In the past five months, I’ve experienced the death of two people I greatly admired, two people I counted among my closest friends. Both were within a year of my age. I feel their losses deeply, but I feel so very limited in what I can say or do for their spouses.
Jim Greco was my college classmate in Illinois who lived in California for a time.
Violet Flores was my neighbor in Los Banos for more than 15 years. Both were admirable people in different ways.
Jim was a born leader. In college he was a class officer then student government president while I was editor of our college newspaper. We lived in the same dorm and talked frequently about college and life. After graduation we stayed in touch, even while he lived in Texas.
When Jim and his wife Mary Ann moved to California, I was happy to reconnect and see them again. I had known Mary Ann as long as I had known Jim, since they dated in college. Their California home was near Sacramento, so it was easy to visit and talk about the old days and current times.
Eventually, Jim and Mary Ann moved to Colorado and then to Florida, and our communications became more infrequent. Last year, when my 50th college reunion was approaching, I was jazzed about seeing them. I was sure they’d come to Illinois in October for the event.
That’s when Mary Ann told me Jim’s Parkinson’s Disease symptoms had worsened to the point he couldn’t make the trip.
Somehow, however, I kept thinking his condition would stabilize, maybe even improve. But then I heard from Mary Ann in December that Jim’s health had declined further and doctors were trying experimental treatments.
When I heard from Mary Ann in February that Jim had died, it sucked the breath out of me. My heart went out to Mary Ann, who had lost her life’s companion.
Violet Flores loved life deeply. I recognized that years ago after my wife Sandy and I moved to a home next to the one Violet shared with her husband Art in the Meadowlands section of Los Banos. We came to know Vi and Art quickly and easily. They were friendly, easy to talk to and laugh with.
In fact, they’ve been some of the best neighbors I’ve ever had. When our street saw many families leaving due to foreclosures, the Flores and Spevaks remained and became even closer. Throughout all the ups and downs, we’ve remained not only good neighbors but good friends.
Vi was the heart of her family. She loved getting visits from children and grandchildren, many of whom lived in the San Jose area. They all loved seeing her, especially in the summer when they could have lively pool parties in the back yard. I loved to hear Vi and Art’s extended family playing and laughing next door.
Vi had so much life that I was surprised to find out a few months ago that she was having health problems. Before long, delivery men were dropping off portable oxygen tanks to help her breathe. I thought, and so did Art and her doctors, that her condition could be controlled.
So I was shocked last month when, after Vi had spent a relatively short time in the hospital, Art told me she had passed away. Once again, the air was sucked out of me and my heart went out to Art.
I understand a little of what Mary Ann and Art have been going through. My wife Susan died in 1999, five years after being diagnosed with breast cancer and then enduring surgery and chemotherapy. Like Jim and Vi, Susan died suddenly and unexpectedly, much too young.
I realized then the depth of grieving a person goes through when their spouse, their life companion of so many years, dies. I experienced a whole range of emotions I couldn’t have previously imagined.
I wish I could provide wisdom to Mary Ann and Art now, but I realize I can’t say or do much to bring them comfort. Even though I can understand their losses, I know all too well they have to work through their grief in their own ways before they can move forward with their lives.
John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.