I hope you’re all still with me after parts I, II and III of this story. If you’re just picking it up, you can be brought up to speed with just a few clicks. I’ll do my best to wrap it up this week. Up to this point in the week, we’ve just buried two loved ones, I’m a bit under the weather, my wife is a superhero, and the ever growing list of problems which individually would be minutiae have amassed to landslide proportions.

I awoke Thursday morning from a 19-hour slumber during which I stirred only three times when the epic pain in my body reminded me that it was time to take another dose of my meds. I looked to my nightstand and noticed that I had received a text message. The way this week had been going, I was reticent to even read it. It turned out that my fears were warranted. Yet again, someone else we cared deeply for had passed away. This one was perhaps the most blind-siding yet. A very close and dear friend had lost his life the night before in a freak boating accident. He was a truly kind, caring, and wonderful person who had just celebrated his 37th birthday earlier that week. My wife and our three daughters had just spent 4th of July with him, his family, and his fiancé only a week before, while I worked. He treated my girls as if they were, at the very least, his own nieces. His fiancé happens to be the very same wonderful woman whom I mentioned in part II of this story, hinting that she would come up again, later.  If you skipped over part II, I described her as follows: “if you’re not in love with her, then you’ve never met her.” She finally had found her much deserved happiness, and in an instant it was stripped away from her, giving credence to the myths about Friday the 13th. That quickly, one life was tragically lost, and countless others, particularly my dear friend’s, would be forever changed.

Her superhuman strength and resilience in the days and weeks that followed proved to be so miraculous that they’ve inspired me in so many ways. I can’t even begin to imagine what one of the most decent people I’ve ever known is going through, and yet she’s coping with it better than I am with a silly case of the shingles. How dare I! The much-deserved outpouring of love, compassion, and sheer humanity at his services was overwhelming. The funeral was the first time I’d left my bedroom in over a week, but I would not have missed it for the world. I know that his fiancé, my dear friend, would kick my butt for thinking what I’m about tell you but I have to risk that. I felt a wave of guilt come over me knowing that the four hours she spent sitting with my daughters earlier that week on short notice, could have been time spent with the love of her life on the day after his birthday, during what would prove to be one of the final days of his earthly existence. I know it sounds petty, and it’s most certainly not about me, but I would sell my soul to the devil himself to give them just four more hours together. He will remain in our thoughts and our hearts forever, and she exudes a strength that I could only aspire to in the farthest reaches of my imagination.

While making preparations to attend the aforementioned services, my wife and learned that yet another longtime friend of ours had passed away the previous week. I think everyone had just assumed that we knew about this, but in the hectic shuffle of our lives, we were unaware. So much for these things coming in three’s—in the course of six days, we had learned of the deaths of four people whom we cared deeply for. He too was a very good man who had been both a regular customer, and a friend to my wife and I for many years.

Well, at this point we had almost made it to the weekend. I’m still out of commission and in a great deal of pain. I’m resting in a home with five mouths to feed, and no income. Every phone call, e-mail, text message, knock at the door, and piece of mail has been nothing but bad news. But, one of the few standing rules in my home is that no matter how seemingly horrible things are going around us, we always try to keep our perspective and maintain a positive outlook and appreciation for what we have. There is never a lack of love or laughter under my roof. To illustrate my point, I’ll tell you a story that took place that Friday. As I lay in bed, barely able to move, my wife entered the room with a look of desperation on her face. She had been going through our bills and she said the following to me:

“Well I got our change jar out so I could roll coins to make a deposit. But we’re out of coin wrappers and we don’t have the money to get more.”

I looked at her and said:  “So this is what rock bottom feels like. No wonder it hurts like s#*t.”

She started to giggle and I then said, “other than that Mrs. Kennedy, how was Dallas?” At this time, we both started laughing hysterically.

I awoke Saturday to what I thought was the metaphoric light at the end of a really long and horrific tunnel. As it turns out, it was actually the illuminated face of my cell phone heralding a call from my father. You guessed it: more bad news. He was calling to inform me that my uncle had passed away. Now I’m thinking that if I’m going to keep making trips to the depression buffet, I’m going to need a much bigger plate. There’s damn sure no more room on this one. I admittedly had not seen my uncle in many years, but it did not change the fact that he was family, a loved one, and now he was gone. At this point, I was really starting to look forward to July being over. Later news of the passing of yet another friend meant that in the span of about 12 days, we had lost six friends and loved ones. Some of them led very lengthy, full, and fruitful lives; one was stolen from us in the prime of his life with nothing but a bright future full of happiness ahead of him. All left in their mortal wake, throngs of people who will miss them dearly.

In this same 12-day span, I was in bed with an illness that had me questioning my threshold to pain, and my masculine fortitude. I mean, come on. I’ve been struck by lightning (which is a story for another day), and freakin’ shingles is kickin’ my ass? Really? I was slightly comforted though when both my father and sister reminded me of a story about shingles. You may have read some of the many things I’ve written about my Mom. I honestly believed her to be invincible at one point. The woman vigorously and repeatedly fought cancer over a 13 year period without ever a single moment of self-pity or complaint. She sadly retired with a 5-1 record. Say what you want, but considering the opponent, that’s badass! This larger-than-life woman, even after all she had been through, said that shingles was the most painful thing she’d ever experienced. I asked my doctor how long I could expect it to last and she gave me an estimate of one week to one year. What is she, a freaking meterologist?

Throughout this awful week, I could deal with the excruciating pain and all the hardship around me, but the most difficult part was not being able to hold my babies. My 14-month-old daughter would stand at the baby gate by my bedroom door with outstretched arms crying and shouting, Daddy! She had a pathetic look on her cherubic little face as if she couldn’t figure out what she had done wrong and why I wouldn’t hold her. Trust me when I say that it was far more difficult on me than it was her, and that pain far exceeded the physical pain I was experiencing.

Sunday morning I received a text message from a coworker and close friend, which turned out to break the trend of bad news. She was asking if she could stop by the house and stated that she had something for me. The thought of someone other than a blood relative seeing me in a condition that made me look and feel like an extra in the bar scene from Star Wars horrified me. But the thought that she may be bringing me my desperately needed paycheck forced me to swallow my pride and agree to the visit. 15 minutes before her expected arrival was the first time I left my bed in five days, and I returned to it immediately upon her departure. It was nice to see a friendly, familiar face despite my embarrassment over the fact that the entire left upper quadrant of my body looked like a relief map of the Himalayas. We chatted for a bit and she handed me an envelope with a card in it. She told me that my coworkers had gotten together and wanted to do something to help my family. Inside the envelope was a get well card and a gift that brought me to tears. I won’t get into specifics about what they gave, but I will say that it was more than sufficient to provide us with diapers, wipes, formula, and groceries for the entire time that I was out of work.

A collection of humble service industry employees in the island of misfit toys had dug deep into their hearts and their pockets to help us out during a difficult time. My wife and I were absolutely floored by their generosity. She is the rock in our family and doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve like I do, but even she got a bit choked up. This was one of the most amazing gestures that anyone had ever bestowed upon me. This caring, thoughtful, and ridiculously generous act by my coworkers/friends impacted me so deeply that it made me want to be a better person. They are my family away from my family and I love them all. I believe I work with the best bunch of people that anyone could ever ask for. I can’t thank them enough, and don’t know how I could ever repay such a great favor. I’m a very lucky man. I’m sure there are much less painful ways to catch up on sleep and learn that you are indeed well-loved in the work place, but this was pretty damn cool.

I took a lot away from this tumultuous week or so. I learned that life itself is delicate and fragile and should be cherished. I learned that the strength, perseverance, and resiliency of some people in the face of tragedy never cease to amaze me. I learned that the worst of times brings out the best in people. I have a much greater appreciation for friends and loved ones. I now hold each of my four children a little more often, a little tighter, and for a little longer. I’ll never miss an opportunity to say the words: “I love you”. And I learned that the human spirit may in fact be the most powerful force on earth. As I close, I sit here humbled, (feeling much better by the way). My grandmother’s words from childhood rang out in my mind the entire time I was ill, and remain there still: “live each day like your last.” And with a renewed faith in humanity having inspired me to be a better person, I will. I hope you all enjoyed the story. Thanks for playing along.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols

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