If You Get There First

Some months ago I learned that a childhood friend had died. More than 40 years had passed since we’d had any contact but the nWayne Shackelford 1972ews was still troubling. For most of seven years we had been like brothers before our lives forever separated. As I read his online obituary I saw a life cut short by illness but lived fully. In his bio I wanted to recognize threads of this life that connected with mine. It’s easy to think back to my 12 year old person and recall our adventures and growing up. I hope along his journey that he too found joy in those times.

My friend Wayne was only 49 when he died. Back in our youth, Wayne and I would have thought that 49 seemed ancient. In 2013, the life expectancy in the United States on average is 79 years. For a male in 1957, the year of my birth, the life expectancy was 66 years. So, we live longer now and advances in health care keeps bumping up the quality of life factor as we age. Cancer mortality seems to be on the way down but incidents of cancer have risen; diagnosis and treatment is also rising. The rate of persons with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in the United States is growing. In the next ten years, the number of cases is expected to grow 40 percent to more than 7 million Americans. One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or dementia. So, on average, we may live longer but the probably increases that we will have cancer, dementia or Parkinson’s disease. Wayne was on the wrong side of that average.

Wayne and I grew up in a quiet Midwestern town where you could leave your front door unlocked and send your kids out on Halloween without much concern. The cliché of life was simpler then is true. In the late 1960s, life got more complicated though some of us barely noticed. A few short years later, adolescence would bring a state of confusion. We enjoyed being kids, but like most, we were in a hurry to grow up. At that age you don’t realize that there is a line that separates childhood from that mystical zone of quasi-adulthood. Once you cross the line, you can’t go back. Just like the scene from “Field of Dreams” when Moonlight Graham steps across the white line and changes from a ballplayer to an elderly doctor.

In the first part of your life you are in a hurry to grow up. The middle part of life is spent trying to figure it out, and the last part trying to slow it down and hang on. I doubt that either Wayne or I had a real clue about life but each of it us would figure it out on our own. Wayne moved away before the start of high school. We corresponded a few times and then we lost contact. It is difficult for me to think about that part of my life without remembering the amazing times we had. Mark Twain might have enjoyed those antics. I am writing a longer version of that period now that the statute of limitations has long past.

Death is a difficult part of our journey. The most difficult part is helping to consol others when the tragedy of loss is just impossible to bridge. Others are better at finding the words to comfort and support; my attempts, while heartfelt, always seem weak. I’m not a very religious person but I consider myself more of a spiritual person. I recognize the healing power of prayer and the fellowship of others to get through difficult times of loss. I’ve been to so many funerals in recent years that strangely it is getting easier for me. Instead of checking the sports scores in the morning I tend to check the obits in my hometown newspaper. No, I’m not looking for my own name although it will be there one day. Perhaps one of my pals will see it and think back to earlier days and maybe crack a smile. The statute of limitations will be passed so it’s fair game.wayne shackelford

Wayne Kendall Shackelford

(1957-2007)


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