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A Nomad’s Notes: The importance of keeping in touch

You’d think I would’ve learned this lesson more than seven years ago, when my favorite teacher in the world died suddenly. I wrote about Mr. McKee in a previous column. He was my eighth-grade science teacher, and I would testify before anyone worldly or otherworldly that we were kindred spirits of a sort. That eighth-grade school year more than 13 years ago will always be one of the highlights of my life, and he’ll always be one of the greatest people who’s been in my life.
And then high school happened, marching band happened, me being a busy idiot who forgot to make time to walk across the parking lot from my high school to my middle school happened, and I barely heard from him again. Our greeting to each other at my high school graduation was awkward and stilted, and I still hate to this day that that was the last time we interacted face to face.
I was able to meet his wife after his passing, and I filled a small journal about halfway through with stories about him and details about his funeral and getting to visit his house and take some of his belongings home with me. When Hurricane Florence threatened our county, those mementos were some of the first things I packed for evacuation.
So yes, you’d think I would’ve learned the importance of staying in touch with those I love. But it took a more recent death for me to realize it’s a lesson I’ve not yet mastered.
I had a friend from church who was recently killed in an auto-related accident. His family has been very distraught with his passing, as has our congregation. Because of circumstances I won’t name him, but really I don’t even need to: you just have to know how great he was.
I can’t remember when I first met him through our church. One day it just felt like he sort of showed up. He was relatively quiet, yet quite vocal with me. I remember he gave great hugs and he made me feel important, like he really knew me. I find I go through life trying to make sure people know they’re loved and heard and cared for.
I do reach out to family members quite often—so much so that when I first visited my grandma after learning she was dying, she told me we had a special relationship.
But despite all of this, there’s always a part of me that feels lonely, isolated, sad, no matter how wonderful things are at any given moment. I think I’ve just accepted that it’s part of being human.
But it felt like my friend was more perceptive than most. It felt like an unspoken understanding that he knew I felt that way. I’m wondering if he knew because he felt it himself at an even greater capacity.
When our congregation came together a few weekends ago to mourn as one, I got up and spoke, and that’s exactly what I said. He made me feel less alone, or at the very least that we could feel that loneliness together.
This summer at church he slipped me a piece of paper with his Facebook and phone number on it. He was an older man and it was strictly platonic, but I could tell he really wanted to be friends. We’re still Facebook friends.
And we texted each other some this summer, too. I believe he reached out to me first, which is a rarity in my world since I’m the first one to bug people typically. His enthusiasm at wanting to be my friend still touches me. And breaks me. Because right after I learned he died I went back and skimmed through our text conversation. We had talked about me going to New York City to see my favorite actor in a play, and we also discussed our mutual liberal views. The last thing he texted me this summer was a link to an article about Rachel Maddow. I forgot to text back.
I won’t delete the text, but I don’t think I’m ready to go back and read through it again anytime soon. I’m not one who handles regret well at all. Many people after losing a favorite teacher might’ve lamented the loss, but that’s life and people get busy, which is true. But this is me. Overall I’ve always been good at reaching out But in this situation I carried that burden of having lost touch like I was Atlas holding up the world. I can’t tell you how many gallons of tears I cried over those weeks after losing Mr. McKee, and that wound has not nor will it ever fully heal. I know this one won’t either.
During the memorial service for our friend, our congregation leader read an email from his mother, who said her son was upset because he’d not been to church in two months and no one had reached out to ask him where he was. I will take comfort slightly in the fact that I myself had been gone for at least a month from church myself, thanks to Hurricane Florence and subsequent visits from my parents. Another church member told me that just the Sunday before, my friend had called her and expressed the same sadness that no one had checked up on him.
What nearly pushed me into full-blown panic attack and pain at the service: the fact that he’d made me feel visible and I’d forgotten to return the favor. I only hope he can forgive me and wherever he is he knows we’ve not forgotten him. In fact, we’re going to start an outreach program in his honor, to reach out to members we haven’t seen in church in a while.
But I’m trying to make amends. I’m calling grandparents I don’t normally call enough. I talked on the phone for more than an hour with a relative this weekend; it was the first time we’d ever done that. I’m planning on reaching out to high school friends I’ve lost touch with. And I take comfort in that during the memorial service, a friend sitting next to me told me they felt forgotten when they were out sick but I was one of the few who checked on them and it made a difference. It really is those little moments — those texts, those emails, those phone calls, those small conversations after church — that can make all the difference.
So you have my email. You have my work number. They’re listed with my stories. If you have anything to say, feel free. Let’s keep in touch.

Lindsay Kriz is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or lkriz@brunswickbeacon.com.