Sometimes, the good die young

May 28, 2009 

Memorial Day weekend has taken on a new meaning for me. I will forever remember it as the weekend my friend Nathan passed away, losing his battle with leukemia.

Nathan was a friend of mine for as long as I can remember. We grew up going to the same church in Bremerton, Wash. He was three years younger than me and was like my little brother. He liked to hang out with the older kids and was irritating in an endearing way.

Nathan was as smart as anyone I have met in life. He came from a family of hyper-smart people and might have been the sharpest of them all. When I went off to college in 1983, Nathan and I kept in touch. We would exchange occasional letters, and I would see him when I was back home for a weekend. In 1986, Nathan had just graduated from high school and somehow finagled a trip to South Africa at the height of Apartheid. He was the kind of guy who wanted to do his own research, to form his own opinions, and that trip changed him in a number of ways. He spent hours talking to me about what he saw and experienced - and how that differed somewhat from what he read in the mainstream media.

That summer was the last time I saw Nathan. He went off to college at the University of Washington while I finished up at Western Washington University. Then he headed to Harvard for graduate studies, ultimately earning his Ph.D in history. He was a lecturer at Harvard before landing at Troy University as a professor.

Soon after I was diagnosed with lymphoma last fall, Nathan reconnected, finding me through Facebook. Only months before, he had been diagnosed with a particularly nasty form of leukemia. He was going through chemo and was awaiting further treatment. It was bad, and Nathan knew it. He said as much in his emails to me and the "leukemia diary" he kept on Facebook. My challenges with lymphoma were immense, but they were nothing compared with what my friend Nathan was going through.

As I got better, Nathan got worse. He had good days and bad, but he always kept his sense of humor and intellect. In April, he went through stem cell transplant just before I got my final CT scan. As I was getting the good news in late April that I was cancer-free, Nathan was having difficulty breathing. On May 9, he wrote that he thought he would be out of the hospital within two weeks.

But that never happened. On Sunday, Nathan's sister Rachel posted a simple message on Facebook: "My brother is in heaven."

How could this be? How could he die while I lived? I get to hold my little daughter's hand. His little girl has lost her father forever. This is not fair.

I had so looked forward to a life of exchanging messages with Nathan, ultimately reconnecting in person once he defeated this mindless, incessant beast. But suddenly, he is gone.

This world is a little more empty without Nathan - and a lot less interesting. But heaven is greater for its gain.

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