Merrium-Webster defines grit as: Firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.
I love this word and it’s definition. Cancer taught me I had grit – so there’s a positive that came out of a negative! Grit is a quality you are never quite sure you have until you have been tested by life. And sooner or later, life will test us all. When you are suddenly looking at the very real possibility of immediate suffering and impending death, you find out what you are really made of. I was lucky, my treatment was successful and I survived. Someone I loved very much, who had been a constant friend and brother to me for over 35 years, didn’t. He died last year, and I still think of him every day.
But I had the great privilege of being with him two weeks before he died, and holy shit, did he have grit. He showed unyielding courage in the face of hardship and danger. His beautiful and loving wife had called me and made it clear that if I was going to see him before he passed, I needed to come right away. They were living in Berlin at the time, so of course I dropped everything and immediately flew there. She could not have given me a greater gift – I will always be indebted to her. I knew he was sick, and that his condition was tenuous, but I didn’t fully understand how bad it was.
She had gotten him a hospital bed in his music room in their apartment, and he had palliative care nurses coming in several times a day. When I got there, he gave me a key to his place so I could just come and go without waking his wife and baby. He was so sick that there was no longer any sense of night or day, so it didn’t really matter when I came. There was a sofa in his room, and I would go there several times during the day or night, let myself in and just sit or lay down on the sofa, grateful to be with him. He would periodically wake up, and we would have conversations just like we always did, except now he was in constant pain and dying quickly. I could see the tumors growing from day to day. I went back to my hotel and cried every night.
But not once did he complain or ask “why me?” Maybe he was too weak to be really angry, but I just remember thinking he was exactly the same guy I had loved so much all those years. We still laughed, talked about music and life – he played his guitar some (and even tried to sing). We shared a long history with lots of bizarre twists and turns, similar dysfunctional childhoods that should have made us turn out different, but somehow didn’t. Like all long term relationships that span decades, we shared personal references in our language and humor that no one else would ever understand.
Saying goodbye to him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was up all night thinking about what I was going to say – how do you say goodbye to your friend who is dying? I had an early flight so I went there around 5:30 in the morning. I sat alone on the sofa in his room for a while before he woke up. He said “So Dav, you’ve got to go?” I said yes, went over to his bed, kissed him, told him I loved him, and left. He died two weeks later.
As sad as this is – I am grateful for every fucking minute of life I had with him. And I remember him with joy and admiration. He will forever be a part of me. He had grit.