Tonight I attended a wake for a friend and co-worker. Jeff was a 28-year-old technology development guy, whose easy smile, boyish good looks and absolutely scrupulous approach to his work made him enormously likeable and enormously respected.
Jeff had just gained a big promotion that included a title and a move to Florida, which was where his wife was Wednesday morning, looking for a new house, when she got the news that he'd died in his sleep.
I can't imagine the heartache that call must have caused, in part because it was not a surprise at some level. Jeff was a Type I Diabetic (sometimes called a Juvenile Diabetic).
I'll spare my usual diatribe about Type II Diabetes being a self-inflicted illness and instead just say that Type I Diabetes is a terribly unfair disease that takes too many young people far too soon. To live with Type I Diabetes is to obsess about food, about medicines, about exercise. Not enough? Too much? Do you have your glucose tabs? Your juice? An extra injection? What if they only have bagels at the breakfast meeting? For those who live with the Type I diabetic, every day brings the possibility of a mistake that can result in a trip to the hospital, or coma, or in some cases, even death. The disease takes a lot of teen and young adult victims.
Maintaining the right level of insulin for overnight is the toughest part of Type I. Almost anything can upset the careful balance: illness, stress, even changes in weather. Most of my single Type I friends have a "wing man" who calls them at 6:00 am to make sure they wake up and to call 911 if they don't. It was a hideous coincidence that one of the few mornings his wife wasn't there to check on him, Jeff's insulin went terribly out of balance and he quietly slipped away.
The line into the viewing tonight was an hour long. Jeff's family greeted every visitor with a polite grace underscored by a numb, blank-eyed exhaustion. In contrast to the gatherings that surround the passing of our eldest, where there is a natural discussion and banter that can border on light-hearted, there was little conversation in the room. At one point later in the evening, I saw his young widow, for a moment released from the receiving line, standing in the center of the room, utterly alone. She stared at the video screen, then projecting a photo of her and Jeff from a vacation, the disbelief on her face palpable and heartbreaking.
But not one tear. In fact, while every quiet conversation in the room was punctuated by broken voices, I saw no tears on any of the faces. Maybe some events need so many tears that it seems an utter futility to let the first one fall.
Sometimes, it seems that God calls the best of us home first. Perhaps it is to teach humility to the rest of us.
All I know is that Jeff was one of the good guys, and he left us far too soon. I'll miss him very much.