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My Life After Death: John, Walt...and Bo?

My grandparents lived down the street from a cemetery, the cemetery where they are now buried. We would pass this cemetery on our way to visit them when they were living and my dad would honk his horn as a sign of hello to a man he knew buried there, and would give a little wave.

I pass the cemetery where John and Walt are buried, weekly. I don’t honk, but I do give a little wave to “the boys”. Yesterday, I stopped at the cemetery on my way home from work to light John’s candle. As I drove through the winding, leaf covered paths, I thought it looked very “neighborly” and thought about who John and Walt are surrounded by. It is ironic that I know a lot of the “neighbors” personally, or through their loved ones. I pass the beautiful cross headstone of my friend, Bekah’s mother; the stone of Walter’s childhood friend, Joey; my friend, Linda’s mother in law and father in law; a well respected man from our church; my sister in law’s aunt; my friend Gordon’s dad; all in the same area and I see them each time I visit. There are also people that I have met over the past 14 years, who like myself plant flowers, put out mementos for the holidays, and lay wreaths.

And then there is Bo Schembechler, just a few feet away. John had the same type of cancer that Bo’s first wife, Millie had, Adrenal Gland Cancer. It is Bo and Millie who turned this devastating diagnosis into the world renowned Adrenal Cancer Center at the University of Michigan. John had one of his major surgeries mid July of 2001, and because of many complications he spent 42 days in the hospital, mostly in a medically induced coma, and then recovering. On day 43, Bo Shembechler came up to the 7th floor of Mott looking for John, who had just been discharged the day before. He had a variety of items for him, shirt, hat, signed photo, book about Michigan football and tickets to an upcoming game where we were able to sit in the press box.

A few years after John’s death Walt and I attended a kick off fundraising luncheon for the hospital. We found our table at the luncheon and to Walt’s right, we see a place-card that says, “Bo Schembechler”. Really?? He arrived mid lunch, and afterward he asked us if we had a personal reason for our involvement in Mott. We told him about John, and Bo’s eyes got teary and he asked hesitantly, “May I ask how John is, today?” We told him that John had died, and after more conversation we parted ways. I truly felt a God wink that day, and am glad we were able to meet him.

What I’ve learned over the last 14 years about child loss and grief, it is not just losing a child once, you lose that child over and over again as milestones occur, event’s are celebrated, additional family dynamic changes happen. It is brutal, but it is life and life is meant to be celebrated.

As I was raking up some of the leaves around John’s grave yesterday, the air around me was very still, but I looked up and the pin-wheel we have placed there started whirring around. I smiled, and said, “Hello to you too John!”.

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