“You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo”
-Lose Yourself, by Eminem
Starting with the good news: I became an uncle for the first time in October with the birth of Brady Mark Hurst to my younger brother and his wife. I’m damn proud of both of them and their kid is great.
Now, with other news: we drove a ton from November on, which is weird because I moved here wanting to drive LESS. Seattle and back for Thanksgiving, Riverside, CA and back for an early Christmas with my wife’s family, Seattle and back again for Christmas, then a trip to Seattle, Wenatchee and back for a memorial service.
And the worst news: my dad’s best friend Alan Adamek, and a pseudo-uncle to my siblings and me, passed away quickly after a cancer diagnosis we were told would span a few years. From my perspective, he went from “hey, we’ll see you in the spring” to “Alan has days to live”. It was tough on all of us, and affected me far more than I expected.
It is this last part I’d like to talk about.
You see, Alan’s wife Colleen, along with their twin daughters (three years older than me) and their son (nine years older), were a huge part of my childhood. We spent summers at their house. We went camping with them. We went boating with them. We spent NYE with them. They were as close to us as family could be. Unfortunately, because I had been away in AZ for so long, I missed out on a bunch of camping trips and whatnot.
But missing those times in AZ didn’t make the news any easier. The day my dad texted me about Alan’s condition, I called him immediately. In shock, he said the cancer had spread too far and that Alan may not even be able to make it home from the hospital. Sitting in a Riverside, CA campground at the time, I knew there was no way I could get back to see him almost 1800 miles away.
So I did exactly what my dad told me not to: I called Colleen. And I bawled. We talked, we cried, and I wandered around trying to determine if driving or flying up there was an option, then realized Alan would have beat my ass for spending so damn much money to see him in a hospital bed.
I then did the only thing I could think of: I turned my video camera on and started talking. I thanked Alan for my great childhood memories. I thanked him for having such great kids. I thanked him for being him, and for living a life worth remembering. I sent the video off to my siblings so that they could show it to him during their visit the next day. It was all I could think of to do.
Days past. From 1800 miles away, I monitored Facebook and my texts, with my dad sending us updates from Colleen. “Alan is sleeping a lot” they said. “He’s very comfortable, and happy he was able to see Brady (my nephew)” they continued. As the second-most influential man to my childhood (my dad is first) lay dying miles and miles away, I continued on with my Christmas trip and quite enjoyed my time with the Charland family and my buddy Don Crossland.
Over a week later, my dad sent us all a text that Alan had passed away, peacefully in his hospital bed, at 3am. His suffering was over. Memorial services were up next. Originally planned for the week between Christmas and NYE, the Adameks decided to push it back another week to give everyone a bit more time to plan. Per Alan’s wishes, he wanted his service to be held on a Saturday so no one would have to miss work to attend.
The Friday before, as Katie and I made plans to drive to Seattle late that night to meet my parents and then ride with them to Wenatchee the next morning, I remembered that I had digitized our VHS tapes and that Alan was on them. Looking into the archive, I saw that I had few hours of footage from around 1984, which would be put my parents, Alan and Colleen at just about 35 years old.
Hop into the car Katie and I did. When I got to my parents’ at 10pm that night, I headed straight to my dad’s iMac and started pulling all the footage with just Alan in it from nearly 30 years ago. We had camping footage from Swauk Creek, a backyard pool party in Wenatchee, a few boating trips on the Columbia, and our near-annual sledding trip to the hills of Wenatchee (or East Wenatchee, I can’t remember).
For the next five hours, I watched and cut and listened and teared up and re-arranged. I tried to tell some semblance of a story from the clips I had, and eventually cut those 35 minutes down to a tidy 1:39 set to Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying”. Now, it wasn’t the best video. The timing is off in scenes, some are in slow motion to get the pacing better, but for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something hours before a HARD deadline (his memorial was 10 hours after I finished), I’m proud of what I created.
That morning, my wife, parents and I set out along Highway 18, east across I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, stopped in Cle Elum, and continued north on Highway 97 over Blewett Pass, then east on Highway 2 into Wenatchee. I’ve taken that series of roads more than any other outside of my home town and the 2.5 hours flew by.
Arriving at the church nearly an hour early, I remembered Colleen saying that anyone who wanted to share a story after the service would be allowed to, but dismissed it as something I wouldn’t do. Too emotional for me. While holding an entire row in the back for my family, I stared at a picture of Alan on the podium. I remembered and I started to cry.
And then I noticed my dad’s sister (they don’t get along at ALL, but they knew and liked Alan) walk past me to a pew a few rows up. They were there because I had invited them, and I knew no matter what issues she and my dad may have had, today wasn’t the day to worry about them. I strode up to my Aunt Sheril and Uncle Don with tears still in my eyes, thanked both of them for coming, and gave each big hugs. They moved from their pew to ours, and the rest of my family arrived.
There we sat, my Aunt Sheril and Uncle Don, my wife, me, my Aunt Bev (mom’s little sister), her husband Bruce, my sister Logan and husband Nick, my mom and dad, and my brother Bryan, his wife Sarah and their baby Brady. Not everyone who was a blood relative of mine was there, but most of them were and that was enough.
The service started. Words were said, poems were read, and thanks were given. A slide show was shown. People sighed, others like me cried, and then an announcement was made:
“if anyone would like to share a story about Big Al (that was his nickname at work, but I never called him that), we have microphones on both sides”.
There was a hush, and then a stout man with close-cropped hair walked past those side mikes and straight up on stage.
He was from Cintas. Yes, Cintas the work apparel company. Alan, after retiring about seven years ago, had gone back to work at Cintas. The gentleman, whose name I do not remember and I apologize for that, started on a speech of thanks you’d think could only come from a great friend. He stammered, he blubbered, and he struggled to read his speech, but read it he did.
“my god, this colleague, who admitted to only knowing Alan a short time, thought enough of this man to get on stage at his funeral and read prepared remarks? Shit, I need to go up there now. Dammit, I wish I had written something down.”
After he finished, I made my way to stage right, trying not to race the man walking down the other side. He beat me to his microphone, so I sat in a front pew just to the left and behind the Adamek family in the front row.
My heart was racing. My legs were shaking. My palms were wet and my eyes, which I thought HAD to be dry by now, were again welling up with tears. I couldn’t tell if I was nervous or anxious or excited or all the above and I started to worry if I could even will my mouth and vocal cords to work.
“Just breathe and talk, Tyler. No one is grading you here, no one is recording you, no one cares if you sound like a blubbering baby, but it would be really cool if you could get a hold of yourself long enough for everyone to understand what you’re saying.”
And then the other guy finished giving a far shorter speech than I expected. The man, who used to work as Alan’s competitor, praised him for his generosity and big-heartedness. I had nothing that profound to say, so I just started talking about what I remembered.
I remembered camping, I remembered boating, I remembered watching him skin game. I remember NYE with his daughters watching us. I remember him, Colleen and my parents laughing a lot. I remember them liking beer. I remembered, with apologies to my mom, when him and Scottie told us that “it’s better to burp it and taste it than fart it and waste it” (that got a big laugh). I remembered his being the second-most influential man of my childhood. And, on behalf of my family and my siblings, I turned at looked at his picture and ashes and said “It’s been an honor, Alan. Thank you,” (I stole that honor part from my brother, as that’s what HE said to Alan on his hospital bed).
Still shaking and with tears streaming down my cheeks, I made my way all the way back up the aisle to the last row, pausing just for a second to make eye contact with the Adamek family. I shook after I sat down, and I kept on crying.
After the service, I showed most his family the video I’d made. Armed with headphones and an iPad, they saw their 35-year-old husband, father, grandfather or uncle smile, talk to the camera, enjoy good times with his friends, walk away from the campfire, and, in his own words, say “buh bye”.
I suppose this sounds like I’m bragging about what happened to me and how I reacted, but it really doesn’t feel that way. I wrote this to both share my feelings about the life of a great man and to remind each and every one of us that we sometimes only have one chance to do something we want to do. I wanted to remind everyone that we’re ALL scared. I wanted to tell everyone that courage (they’re definitely different levels of courage and while this is safe, it certainly doesn’t FEEL that way at the time) has nothing to do with not having fear or anxiety or worry, it’s about acting in the face of it.
It’s about acting in spite of it. It’s about being willing to not be sure about what you’re doing and to do what you think is right based on what you know at the time.
Last weekend, and the past few months, were some of the toughest of my life.
And as I’m writing this, I also realize they were some of my best.
I wish everyone could feel this way.
Thanks for the help, Alan Adamek.