In Memorium – Don Brown
Today has been a bitter sweet day for me. Sweet because my wonderful little boy is home, and for me, it is awesome to hear his giggles, feel his hugs, see his grins and sparkle in his eyes, and of course, the house is no longer quiet as it has been for the past two weeks.
On the other hand, my friend that I wrote of earlier, passed away yesterday evening, and I am grieving. Grieving that I was not able to get in to see him one last time. Wendy is grieving as well because she wanted to visit him after she returned from Edmonton – why couldn’t he have held on just one more day?
I have spent my day commenting on other blogs while sitting beside my phone, in case Don’s wife calls – she wasn’t home when I called earlier – and wants or needs some assistance. I’d go and visit with her, but I’m not sure where she might be right now.
Don fast became a very dear friend of mine, and I appreciated the opportunity to get to know him. He had a fascinating life – which included being employed by the NSA at one point, back when the very existence of the NSA was denied. He was stationed in Turkey during the Cuban Missile Crisis and was involved in cracking the Soviet codes which provided the American Government with intelligence that helped to thwart a nuclear war. Don claimed that at that point in history, folks don’t realize how close the world was on the verge of nuclear war. It was days and minutes.
Don also loved radio, and spent time in New York as a broadcaster on a popular radio station there. In recent years, he set up his own little mini radio station in his home which you could tune into on the FM dial and listen to within some miles of his home. He also had his own Internet “radio” station which my business hosted for a period of time, that was for his old NSA mates that worked with in Turkey – they had their own pirate station back in Turkey.
Another interesting bit of trivia about Don – he was a highschool classmate of John Ashcroft. It was interesting to hear Don’s opinion of Ashcroft, and some of his stories about that, which I won’t get into.
Don became almost like a second father in some ways to me, shortly after my own father passed away. We had met previously, but one day, Don came rushing down to my office as he had information about a business “partner” I had taken on, and that was about to do something that could f*ck me royally. Although Don didn’t know me well at the time, he took an interest and we together, with Don providing “intelligence” about this “enemy” of my business along with analysis (I think he really loved doing all that stuff), we managed to avert what could have been a major crisis while playing our own games.
We spent hours upon hours in each other’s company, going over details, predicting what might happen next, coming up with strategy to make the “game” go our way where we’d have more control of the situation, the timing of when we’d do things, and covering every single base. Knowing a person like this, and having them on your side is something that no one can place a value on – and all the while, Don did what he did out of concern, and eventually a strong friendship and mutual respect that grew.
In the years to follow, whenever I needed a second opinion about something, all I had to do was call Don. Don didn’t need to know all the “technical” information, but he knew what questions to ask, what information he did need in order to provide his advice. Most of the time I took his advice. When I didn’t take his advice, he didn’t care that I hadn’t – it wasn’t like he needed me to take his advice in order to be important or anything.
At times, it was like Don was a part time unpaid employee. Whenever something would come up that was urgent, Don would make himself available for assistance, moral support, or even just to be there to make coffee and interrogate us all to make sure we had all our bases covered.
Other times, he’d just drop by to chat about stuff, and of course, he was always up for a good debate on something.
I don’t remember exactly when it was – about a year and a half ago, maybe two years, when he dropped by my office, sat down, and said bluntly, “Well, I have lung cancer.”
He was going to fight it. And he fought it well, to the point where he had some hope that the cancer had disappeared. And he’d talk about his dreams – of somehow getting high speed internet out into his part of the country so he could dispense with dial up, how he was going to expand his servers he had co-located with me, work on his Internet radio program, and of course, always available if I needed some help or research done on something.
I was not aware of the seriousness of his condition when I discovered he had been admitted to hospital in December for an operation on part of his spine. I had thought this was part of his recovery process, and it was not until two weeks ago or so that I discovered that Don’s condition was worsening. But even then, I did not really know that it was going to worsen as fast as it did. So for me this past week has been … well, I don’t really know how to say it.
Due to a scheduling error regarding Wendy’s flight from Edmonton last night, I did not make it to the hospital to visit Don in the afternoon as I had planned. I had believed that the flight from Edmonton would not be arriving until after 11PM – and was planning my day based on that. Then the error was realized – the flight was arriving at 9PM. By the time this was discovered, I was unable to get back for another visit.
On the way home from the airport, Wendy and I talked about going in to see Don today. I had told Don on Friday that Wendy would be home and she’d be coming to visit on Sunday. He smiled and his eyes twinkled when he heard that. He whispered, “Thank you.”
This morning, when I listened to my phone messages, my biggest fears were made real. Don had passed away yesterday evening. Wendy is devastated that she was not able to go and visit with him before he died. I’m terribly sad that I could not make one more trip into the hospital to hold his hand. For me personally, it’s too much like when my father passed away, and I did not make the phone call the night before that I had planned on making.
Don loved jazz music and old 50’s tunes. The other day when I was visiting with him, in his hospital room, I thought that I would bring in a cd player with some cd’s for him to listen to, if he wanted – if that would bring some pleasure and enjoyment to him in his last days.
I truly feel cruddy right now. I know, folks will say, “Don’t feel guilty about what you couldn’t do, or for things not turning out the way you hoped, or blah blah blah…” but truly, that doesn’t really help, does it? All we’re left with are “what if’s?”
And yes, we must get past those “what if’s,” but perhaps we can also learn something from them as well. Right now, I’m not sure what to learn from them. I’m not sure I even want to be taught any lessons right now. My sadness and my own sense of loss is much too overwhelming.
But then my son is home, and his cheery, laughing, giggling, and loving self is comforting. He has no clue about Don. Life is just a wonderful adventure for him, and I’m happy to participate in his adventure. But even David reminds me of Don, for David was born at home – I was the “attendant” at his birth – there was no time for doctors or ambulances to be called. In order to legally register David’s birth, I needed a witness to the fact David was born to Wendy, and of course, Don was called upon to sign his name to the affidavit that we had to present at the Town offices.
My own sense of loss is very personal to me. Who am I going to call now, when I need some of that “NSA” type of analysis and intelligence for some problem I’ve never faced before? Or when I want to hear his very dry sense of humour that I enjoyed so much? Or when I just want to let him know about some achievement, or wonder when he’ll just drop by to say hi and talk servers, computers, and Sendmail?
Shortly after we had first met, and he had helped me out so much, I sent Don a thank you card in the mail. He called me up after receiving it, and jokingly said I was being “melodramatic” with that thank you card. He was suggesting my appreciation was not really required, yet I also know from his other words to me that deep down, he appreciated knowing that I appreciated knowing him and his abilities to help me.
Good bye, Don. And thank you. I only wish you could call me “melodramatic” once again, and I could then tell you how deeply I appreciated our friendship and your guidance when I asked for it.