Memories of a Dear Friend

From “A Wish” by Victorian poet William Winter
Think of me as your friend, I pray,
And call me by a tender name:
I will not care what others say,
If only you remain the same?
I will not care how dark the night,
I will not care how wild the storm:
Your love will fill my heart with light,
And shield me close and keep me warm.


You’ve been gone almost four years and I still miss you “Banger” .
The following blog was originally posted on August 20, 2011

This morning I woke up thinking of a dear friend of 30 years who passed away last year about this time. Ultimately not taking care of himself combined with bad habits and the unmanaged stress of a challenging life did him in. If he cared about someone he would do just about anything for them. Like the photo above suggests, he was great fun to be around.

His nickname, “Banger”, began in reference to his first car which was a “beater” and did not fire on all cylinders consistently. Hearing the car nearby back firing, his friends would say “here comes the banger” which over time became adapted to be his nick name.

I met Bill at a radio station where he came to work as an Account Executive. He was good at selling, even selling himself. A funny story about getting the job was the listing on his resume of spending a year and a half on the road as a wholesale ceramics sales person. That is a true statement, but lacks the detail to show that job was for a ceramic company that made bongs he peddled wholesale to head shops in the Midwest. What makes this even more ironic is Bill never used a bong or anything of the sort in his whole life!

Within less than a year of meeting ”Banger” I was at his bachelor party. He and his future wife had been living together and now that she was expecting he deemed it time to get married. That was the night he introduced me to something called “purple Jesus”. I remember clearly him showing me a good-sized new plastic trashcan about a third filled with red liquid with sliced fruit floating in it. I asked why the name “purple Jesus” and Bill said, “drink enough of this and you’ll go see Jesus”. After a half a glass of the stuff put me into orbit, I stopped short of going forward to test his prediction. What was it? A concoction of red Hawaiian punch and grain alcohol with sliced oranges and limes floating in it.

Bill would never say exactly, but I have always wondered in what measure was love his motivation to marry as compared to a sense of doing what he thought was right. I do know he had a high sense of honor and he loved both his children. By the time he had two sons a few years into elementary school he was divorced. He never remarried.

The heart wrenching part of Bill’s life was when his youngest son was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. The boy was six or seven years old when the doctors made the determination. Clearly I recall over time watching the disease progress. One scene vivid in memory was when Bill came to visit one afternoon and both his boys were playing with my son. All three had gone up stairs which the son with MD negotiated with some difficulty going up, but to get down my friend had to carry him. Soon the boy was in a wheel chair.

Within a year or so Bill was the parent the boys lived with full-time. He took good care of them as best he knew how and was especially devoted to the younger one bound to a wheel chair whose disease progressed slowly but steadily. The young man was smart and always quick to smile. He had a bunch of friends, of which one or two were there just about always when I dropped by. He shook hands with two presidents and was a “poster child” for MD twice. What he told his Father consistently was when things got to where he could not breathe unless hooked to a machine; he wanted Bill to let him go. That time came when the younger son was around 20 and in the hospital only able to breathe with mechanical aid. He told his Dad it was time and within two days the young man was gone.

Bill had always been a drinker and as his boy’s illness grew worse, Bill’s intake grew. He was not someone who got sloshed in public and got into trouble. Instead he did it quietly mostly in the evening, often after the boys were asleep. ”Banger” smoked and did not watch his weight and became heavier and heavier as the years passed. By the time he accepted his health was in trouble it was too late except to buy a little time. Quitting smoking and drinking did extend his life a while, but living with 10% liver function did not present a lot of hope. Bill was on a transplant list, but was never healthy enough for the surgery.

For over a decade my friend and I lived hundreds of miles apart, but stayed in close touch mostly with frequent phone calls and I visited him about once a year. He drove out to see me twice. The last year of his life hospital visits were frequent, but he always came through . Some of us close to him swear it was on pure stubbornness!

Bill passed away on a Tuesday and late the week before my mobile phone rang and answering I heard a soft and weary voice say “how you doing boy?” I told him I was doing well and he replied “I just needed to hear your voice Brother”. I asked how he was doing. His said he was struggling and that even getting up to get to the bathroom was a major chore. Bill did not give me a chance to say much more. He said he was very tired and had to go. Then again he told me he called to just hear my voice. Some of his very last words to me were “I love you Brother” to which I replied “I love you too “Banger”. Then with a couple of “talk to you later’s” the less than 60 second call was over. I know now what Bill did, but probably didn’t consciously know himself; he called to tell me goodbye. My gratitude that he did exceeds my ability to express it.

He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need:
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If you wake, he cannot sleep;
Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part.
Richard Barnfield