My friend Ray was a great guy. He was larger than life with a history filled with stories of music, laughter, family and service. He had a deep booming voice and a tendency to hit all the notes but to mix up the lyrics. Or sometimes he'd just make up a random word if he couldn't remember the right one. It never failed to make me giggle.
We must've looked like quite a pair when we stood next to each other in choir, a rare event for a bass and an alto anyway, but made moreso by our dramatic height difference and the fact that you could probably fit all of me into one of his pant legs.
What made Ray a unique friend was his humble and sharing spirit. As a young woman with a serious heart condition, it was rare if not impossible to find another person my age who understood the life that comes with heart failure. Meeting Ray was an "ah-ha!" moment - I learned in a flash that my support system would look different than I imagined - I could find camaraderie with the old guys. See, Ray was 44 years older me - old enough to be my grandpa - yet spirited and smart enough about his condition to see it fit to befriend a young'un like myself.
Ray and I (and Jim) began supporting each other through our various heart trials. We compared stories about tests, drugs, and procedures. I became used to hearing Ray asking me, "hey, kid...so they put me on this new drug..." And since we saw each other every week it was easy to keep track of what we were going through.
I called Ray from the hospital after my a-fib diagnosis just to hear him tell me (like seeing him wasn't enough) that yes, you can live with weird heart rhythms. He clued me in on the dangers of amioderone and I listened with to him share his struggles with weight loss. We commiserated over the low-sodium diet and the charming effects of lasix.
Ray died this past Saturday after a hard struggle with lung cancer. I have missed hearing my friend's voice in choir and I will miss his support and friendship. My heart goes out Sandy and his family. And Ray, wherever you are, thanks for ignoring the 44 years between us and helping me feel less alone in my fight.