Rynie’s Song

Small table-top urns, two of them, showed up recently on my cluttered library’s desk — one blue, the other gold, matching my late sons’ eyes.

My wife placed the decorative little canisters there, probably as a shrine. I don’t know, haven’t asked and won’t. In fact, I never even mentioned the eye-color coordination. A coincidence? Maybe. But I doubt it.

Who knows? Maybe someday my ashes will wind up in a similar setting. Though I can’t say it matters much to me. I live for the present, which in my world ends with death. When it comes, they can do with my ashes as they wish. Throw them to the wind, if they will, snort them through a silver straw or stir them into a cup of coffee or tuna casserole. Their choice, totally irrelevant to me.

I do feel compelled to express how deeply I’ve been touched by the outpouring of support following the recent death of Ryan, the son who died a day short of his 29th birthday, three-plus years after his older brother. Frankly, the community response has been stunning, exceeding anything I could have imagined, with literally hundreds of cards, emails, phone calls and impromptu conversations in the public square, all of it heartfelt and genuine.

Never comfortable as an object of sympathy, I’ve graciously accepted it from friends and family, old teammates and sporting pals, and those I’ve met in my 35-year travels compiling information for this space. Also chiming in were those who’ve ridden the roads and walked by my side along wooded trails far off the beaten path, old lovers and classmates, even a man who once popped up from behind my parked car on the street late at night outside a seedy bar and knocked me cold with one well-placed shot in the dark to my left cheek. We got over it, became friends, a dimple’s still there as a reminder, and here I sit, still going strong, building strength for my final flurry.

Although all the sympathetic support is appreciated, I must admit that what’s touched me deepest is the response from many people I’ve never met and probably never will — all of them readers. These folks have read me for four decades, watched me grow, and feel like friends. Nothing could be more rewarding for a man in my line of work, taught long ago by a late journalistic visionary that: “If all you make in this business is friends, you’re not doing your job!” That and, “If you write it well, even people who strongly disagree will read you.” Well, I have not made only friends, but believe I’ve made more of them than enemies, for which I am grateful.

As for departed son Rynie, well, what can I say? When his aorta split in September and he heard terrifying late-night gurgling deep in his chest, he finally gave in and called the ambulance that lugged him to Franklin Medical Center. There, after his grave condition was diagnosed, doctors gave him a slim chance of surviving the trip to Baystate/Springfield for emergency open-heart surgery. As they wheeled him out of the emergency room off Sanderson Street, he issued only one request. It was, “Please don’t call my parents.” I guess he wanted to spare us the pain after witnessing with us his dear brother’s final breath in a Burlington, Vt., hospital, following 76 horrid days in ICU, the result of errors and complications from the same surgery he himself was facing.

Rynie was strong enough to survive the long, delicate wee-hour surgery and, remarkably, returned home in less than two weeks. Then he appeared headed back to his previous existence before it all came unraveled. Though privately tormented by looming mortality he could never ignore, he didn’t talk much about it. But when I left an opening during intimate private conversation, he did reiterate many times that he didn’t want to die in a hospital like Gary. Then, with the end near, he almost pulled it off by passing to another place seated in his favorite green La-Z-Boy recliner. He knew he was sick and in rapid decline but told nary a soul.

Not even the visiting nurse detected anything during her final visit, likely less than 24 hours before Rynie slipped into the unresponsive state my wife found him in on the morning of April 6. Nine days later, after briefly rebounding with the help of powerhouse medicine I think he should have been spared, Rynie expired from an insidious, systemic staph infection that had fouled his prosthetic valve and heart, rendering him “terminal.” He seemed to be recovering, but we were told that neither surgery nor antibiotics could cure him.

Reviewing his Facebook site last week, I stumbled upon a short, profound muse he posted on March 15, a month to the day before his death. He must have sensed something running amuck internally and during a quiet, pensive moment wrote: “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives!!!”

That was the Rynie I knew and loved — a brave, defiant and sensitive young man his harshest critics never knew because he refused to let them in. Most of those folks will probably never understand what he meant by that philosophical Facebook muse or, for that matter, ascend to within a faint whiff of the wildflowers in bloom along the lip of the lofty spiritual plane from which he pulled it.

Take it from his dad: There was much more than met the eye with Rynie. That’s why, as parents, we supported him through good times and bad. Life wasn’t fair to my tall, handsome, hazel-eyed boy, who lived and died with a tender heart and the unbridled spirit of a wild stallion.

He did it his way, and in the end died with dignity where he didn’t want to be.

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