I got a call Thursday afternoon from Melanee Webster, my friend Kevin‘s wife. They were at Yale/New Haven Hospital getting ready to come home. It was Kevin’s wish.
I’m not sure what her exact words were, but I knew what she meant. If I was going to see Kevin again, the time was now.
This evening, after our early news, I made the drive to Cheshire.
I remember the first time Kevin and I met. We’re both ham radio operators. A mutual friend, Harold Kramer, had seen my antenna setup in the attic. He thought I’d do better if my wires were flying in the trees, so he called Kevin and another friend, John Fowler.
Kevin came to my house to do me a favor. He didn’t know me. He didn’t have to. He did favors for friends and strangers alike as a matter of course.
I was amazed as he pulled out a slingshot… something I’d only seen in Dennis the Menace cartoons, and shot a lead line into a tall tree. Before the afternoon was over, I had a wire antenna strung between two trees at the 80 foot level!
Where did he find the time? Kevin had four daughters and was extremely active in his church. He was always busy… and yet he was always available. That ‘busy’ and ‘available’ weren’t mutually exclusive was just part of his magic.
Kevin and I quickly became friends. We built radios together, went to computer shows and ham radio events and talked on the phone.
He was the ultimate technogeek. As the allure of ham radio was replaced by computers, Kevin adapted, becoming everyone’s ‘go to’ guy for tech support and help. As with antennas, Kevin helped everyone.
Sometimes, when facing a particularly puzzling challenge, he’d call me for advice. I’d like to think he was more savvy, but he inherently knew two heads were better than one and he didn’t have a jealous or envious bone in his body.
A few years ago, Kevin got into kayaking. One Saturday, he found a kayak for me to use so I could join him for a float on a lazy river. This river was well beneath his expertise, but he gave up a little to afford me a good time.
I say without fear of contradiction, Kevin Webster is the nicest man I’ve ever known or will ever meet. He is the proverbial ‘shirt off your back’ guy.
He was always up, always smiling, always laughing, even when he found out he had incurable pancreatic cancer. That was nearly a year ago. Too damned short a time.
I spent a good part of July 4th weekend last year trying to make sure Kevin would get the best care possible. My weather partner, Dr. Mel Goldstein (a cancer survivor himself and incredibly well connected) made calls to the top specialists in the field.
It was a holiday weekend, but time was of the essence. Dr. Mel just called them at home. I will never properly be able to express my gratitude for what he did for Kevin.
When I first discovered Kevin’s fate, I thought to myself, God must have made a mistake. Kevin’s not the one to take. It just doesn’t make any sense.
I’ve thought a lot about Kevin’s mortality over the past year. Surely he and Melanee have considered it more, but it was on my mind too.
In March, at a poker table in Las Vegas, I sat next to a man who was a counselor at a hospice in Texas. We talked about Kevin and my fears for him.
“No one ever dies scared,” he said.
I was taken aback. I asked him to explain.
He told me he had been with 800 people as they approached death and none of them were fearful as they approached their end. It was among the most reassuring things I’d ever heard. I wanted to write about it then, but I thought it might be uncomfortable or disrespectful if Kevin read it.
My hope is Kevin is not scared about what lies ahead.
My friend Harold and I walked into Kevin’s house tonight and into a downstairs bedroom. There was some hospital equipment, a bed with rails and Kevin sitting in a big chair.
It was tough to look. My poor friend has been ravaged by his cancer. His skin was ashen, his eyes sunk deeply into his skull, his breathing was shallow. His feet were in socks, but so swollen it looked like they were in casts. Later, when I helped him move, I saw his bruises from dozens of injections and probes.
At times, Kevin would just stop all motion and blankly stare ahead as if he were in suspended animation. It was tough not to think the end was coming right there.
He said a few words and acknowledged our presence, but I’m not sure how much he really understands right now. He’s sedated with opiates to control his pain. It’s a guess he was drifting in and out of consciousness.
Melanee sat by his side and gently comforted him. She is his life’s partner… the girl he met while they were both students at BYU. They were each other’s only tue love.
Neither of them could have anticipated this outcome when they pledged their love and lives to each other.
Kevin will soon be gone. His body is shutting down piece-by-piece. It’s tough to imagine he’ll live more than a few days in his current state.
Kevin’s last year was spent in pain, while suffering the indignity invasive medical treatment brings. And yet, if given the opportunity to stop the pain… end his life early… he would have said no.
He got to spend time with his granddaughter and watch another grandchild swell his daughter’s belly. He got to see another daughter graduate college; the second to do so.
He was proud when Marlene, his youngest daughter, a high school senior, trained and ran a race for charity in Miami. She showed maturity as she tackled an adult sized challenge.
Kevin spent a lot of the last year being up and happy and smiling and… well, he was just being Kevin. Until the very end, cancer could not strip him of that.
The sadness we experience when someone dies is often so overwhelming, we forget what it really means. We mourn the most those we love the most. As horrific as that pain is, it is worthwhile because of what we got in return.
Kevin, I will miss you every day. Our friendship will live in my heart forever.