Steve Patch was just 28 when he lost the battle -- just a month before he was set to be one of my groomsmen.
My stepfather-in-law, Clarke Curtis, had passed away only a month earlier in 1999 at the age of 51. My mother-in-law, Donna, would be gone two years later.
John Langham succumbed just this past year.
All gone before their time, all victims of something so terrible there is no cure.
I was on the way home from Charleston Sunday night when my cell phone rang and I found out that Mary McNeil had died. I cut the radio off and drove most of the way from Columbia to Augusta in silence.
Too many thoughts. Too many memories. Too many tragedies.
Mary's son Don and I were in the same grade. For a time, our scout troop met at the family's house. Her mom is one of my favorite people in the world -- I even call Mrs. Ruth "Gam" after all these years.
But when news that Mary was sick trickled into the weekly Rotary meeting recently, I never imagined this. I'm still stunned.
The hardest part -- even for someone who makes their living with words -- is what to say. I will never say I know what people are going through. I don't. Every situation is different.
I'm hesitant to even try offering words of comfort. The family has been bombarded with those recently -- my addition would only add to the heap.
But there is something all of Thomson and McDuffie County can do. Just as there will be hundreds of people walking in memory of long-time McDuffie County resident Pinkie Knox in the Heart Walk later this month, I challenge people in Thomson and McDuffie County to participate in the Thomson-McDuffie Relay for Life in May.
It is a short walk on a long journey to solving the mysteries of this terrible disease, but an important walk. For more information or to volunteer, contact Peggy Willis at 706-726-2244 or Bob Knox, Jr. at 595-1841.
In the meantime, be thankful for your health.
Then find someone who is not as fortunate and hug them. And hug their families. Take them lunch. Vacuum their house. Just do something.
They need all the support they can get.
The thing I've learned about death is this: even when it is completely expected it is a surprise. The shock just may not come immediately.
It could come days later, after the funeral when the house is too quiet. It may come much later, on a holiday when that person's seat is empty. Or it may come when you realize you are calling their answering machine weeks later, just to hear their voice.
Time truly does heal all things, but time takes time. And it all just crushes your heart.