Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Mario and David - Christmas 2011

I was driving to Chico on Friday when Mario called me.

“Pull over,” he said, in the voice he uses when there is an emergency.  But I was on that unfortunate stretch between Lincoln and Wheatland where there are no turnouts or shoulders. 

“I can’t,” I said.  “What happened?”

“I don’t want to tell you while you’re driving,” he said at first.  After I explained that I could not pull over, he told me that he had just received an email from Terry, one of our best friends, telling him that Dave Smith had died.

Dave Smith, Mario’s best friend.  Dave Smith, the best man at our wedding.  Dave Smith, our daughter’s “step-father.”  Dave Smith who helped us put all of our houses together.  Dave Smith, the relational equivalent of super-glue in our family.

I was sure that it was a mistake.

I finally pulled over on some side street that led to somewhere I didn’t know.  I was seeing rainbows and hearing a ringing in my ears.

“Are you sure?” I asked, in desperation.  We had just seen David the weekend before, at the annual Smith Christmas party where we exchanged white elephant gifts that made us all shriek with laughter.  Where we hugged and made silly faces at each other.  It was all a movie in my head, and I could still feel David and Terry’s hugs.  “Have you called Terry?”

After a weak exchange of flighty conversation, Mario said that he would call her.  He also told me he could not help the urge to get in the car and drive to Walnut Creek and be with her.  I completely agreed. 

“As soon as you know anything, let me know,” I said. 

A few hours later, Mario called me from Dave’s house.  He was with Terry and Michelle (Dave’s daughter) and the news was definitely true.  David had experienced a “major cardiac incident” and had died in the early morning hours of December 16.

Before and After - "Wait a second!! I didn't know you were taking a picture!!" 

I made my way to Chico on auto-pilot.  I knew that I would have to tell our daughter the news before she saw it on social media.   We wept on her laundry room floor, holding on to each other. 
Mario and I did the best we could to make it known privately to our kids that Dave had died. Their reaction was much like ours:  shock, denial, and finally the personal brand of acceptance that only death can bring. 

It is still hard to believe that it is true.

I can remember the day that I met Dave Smith.  I met him at a track meet where he and Mario were competing.  Dave was tall and athletic, like Mario and they related to one another like brothers.  I loved him immediately, even though I could tell that Dave and his wife, Peggy, were careful with me. 

I was Mario’s new girlfriend, another one that came after Mario’s divorce from Cathy.  David did not believe in divorce nor did he approve of Mario dating girls afterwards.  I was the last in a long line of “less-desirables” (Dave’s words, not mine). Dave and Peggy were best friends with Mario and Cathy and they were polite, but reserved with me.  Later David told me that he didn’t want to like me.  “You were taking Cathy’s place and I didn’t want that place taken.”

After a strange and wonderful courtship, I was accepted into the “circle of trust” and Mario and I were married.
David toasts us at our wedding

Our kids and Dave’s kids grew up together.  We were all friends and we were completely unready for a life event that changed everything: David’s divorce from Peggy.  The news sent us reeling.  After all, Dave and Peggy were our solid couple friends and we were not prepared for the next few months. 

After the divorce, Mark, David’s eldest son, contracted type 1 diabetes.  The disease was one that affected all of us – we grieved that this was life-changing for Mark and had no cure.  At 15, Mark was sentenced to a life taking insulin with a syringe, a feat that he had to do not once, but twice every day. 

Mario and Dave became even closer.  They now had something else to discuss: how to survive a divorce, especially with kids involved.  The process was strangely bonding and through it all, both men became closer to their maker.  They learned how to forgive themselves.  Our families healed as much as we could.

Terry and Dave by the BBQ - 2012

I met Terry, the first and only girl David dated after Peggy, the day of their wedding.  She was tall and beautiful.  She was a Christian.  I was so attracted to her – and her desire to adore Christ.  She loved Dave and she came with three incredible kids.  I loved her immediately – even though I felt like I was “cheating” on Peggy.  Did my love for Terry mean that I no longer supported Peggy?  I felt the same feelings that David felt toward me. I could now see how he felt conflicted accepting my presence in Mario’s life.

When she was eight, our daughter, Alicia, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  As I type this, I remember our familial panic.  Our first call was to David, who brought us down to earth and told us he would be there “after church on Sunday.” He and Terry came to the hospital with a cookbook of sugar free desserts.  I wept in Terry’s arms, David could barely talk.  I remember how Job’s friends came to him and just sat…. that’s what we did.  We just sat together and said nothing.

At eight-years-old, Alicia was not as discouraged about her diagnosis as we were.  Instead, Alicia wanted to know why everyone in her family had a stepfather but she did not.  We tried to explain that step-fathers were only given to kids whose parents divorced, something that we were sure she did not want.  David stepped up and silenced us.

“Hey, I’ll be your step-father, if you want one.”

Alicia was filled with gratitude.  “Really?  Will you?”  From that day forward, David was her step-father.  This was hard to explain to her friends, or their parents, at first.  Eventually, they saw that the relationship was hilarious, and a cause for laughter.

Laughter is what Dave championed.  He would make fun of politicians (“Their dentist is also their proctologist”), people who drove badly (“They should be issued a golf cart, not a car!”), and even his own physical form, which was changing with age (“I am proof that crack kills!”).  The family Christmas party was one that we enjoyed together, the same friends and family, year after year.  Even when we were in Africa, the Smiths were in our lives.  We would come home, jet-lagged and exhausted, from Johannesburg, and flop down in some bedroom of the Smith home for two days before we felt normal.  The Smiths were always our touchstones.

Getting ready to throw something on the grill - 2012

The truth is, we all have our Dave Smiths.  They are the guys that make us real.  They are the ones that stay in one place while we find ourselves and decide who we are.  They are the touchstones of our lives; the glue that holds us together.  They are the ones who we relate to effortlessly for years.  They are what we Americans call “best friends.”

I grieve in incomplete stutters and fits. I will be wrapping presents and remember David and Mario exchanging stories of their growing boys.  I will suddenly remember Dave’s ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat.  I will remember his laugh and his jokes. 

Dave installs soffets at our Kubel Circle house
One final thought that makes me sum up who he was: David helped us get our last house ready to sell, and he and Mario did most of the physical labor.  Suffering with Scleroderma (a chronic connective tissue disorder that is an autoimmune rheumatic disease), Dave often left our house exhausted and in pain.

“Thanks, again, David,” Mario would say, hugging him.  “What do I owe you?” Many times, Dave would only take money for gas. 

“This is what friends do for each other, right?” he would say.  

Mario would laugh and shake his head. “When have I ever done this for you?”

David would think, looking up at the sky.  “Hey!  That’s right!”  He would pretend to be mad, getting in his truck and slamming the door.  “See if I ever help you again, you free-loader!”  The guys would laugh and Dave would wave as he drove away.

That was David: always giving much more than he took.  He was, indeed, the best friend any person could ever have.