Saying Goodbye


A story from The Richest Man in Town

Marty and I were sitting at his kitchen table when he asked me for a favor. "I want you to give the eulogy at my funeral."

We had never talked about death. "Well ...," I said, fumbling for the right words.

Marty wasn't going to let me squirm. "Mick and I sat down with the funeral director today and did some pre-planning. We didn't think it was fair to leave that stuff up to the kids. So we decided to take care of things early just in case something happened. Will you do it?"

I stuttered a bit, but then the right words came to me. "Sure, Marty. I'd be proud to give your eulogy. It's probably going to be pretty long, though."

He winked at me and replied, "You take all the time you need."

It was Marty who didn't have enough time.

A little over two months later Marty found himself in the hospital. For more than a year he had been losing weight, and doctors couldn't figure out why. His white blood cell count was low and he was advised to quit work. White blood cells fight infection, and doctors feared he might fall victim to a disease passed along by a customer.

If he couldn't quit working, one doctor suggested, he might consider wearing a mask and stop shaking hands with customers. Marty wouldn't even consider it. "Now, that would kill me. I won't do it," he said.

Marty continued to shake hands-and he continued losing weight. Something was wrong.

A diagnosis finally came: an infected gall bladder. Now Marty faced the decision of surgery. "Well," he said, "I can't go on like this."

Mickey called me after her husband had left the operating room. The surgery had taken far longer than expected because the infection had spread beyond the gall bladder. "He's a mess inside," she said.

Marty was in for the fight of his life.

I decided not to visit Marty for a few days. He needed rest, and the drugs for the pain made him a little incoherent. He was dropping in and out of consciousness.

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V.J. Smith
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