Today, I honored the life of a man who could always make me smile when I needed it most. He brought joy to everyone who had the privilege of knowing him – and he gladly extended that privilege with a warmth and immediacy that made you feel important and understood. He cared how everyone felt, but he didn’t care what anyone thought about him.
I worked with Vinny for nearly three years, and in that time, I laughed to the point of tears on more occasions than I can count. How achingly fitting that sentiment seems now. My mind is struggling to comprehend the permanence of his absence, and yet I can still summon that boisterous, defiant laugh of his from memory.
When I left my job, I assumed on some level that I would cross paths with all of my former coworkers again someday. I envisioned business carrying on as usual, hoping my friends were all continuing to be happy, healthy, and successful. My last day at this company remains a blur of thank yous, well wishes, and goodbyes that were really meant to be see-you-soons.
At the time, I didn’t know that one of those goodbyes really was a goodbye. I didn’t say anything particularly profound or memorable. I didn’t tell this man how much he really meant to be, how much he enriched my life just by being himself, or how grateful I was to have known him.
I didn’t say that I’ll think of him (and Vanessa) every Halloween for the rest of my life. I didn’t thank him again for running alongside me three years ago at the Techie 10K when I could barely finish the race. I didn’t ask to see his tattoo one last time, although I know he would’ve shown me without hesitation (and a manager would’ve walked up at that precise moment, like clockwork).
I didn’t commend him for his bravery or express my gratitude for his service in the Navy. I didn’t tell him how much I admired him for being the sole provider for his family, or how deeply I respected him for being able to laugh in the face of adversity. I didn’t let him know that a conversation with him was often the highlight of my day, or how intently I would miss him from that day forward.
I didn’t say any of that, and now I won’t ever get the chance. I’m left with that hollow-yet-heavy burden of what I would have said.
As understanding as Vinny was, I don’t think he’d be able to relate to this problem. Unlike most of us, Vinny didn’t carry this burden of withheld words. He always spoke his mind, no matter what. His memory serves as a painful reminder to express how we feel when we still have the opportunity.
Most of us only contemplate the fragility of our own lives when someone we love loses theirs. How feeble our fears, worries, and misunderstandings seem when we face a true tragedy.
I hope I never have to wonder what I would have said ever again. I owe that to Vinny.