Loss of A Buddy — What If Tomorrow Really Doesn’t Come?

“Boys will be boys.  Some longer than others…”

–     A line from the movie “Grown Ups”

If you’ll indulge me a personal post…

Last night, we lost one of the guys.  Our friend, “O,” the brother of one of my closest friends, died unexpectedly, shortly after his parents and extended family were able to reach his bedside.  A South-Side-o’-Chicago-guy, “O” married the girl who grew up next door to me on the farm in Iowa.  That was one of about a dozen random and / or ironic ties between a group of 15+ knuckleheads who wake up this morning, or didn’t sleep last night, thanks to a bitter, world-shaking dose of perspective.

He leaves behind his wife (my life-long friend and childhood neighbor) and their three kids, who are about the ages of The Heston Three.  He also leaves behind my close, close buddy, as well as another brother and sister, his mom and dad and a circle of loyal, yet very understanding friends, about 15 of whom are knuckleheads, now without one of the “lead” knuckles.

Any attempt to describe him involves laughter.  Most of it the kind that isn’t necessarily appreciated these days, but the kind that we’ll never forget from back-in-the-day days.

Often, O’s wife said, “Honey, you can’t say that!” to which he replied, “Look, people, you are just going to have to get comfortable with the fact that I’m going to say out loud what you’re all thinking, and you love that about me.”

We did.

And now he’s gone.

There are some lessons in O’s living and some in his dying.

From his living–

Lesson #1:  Be yourself.  He was uniquely, terrifyingly himself at all times.  No filters but also no malice, no political correctness.  Just 100% him all day, every day.

Lesson #2:  Marry better than we are.  His wife is one of the best people any of us will ever know.  The yin to his yang, the Kitty to his Red Foreman.

Lesson #3:  Be loyal, don’t just expect loyalty.

Lesson #4:  Speak the truth.  It may make for an awkward moment or two…or in O’s case, two-thousand, but we’ll know where you stand.

From his dying —

Lesson #1:  Keep in touch with those you love more often.  One of us might be — one of us is now– gone tomorrow.

Lesson #2:  It’s all little sh*t.  Lost job, broken down car, moron boss, disagreement with our spouse, delayed flight, bitchy teenager — there’s nothing we’ll face today that O’s wife, three kids, family, and friends wouldn’t trade us for.

Lesson #3:  Listen to our bodies.  When we know something is off, see a doc.  Get it checked out.  Even if you hate doctors and even if you hate the hassle, even if you know you’re going to hate the advice or the medicine, it might be a gift you give to your spouse, your kids, your siblings, your parents or to 15 knuckleheads who wake up this morning or didn’t sleep last night because you’re gone.

Lesson #4:  Leave a mark.  I’ll close with an example…

Long-time subscribers know that I am a Lawn Guy.  I love my lawn and I tend it carefully.  “O” knew that, too.  And, beginning in 1989, every single time he would visit, “O” would jump the curb and park his car in the middle of my lawn so that the heat from the engine would kill the grass in about a four-foot square section of said lawn.  “Dammit, O!” I would exclaim.  “Oh, eat me!” he would reply, “Now you’ll remember I was here.”

And so, we will.  We will remember you were here, and we will miss you, with a cringe, with a laugh, and now, with a tear.  Because you leaving takes a part of us with you.

Remember a widow and three teenage kids in your prayers today.  Remember to make contact with those who bring you laughter, not just today, every day you possibly can.  Remember that there is no guarantee of tomorrow, so whatever we do next matters most.

This blog is about making a difference.  “O” made a difference for me.  In many ways, some of them twisted, inappropriate and funnier than hell, “O” made a difference for all he encountered — and we’re a little emptier without him here.

Until up there, Gary O…




  1. Loved this, Steve.
    First, truly sad for you and yours with the death of this wonderful person.
    Second, sincere prayers have been offered to ease your sorrow.
    Last, as always, thank you for the simple reminders as we learn how quickly this life can pass.
    Best to you,

    • Thanks, JoAnn! It seems the older I get the closer to home it hits. Gary was a few months younger than me, for cryin’ out loud. Changes the perspective on a “bad day,” for sure. I appreciate your prayers, your kind words, and your willingness to weigh in here on the Daily Difference blog…

  2. Steve—best to his family and the knuckleheads. I have a few calls to make. God bless.

    FYI—I can’t see my lawn,

  3. Sorry for your loss, and for your friend’s family’s loss. You hit the nail on the head. Life is about the experiences, and making sure we cherish the time we have.

    Carpe diem!

  4. Steve –
    Once again your gifts of writing have touched me. Thank you for this post. Sincere condolences for your loss. I’m sending you and everyone in your knucklehead circle supportive prayers and thoughts for healing. Sounds like the world lost a very special man.

    Please keep doing what you do.. because it IS making a difference.

    • Thank you Meredith. Special or no, the loss is real, and it’s always special to someone or some group of someones. A great deal of time has been spent coming through old photos for the two services coming up. There is healing in that process, and there is some hurt in realizing the finality of the loss, but it’s temporary, and your prayers matter to all touched by Gary O’s time here…

  5. Steve,
    So sorry to read about the loss of your friend! Thank you for capturing your thoughts and feelings so well in a time like this.
    As we age it seems like these events are unfortunately more frequent, making your advice all the more poignant.

    • Marty, thanks for taking a moment to weigh in. Gary and we are “too young,” yet you’re right, the frequency of these events is a sign of the times as we inch up in years. Here’s to many more chances to interact with those we love, and to more opportunities to thank those who have left a mark, you among them for me.

  6. Chris Williston says

    Beautiful tribute my friend. I’m blessed to have a friend much like “O”. I myself have been to far more funerals of friends lately. It hits home and the lessons of life you shared are spot on. Godspeed my friend. Sorry for your loss.

  7. Mike & Joan Minerath says

    Thank you for such a heartening reminder of what it means to be family and friends. Some of us are guilty of letting this slip too far. And then it’s too late. We’re sending one up as Ray used to say, now, and over, and over…
    Uncle Mike

  8. Peter Duszynski says

    Steve. Thank you for taking the time to put these words out there for all to consider Especially the advice to remember what really matters in life – family and friends. Our dear friend will be missed, and we feel the loss of his family.

    • Pete, thanks for taking a moment to weigh in. Tough one, hits too close to home in many ways. Hope to see you again soon, my friend, and get an update on your family, etc. Godspeed.

  9. Gary and I have been friends since high school; you might say that we went to different high schools together. Gary, David Newton, Tom Perozzi and I, dear friends all, got together days before Gary went in the hospital and astoundingly passed away last Wednesday.

    After graduating college, Gary and I were also roommates at 1224 West Melrose not far from Wrigley Field in Chicago. We moved into the bachelor pad just as a major renovation was finishing up in late October. The drawback was that the furnace and the water heater were not yet operational and winter came early that year.

    For several weeks, on workday mornings in the frigid temps indoors Gary and I would try to wait each other out when it came shower time. I knew I’d won the morning’s friendly competition when I was awoken by Gary’s colorful bellowing from under the ice-cold water.

    I must admit that Gary was at an inherent disadvantage since he had to drive out to the ‘burbs for work – top button of his smartly starched shirt always buttoned and tie tautly knotted – while I would hop on the subway down to the Loop. But Gary was not one to hold a grudge, and would gladly allow me to buy him a beer or two to make amends.

    There are other tales I could tell from those days, when we worked and played hard, but this note is intended for a General audience.

    Gary was a good-natured guy, a sweetheart of a guy even, which he tried his best not to reveal lest he be hampered in the rough-and-tumble of the workaday world. Gary was a loyal, caring, generous, uplifting friend, and naturally funny besides. I was truly fortunate to have Gary as a close friend and dearly miss his irrepressible demeanor now that he’s gone to his eternal reward far too soon.

  10. Steve: What a great tribute to your friend. It sounds like a guy I wish I would have known. You’ve inspired me to contact some friends I haven’t talk to in a while, get to the doctor, and speak my mind on a few burning issues.

    Thank you!

  11. Gary, the stories we could / can / WILL tell! This may be the only reference to “starched shirt” and Gary ever memorialized! You invested time in replying, and that’s the kind of person Gary drew to him. Those who invested time with him are better for it, and I am better for your reply here. Thanks. Hope to meet you at the service in Chicago.

  12. Marty, if that’s one out come of this hard-to-understand event, then it’s just one more way that Gary O made us better. The overwhelming response to this blog, from those who knew / know him or me, and from those who don’t, says that we’re all able to upgrade in the “keeping in touch with those whom we love” category. Here’s to making it stick. I hope you’re well, and miss seeing you at banking events…

  13. No stuffed shirt, Gary did insist on starched collars. I’ll look forward to meeting you, Steve, and other friends of the Domke family in Chicago.

    And I’d like to rephrase my last sentence above to emphasize that I AM fortunate to have had Gary as a good friend. He lives on in his family and friends, and we are indeed better for having known him, and laughed with him.


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