“I don’t know how to say ‘goodbye’ to people anymore.”
My old friend, Bill Cowger, was in a predicament.
Bill, not normally shy for words, was having to bid adieu to everyone he had ever met. My pal had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. There is no Stage 5.
I was surprised to be having lunch with him again.
According to his prognosis, Bill, now only 69, should have been dead weeks ago. So our lunch was a good occasion to say “hello” again before saying “goodbye” once more.
But thanks to a sudden rebound, my old friend got a new lease on life and was doing quite well these days, thank you.
The reason? He had discontinued his chemotherapy treatment.
I met Bill Cowger ten years before we said “goodbye.”
He owned a photography studio and an African photo safari business. Bill was also quite involved with Rotary and city politics in Troy, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Bill was a champion networker.
Arriving at our lunch destination during that final visit, we got out of the car to walk into the restaurant and I took the opportunity to more fully assess Bill’s condition.
He looked fit, even spry as he bounded from the car.
This was surprising because the last time I saw Bill, he was in a wheelchair and using oxygen. He had trouble speaking and appeared quite gaunt. By then, the he cancer had quickly metastasized to his spine and bowel.
The chemo took an early toll on Bill’s physique. My portly friend had quickly gone from a portly 188 lbs. down to a whispy 130 lbs., but after quitting chemo, he was back to a youthful weight of about 146 lbs.
Talking in the restaurant, I noticed that Bill’s voice was faint and was a few pitches higher than before. I often wondered what caused men’s voices to lose resonance as they aged.
The photographer’s skin tone had faded and his gray hair was a bit whiter and thinner. His snowy white beard was as always, closely trimmed. His smiling brown eyes seemed darker than before, perhaps because everything else about his complexion was lighter.
Those eyes had seen a lot.
“An unqualified success”
William Cowger grew up in Belvedere, Illinois. His father was a school principal and his mother a secretary.
A singing career didn’t work out, so Bill ended up becoming a computer programmer for Burroughs and worked his way to a top leadership position in Capetown, South Africa.
Bill loved to travel and worked for Burroughs in 43 countries, eventually visiting 56 countries and living in several of them.
Years back, Bill started a photo safari company. Over time, he led 30 tours to that country, mostly to the Serengheti in Tanzania.
Most importantly, he and his wife Gail raised three children and those children are raising five children.
Goodbye, old friend
Bill was already on borrowed time. He wasn’t making a to-do list. Bill was thinking about what he had not done.
“I’m just so sorry I won’t be able to take my grandkids to Africa,” Bill said as he suddenly began to sob.
I was quiet for a moment. There were other silences in our conversation.
When these conversation gaps occurred, I felt guilty for not speaking, as if I wasn’t using Bill’s time wisely. But some conversations benefit from silence. Tweet This
The server brought the check and it was time for Bill to say “goodbye.”
“It was really fun seeing you again, Michael.”
“You, too, mate.”
“I guess I’ll see you next time.”
“Yes,” I smiled. “Next time.”