For the second time in three weeks, I find myself trying to express the sense of loss I feel about losing someone important in my life.

First my friend Cindy lost her battle with leukemia. Now, I’m trying to come to grips with losing a man who has been in my life for more than 40 years, most of them as a mentor to me. My friend Dick Manville died a few days ago at the age of 88, and I miss him terribly.

Before we moved to Maine in 1998, he was closer to me than any other adult figure I’ve ever had in my life, including my own parents. It wasn’t moving to Maine that changed that, by the way, it was me and my stupid pride. Shortly after we moved here, Dick’s father died. Instead of calling him as soon as I found out, I put it off and put it off. By the time I did call, it didn’t feel right, even to me. It sounded contrived, though I didn’t mean it to be. I got the feeling Dick was disappointed, though I don’t remember him saying anything that would make me think that. The truth is, I behaved poorly toward someone who deserved much better, and I knew it.

But, hey, those things can be fixed. Twenty-six years of closeness doesn’t disappear because of one bad interaction. All I needed to do was call, or, heck, even write and tell him what I thought, apologize, and then we could laugh through it, just as he had helped me through so many of the tougher experiences in my life. And while I was at it, I could have told him how much he meant to me; how much I loved him; and, because of the way he had always treated me, how many people I came to treat with grace and respect.

Yup. All I had to do was call or write. But, you know… One year became three. Three years became six… No one ever says there’s a statute of limitations on making those kinds of amends, but, as far as I’m concerned, there is. My pride swelled to a size that seemed unswallowable. It would be too embarrassing after all that time. He might say something that would hurt my feelings. Why shouldn’t he? My behavior was a textbook example of men behaving badly.

I worked as a newspaper editor for Dick for about 14 years, over three separate spans with the company. The one consistent fact in each tenure, was that I did many things that made people angry enough to call Dick to complain about me, mostly because I thought I knew more than they did and didn’t hesitate to put it in the paper. One time I decided to write a funny column about what a local real estate agent was going through to try to find a house for me and my family to buy. This was my first exposure to the power of the printed word, as well as how “funny” was a relative term.

The real estate agent was not amused, nor was Dick. “Someone’s going to have to fix this, and it isn’t going to be me,” he said, making it plain that “someone” was me.

Scared as I was, I did it, learning a very hard, but memorable, lesson about accepting responsibility. Dick never brought it up again nor did he ever censor anything I wanted to write, no matter how controversial. He asked only that he saw if before it ran so he could be ready when people called all upset about it. Deal.

Surely writing an email to someone who supported you like that must have been a pleasure to be able to do. Well, no. Saying that now, I feel like an even bigger idiot and my heart hurts even more for not having taken care of it.

Still, the man died and I ran out of “tomorrows.” When I heard he had been admitted to the hospital through friends on Facebook, I was able to write the letter I should have written years before and sent it to his family, priority mail, which felt tacky, but for once, my pride didn’t get to make a peep.

I heard his wife had read the letter — it was actually written to both of them — and I understand she was very moved by it. I don’t know if Dick heard it or not. While it did make me feel somewhat better, it still felt inadequate, late, like a 65-year-old guy with cancer trying desperately to fix something that couldn’t be fixed.

One of the first things I wrote when I knew I had multiple myeloma, before my doctors were able to at least get it under control, was a plea for my readers to mend fences with old friends and/or family members while they still could; that to wait was a big mistake.

Well, I guess I can now tell you I was right; it’s great advice. Frankly, brothers and sisters, I also can tell you that being right isn’t what it used to be.

Jim Arnold is a former copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. To read more about his journey through cancer, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.

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