I will never forget that sunny day in May 2009 when he called to say he had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. I knew enough about cancer to know stage IV was never good news. I was shocked, but he kept the conversation light and had such a positive attitude that I didn’t want to say anything to dampen his spirits. He said his cancer was treatable but not curable. He wanted to share the diagnosis with me before it became public knowledge. He was a well-known radio morning personality for KHAK/KRNA, and he was planning to discuss it on the air. “I’m so sorry. What kind of cancer is it?” I mumbled.
“Well, out of all the cancers out there, I have colorectal cancer. I can’t believe it. I mean, I have ass cancer!” he said with a laugh. It allowed me to laugh, too. He told me he wasn’t going down without a fight. He was going to win. He said he would use humor and his positive attitude to get through this rough time, and he assured me his family was supportive. I thanked him for calling and told him I’d share the news with Chris. I’m sure I told him I loved him. I told him we’d be thinking of him and praying for him.
I couldn’t believe it.
We met Scott in the late 1990’s before we were married or had kids. We liked him immediately. It was impossible not to be drawn towards his magnetic personality. He was funny and smart. He was one of the most genuine guys on the planet. He loved rock music, sports, and making people laugh. Because he worked in radio, he knew every detail about artists, albums, concerts, and movies. He had met several famous musicians and had been photographed with many of them. I know very little about pop culture. Even if I know all the words to a song, I usually have no idea about the artist or title. It always confused Scott. “Have you been living under a rock?” he’d sometimes ask me, with a smile.
At his funeral Saturday, one of the many people who came to the front of the church to share stories said, “A lot of people would have spent 5-1/2 years dying, but Scott spent 5-1/2 years living.”
I sat with tears streaming down my face, a pile of used tissues wadded up beside me in the pew. The words rang true. He was active, he seldom missed a day of work, he went on vacation, he did things for others, he volunteered in his community, he raised money for cancer charities, he participated in Relay for Life, and he spent a lot of time loving his wife Misty and his dog, Chilli. Seven weeks before he died, his surprise miracle son was born, and although they had just a few short weeks together, being with his son during a 2:00 a.m. feeding was one of Scott’s favorite places to be.
Scott set up a CaringBridge site that had over 49,000 visitors over the past five years. I’ve read a lot of CaringBridge sites that are written by spouses and parents, but this one was different -- it was written by Scott. Scott was a fabulous writer who bared his soul with his words. It was so real and honest; the same post that moved me to tears also made me laugh out loud. He wrote about the fears and reality of cancer with humor and grace. He shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. He shared his fears about losing his hair he loved so much. He talked about the ways his family supported him through his journey. He wrote about tumor markers. He wrote about his ritual of having blueberry pancakes after appointments. He wrote about his conversations with his doctors – his anxiety as he waited for results, his plans and how they changed, and the way his wife seemed to know what he was thinking, often before he did. He told many cancer patients they weren’t alone. He encouraged us all to be better and to live better.
He decided he was going to try his hand at stand-up comedy – something he had always dreamed of doing but had never done before. Chris and I were at one of his shows when he opened for the headliner at Penguin’s Comedy Club. Scott called to make sure we were able to get tickets. He wanted to know we were comfortable once we got there. He was always thinking of others. Scott was an entertainer – he was a natural on stage. I laughed so hard I cried. He made it look easy, the way he stood on stage and lived his dream.
At the memorial service, people – one after another – came forward to share stories: his brother Aaron, his brother-in-law Rich, his colleague and friend Loo, his friends Ashley and Steve, his neighbor, and the list goes on. At the time I didn’t have a story prepared, and that was just as well because after almost an hour of listening to people sharing stories (with equal amounts of laughter and tears), the pastor had to continue. Otherwise we would have been there all day.
This is the story I would have told, had I been prepared:
Two years ago when my son Noah was 11 years old, Scott presented Noah with a trombone. It was one Scott played when he was younger. Scott hadn’t played it for years, and it needed a new home. Noah was honored to accept the gift, especially because he knew about Scott’s illness. His band director said it would be a good backup trombone and perfect for marching band.
Occasionally I’d write to Scott to tell him Noah was playing the trombone. This is one of the recent messages:
Me: I had to smile because Noah is playing your trombone right now. He is playing an Adele song, and it sounds good. Thank you!
Scott: You don’t know how happy that makes me. Tell Noah he is da man!
Me: Awww, I will relay the message.
Me: I stand corrected. He said it was “All of Me” by John Legend. I never know anything about pop culture!
We were shocked when we learned of Scott’s passing. He hadn’t posted anything on his CaringBridge site or Facebook for weeks, but I had assumed it was because he was busy with his newborn son, Briggs. He had also switched jobs. We had received a Christmas card from him and his wife Misty a few days prior. I never dreamed his health was declining.
Chris and I stood together in the kitchen, sobbing. I knew Scott would die sometime, but I wasn’t prepared, even after five years. He never looked sick. And yet I knew that living with stage IV cancer for more than five years was nothing short of amazing. As the tears flowed like a river, I heard beautiful trombone music coming from Noah’s bedroom. It was a familiar tune. At the time I didn’t think much of it because I was so shocked and saddened about losing our friend.
Noah eventually came out of his bedroom. “I was playing the trombone to honor Scott,” he said.
His thoughtful words washed over me and nearly knocked me over. I wasn’t able to respond.
That evening I stayed up late, reading tributes and memories on Scott’s Facebook page. I barely slept that night.
In the morning I stumbled into the living room and saw 13-year-old Noah getting ready for school.
“What song did you play last night on your trombone?” I asked.
“I played a song I sang for Opus Honor Choir,” he said.
“Didn’t you turn in the music to your teacher?” I asked. “Wait? You played a choir song on your trombone?”
“I memorized it and transposed it for the trombone. I had to take it down an octave,” Noah explained.
“What song was it?” I asked, amazed by his memory.
“Weep No More,” he said calmly. “I thought it was appropriate.”
I was stunned, really. I smiled and said, “It is appropriate, isn’t it?” Then I reached for a Kleenex and put my arm around him.
Noah took Scott’s trombone to school that morning and played it in the band rehearsal to honor Scott. He didn’t tell anyone at school, but he thought Scott would know, and that’s all that mattered. He played his heart out on that instrument. He wanted to bring life to that old trombone and to show appreciation for the gift he was given. His gesture moved me to tears.
I like to think Noah’s trombone solo was the first concert Scott experienced after he entered the pearly gates. While it may not have been Guns N’ Roses or Tesla, I tend to think Scott would have given him the thumbs up and said, “Thanks, Noah, for the love. You da man!”
I searched for the lyrics to “Weep No More” by David N. Childs and discovered the song is based on words written by the English poet, John Keats. Noah sang it at Opus Honor Choir this fall:
Shed no tear - O shed no tear!
The flower will bloom another year.
Weep no more - O weep no more!
Dry your eyes - O dry your eyes,
For I was taught in paradise.
To ease my breast of melodies.
Weep no more.
I can’t get the song out of my head. I hear it often, a chorus of junior high singers. I’m working on weeping no more, but it’s not easy, particularly when a memory surfaces. I’m trying to take Noah’s advice, though, and dry my eyes.
The pastor said Scott wished for two things at his funeral: no tears and confetti. Noah got it right. The pastor said they didn’t have any buckets to attach to the ceiling, so the confetti was there in spirit. I imagined the confetti falling down, similar to what happens on American Idol when someone wins at the finale. And Scott won at his finale. He won the hearts of thousands of people who listened to him daily. He won the respect and admiration of friends and family. He inspired people who were fighting battles of their own. He left behind a life of love, including an amazing wife and a sweet newborn son. And as the song goes, he won a spot in paradise where flowers bloom another year and life never ends.
Chris and I left the memorial service and went to lunch at a restaurant Scott had recommended a few years ago. It’s a locally owned restaurant that serves two things Scott loved: Mexican and Italian food. The place has a lot of character, just like Scott. We sat in a booth and talked about the memorial service. We laughed. I had my tissues near. Chris ate a burrito with rice and beans. I ate an enchilada and drank a margarita. We talked about Scott's legacy and all of the people who will keep his memory alive. We decided we were better for knowing and loving him.
We miss you, friend.