The news came from my daughter by text this morning, 10:49 a.m.
Two words, “Randy died,” and instantly my heart felt as if it had plummeted into my gut.
We were just talking about him over Thanksgiving break. Middle girl was wearing a T-shirt she’d gotten through volunteering at a pulled-pork benefit dinner in late September, and Troy, noticing it, asked the kids how our school’s big, burly, larger-than-life athletic director has been faring.
In August, we received the sad news about his cancer diagnosis, just as the new school year was about to launch, and we’ve been in the midst of processing it ever since.
“I’ve seen him hanging out around school,” our middle boy said brightly in response. “Oh that’s good,” we said, grateful for the news.
It settled us temporarily knowing Randy was back in the place he loved, yes, thrived in. It wouldn’t seem right, really, for him to be anywhere else. To many of us, Randy has been the face of Shanley. We’ve seen him lead more school community events than any one principal or superintendent; it’s been his strong, welcoming voice that has brought us back to school year after year.
Every fall for as many as I can remember, Randy has summoned all the parents with kids in school activities for a mandatory parent meeting. After our lazy summers at the lakes and pool and on vacation, his cool, confident, fatherly voice has coaxed us gently back into the new year ahead.
And then would come the fall picnic with its announcing of fall athletes, and Randy also there, leading the whole thing, getting the school psyched up for another bustling season.
His face always radiated a smile, even when the mood was more serious. Randy was a cross somewhere between an NFL linebacker and Santa Claus.
The news that he’d been stricken with cancer sent our summers crashing to a concerned halt. It was hard to believe this man, known for helping bring so many teams to victory, was now facing the most challenging scrimmage of his life.
There wasn’t too much time to think. Before we knew it, one fundraising dinner was pulled together, and then another. The whole community came out to support the man who has on so many occasions been our spokesperson, and gratefully, we received him. Though vulnerable and a little shaken, he told us what we’d meant to him and how much he loved us.
I waited for my chance. I wanted him to know how much he’d meant to me and our entire community in turn. I thought I’d missed it, but then I spotted him in the sea of people and took my spot in line. A fellow mother was just sneaking a blessed medal into his hands as I pulled up front for a hug and said the words that needed to be said. I am so grateful for that chance.
And now, unbelievably, he’s gone, as of this morning, Dec. 1. The kids, middle through high school, were called into the auditorium and given the hard news, followed by an offer for those who needed a little time to grieve to do so rather than head back to class right off.
Dear Lord, be with his precious family. That’s all I can think of now.
When I first heard, I gulped a few times, talked a while with my husband on the phone, and then – I had to because deadlines don’t wait – I got back to work. But a while later, as I was wrapping things up, this popped upon my horizon – an article by WDAY on Facebook – and gripped my heart…
Seeing his great smile, it hit me hard, and I had to stop…and weep awhile. That’s a smile that’s as genuine as they come, and it’s going to be missed something awful.
On my own Facebook page, I wrote: “Just can’t seem to wrap my brain around how this big, vibrant guy, who was the face of Shanley in so many ways, could be gone. You were and are so loved, Randy. I’m sorry you left us so soon. We weren’t quite done having you in our lives.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about death the last several days while reading the diaries of Holocaust victim Etty Hillesum, “An Interrupted Life.” In my own grief, I turned to Etty. “What can you tell me now, sweet soul? You, who wrote of death so wisely?”
As I waited for my daughter in the school parking lot, I opened the book and landed on a page with these words of Etty’s:
“Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate.”
Clinging to those words, I continued on.
“And if you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich.”
Thank you, Etty. That’s exactly what I needed today.
Randy, you are missed. You will be missed for a long time. May the perpetual light shine upon you always, as yours has shone on us, dear man.