David Treadwell

David Treadwell

My niece recently called in tears to say that a good friend of hers had died. We didn’t know this young man well, but we knew that she cared a lot about him. It’s so sad to learn that a promising young man in his early 30s could no longer find the will to live.

It’s not just sad but horrifying to hear about the 17 young lives snuffed out by a deranged teenager with an assault rifle in a high school in Florida. The GOP “our thoughts and prayers are with you” crowd in Congress can’t bring themselves to buck the NRA or risk alienating their gun-crazed base by banning assault rifles and strengthening gun control. Not all tragedies can be averted by such measures, to be sure, but some of them can and that’s the point.

Those events prompted reflection upon some lives lost too soon in my own sphere. My maternal grandfather died in his early 40s when my mother was only eight, leaving behind four daughters and a diary, which I treasure. Her uncle, then a Bowdoin student, died in the sinking of the sidewheel paddle steamer Portland in 1898, one of more than 400 victims. My dad’s younger brother died when he was only 11.

Tina’s father died when she was only 15, leaving behind, as Tina tells it, “five obstreperous kids.” Her uncle took his life when he was in his 40s. Her youngest brother died in his 30s.

My sister’s only daughter died of a brain tumor when she was just 33, leaving behind a four-year old son.

My younger brother died at age 62 from mantle cell lymphoma. He lived nearly four years after I gave him bone marrow, and I proudly wear my “Bone Marrow Brothers” T-shirt to this day.

My stories are real and painful, but they’re not unique. Everyone reading this article can relate stories about people in their lives who died too young. It is a slender thread, indeed, that ties us to the people we hold close, whether they’re young or not so young or downright ancient.

If we acknowledge this tender thread, then perhaps we can view life through a different lens. That first coffee in the morning seems richer; that baby’s first smile more beautiful; that friend’s strong support more valuable; that evening sunset more spectacular.

As is my wont, I’ll try to end this column on an upbeat note. My brother’s widow’s father did not die too young. In fact, he’s still going strong — well, fairly strong — at age 104, and he’ll turn 105 next month. He played bridge last week; he likes chocolate and cookies; and he enjoys a different drink every day according to schedule (“It’s Thursday, it must be vodka.”) So you see, you never know You just never know.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary or suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns at [email protected]

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