So long my friend
Until we meet again
I’ll remember you
And all the times that we used to…
– Luke Bryan
Physics 109. That was the class I met Rob Olson in during my first year of University. Sitting at the back of the auditorium I was preparing for the class lecture when Rob happened to sit down next to me. Rob was wearing a Penguins jersey and we instantly started chatting about the upcoming season, hitting it off pretty quickly. That was 17 years ago yet it still feels like yesterday. In the years that passed, Rob and I built an incredible friendship which sadly came to an end less than two years ago when Rob lost his battle with cancer.
I met Rob at a formative time in my life. Fresh out of high school, I had just recently moved away from home for the first time in my life and found a friend in Rob who quickly became more of a brother. Rob was a few years older than me but seemed to have decades more life experience. Like most farm boys, he carried with him an abundance of street smarts and a work ethic like I had never before seen. But more than that he was a genuine and loyal person. He had a love for life and his optimism had no bounds.
Over the years life changed but my friendship with Rob grew. He was the best man at my wedding and I too had the honour of standing up for him at his. We spent years in the trenches together in University, making up for our lack of natural book smarts with epic study sessions. We met as two single guys with huge life ambitions and became two married men with families of our own and careers that we were proud of. Our lives saw much change over the years and although we called different provinces home, the roots of our friendship remained strong.
Two years ago I received a call that I wish on no one. Rob, who had just recently became a father, was given the news that he had one month left to live. Rob had been battling an ultra-rare form of Lymphoma for over a year and after recent positive results from his treatments was given a terminal diagnosis. What went through his mind at that time I will never begin to understand but speaking with him by phone just days later you would have thought that he had just won the lottery. Positive and upbeat he was determined not to let this outcome define his life.
The last time that I visited with Rob occurred about a week after his diagnosis. I drove out to Saskatchewan where he had decided to spend his remaining days. We met at his house, along with his wife, son, brother, two sisters and parents. I had put together a slideshow chronicling the past 15 years of our friendship and we shared one last beer as we relived some of our best moments together. It was surreal sitting next to a man who was still full of such life knowing that I would never see him again. It was the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to make.
Rob was a man that gave a lot of thought to the future. He always seemed to be aware of his own mortality and what that meant to living life. I recall a discussion we had after the death of a grandparent where we talked about our time on earth. I know that Rob subscribed to the belief that life is brief and that it’s up to us to make the most of it. I take some comfort knowing that although his time was cut much too short he did pack a lot of living into each of his 36 years.
Death brings a range of emotions and perspective to one’s life. Who are we and what makes us who we are? We all share the same inevitable fate and yet for the most part it seems we often pass through life ignorant of our outcome. Relationships fade, opportunities pass and we sometimes overlook the things that are most important. Yet when we are gone all that remains are the memories that others have of us and the lasting impact that we have had on the lives of others. That is what is truly lasting.
I have debated heavily in my mind the ways in which I can honour Rob’s memory and legacy. I have tried to put myself in the position of his parents, a position that no parent should ever be in, as well as made attempts to consider things from the perspective of Rob’s young son who has been forced to grow-up without his Dad. I don’t know what I have to offer other than an attempt to honour Rob by recalling the man he was and sharing the impact that he had on my life.
So how will I remember Rob? I will remember him as a man who was incredibly loyal. Rob had an old school mentality that was endearing in today’s world; work hard, love deeply and appreciate your friends and family. When Rob pledged a friendship to you it meant that he would do anything to support your happiness and success. Anytime you needed something Rob was there. Rob was the kind of soul that always put himself above others. He never stopped fighting and although he accepted his fate with grace, he never did let his illness define who he was or how he was going out.
It can be difficult for those of us that have lost someone, but life moves on after people pass. At times it doesn’t seem fair that others can be happy while so many are grieving. It took me awhile to get here but I no longer just mourn Rob’s death; I celebrate his life. Today (June 1st) was Rob’s birthday and today those of us who were touched by his life will take a moment to remember and celebrate the life a man that will never be forgotten. Today I celebrate the life of a friend who played a critical role in shaping me into the man that I am today. Be it a Metallica song playing on the radio or a drive through the countryside in a pick-up truck, I will smile as I remember a man that had a positive impact on my life as I hear his words being spoken that life is meant for living.