The old saying — based on the song — says that "only the good die young." And while I suppose that's partially true, at least, because I believe we all have at least a little bit of good in us, I've always struggled with that statement.
I think a lot of folks who die young probably aren't what we'd call "good" folks. But on many more occasions than we'd like to face, one of the good ones is taken from us way too early in life — in their lives and in ours.
When cancer took my grandpa from us, he was well along in his years — not many would have called him young — but I remember
feeling as if he was robbed of some of his best years — the years of relaxation and enjoying grandkids and great-grandkids.
But the truth of the matter is that what I was actually feeling was more about me and less about Pap. Sure, I loved him more than words could say, and I didn't want him to miss out on those things.
But what I really felt was remorse that I wouldn't be the benefactor of the shared joy in any of those moments with him anymore. We shared joy over a lot of things — baseball, my little cousins, desserts — and I knew that while those things would go on, they just wouldn't be the same without him. And they never have been the same.
This week, I was heartbroken to hear the news of the passing of Polly Farbo — a woman who I never knew personally, but one who has affected my life in ways unknown to her over the past few years, as she battled a harsh form of breast cancer.
My heart broke for Polly, because even though I didn't know her all that well, I could always just tell she was "one of the good ones," from that saying I was talking about.
In many cases, when we lose someone close to us who we feel was far too young, it comes as the result of an accident or something else sudden. It blindsides us and makes us feel a void that we truly weren't expecting.
With Polly's passing, though, while there was optimism in treatments and other things, the diagnosis itself was enough to make the family members and close friends who cherished her start to prepare themselves for the worst possibility.
They knew the day might come when they'd be without their loved one, and I'm sure that their resolve was to make the most of every moment — and I truly hope that they were able to do so.
But here's where what I learned from Pappy's passing comes in. All losses of this nature leave what feels like a huge void in our lives no matter what. But the unexpected voids gave us no time to think about what life would be like without our loved ones.
Cherishing every moment meant spending every moment that I could soaking up the good memories that I was going to be able to have with my grandfather. And that is exactly what I did.
And that was because I'd never lost anyone before. And when you've never lost anyone before — and then, even when you have — it's scary to know that you're going to have to live your life without this individual who has given you so much.
Pap, though, and now Polly, have taught me the valuable mark that living a life worthy of a legacy can leave.
You see, I said those things that I enjoyed with Pappy — baseball, my little cousins, dessert — have never been the same since he passed. And that is absolutely true.
But I quickly learned that just because they weren't going to be the same, that didn't mean that they were going to be sad things for me all of the time.
Now, sure, I still shed a tear sometimes when I think back on the good times we had, but it's not all sad.
When it comes to baseball, Pappy was the best of the best. I still have an old picture of me holding a red "fat bat" and playing ball with him when I was a youngster. My form was terrible, but that picture is a reminder of the love he had for the game — one he passed on to me.
In the dog days of summer, the Pirates are on a bit of a roll, and while Pap's team wasn't the Pirates, he sat with me so many nights and watched the games, because he loved the game of baseball, and he knew that I did too. Watching baseball without him isn't the same, but his legacy reminds me that we should all have things that we love to do in our lives — like watching baseball.
Spending time with my little cousins was always a joyful occasion, and now when I get to spend time with them — though they're getting older and maybe even getting closer to the phase where hanging out with their big cousin isn't all that cool — I cherish that time I get to spend with them, because the legacy left for me showed me that doing so wasn't only important, but a blessing, as well.
And Pappy's love for dessert was well-known by anyone who knew him. He had a sweet tooth, and still to this day, every time I put my ice cream in the microwave to "take the edge off," I think of Pappy, who did so because his teeth were bad. I used to melt my ice cream just to be like him, but now I do it because my teeth are bad, too. Another legacy!
Watching baseball, hanging out with my little cousins, eating dessert and so many other things will never be the same, but because of one man's legacy, they'll always take me back to a time I loved and remind me that I was loved in those moments.
Polly's legacy in my life, despite her not knowing it, has been one of faith. Watching her go through her treatments and show up in church and be able to smile was always a reminder to me that when life throws us a curve, we have to choose how we react.
I'm sure there were hard times, but the faith she displayed was admirable, and I hope that I will never forget the power of the lesson that her legacy has left.
So, maybe I need to re-think my theory about the old saying not being all that true.
For every Pappy, every Polly — someone we feel we lost too young (no matter how old they were) — there's probably at least a dozen people who are now learning to make the most of the legacy that was left behind for them. I just hope I never lose sight of that fact.
Rest in peace, Polly — true peace. And if you're up there reading this, please tell Pappy that I love him.
Zak Lantz is the editor of The Punxsutawney Spirit.