It had been a lousy day from the beginning and the aggravations were just piling up. 

Mark LaFlamme

I was cranky. Annoyed. Certain people were getting on my last tattered nerve and I really needed to unload. 

I popped open a fresh email and began to type in the name of my intended recipient: R-W-H-I-T-E, I began. 

The email program filled in the rest for me, but of course it was no good. Randy Whitehouse, my friend and confidant of a quarter-century, was gone. 

I looked at that blank email page for a full minute before I shut it down. All that empty white space seemed to tell the story better than any spoken word ever could. 

He was gone. Forever gone, and man, that just seemed so absurd. I wonder how many more times I’ll start to write that email before I finally get it. 

Everybody has that one buddy. He is the first person you want to talk to when you have good news. He is the first person you want to talk to when you are having a bad day and you really need to get things off your chest. 

Whitehouse and I had a system. If one of us had hot news or gripes to share, we would send an email to get the conversation started. If the hot news involved the newspaper at which we were both employed, we would switch to private mail. 

If the news was really REALLY hot, we would skip email altogether and go live. 

Whitehouse called me with red-hot news a couple of years ago. 

“I got something,” he said. “You going to be home later?” 

“Be here all night,” I said. 

“I’ll stop by around 8,” he said. “You’re not going to believe it.” 

A few hours later, he was sitting on my couch spilling the beans, an absolutely enthralling conversation that lasted until well after midnight.  

He was right. I could not believe it. 

Randy was such an awesome dude. I do not mean that in the obligatory way we have of saying nice things about the recently departed. He was awesome in some hard-to-define way that was unique to him. 

Much has been said already about Randy’s incredible gift as a writer. About his vast knowledge of sports — ALL sports. If two kids in Tahiti made a competitive game out of hitting seashells with bamboo sticks, Randy knew the rules and he probably kept a score sheet. There was also Randy’s quick wit. 

He was all of those things, without question. But there was something else, something that defies attempts to explain. Randy was interesting in a special kind of way that few others are. When you got into a conversation with him, you quickly came to realize that he was offering a perspective on things that was all his own. A perspective you would not get anywhere else in the world, and it mattered little what the topic of conversation happened to be. Politics? Culture? Romance? The complexities of the infield fly rule? The trouble with kids these days?  

Randy was not just intelligent. He was wise in a kind of ageless way. When you went to Randy Whitehouse for advice — and I did this a lot back in the early days — you did not come away with just the usual platitudes. Randy was not the type to give you greeting card sympathies. If he did not have concrete advice to offer, he would simply commiserate: “Wow,” he’d say. “That sucks.” He would then listen to you as long as you needed. And by the time you were done, you felt much better and it was OK to start cracking jokes again. 

What Randy did not do was whine about his own problems, and, brother, this was a guy who deserved to whine more than most. Randy had the worst luck of anyone I’ve ever known. 

Back in the day, it was the kind of cartoonish bad luck you could make fun of. Like the time he finally got rid of his old clunker of a car only to have the new car blow an alternator in the first week. 

Or the time he slipped on a sidewalk and busted his ankle just as he was off on a well-earned vacation. 

“You’re like an Alanis Morissette song,” I observed once. 

“I hate that song,” Whitehouse shot back, throwing his hands into the air in that dramatic way he had. “None of those things are ironic!” 

But Randy’s luck turned decidedly darker in recent years. He lost his father. His dog died. Then, in the darkest turn yet in his suddenly Job-like existence, Randy had to watch his beloved wife, Joyce, succumb to cancer. 

He bitterly survived all of that, only to have his own health begin to fail earlier this year. An infection spread to his heart. He had a toe amputated. Two days after he got out of the hospital, his mom suffered a stroke. 

Randy, who had talked me through so many comparatively minor things over the years, reached out to me from the depth of all that despair. 

“If Hank Williams wrote a song about my life,” he said, “he’d have thrown away the bar napkin he wrote it on and maybe even quit drinking because it was giving him ridiculous ideas. My black cloud has a black cloud over it.” 

A short time later, Randy’s mom died. Soon after that, Randy was back in the hospital and every day the news grew grimmer. That black cloud got blacker, and even as I sat thinking that any day now we would get some GOOD news for a change, he was gone. 

Forever gone, and no matter how much I think, write or speak about it, it still seems absolutely absurd. So absurd, in fact, that every time I have tried to ponder the death of Randy Whitehouse over the past week, I find I cannot quite make the idea fit within my brain. Classic denial, I guess, but there is also that sickening sense of unfinished business. 

You know how this part goes. When you lose somebody close to you, human nature will torment you for weeks with those hateful, nagging questions. 

Could I have done more to help my friend out of the terrible gloom that engulfed him? Could I have said more? Should I have been more frank and open about how important his friendship was to me?  

But you know how it is with really good friends. You talk, talk, talk about everything under the sun, but THAT kind of sentiment has to remain unspoken. 

It actually makes me laugh a little to imagine how such a conversation would have gone — to imagine hulking, surly Randy Whitehouse’s reaction to such Hallmark gushiness.  

“OK,” he would have said. “NOW who sounds like Alanis Morissette?” 

Touché, brother. 

So, sometime in the next few days, I suppose I will find myself at a funeral for a friend, the last traces of denial coming up against the hard truth represented by the box around which we will all gather in mourning. 

I will meet many of Randy’s other friends and we will spend a good part of the day swapping Whitehouse stories, of which there are many. We will laugh a little, sniffle a little and ultimately agree that when you get right down to it, there was nobody in the world quite like Randy Whitehouse, and, my God, how we are all going to miss him. 

When all is said and done, funerals are good for a wounded soul. In the aftermath of an untimely death of a friend, you tend to spend your hours in a daze of unreality, unable or perhaps just unwilling to believe that he or she is gone for good and there is not a damned thing you can do about it.  

A funeral brings the sad truth home and makes it real, final and, at last, undeniable. 

Which, if I am honest with myself, is probably the reason I dread this one so.

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