July 23, 2004

July 23, 2004

Much like the months before my kids were born, I was nervous in the months leading up to my wedding day. And again, much like the day the kids were born, when the wedding day actually came, all the nervousness slipped out and I was able to truly enjoy such a joyous event without the hassle of nerves.

Part of the “comfortableness” of my wedding day was the fact that it was a small wedding, made up of approximately 25 people consisting of immediate family only and a few very close friends. It also occurred in a very familiar place – my in-laws back yard in Bolton, MA. Even more so, the person performing the ceremony wasn’t some random JP or whatnot. It was a long-time family friend of my wife’s family. Steph’s mother had gone to Colby College with her and they had been very close friends for about 40 years. Her name was Gail Cooper. She got to about the second sentence in the service before she started to cry out of happiness for us. She paused, then hit it out of the park. Of course.

Since she was a family friend, I saw her a few times a year on average. We had a good rapor, given we’re both liberals (she more than I) and both of us have a weary distrust of authority. The first or second time I met her, I told her my theory about computer viruses – that they were created by the anti-virus software companies in order to stay in business and sell more software for your computer. Entirely plausible, by the way! Gail’s response was classic: “I know I’m going to like you.”

What astounds me so much about Gail is her never-ending drive to make the world a better place. Each year we’d get a Christmas letter and a card from them and the letter would be one of those “here’s what we’re up to this year” letters. I’d always read in amazement at the things Gail and her husband Peter would accomplish in a single year. They’d travel to faraway places  not just to vacation, but to help people in need. They’d send piles of books to needy classrooms. They’d do Habitat for Humanity type construction projects. You get the point. Gail was a person whose mission it was to leave the world a better place and as I told Steph this past weekend, she did more than 50 people on average do. We would always marvel at that Christmas letter.

Anyway, a month or two before our wedding, Steph and I went up to Brattleboro, Vermont to stay at her house for the night and just talk about marriage. Gail had a lot of questions for us. Some were softballs, but some were thought-provoking. Steph and I were ready to marry, but Gail wanted us to make sure we had thought through a lot of things and wanted to let us know that marriage isn’t all roses and laughs. That she even took the time to talk through all this with us is something that will stick with me. We also had a great dinner, by the way, using mostly food that her and Peter had grown themselves in their very impressive garden.

Gail Cooper passed away this weekend, a victim of cancer. I think more than anything, it made me angry. The disease has no prejudice, I get it. But that someone who did so much good – and had so much more good to do – had to fall victim to it is just……criminal. It’s criminal. After Gail’s first round of chemo last summer, she came down to visit us the twins and said she was actually feeling good and had managed to get out and do some volunteer work the previous week. I told her, smiling, “that seals it. You are BACK!” She just laughed.

Luckily, Steph and her family will have 40-plus years in their mental archives to remember their friend’s laughter and kindness. Me, I’ll have nine years. But even if it had been one or two years, I’d still miss her and wish I’d known her longer. All told, I owe some of that calmness that overtook me on my wedding day to Gail. Walking down that aisle towards someone I knew was definitely a big help.

Here’s her obituary, which reads like what should be a to-do list for most people. If I can accomplish even 10% of the good she did for the world around her, I’ll have lived a productive life. Rest in peace, Gail.