A man died suddenly on February 25th. His name was George Thomas IV. He was 38, married, the father of two boys who are 5 and 3, and a baby daughter who is due in August.
It was early evening. He was working out in his basement. And he collapsed. His wife, Marissa, found him.
But a 38-year-old man doesn’t come home from work one day and suddenly die. Except he did. Except while he was scrubbing his hands and wearing a mask and dodging a virus that has put the entire world on hold — while we were all doing this, social distancing and following all the rules trying to keep death at bay — this unexpected, inexplicable, inexcusable death happened.
George was the youngest of Patti and George III’s four children. He was their baby. I was at Patti and George’s wedding, a long time ago, outside somewhere, Patti glowing, a flower child. I think sunlight and green fields when I remember that day. I think how young and hopeful they were. I think how young and hopeful we all were.
Youth and hope. One is gone and the other has been tested over and over. Because if you live long enough, you bury your parents, your aunts, your uncles, your friends. And with each death, you bury a part of yourself. And you steel yourself. You know people die. You know death will come for everyone. But eventually. Not today. And not to — I just saw him last week, yesterday, an hour ago and he was fine. He looked great — a seemingly healthy young man. Not to a physically active guy still crazy-in-love with his wife. Not to a father with sons to raise and a daughter to meet.
The sudden death of a man like this, a man in the prime of his life, cuts us off at the knees. And brings us to our knees.
On Facebook, George’s brother Zachary answered a friend who asked, “What’s it all about?,” meaning life and death and everything in between. Zachary answered with these words:
“You should come see the kids running around while the adults break down in each other’s arms. There is no point. Only love and the journey.”
Only love and the journey.
George Thomas was loved. Even before he was born he was loved. His parents, his grandparents, his brothers, his sister surrounded him with love. Love is what he saw and what he felt and what he absorbed every day of his childhood. Love is what filled him and sustained him, what he gave to his friends, his wife, his children.
You can see this now, the love he gave coming back to sustain his family and friends, the love he gave keeping them from collapsing under the weight of their grief. It was a quiet love. A steady love. “He walked through his life never looking for the spotlight,” Canton High School Athletic Director Danny Erickson wrote, “if anything intentionally avoiding it — but ask anyone who knew him and they will tell you that he was always the brightest light in the room.”
Many people have reached out to Marissa and the Thomas family. And love is in their every act of kindness: in the posts about George, in the food delivered, in gofundme donations. In every, “What can I do?” and “Please let me help.”
In a pre-COVID-19 world, there wouldn’t be a room big enough to hold all the people who knew and loved George Thomas IV. People would be lined up in the cold to pay their respects.
But there is none of this now. And it’s hard. Because this is how we get through bad times. Together. Hugging and crying and laughing and reminiscing. We don’t just hold onto each other in bad times. We hold each other up.
If it’s only love and the journey that matter, as George’s brother wrote, then George Thomas IV got cheated because his journey was short.
But he didn’t get cheated in the love department. Love he got in spades. He loved and was loved, and all that love is still right here. It’s surrounding his family right now. And it will continue to surround them.
Because love, unlike time, will never run out. Because love, unlike time, is eternal.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. Read more of Beverly Beckham at beverlybeckham.com.