Life goes on even as we struggle through days of watching the virus find its way into every corner. We continue our routines even as we watch protesters crying out for justice. Birthdays come marking the completion of another year of life. Easter reminds us to be hopeful. Graduations in different forms than we are accustomed to seeing celebrate hard work and accomplishment. Our planet dutifully rotates on its axis bringing us new days and nights. We revolve around the sun moving from spring to summer just as though everything is as normal as can be. People whom we have loved and cherish die, some from Covid-19 and others from disease or accident.
We muddle along for the most part, adapting to our present situation, but death gives us pause. It is perhaps more difficult to accept than ever. It is a kind of insult added to our injury. Covid-19 forces us to endure it without the rituals or the comfort of hugs and human touch that we have come to expect in such moments. Of all the things that we miss about our days of isolation and uncertainty people are surely at the top of our list. Most of us are working so hard to keep the ones we love safe and virus free, so when one of them dies no matter the cause it is almost too much to bear.
I have watched from inside my living room as people very special to me have endured the deaths of loved ones. I grieved for a teaching colleague who lost her beloved mother at the beginning of the pandemic, not from the disease itself but from the completion of a long life. My friend continues to long for the beautiful woman who taught her how to love and gave her a lifelong and beautiful relationship with God. So too does another friend long for her sister who left this world all too early only this week. A young man that I know is heartbroken over the death of a dear friend who will not be able to share the joys of senior year in high school with the rest of the class.
I watched with great sorrow as two of my high school classmates and friends lost their beloved brother, John King. He had been sick for a very long time but he had overcome his disabilities again and again with a valiant spirit. He was a dedicated and admired teacher, a man who devoted forty eight years of his life to guiding the young into wisdom and grace. His students adored him just as his family did. He will be quietly laid to rest this week but his legacy will be celebrated for years to come by those who knew of his dedication to education and creating a better world. He was an optimist in a time of great cynicism and his example will live in all of the hearts that he touched.
A man who attended my high school while I was there has also died. I did not know him well but I knew of him. His name was Steve Waldner but his friends called him Wes. He was a member of one of those large Catholic families from the Baby Boom era. He lived across the street from Our Lady of Mt Carmel Catholic Church and School. He was a sweet and happy fellow, someone people called a nice guy. My husband, Mike, would eventually meet Steve and learn just how amazing he had turned out to be.
Mike was loaned out to the United Way one year as part of their program to use the talents of executives from businesses to help with the various causes that it supports. That’s when he met Steve who was the director of the Bay Area United Way. The two of them hit it off immediately. Both had attended Catholic schools and both were avid alumni of the University of Houston. Steve had first graduated from the University of St. Thomas and then earned a Master’s of Social Work at the University of Houston. He and Mike shared a love of Catholic education, the Basilian fathers, the University of Houston, and the work being done to help the less fortunate in our midst.
Mike learned of the devastating consequences of addiction and homelessness from Steve who worked tirelessly and compassionately to be of service to those who are often ignored and misunderstood. Mike was impressed with Steve’s optimism even in the face of human tragedy. Here was a man so incredibly devoted to the causes of those who were lost and broken. I began to learn so much about someone who had shared the hallways of my school with me without our ever getting to know each other. I was humbled by the stories of his work and his dedication.
Steve Waldner was eventually recognized for his contributions to the downtrodden of the city of Houston. The Department of Social Work at his alma mater, the University of Houston named him as one of their most outstanding graduates. He even taught classes for a time at the University of Houston campus at Clear Lake. He continued to give of his talents in work that focused on those with disabilities and disorders of the body and mind. Like his father before him he was dedicated to being a point of light in some of the darkest corners of our city.
John King and Steve Waldner will be missed for their magnificent contributions to the betterment of our world. In our dark days we long for such shining lights of selflessness and devotion. Both men used their time on this earth to touch the minds and hearts of countless individuals who became better for knowing them. We might all take a cue from them for leading our own lives.
It is difficult to lose good people anytime, but somehow it is doubly so in a moment like the present. It saddens us to know that we are losing the best among us when we need them so dearly. We will remember these good souls and use the models of their lives to guide us and we will comfort their loved ones who have been left behind. May these angels who dedicated themselves to love and service rest in peace.