The moments alone with Adam were often the most difficult. We were roommates during our sophomore year at Notre Dame, so they occurred pretty frequently. Whether walking to the dining hall or cramming for an econ exam in Hesburgh, during those quiet and silent times together I chose my words painstakingly.
A week before sophomore year began, Adam called me, and I could tell by the sound of his voice that he was struggling to get the words out. His dad had a massive stroke and was in the hospital. While his health had been fine, Adam’s dad was older than most of our friends’ parents. The stroke took away a significant amount of his mobility and short-term memory.
The moment when Adam called was one of those rare moments when you feel your heart drop into your stomach and you wish for a fleeting moment that things were different. But they weren’t. While most of my friends were relishing the last moments of summer on beaches and lakes, Adam spent time supporting a loving father whose age had suddenly caught up with him.
The last weeks of summer passed, and Adam returned to South Bend undaunted. He maintained his same outgoing and friendly personality. I was lucky to call Adam a friend, but would learn just how lucky I was and how much I would gain from our relationship in the many months following his dad’s incident.
Being around Adam so frequently, I caught brief glimpses of a college student struggling with an issue he had little control over. It was the way he spoke to his mother over the phone, their conversations slightly slower and more somber than the ones before his dad’s stroke. Or the way he held his head down at mass just a bit longer then others when he prayed. He inadvertently put things into perspective and taught me how to not sweat the small stuff. I would often get overly anxious or upset about a poor grade on a philosophy paper or a frustrating loss in interhall soccer, but such issues paled in comparison to the ones that Adam was grappling with.
I tried to reach out and offer support in my own small ways, asking, “how things were going” more than I would with other friends. Adam would sigh and just when it seemed he would go into a lengthy outpour of thoughts and emotions, he would just say, “it’s alright” or, “things are fine.” He dealt with his father’s health on his own terms, conveying a spiritual and emotional strength I had rarely witnessed in someone my age.
I sometimes wondered if I was capable of the same amount of resolve and courage as Adam during those difficult months, but instead I would quickly change my train of thought because I was too afraid of what the answer might be.
Time at Notre Dame moved along as it typically does — too fast. Months progressed and junior year became senior year. The inquiries from me or other friends to Adam about his dad were more sporadic. Perhaps it was because we already knew what the answer would be: His father’s health wasn’t declining, but it wasn’t getting better, and Adam’s family was doing fine but having an understandably difficult time adjusting and planning for the future.
In February of our senior year, it happened, his dad suffered another stroke. This one was worse, and we knew Adam’s dad didn’t have much time left. Adam flew home immediately to be with his family for what most of us assumed would be the last few days they would all be spending together. It was another instance where you struggle to find the appropriate response or the fitting thing to say.
A couple days later, Adam’s dad passed. When I found out, my eyes closed for a long time and my mind became quiet. Later that afternoon, I made an effort to reach out to Adam and offer some support. I stumbled aimlessly around library quad, not knowing where to begin or what to say. I assumed sitting down on a bench would steady me and calm me down, but instead, I began to weep. The reality of the loss Adam now had to deal with hit me harder than I had planned.
I had to reach out and do something, but I thought a phone call might be too much, fearing I wouldn’t be able to put a single sentence together without crying more. In between deep breaths and turning quickly so others walking couldn’t see the tears, I typed a text message to Adam explaining how impressed I was by the amazing strength and courage he had shown in regards to his dad’s health over the past couple years. It was the message I had wanted to tell him and should’ve told him in those numerous moments of silence. The ones where I decided instead to hold back. Why didn’t I let him know, why did I keep quiet?
What I did know was that Adam had a group of friends back at Notre Dame who were willing to do anything to help and support him. Some of those friends took a walk over to the grotto the Sunday after Adam’s father passed away. Some prayed, some lit a candle, and some just stood, but we all concurred that for Adam’s sake we had to be there whenever he needed with whatever he needed. On that cold night, I stood amongst people who cared a lot about someone going through a difficult time in their life. The few meaningful words and hugs exchanged on that chilly night by the grotto was a moment where I was able to find strength in others, the same kind of strength I had witnessed in Adam all this time.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every man I meet is in some way my superior.” I found this quote all too true, especially during my four years at Notre Dame. Whether it was in the classrooms or on the athletic fields, I met and saw students that had abilities and skills that brought them to Notre Dame. I can only hope this made me a better person, that I gained something from being around all those amazing and talented students. I knew for certain I emerged a better man because of what I saw from Adam and our friends.
While it was unfortunate that the loss of a parent and a great man created such moments, I saw glimpses of courage and compassion amongst the pain and sorrow, reminding me of the value of human connection and friendship. When a difficult time emerges in my life, I can only hope that I may use the strength I witnessed in Adam and my friends to carry me forward. My years at ND taught me many things, but maybe the most important lesson was how the most difficult moments can bring about a type of strength and love that is not innate, but must be found in those around you.
Will Crowley lives and works in Chicago and writes about entrepreneurship on his blog startingupatstartups.com You can contact him at email@example.com.