Thursday, December 27, 2012

Watch Him As He Goes

I never knew Greg Hebert.  

This acclaimed broadcaster, fundraiser, and cancer patient advocate passed away just the other day at the very young age of 37.  He was my colleague at the CHUM Ottawa group of radio stations from 2003 till I left the organization last year.  And in all that time, we spoke face to face... exactly once. 

I don't recall the year, but at one of our work Christmas parties we found each other in the same hallway and exchanged pleasantries.  A round of small banter, and then Greg marvelled at the way that we actually worked not perhaps fifty feet from each other, yet separated by walls, divisions, responsibilities, and hours, our paths might never cross at all for months on end.  I understood that this was not a man to be content with small banter alone, and respected him for it immediately.

But Greg was on a roster of smart young talent infusing the organization at that time, while I was settling into my post-Carole commitment to the near-encompassing role of Suburban Dad.  With a preschool son at home, I was far too busy in my personal life to reenter any social scene, had I indeed been welcome to do so.  We moved on.

Time passed, life happened, and in 2009 Greg was diagnosed with cancer.  A strange, mysterious, and rare thing called synovial sarcoma, two words I should likely know nothing about yet have become very strangely familiar with.  Not only did a dynamic young future star contract an illness, it apparently came in a a form which very few people in the world have.  The kind of thing which really puts the W in WTF.  And Greg was told, on more than one occasion, that he had a very short time to live.
Why am I writing about a man I didn't know?
Because I know what it's like to give up completely.  There was one day, one moment, in my time of grieving after Carole passed, that I knew I was done.  It's part of how you get there, and how you get back to here, but I was walking along, sorting through all my things in my head, and I was tired of it, and angry that I'd reached that exact place and time, and I realized very clearly that without any drama, excuses, or emotion involved, if I had a gun at hand I'd finish it right there.  Now, I understood that I did not in fact have a gun at all.  But I asked myself if I was really feeling it, and the answer was clear.  I was, at that point in time, done.
But there was nothing I could do about it right then, so I kept moving.
Years later, I watched from afar as this man I didn't know was dealt a life-shattering diagnosis, and through his words and his deeds, used it to transform himself into a giant.
You can find out all about the work he accomplished on behalf of others... in fact, I insist you do, at  You can read his writing there, too.  Because though cancer removed Greg from the broadcast booth his work as a communicator never stopped.  I was privileged to be among his circle of 'friends' on facebook, which he used as a platform for an ongoing dialogue which he established to express his thoughts, demystify his illness, and most of all never stop talking.  One thing you have to know about radio people is that they love to talk.  About anything, anytime.  And Greg had plenty of new stories to tell.
They were by turns hilarious, spontaneous, powerful, joyous, and sometimes harrowing and even grisly.  Never anything less than completely honest.  Greg shared his anger, fear, pain, and longing as openly as I've ever heard or seen.  And he made clear that his devotion to his beloved wife Lauren would not let him falter.  Greg never, ever, gave up.  Never left off in a bad way.  Never took the conversation to morbidity or self pity.  Because that wasn't going to work for anyone else.  He fully understood that the goal of communication is to offer others something to work with, something to ponder, something to spark fresh thought in their own minds.  Further the conversation.  Never stop learning.  He never stopped broadcasting.
So all I did was read a lot of posts on facebook, observing from afar.  But I learned a lot.  Just how hard a man can live when he's been told he's going to die.  How far a man can be willing to go to not die.  And I learned that if that man could see and taste and hear things that I sometimes can't, then I need to open myself up a little more, because I need to know what he knew.  Today I'm a better writer than I used to be.  I'm healthier since I've begun running again.  And I'm even more committed to finding and speaking only about truth, and stripping away artifice.
I know Greg didn't want to be a hero.  I also know that things happen, and that the things that happen to you are not who you become.  Things happen to you so that you can become who you are.  And how you take those things on is how you shine your light.  Greg suffered greatly, make no mistake, and I am truly glad that he suffers no more.
He died just before Christmas, leaving the promise of child who will come into this world soon.  That'll be part of the story too.  My son is almost eleven, and still believes in Santa Claus.  Soon, I'll have to explain to him why we keep the tradition of Santa alive, and how it reminds us to believe in things that can't be seen, and in hope and dreams.  The things that can keep a man alive, for example, when he's been told he's going to die.
I never knew Greg Hebert.  I consider myself lucky to have met him once.  I'll tell my son about him, too.  The Legend.
I'm done now.

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