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When I first worked as a school psychologist, I met an amazing psychologist (and an amazing human being). His name was Brent, and we shared an office.
A great office mate, Brent seemed humorous, kind, and considerate. I soon learned that, despite a crippling brain tumor, he always remained positive, made people laugh, and never complained.
When I met him, Brent was in remission. However, still weakened from his treatment, he couldn’t exert himself physically. As a result, my assigned schools involved more travel and stairs, in order to save Brent from unnecessary fatigue. He appreciated my efforts, often treating me to lunch.
Regardless of school rules, staff allowed Brent to wear a baseball cap in all school district buildings. Therefore, I saw it as an especially big compliment when he would take off his cap around me in our shared office.
One day he proudly showed me pictures of his pre-cancer days and his once-thick head of hair. He rubbed his bald head and said, with a big grin, “I don’t have as much hair as I used to.” That was classic Brent — he enjoyed being sarcastic and laughing, especially at himself. Not surprisingly, his favorite TV shows were comedies: South Park and Seinfeld.
Despite the hair loss, and the extreme weight loss he’d endured, he always found the silver linings. For example, after going to the doctor for a check-up, he excitedly shared the results with me.
“I’m ripped!” He exclaimed. “I have less than 10% body fat!”
He could find the positive in anything.
The tumor had affected Brent’s limbs on the right side of his body, but he was determined to keep driving his car. Rather than being dependent on others, he had his car modified so he could use both pedals with his left foot. Ecstatic, he told me that he could park in the “best” spots: the handicapped parking spaces.
Brent became a school psychologist because, like me, he loved working with children. Brent joked that he became a school psychologist for three other important reasons, too: “June, July, and August!”
Although often sick and frequently unable to work due to his compromised immune system, Brent didn’t talk about feeling ill. He wasn’t one to complain. Many of us donated sick days so Brent could take as many days as he needed.
When Brent’s tumor returned, more aggressively the second time around, he lost his balance frequently, often bumping into walls as he walked. Despite his difficulties with balance, he rarely used his cane. When he wanted a soda, he always asked if anyone else wanted one, too. He’d scoff if others tried taking the trip to the vending machine for him; he was determined to be independent.
Brent died shortly after his second bout of cancer. He hadn’t even reached the age of 45. It hit me hard. I lost a friend, a mentor, and a colleague.
In dealing with Brent’s death, I found comfort in the Baha’i writings, which reassured me that our physical body dies but our soul lives on forever:
And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 155.
The Baha’i writings also reassured me that Brent’s illness never impacted his soul:
Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind. That a sick person showeth signs of weakness is due to the hindrances that interpose themselves between his soul and his body, for the soul itself remaineth unaffected by any bodily ailments. Consider the light of the lamp. Though an external object may interfere with its radiance, the light itself continueth to shine with undiminished power. In like manner, every malady afflicting the body of man is an impediment that preventeth the soul from manifesting its inherent might and power. When it leaveth the body, however, it will evince such ascendancy, and reveal such influence as no force on earth can equal. Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 174.
In these beautiful passages, I found solace. Brent lives on, awaiting the rest of us in the next world. After shedding his cancer-riddled body, I have no doubt that his soul is exceedingly happy – and I’m guessing he’s probably making everyone laugh.