..Jon Simonds..

A Friend Departs

It's Christmas. Countless homes glow in the night with the hue of decorative lights. Waves of people flock to malls like multi-colored leaves swept through alley's by the winds of winter and somewhere, some school teacher announces to a classroom full of innocence that Santa Claus is not real.

"Good Gosh," my friend, Bruce Bell says to me. "Why would anyone say that? I'm well into my forties and I still believe in Santa Claus. I still see him, slipping into the souls of millions who run out and buy gifts for the less fortunate. I mean, just look at the toys the different agencies collect. You know how terrific it must feel for those kids to wake up in the morning and have gifts to unwrap? Don't tell me there isn't any Santa Claus. Somehow, some way, he makes it into every home in the world."

Bruce, who spent the better part of his life installing cable for what is now Brighthouse Networks, made his way through each day as if it were Christmas. Cliff, a Brighthouse supervisor recently told me, "It didn't matter how awful the install was, or, how angry and frustrated the customer was. Bruce saw it as just another home to straighten out and another customer to please. I never heard that guy utter a single complaint."

Bruce always shrugged off the compliments and praise. He, of the humble soul, once said the only good thing he's ever done in his life, were his children Peach and Zachery. Two beautiful children in their early teens.

A few years ago, right around Christmas, Bruce brought his daughter to my home. In my house-of-mixed marriage, we light the Chanukah candles along with the Christmas tree lights and on this particular night, we were eating Potato Latkes and Kugal. Both Bruce and Peach were a little apprehensive when my wife stuck plates of food, in front of them. Bruce, ever so polite, promised to try a little. The name, Kugal, alone, frightened him. Between him and his daughter, they ate so much I nearly had to roll them out the door.

I hadn't known Bruce for very long, but on that night, I felt we were friends. I was happy to find in him, an individual who could laugh at the bumps in the road, who wasn't afraid to express himself; to council those who came to him and always ready to pitch in and lend a hand.

I think it was mid-October when he started to slow down.

"I don't know," he said. "I just don't feel like myself." And then he laughed and raised his hands to his chest. We didn't yet know that he had a rare form of leukemia. It wasn't a week later that he was told. I'm not really sure he knew what it meant. "Yeah," he said. "They're going to admit me. The doctors are talkin' about this aggressive treatment. I just want to get in and get it all over with."

"Yeah," he said. "They're going to admit me. The doctors are talkin' about this aggressive treatment. I just want to get in and get it all over with." His sister, Erin, recently sent out an e-mail. Only Bruce could bring a smile to everyone's face, while lying in the ICU, moments before being sedated. She described his spirits as up and his sense of humor as subtle and gentle as ever. Bruce, who always greeted me with a handshake and a "Hey buddy. How ya doing, died on the evening of December 17th and in the warm glow of the Christmas lights decorating all the houses around me, I can't help thinking of something Bruce Bell said. "Sometimes it hurts so much to love. But is there really a greater gift for giving?"

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