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My Best Friend's Final Moments Showed Exactly the Type of Man He Was

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“The future lies sparkling ahead… and we thought we’d know each other forever.” — Sleepers (1996)

Of all my friends, Adam Wight always reminded me most of my mom.

He was almost a foot and a half taller than her and probably weighed twice as much, but there was something about his personality and the conversations we had that always struck me as so Fran Wentinkish.

To Adam, I had the Midas touch. He was always so proud of my life, and much like my mom, the praise he heaped on me was almost to the point of happy embarrassment. I don’t think I ever deserved that kind of adulation from Adam, but it never made me uncomfortable because with Adam (as with my mom), I knew it was real. There was no ulterior motive or feigned praise — just love and true friendship.

When I was in high school, I got Adam one of his first jobs at Cosmo Cleaners, where I was also working at the time. On Adam’s first day of work, our manager, Mr. Kim, pronounced Adam’s name wrong. He called him, “Adams.” I still clearly remember Adam giving me a look, like he knew I’d just won the lottery with a new nickname to tease him with, as high school friends do so well.

Over the years, he earned many other nicknames, including Honest Adam (because Adam couldn’t tell a lie) and Tiny (although he wasn’t, standing 6’4”), but I always remained most fond of Adams. In birthday/Christmas cards, I’d address him as such, and he finally gave in and started signing his cards “Adams” back. 

There was no air conditioning at Cosmo, so on some days, I couldn’t wait for the moment I’d get into my dad’s car to head home. But Adam would kindly decline the ride and run home instead. It was only a mile away, but after standing on your feet for eight straight hours in a humid store listening to customers complain about random stains on their clothes or the level of starchiness in their shirts…well, I think most 14-year-olds would look forward to some rest. Not Adam.

When he was younger, Adam was shy, especially around other girls. He was so shy, in fact, that he came to me for advice on how to talk to the opposite sex. I helped coach Adam through the homecomings and the proms. I even outlined – in bullet point fashion – his exact words when he asked his date to senior prom. 

Adam certainly blossomed in later years, and when he met his beautiful wife, Jill, no Mike Wentink talking points were required. 

I also taught him the art of not arriving on time for school. Adam didn’t drive until he went to college, so during our senior year in high school, I was his main ride. Most mornings were spent in my family’s station wagon, beautifully adored with wood paneling. We’d screech into the parking lot and race against the morning bell to make it to our first class. 

After graduation, we attended different universities and saw each other sporadically during random visits or at home in Springfield during break. After college, I settled into a corporate job in northern Virginia while Adam, a captain in the Army, lived in Upstate New York. 

This was before the dawn of social media, but Adam and I still kept in close touch, and in his sincere way he heaped praise on my achievements at Capital One.  He enjoyed the stories I shared with him about the girl of my dreams that I’d met at work – my future wife, Angela.

In a tribute to how special our friendship was, Adam – unannounced – took the microphone at my wedding and spoke to how proud he was of me and my life. 

I think Adam took my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis harder than I did. I rarely saw or heard bitterness from him, but the day I told him about MS, what it is, how I found out, what the future may or may not hold – he just seemed to be upset at the world.  His words still echo in my ears, “This doesn’t make sense. Mike Wentink doesn’t get MS. It’s not supposed to be this way.” 

Towards me, though, he directed warmth and encouragement, promising support from any end of the world. From Adam, I knew he meant it.

As the years passed and I started writing about life with my disease, Adam would call to check in, to praise my latest post or just to say hi. His new career in real estate brought him to San Antonio periodically and the Wentink house was often blessed his visits. Our children dubbed him “The Thing,” of superhero fame because of how big and strong he was.   

This past summer, my family took a vacation back to Virginia. Part of our trip was spent in Williamsburg. Adam and his family drove from their home in nearby Virginia Beach to see us one night.

It was like old times for Adam(s) and me. We joked, talked about life, marriage and the beauty/chaos of parenthood. Our families ate dinner, visited a candy shop for dessert and then we found an open field in front of the Wren Building on the campus of William & Mary where our kiddos could run around together. Our children became fast friends, much like Adam and I did many years before. His daughter and my son even held a mock wedding ceremony with each other. The children coaxed us into participating; Adam was the father of the bride, and I “officiated” their nuptials.

While our children continued to entertain each other and our wives chatted, I marveled with Adam about how far we’d come. Just two Springfield boys, who married (way) up, both blessed with two amazing children – it was a surreal moment, as both of us basked in the glory of truly living the dream.

We’d come a long way from kicking tape around the floor at Cosmo Cleaners. And the future lay sparkling on the horizon, full of endless possibilities.

One hundred and 37 days later, on November 22, 2014, my dear friend Adam died of a massive heart attack. He was 38.

Early the next morning, as I was leaving on a family vacation for Thanksgiving week, I learned about what happened. As I told my wife, I went numb, lost balance in our room and went to the ground as tears streamed down my face.

Our children came wandering into the room, so exciting to be getting on a plane in just a few short hours. Concerned, they asked if Daddy was all right. I had no response; I tried to smile and hide my sorrow from their quizzical, yet so innocent eyes.

It was a cruel irony – the primary reason for flying out to San Diego for Thanksgiving week was a feeble attempt to overcome the sadness from the recent passing of my mother. We have no family in San Diego; it’s not a Wentink tradition — we were just hoping for a peaceful getaway.

While in California I learned the last few minutes of Adam’s life were spent reading my previous story, “A Tale of Two Treatments.” As I type those words, they are still no easier to digest or understand than they were when his wife, Jill, shared his final moments with me. She said Adam had handed her his phone, told her she needed to check out my latest post and remarked on how I’m such an inspiration to him. A few minutes later, Adam collapsed to the ground and did not survive. 

As we spent the week on vacation, I found myself reflecting, much as Adam did, when he learned about my MS. It didn’t make sense. Adam Wight is larger than life; he can’t be hurt. He doesn’t die at 38. It’s not supposed to be this way.

Adam James Wight leaves behind Jill, his amazing wife of eight years, two beautiful children, Allison (6) and Mitchell (3) and countless heartbroken family, friends and acquaintances who had the pleasure of knowing him, seeing him smile or hearing him laugh. 

Adam gave more than he ever expected in return — a selfless lifestyle to emulate. Even in his final act, he was bringing grace and love into our world, as he showered a friend with high praise from afar.

I will miss you, my friend – you are the one that we can all inspire to be.

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In loving memory of Adam James Wight (1976-2014)

This post originally appeared on A Life Less Traveled.

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Originally published: January 8, 2015
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