Editor's Note: The positive side of social distancing is spending time with those closest to us. But casual acquaintances can have a huge influence on us as well, and we often fail to say just how important they have become. Crops Technology Editor Pamela Smith shares a lesson in not letting the opportunity to say "thank you" slip away. (Greg Horstmeier)
I didn't know his last name. I had a hard time remembering his given. He was the grandkid of some people who moved in down the road. The one with the big smile. The one who loved my dog. The one who made me smile.
He was the one who would always say at every greeting: "Hello, how are you? Everything OK? How's your husband? Are you traveling? Tell me what's new?" It came in such a gush of energy that we always went firing past all the need for names and niceties.
Eric Briceno, 20, died April 29, 2020, of brain injuries as a result of an accident. I was told he fell from the end gate of a truck and hit his head. That kid was always on the run -- fueled by enthusiasm.
And, he was always working. As a high schooler, he had worked as a vet technician for a local veterinarian. More recently, he'd been working at the farm store weighing how and what career he might pursue in agriculture. He'd fallen in love with agriculture and I was looking forward to helping him along that path.
I realize now that I often shopped at this store, not because I needed a bolt or another bag of birdseed, but because I needed a dose of Eric.
And when my golden retriever, Lucy, saw him, she would break into a run and instantly flop, feet up, at his feet, wiggling all 90 pounds of her in absolute glee. "Hello big girl," he'd always say. "You can't help it. You love me, don't you?"
Once, I told him a dog like Lucy senses what is special inside you. He nodded and smiled at me with that always grin. I hope he knew that dogs often express sentiments that, sadly, humans forget or find difficult.
Many young men and women die too soon. Their obituaries are filled with what could have been. Mine for Eric is filled with what was.
He was kind and caring. I hold in my heart his concern and brave actions when a stray dog began terrorizing our neighborhood. I'll remember his resolute look when we searched and finally discovered the remains of a pet rabbit taken by a hungry fox. I'll think of the first time I met him, only a grade schooler then, when he knocked on our door and politely asked my husband for help with a lawnmower, and then offered to pay him.
He was full of questions and he listened so intimately to the answers. He would often quiz me weeks later about something I'd said. Too often, I would have to stop and think hard about what had even happened. He made me, more than three times his age, want to be better at making others feel important and valued.
Over the past few months, social distancing had regretfully curtailed our random meetings. Two weeks ago, I slowed the pickup to say howdy from the side of the road. His hands were full of the flowers he was helping his grandmother plant and per usual, he was carrying his sunshine with him.
Driving away, I turned to my husband and said: "That kid is so special. He is going places."
I never imagined it would be so soon.
The sadness I've felt over Eric's accident and death has surprised even me. Perhaps it is because I was never in the inner circle of his life. Losing him seems lonely and so very personal. Perhaps because in these extraordinary times our emotions are all laid bare.
What I do know is knowing him has convinced me we can't be afraid to be open to such friendship. Soon, I hope my heartache will give way to embracing another smile and perhaps a tad more openness about how much it means to me.
With that, comes hope.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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