Honoring an old friend’s life after his tragic death

My old friend Phil was killed in a tragic automobile accident last July. He left behind his wife, Judy, and their son, daughter and grandkids.

He and I first met in kindergarten. Our birthdays were less than two weeks apart. Phil was a town kid, while I lived out in the country, so in our early years we didn’t see one another much outside of school.
Phil was smart, studious, athletically gifted, a bit shy and introverted. He had a wry sense of humor and laughed easily. I played sports, although not well, worked hard enough to make the B honor roll when I needed to (in my teens, the B honor roll was my parents’ standard for getting on their car insurance), and only shut my mouth when changing feet. I guess opposites do attract.

A radical turn

By Curt Hanson
By Curt Hanson

We lost track of one another for a while after high school, but in my early 20s Phil and I reconnected. He lived and worked in Duluth at the time and I was living in Wadena. But most weekends over the course of a two-year period we hung out together — a pair of bachelors who were not averse to a beer or two, liked to joke and laugh and exercise, and didn’t have girlfriends to occupy any of our precious time. I soon moved to Crosby-Ironton, closer to Duluth and my buddies.

Then one day I met Mary Beth Anderson and the object of my precious time took a radical turn.

Phil met Judy shortly after MB and I were married, and we got together as couples a few times. But the distance that had not fettered “heading north” in the past, began to cast a shadow on my weekend travel.

After all, I was trying to fix up a little house that Mary Beth and I co-owned with the local bank.

Before long another Hanson entered the scene, a tiny one whose very presence was enough to engage every fiber of our attention. Old friends seemed to fall by the wayside as our family grew. Phil and I rarely, if ever, saw one another as we tended to our own families during the ensuing years.

Mary Beth and I were on our way home from visiting our kids and grandkids in Washington (the state) when I received the call from another old classmate, alerting me to Phil’s death. “Curt, I have bad news,” he said. “Phil was killed in a car accident yesterday and I’m trying to get this out to his friends.”

We were heading east through Montana on I-94 when I answered that call. So many thoughts ran through my head. I hadn’t spent a minute with Phil in the past 20 years, yet I was deeply saddened at the news.

How is Judy doing? Or his kids, who I only met once as infants? What kind of a friend had I been?

Making a change

In life, Phil had paid tremendous attention to his health and body, carving a physique that made him look years younger than he was. He trained with weights, golfed, ran and even played some basketball into his 60s.

In the old days, he and I did many of those things together. Over time, however, I had allowed brownies, pork chops and chocolate chip cookies to sculpt my physique.

A few weeks after Phil’s funeral, I went down into our basement and looked over the exercise equipment we had amassed over the years: Olympic bars and bent bars, adjustable dumbbells, benches, a treadmill and exercise bike, quite a few plates of various weights, etc. I prayed right there among all that stuff — for the repose of Phil’s soul, for peace for his loved ones, that his grandchildren would have memories of him. I decided to do something for my health and well-being to honor Phil’s life.

I set up a fairly gentle exercise regimen for myself, stuck to it, including prayer before, during and after the workout, and over time, added pounds, repetitions and new exercises.

I still pray today for Phil and his family but have added many prayer intentions to lift up as I “lift up” semi-heavy objects. I feel better and have more energy because of my workouts. God often turns the worst circumstances into something good for our loved ones, our souls, our minds and even our bodies. Because he loves us. Because he’s God.

Curt Hanson is executive director of The Catholic Foundation and director of the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development.

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