By Kathy Collins
As we all start 2017, I look back on the last year with so many memories. Most of them were happy, some were less so. As all of you know, in April 2016, we received an e-mail from Don. He thought it was important to share with us why he was yet again, in the hospital. Initially, it was thought to be yet another bout of Pancreatitis however, the docs thought it might be something more this time. As he so eloquently (and quite detailed I might add) told us about all the various x-rays, MRI’s, blood draws and pretty nurses (he liked those a LOT), he (and we) found out the dreaded news. It wasn't pancreatitis… it was something much worse...X#%*^! cancer.
After the initial shock wore off and the fog cleared for me, I was able to see something incredible unfold. Every one of us instantly opened our hearts and our arms to welcome Don in for support and strength. Now, we all know Don would never ask for a damn thing (his dang pride and all) but, he never had to ask. We just rallied together and formed what he later deemed, "Don’s Battalion”. He was beyond surprised and touched by the love he saw from everyone. I even recall a conversation with him where he expressed utter shock. You see, Don was a sarcastic man who never minded telling you exactly what he thought, any time, any day. He was always right (and I mean ALWAYS), and to quote him “The world would be a much better place if everyone just did things the way I do!”. He was gruff, opinionated and demanding. But inside of that hard exterior, there was a completely different Don. I was lucky enough to know that part of him very well. He was loving, generous, kind, gentle, humble, so darn smart (too smart for his own good at times). He would do anything for you if you were part of what he called his “inner circle of friends”. Every one of us on this e-mail made his list, which says a lot. He had more friends than he ever realized and it wasn’t until he sent this e-mail out, and received the overwhelming replies, that Don was able to see how much he was loved and admired. He touched so many lives, in a multitude of ways. His flying friends, his work friends, his roommates, his gun friends, his ex’s (me), his family. We all formed this HUGE circle that surrounded him and tried our best to protect him from the enemy. And boy did Don fight. And when needed, his Battalion was right there with him, holding him up when he was tired, making him laugh when he wanted to cry, offering a shoulder when all he could do was cry, bring him food, visit him in the hospital, send him cards and flowers, text and e-mail him just to check in. His army never failed him, and Don fought hard but his last battle was just too much. Most of you already know this but, some of you may not have heard. Don’s fight has ended, his war is over. He is finally without pain and can now go back to doing the things he loved most. Eating good, no GREAT food, having the occasional drink when the moment calls for it, shooting every gun he can get his hands on, flying RC planes until his thumbs go numb, and laughing every moment of every day. I personally don’t know how to get through the days, weeks, months and years to come without hearing his voice, or reading his grouchy sarcastic texts. But, I think what will keep me strong in my weaker moments is remembering him in all his glory. And thanking him every chance I can for leaving us with the greatest gift of all. Don brought all of us together in his own crazy way. He gave us the chance to reconnect with old friends, make new ones and remember what life is supposed to be about. Don may not be fighting any longer but, Don’s Battalion will forever remain in tact. Don learned something from all of us too. We are stronger together than we could ever be alone. He would want us to honor his memory best by always and forever being Don’s Battalion.
Blue skies forever Donald Wayne Rice. You are gone but never forgotten. “I carry your heart, I carry it with my heart”
Love to all,
Kathy (I’m the ex). :)