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DOWNTOWN DES MOINES, Iowa, December 23, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – This will be the first Christmas that my family won’t get our annual airplane-themed Christmas card from a dear friend.

Tom passed away in early April in a plane crash. 

He shared my husband’s passion for planes and flight, and he shared our Catholic faith.

He was a glowing example of joy and he embraced life. Tom was gracious, kind, always positive. 

He was the friend you really enjoyed having on Facebook too – because whether he was letting you know simply how his workout went that day, or where he happened to be landed at that moment while working as an airline pilot, his posts exuded joy. Tom made the details of daily life – like what’s for lunch over here in this part of the country since I’m on stop-over – things of simple joy.

And in this same way, we always knew when he’d gone to Mass.

Our relationship with Tom developed more from across many miles, his living in Florida and our residing in Iowa. But because of his delightful persona, I for one, felt like he was always nearby. 

The outpouring when he passed showed I was not alone. 

Just as we were able to stay connected on social media when Tom was alive, some of us, previously strangers, shared our grief with each other in that fashion upon hearing the news of his death. It was shocking, eliciting physical reaction, and being able to join with others having that same pain, even so from far away, was an extraordinary comfort.

Tom knew and touched people in numerous different places.

Hearing the stories of how he’d touched others – so many of them – was a great comfort as well.

Connections were made. 

For all the mess and negativity spread every day across social media, this was one day when this mode of communication delivered in a profound and positive way.

The majority of us could not travel and attend Tom’s funeral on short notice, and I implored some who could to be certain they offered his family comfort for those of us who could not do so in person. 

And to make sure they knew just how deeply he touched others.

Being in contact with newfound friends in this way helped us to feel an almost palpable connection as Tom was laid to rest and as some gathered afterward to celebrate his life.

Tom was a single man. But his single light brightly shined, casting warmth on those blessed to know him.

We had no idea, when my husband and I met him for breakfast at the Lake Mary Bob Evans a year ago April, that it would be the last time we’d see him on this earth. We had a nice long breakfast, but it wasn’t long enough. 

The perennial ideas that “life is fragile” and we must “live every day to the fullest” while true, fall short in the midst of the loss. Tom did live to the fullest, and this is part of what brings home the pain of his loss so very acutely. 

The pain of mourning a loved one is part of recognizing the fragility of life and integral to living it to the fullest. 

I’d like to say that meeting others among Tom’s friends after he died has been a silver lining on the cloud of his untimely death. It has been, but I’d still rather have him back with us – no offense to any new dear friends.

I’d like to say there could be some comfort to be had in knowing Tom died doing what he loved. But I’d still rather have him back.

I’d still rather get one of those airplane Christmas cards, even if it is one we’ve gotten before.

I can only imagine how Tom’s family is facing their first Christmas without him. I pray they’ll have God’s grace in getting through.

I’m hopeful and prayerful for Tom’s salvation in Christ – the reason He came for all of us.

I’m going to hug my husband; my kids and other loved ones extra hard this year. 

Yes, because the loss of Tom reminds us life that is fragile, and also because of how wonderfully Tom showed us how to live. But even more so, because my prayer for them is the same as it is for Tom – salvation. 

A merry Christmas and God’s blessings to us all.