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For Brian, Today

what I learned from the too-short life of a friend

Doug Mell

I first met Brian Leaf in 1980 when he was a scrawny, mouthy, irreverent and totally irrepressible part-time employee for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, where I began my 30-year career in journalism. We remained friends as Brian graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a journalism degree and started his own career.

We met up again in Madison in the mid-1980s when we spent three years together working for the Wisconsin State Journal. Since 1988, Brian has lived and worked – mainly for the newspaper – in Rockford, Ill., with his wife, Mary Kaull, also a journalist, and his two children.

On Feb. 22, Brian died way too early at 57 while leading a spin class at the Rockford YMCA. As his daughter Sally said at his over-flow memorial service on Feb. 26, Brian died because his heart was just too darn big.

Brian’s death hit me hard; he was a real good guy who lived life to the fullest, and his passing left a big void in all who knew him. His memorial service was like a convocation of UW-Eau Claire alumni. I have been thinking about what I could learn from the way Brian lived his life and what his death possibly could teach me. This is what I came up with:

I will not listen to music that sucks, pay attention to people who suck or waste my time on things that suck.

I will appreciate whatever nature dishes out – rain, sun or snow – and I will spend as much time as possible soaking it all in.

I will not, for even a second, take my family for granted or think that what I have with them will last forever – because it might not.

I will treat every friend and family member like they are the only one I have, cherishing every second with them and making sure they know how important they are in my life.

I will not take myself too seriously.

I will be eternally grateful for everything my God has given me, for reasons I will never fathom or fully appreciate.

I will not measure my worth, or anyone’s, by what is sitting in the driveway or in the bank account.

I will remember where I came from, who traveled along with me, and never, ever forget that life is about the journey and not the destination.

I will not go one day without a good laugh, a good cry and a good hug. (That’s borrowed from Jim Valvano’s famous ESPY Awards speech.)

I will retain an insatiable curiosity about our magnificent world and always wonder what is around the next corner.

I will not waste my precious time worrying about what could happen tomorrow or six months from now – or regretting something stupid I did yesterday.

And, most importantly, I will treat every day, every single damn day, like it might be my last and leave it all on the field.


Thinkpieces are reader-submitted reflective essays. A wide variety of ideas, analyses, and notions are welcome. Submit your essay for consideration to giffey@volumeone.org.

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