I sat by what appeared to be the deathbed of a good friend 10 years ago. It took that long for the Grim Reaper to catch up with Larry Ennis.
I held his hand as he told me how he wished for more time to see his children and grandchildren mature with age. The athletic events he would be missing. The school accolades they would be receiving. The big hit at Foxwoods and Vegas that had somehow eluded his touch.
Truth be told, Larry Ennis enjoyed life and wanted to hang around for several more years. I watched a tear trickle down his cheek as he recounted his jolly life as a Little League coach in our city and the many fine years he spent in the supply room at Haverhill High School.
I recall one time being “Teacher for a Day” and introducing myself to the class. I went to put my name on the blackboard and found a piece of chalk no bigger than my fingernail.
“This is absurd,” I snickered to myself. “These teachers don’t have adequate supplies.”
I asked a teacher where I could find some chalk and they told me to take it up with Mr. Ennis in supply.
“Hey, I know Larry. He’ll honor my request.”
A call was quickly dispatched to supply for a “Mr. Vartabedian,” who was teaching class for the day. On came not one stick, but an entire box of chalk with a note.
“You didn’t have to fill out a requisition sheet for this,” he wrote.
I thought, “For chalk?”
Guess they do it by the book around these schools.
Larry coached my own kids when they were going through the Little League ranks. He was a fundamentalist. He made the game fun. Larry’s son Shaun was my son’s best friend. The neighborhood kids were tightly-woven gym rats in their youthful prime and Larry kept their lives in order.
On this day, the chatter at what we thought was his deathbed was about the Patriots and Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins. It always came back to the kids, however. They were the love of his life.
Larry held court from his bed for several weeks, living off antibiotics and the acute care provided by wife Charlotte, who much later would precede him in death.
They had called in hospice for Larry. He had his affairs in order and was preparing for the worse. Hospice Chaplain Allan Press was a regular visitor to the Ennis home. Larry had gotten frail and appeared close to his final journey.
He called me one night filled with emotion.
“I have a favor to ask,” he said. “Will you be a pallbearer at my funeral?”
“Don’t talk like that, Larry. Think positive,” I replied. “You’ve always been a positive guy. But if it’s for the worst, and makes you feel better, I would be honored.”
In the days that followed with subsequent visits, he spoke of his Army days in Vietnam, his traveling exploits throughout the country, even his own high school days. His home was diagonally across from Haverhill High and, in healthier days, he often greeted the students as they came and went while he tended to yard work.
As miracles sometimes happen, so they did with Larry Ennis. As if his guardian angel answered his prayers, a ray of sunshine began to appear in his cloud. His condition reversed itself. Instead of withering away into repose, he bounced back.
Hospice visits were met with jubilation. So were visits from me. In short order, off came the bed sheets and into the real world he returned. Larry Ennis had bounced back with a renewed vitality.
He retracted his request for selected pallbearers. Any premeditated funeral arrangements were thrown into the incinerator. The Grim Reaper he had seen was given a boot in the rear.
One year of new life turned into two, then five years and finally 10. The guy who was supposed to die lived another 120 months, taking his trips again, enjoying his kids, following his sports. He got to see a Stanley Cup title for the Bruins and two World Series championships by the Red Sox.
He got to see his grandchildren gain another decade of promise. The demise that Larry Ennis had expected now became a revelation. Every day became a new gift.
Larry Ennis passed on May 14. I suspect he died of a broken heart after losing his wife, Charlotte, rather than any health issues. They had been married for 45 years.
At his funeral, people recalled how he had cheated death for 10 years. They talked about his resilient manner and his high spiritual values.
Somewhere up there, he’s smiling down on us. When you’re facing the worse, think for the best.
Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.