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Remembering Matt

I don't use this space to write about personal stuff much.  Today I will diverge.

Today is my friend Matt Grindy's birthday. He is 33.  Or well, he should be.  Instead he left us, just a few days before Valentines Day in 2008.  He barely saw 27.

I met Matt, like we all meet so many people in our lives, simply by chance.  In the summer of 2006, I went back to graduate school. I had initially signed up for a class at FSU in the Political Science department, but a friend of mine, Trevor Kincaid, suggested I take a political communications class taught by Danielle Weise in the Communications Department.  So I did.  

I walked in the first day and I was both the oldest one there, at the ripe age of like 31, and one of only 8 grad students in a class mixed with graduate and undergraduate students.  I was in a suit, and rather stuck out in an afternoon summer class at FSU.  I am sure you can imagine.

Matt Grindy was a PhD student in the class and on that first day, introduced himself, probably mostly curious what this guy in the suit was doing.  Tall and casual, the look of a lifelong grad student, I liked Matt immediately and we started to hang out.  And when the class was over, we would occasionally meet for coffee, debating things like who would be the next Democratic nominee for President.  I liked Obama.  I think he was more a Richardson guy at the time, but think I helped him get there on the junior Senator from Illinois.

About that time (I may have calendar a bit wrong), Matt found out he had a rare and rather devastating form of cancer.  He spent a lot of time getting treated at Shands, and spending a lot of time on the road, I started to go see him, typically as often as I could get an hour or so off the interstate in Gainesville.  I often stopped too so I could update our mutual friend, Alex Acosta, who was living in Mexico about how Matt was doing.  It was about that time that I met his wife Amber Bell, who if there is ever a book written about caring for a loved one, should be the subject.   Unconditional love doesn't even start to describe the way she cared for him during that time.  

Matt's treatment was brutal.  They threw pretty much everything they had at it.  It seemed every time they would get close to some new treatment that might get him on a better path, he would have a setback, and by the time he got to Moffit the last time in 2008, he was in bad shape.  Anyone who has walked the cancer journey with a loved one knows this story all too well.

But this isn't a story about death. Its a story about living.

The whole time Matt struggled, he kept those around him in good spirits.  And he never stopped chasing his dream, finishing his Ph.D.  While undergoing some of the hardest cancer treatments around, he co-wrote a book, finished his coursework and dissertation and never lost hope that he would live.  Simply, he never stopped living.

I remember going to see him in Tampa maybe a month before he passed.  He was surrounded by old friends who had come to be with him in this apartment near Moffitt where he lived between treatments. All he seemed to want was to go home.  His pain was hard to watch. Yet even as he would squirm in his chair trying to find any comfortable spot, he was quick witted with his friends.  And while the drugs didn't seem to matter to his comfort, going home did.  That was his wish.  And he did, on a journey that Amber once told me was probably as hard as a lot of his treatment. 

I got to see Matt a few more times before he passed.  But like the 50 or so others that were there, I'll never forget the last time.  See FSU's administration had learned how sick he had become and knowng that Matt had completed his requirements for his Ph.D., much of it done while surviving cancer, made the determination that he was ready to graduate.  But since Matt had no chance to living until graduation, the President of FSU came to his room, with his Major Professors, and graduated him in his hospital bed.  He had done it. 

I tried to go see him one more time and Amber said it wasn't possible.  In the end, he lived two more days. 

Matt and I had talked over the couple years before he passed that maybe we'd work on a campaign together, starting by helping Barack Obama together in 2008.  I had this little dream that maybe they would call me and give me a shot to run it.  It wasn't likely, but it was fun for us to talk about those times in the hospital, or in the coffee shops in downtown Gainesville.  He'd always say "why not you" or "why not go after it -- what do you have to lose?"

In the end, I did get that call, but he didn't make it that far.  Had he, Matt probably would have been the first guy I hired, just because I liked him that much.  And trust me, when days got tough in that campaign, I'd often walk into the little park across the street from our office and think about Matt.  In fact, I still often do.

In life, we are shaped by the people we meet.  You never know when the next new person in your life is one who will have a profound impact.  Meeting a friend like Matt was the last thing on my mind when I walked into that classroom in the University Center in May of 2006.  

In the end, I knew Matt less than two years.  But his impact on me, like so many others who he met, will last a lifetime.   In the end, even in his hardest days, he never gave up, he never got angry, he never said why me, and he never, ever, stopped chasing his own personal rainbows.  A lesson for all of us.

Amber - Thanks for letting me part of your family for those two years and Matt, thanks for your friendship and I can't wait to go find a cup of coffee with you one day.

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Reader Comments (3)

I remember reading Matt's story (I think you posted the article about his doctors last year (?)) but this personal reflection really augments the story. What a gift that you had that time with him, even though it was all too short. Thank you for sharing this.

October 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaula Kiger

A fitting tribute to my sister- in-law's step son, Matt. Though we only met he & Amber once, he held a very charismatic presence that you wouldn't forget. He truly lives on in his works. Thank you for such a moving piece. BTW, Yeah Sewanee's Right! (C '85)

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Stafford Malik

Thank you for your comments about my son.

September 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterScott grindy

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