That is a rough translation of the first line of the German military funeral hymn, “Ich hatt einen Kameraden.” It is also the funeral hymn of the French Foreign Legion. On this the old enemies do agree. Death and loss make comrades of us all.
It has been thirteen years as of this August 11th since I spoke at the memorial service of my friend Jan. We had met the previous year by virtue of our common interest in the Lovecraftian role playing game, “Call of Cthulhu”. He had been a television journalist in Norway. He had come to America with his new wife, and was trying to get work as a reporter here. I was trying to build a career in writing at the time myself and was just starting to be published in a couple of magazines. He was unable to get a work permit in spite of being married to an American citizen. In Norway he had covered the war in Kosovo and been wounded. Here he couldn’t get a job. Thus they were trying to get by on what his wife earned and the occasional copy he could file to Norwegian TV over the telephone. He was still happy though because there was a baby on the way.
Then one day when we were at a game session together he started complaining of the noise in the room and of headaches. When he started running a fever he wrote it off as a nastier than usual case of the flu. When his fever hit 102 we tried to talk him into seeing a doctor but, having come from a country with free medical care he was afraid of going deep into debt.
Then his fever spiked and his wife took him to the ER. After initially misdiagnosing him with influenza, they found that he had viral meningitis. A little over a week later he was dead.
He was 24 years old.
It took less than a year for our national xenophobia and our profit-driven health care cartel to kill him.
When his mother took his ashes back to Norway to scatter at the place of his birth, customs tested them for drugs.
He told me once that in Norway they had national health care and unemployment covered you at 80% of your former wages for up to 5 years.
We have wars and greed.
We have to do better.
We owe it to the dead.
Be seeing you.