A Tribute to a Dear Friend

Back in 2009 when I started the blog, I didn’t expect much. I thought I would write a bit, maybe meet some new people, and find a resource or two in helping with the biggest move I had ever done.  Now being 2021, I look back at that almost 12 years later, and I am blessed to have so many of the “OG” friends that I made that first year still in my life today.  And one of the first friends I made was Eric Golden, who had found the blog and we just started up a friendship on Facebook on April 6th, 2010, as these things tend to happen. Wow, just hit me it’s been 11 years.

December 5th, 2011… Eric and family come on their magical vacation. They invite me to hang out with them at Animal Kingdom, and how special, we meet for the first time on Walt Disney’s Birthday! (My Dad’s as well!) We had such a great time. The boys were so little then, and number three wasn’t even in the picture yet! We did the Character Breakfast at Tusker House, and I just remember them doing a parade around the Restaurant and watching him and the family laughing and having so much fun with it.

Disney World announces that they are going to do the FIRST EVER 24 hour Magic Kingdom day, on leap day, February 29th, 2012, from start to stop, you could spend 24 hours inside the Park …. basically a gauntlet had been thrown for us “Seasoned Disney” folks, and of course, I rose to the task! Eric reaches out to me and says “Hey, I am coming for it, I’ll be on my own, do you want to hang out at it?” To which I replied, “Heck yeah” because I was going it solo that 24 too.  We met up at a WDW Radio event, he met my family, for the first time, who came in for a bit to say hi and spend time, and then they left and it was the Midnight to 6 or 7 a.m. that we goofed around and just enjoyed the magic. We were both so exhausted by the time we walked out.

Fast forward, 2017 I decide on my first road trip, birthed out of going to see my family in Wisconsin, and driving up from Florida. He invites me to come over to D.C. and stay at his home, which at first I am nervous about because it was my first time on the road by myself, but secondly, I hadn’t stayed with other families before and I was just hesitant.  Of course, in Eric and Dannelle fashion, they made me feel welcome, and we would go and visit the Bull Run area before he would take me to my first ever D.C. visit.

We parked at his Mom’s home, and she took us to the nearest Metro Station. It was so nice to meet his Mom, and even his sister that evening when they picked us up again.  I rode the Metro for the first time, Eric explaining to me what looked like a Nasa Station of buttons and whistles to choose which ticket and line to ride. And I will never forget us coming out of the tunnel and into D.C. and him watching me freak out at everything I had always seen on tv or in textbooks come to life before my very eyes. We walked from the Navy Memorial to Lincoln and back, our feet we were sure would never be the same. We got back to the Golden household and Dannelle had made us this incredible soup, and he laid down on one couch, me on the other, and we ate the soup with bowls on our chest, barely being able to move.  We laughed so hard at how ridiculous we looked, but it’s a memory we brought up every time after that we were together.

He loved Orange Bird, a Disney Character many don’t know exists, and I did as well. So I brought him one on my second trip to see them in 2018, where we walked D.C. again, this time parking at Arlington and walking to the Capitol, then catching luck with a tour bus driver that he happened to know he took us back to our parking lot.  Our feet thanked him kindly.  That same trip, Eric knows I am a huge scary movie fan, so he took me to the Exorcist stairs in Georgetown where they filmed a scene of the priest falling (pushed?) down this huge flight of stairs.  We reenacted this scene, a long with Orange Bird in it, and we had a blast….laughing the whole time at how ridiculous we looked.  For dinner we hit “Broiler Pizza” which was his FAVORITE pizza place, so he had to share with me. We just sat and ate, laughed, and reminisced about our day. And of course, another Orange Bird pic! (We had made it a game to take his pic all over D.C. and then I continued that my entire 2 months on the road in 2018).

The last time I would see Eric, was back in late November of 2020, the family came to Disney World, which I am so thankful for those memories now…for myself and his family.  We played at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom, hitting up the familiar rides and some new ones.  I made sure we had lunch at Cosmic Rays, a favorite of his, and we sat front and center to listen to Sonny Eclipse. He was in Disney heaven! I had been in Rays the day I was informed he was intibated, and it wasn’t happy anymore…. I just started at that table where we were all just laughing and having a good time and trying to wrap my head around how this was happening.  I just sat, cried, prayed, and hoped for the best. Every day, hoping that he would come back from this, and I would be chatting with him again about his next Disney trip and our plans we had made on this road trip coming up.

It would be 2 weeks ago today that I was walking out of Disney Studios, and I had just started to get back into the routines again after my Step-Dad’s heart attack.  Driving out to Texas and back, I was consumed with my own life and problems, and I am sure some will think that is selfish, but I don’t know why since it was my family emergency and it took all my brain power to deal with the crisis at the time.  As life goes, people come in and out all the time. People get busy, life changes every day, so I stopped taking personal people not returning phone calls, emails, and just chalked it up to something is also going on with them- we will connect when the timing is there. And with the lovely algorithms of Social Media, sometimes I don’t see everyone’s updates, statuses, etc. My inner circle, and outer, usually knows to contact me directly if something is urgent, and not to rely on me seeing it on my timeline.

I had a decent day, happy to get to the car and start the journey home when I started getting text messages from Eric.  He explained he had been in the ICU since 3.28 and that’s why he had been so quiet and that he was thinking of me during MY dark storm with Bob. He said he needed to talk to me, so he called and I asked him how he was, what could I do, how his wife and kids were doing, and that I was so sorry he was going through this and dealing with so much pain.  I had shared before on FB that we shared a laugh when I told him that the family was getting vaccinated, and he said “Why is your family evacuating?”  Yeah, the phone connection wasn’t the best, and after I repeated what I said, we both were laughing because he said “Why would your family need to evacuate?” But I was hearing “vaccinate” and you can assume my confusion since he was in there for Covid. He had just gotten off a CPAP machine, and said he was feeling a little better and that he just wanted to reach out while he could.  What hurts the most is that a nurse came in and he had to go abruptly, so I just remember saying “Im praying for you Eric, get better soon, let’s talk again when you can.” And he said goodbye and I went on with my day, lifting up in prayer. Less than 24 hours later they intibated him.  Eric was to be vaxxed 2 days after he went into the ICU.

For the last two weeks, I have checked that man’s FB page morning, noon, and night. Any update, any hope that was interlaced I was holding onto.  I couldn’t imagine what his wife was going through, his kids, his outer family and friends….and I held onto the light he would be ok.

Fast forward to yesterday, Craig and I had taken a weekend away to enjoy St. Augustine and then Space Coast, having fun hanging out and playing with my GoPro.   I kept checking Eric’s page, over and over again. No news was good news right?  And then it was the end of the day, and I had pulled my phone out to take a pic of a shirt that I liked the saying on, and a dear friend sent her condolences about Eric to me. And I just stopped. Everything stopped. I turned to look for Craig who was buying shirts for our girls, and I just walked up to him and said “Eric died.” We just stood in this NASA gift shop silent, the irony finding out here since Eric first took me to see the Shuttle at the Air and Space Smithsonian near his home.  You all know that moment….the silence of stopping.  There is a million sounds, but all you can hear is your heart beat growing louder, the tears swelling up, the mood shifting in your brain and almost the feeling of getting sick.  We bought our stuff, left, and drove home. Not enough tears in the World.

This isn’t a “pity me” post or a “sympathy” it is simply a life account of how I met this beautiful man and how our story began and ended. It’s still not real, and I am still trying to wrap my head around this, wide awake at 3 a.m. with it all screaming at me in my head. I can still see him and I laughing about the 3 our long Gettysburg CD tour we took with the whole family in the van and how is youngest just kept singing over and over again “Remember Me” from Disney’s “Coco” movie.  Incredibly fitting song now. And as Illuminations would say it “We go on”… a World without that loveable and silly guy, but a legend he leaves of love, compassion, kindness, and friendship.  He was like a brother to me, and I will always be grateful for the role he played in my life, and I sincerely hope I played a good one in his.  Please keep his wife and three boys in your thoughts and prayers, I cannot imagine the pain they are dealing with and they can use as much as you can send their way.

Until we meet again Eric…. May you be drumming with the angels, hugging on Jesus, and I just imagine you trying to find Walt so you can talk his ear off about everything you loved about Disney.  Goodnight my sweet friend.