My father was 50. My cousin Korey's husband was 45. John Ochoa was 47. All three men whose heartbeat mysteriously accelerated rapidly, and then stopped. All three were very good men—intelligent, hard-working family men who left this world far too soon.
For my Dad, it was 30 years ago, leaving behind Mom, and 17 year-old Me. Besides his wife Korey, Steve Dudley left behind three daughters in 2002—ages 15, 11, and 8 at the time. In their late teens and early twenties now—Mikenna, Taryn, and Rhiannon still miss their dad, and you can see some of his traits in all of them. In addition to his wife Raynee of almost 25 years, John Ochoa had a daughter who will turn 20 this year, and a son about to turn 18.
One of my friends pointed out that John was the first of us to die young, or at least of natural causes. I knew a few kids in high school who had been killed in a car wreck, one or two who committed suicide, but I didn't really know them. I heard one girl I went to high school with was murdered. I really liked her too, and often wondered what exactly happened. But this was the first of my friends. I always thought that if one of us was going to die early, it would be me.
I've known John and Raynee since high school. I was there when the two of them got together—admittedly a little jealous of John at the time. They were a typical high school couple. They had little their little spats, but John was miserable when Raynee wasn't around. They got married about four years later.
I lost touch with them for awhile. Everyone having their lives and their jobs. I saw them a few Christmases ago, when the kids were little. The four of them came over to the house to visit. I didn't see them again until a funeral two years ago.
In December, I gave in to some peer and family pressure and reluctantly joined Facebook. I'm glad I did, because when I posted a note that I missed the snow in Palmdale last month, John responded that in Colorado, they would have called that frost. My birthday is February 2. John posted a smart-alecky note about my age, and then wrote “Ya, I haven't changed.”. I responded with a snarky note of my own, and 48 hours later, I got a call from Raynee, saying John was gone.
The memorial and graveside service was Friday. It was a capacity crowd at a 200-seat local church. There wasn't just one eulogy. Instead, many people got up and talked about John—telling in their own words how dedicated and loving John was to his family, and also how even though he was quiet on the exterior, John was still involved in a lot of causes—organizing a dance-a-thon when we were teenagers, and recently trying to get people to sign up for an Alzheimer's awareness walk. I spoke about a summer when Raynee had gone out of town for over a week, and how insufferable John was, even though he kept saying he was free of the “ball and chain”.
Another story about John at the service came from Raynee's sister Gloria. John, even as an adult, took yellow caution tape and completely wrapped it around her car so she couldn't get in. John was quiet, but it always seems like the quiet ones are always up to something.
After the funeral, there was a short graveside service, which I did attend, and a reception afterwards, which I did not. I hate those things, and I had already talked to Raynee and her children.
Unbeknownst to the family, but fittingly for me, John was buried at the same cemetery as my dad, less than a football field's length away. Even though it's been almost 30 years between the time I lost my father to the time I lost my friend, it's been just a short walk. Rest in peace John Ochoa.
Photo: John (right) with (from left to right) daughter Leanna, son Johnny and wife Raynee. On his facebook page, John tagged this photo, “3 reasons why I get up every morning”