It's long past time I paid tribute to a family that we count among the closest friends we've ever had. If you don't know these people, this post might not mean much to you. But if you do, I know you'll agree with what I have to say about them.
I thought it appropriate to begin this post with a video that my wife shot on an old VHS camcorder, where I introduce this family to my family. It was shot in February of 1989, which tells you how long we've been friends. We didn't own a camcorder at the time. We had rented one for the weekend, and one of the first things I wanted to do with it was introduce my family to these friends of ours. Now I want to introduce them to you.
We met Galen and Jan Koch (pronounced "Cook") in the late 1980's. They attended a Sunday School class for young married couples that we also attended. They were young enough to be in a young married class. We weren't. Galen and I hit it off immediately. We had a lot in common in terms of interests and background. We were both thinkers and writers. Soon our families became fast friends, and we've been that way ever since.
My wife and I didn't have kids, so most of our friends have tended to be childless as well. That's how it usually works. People with kids hang together, and people with no kids do the same. But in the 1980's, when we were in our 30's, our closest friends were two couples with small children. Galen and Jan were one of the two couples. Michael and Denise Cork were the other. Because of this, we had the privilege of watching our friends' kids grow up. The adorable little girl I'm holding in the video has two kids of her own now.
That's Nicki, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the top. Let's start with one of the closest friends I've ever had, Galen Koch. When Galen and I met, I was struck by his thoughtful, calm demeanor. I knew I wanted to get to know him right away. He was an engineer with Martin-Marietta/Lockheed-Martin/Lockheed who worked on the space program, which in my eyes, made him infinitely cool. He had top secret clearance, which scared me.
Galen and I shared interests in sports, music, religion, and politics, though we rarely agreed on many of those topics. One thing in particular that I always found infuriating about him is that he was a Dallas Cowboys fan for his whole life when he had never lived in Texas. Until much later. This made no sense to me, and still doesn't. But that's Galen.
Another interest that Galen and I shared was in comedy. We used to enjoy putting David Letterman style Top Ten lists together and delivering them at church events. On my 50th birthday, Galen and our mutual friend Gary Miller put together a Top Ten list especially for me; The Top Ten Good Things About Mark Bradford Turning 50. I wish I could find it now, and I don't remember most of it, but it was hilarious. The one entry I remember was that my love of 80's music could be chalked up to senility rather than poor taste. If you know me and Galen, that's a great joke.
When my wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary, we asked Galen to give the toast after our recommitment ceremony. His beautiful words made the occasion even more special.
Galen held me accountable on many occasions when I needed it. He was a friend who was always there for me. You may have noticed my use of past tense when talking about Galen. More on that later.
His wife, and our dear friend, Jan Koch, is like a sister to us. She's one of the most admirable women I've ever known, and my admiration for her has only grown in the past several years. Jan is probably the most nurturing person I know. She and Galen did foster care in their home for many years, and adopted one of their foster children, Athena.
Jan's nature has always been to be more focused on others than herself, many times to her own detriment. But she's learned in recent years to be strong for herself. I'm very proud of her for that.
When the Kochs lived in the Denver area, Jan used to clean our house once a week. Boy, do we miss those days! I clean the house now, and I don't do nearly as good a job of it. Once, when she was at our house cleaning, I had to pick my parents up at the airport, who were visiting us for the weekend. Almost as soon as I left, Jan locked herself out of the house. So she had to wait outside for about two hours until we got back.
We had a hot tub at the time, and she told us she had used it while we were gone. My dad asked if she had a suit with her, and she said no. That raised some eyebrows until Jan said she only stuck her feet in! Sorry, Jan, but I had to tell that story.
Their son, Tony, and I had a special relationship when he was growing up. I remember having many adult conversations with Tony when he was still in elementary school. Once, I was at their house, watching a basketball game with Galen, and somehow the subject of racism came up. Tony didn't understand the term, so I explained that some people think that black people aren't as good as white people. Tony was incredulous.
"But that's not true!" He exclaimed. "I know it's not true," I replied, "but some people think that anyway." Galen was sitting right there while this conversation was going on, and it occurred to me that he might not want Tony to know about racism yet. But Tony and I always seemed to talk about those kinds of serious topics. I think he got his serious nature from his dad.
Tony served in the army, and now has a successful career with a family of his own. He and his beautiful wife Melanie have two boys. I especially like Mel because she's a Broncos fan. Galen unfortunately brainwashed Tony into becoming a Cowboys fan. He actually used that word to me, Tony. He said he was brainwashing you to root for his team. I guess it worked.
I can't describe how much I admire the man that Tony has become. He and have I reconnected recently, and I referred to the conversation we had in my post, "Another Sleepless Night." I still get a warm feeling when I remember that conversation. We can still talk about adult stuff, and I'm really glad.
Then there's Nicki, who I love as though she were my own daughter. We've had a special bond since she was very young, as you can tell from the video. She didn't want to let go of me, and I didn't want to let go either. But I'm pretty sure she went to Daddy after the camera was turned off.
Nicki's always loved being on camera, and the camera loves her. She's a great singer and worship leader, and I'm proud to have had some small impact on her development in those areas. She and Tony both recorded for me when they were kids, which added to our relationship. Tony was great, and has a nice voice as an adult, but Nicki's a pro. Always was.
When you get to my stage of life, you start thinking about your legacy. If Nicki's stature and effectiveness as a worship leader are part of my legacy, I couldn't be more proud. She teaches elementary school, and was named Teacher Of The Year by her school last year. She's an amazing woman. Like Tony, she married well. Her husband, Josh, is a great man, and they have two beautiful kids.
While I know and love their youngest sister, Athena, I didn't have the relationship with her that I had with Tony and Nicki, because in 2001, our dear friends, the Kochs, broke our hearts by moving to Ft. Worth, Texas. Athena became a teenager without us around. I wonder how much she remembers us.
In my recent conversations with Jan, Nicki, and Tony, I've been struck by the maturity in their voices. I've told them that I know that maturity is not from years alone. It's been hard won. This is a family that has had way too much heartache and tragedy in their lives.
Galen, for all of his wonderful qualities, struggled with depression for his whole adult life. He was on medication for it for years, and they were constantly changing his cocktail to try to keep him stable. The whole family, along with all of their loved ones, suffered through many difficult times directly related to Galen's depression.
The church was packed. Standing room only. Nicki gave a beautifully written and delivered eulogy. Not only that, but the next morning in church, she stood on the platform and sang a solo. Pure professionalism. Have I mentioned how proud I am of her? The picture below is from that Sunday.
After Galen's funeral, a group of us went out to eat and remember. It was a wonderful time. As we left the restaurant, Jan thanked us for coming, and my wife said to her, "We came for you." And we had. For Jan, Tony, Nicki, and Athena.
Just a few months prior to this, I had gotten the chance to travel to DFW for a gig, and got to stay overnight with Galen and Jan in September of 2010, only four months before his death. I treasure that time now.
Galen's suicide revealed the harsh reality of depression to me. This is important, folks. Depression is not just being sad over circumstances. It's a chemical imbalance in the brain. It's actual mental illness. This illness took one of my best friends. That makes me mad.
I will admit that I was angry at Galen for years for leaving us. For leaving his wife, kids, and new grandkids. But guess what? I don't feel that way anymore, for obvious reasons. I know now that I was wrong to feel that way. Now I'm the one who may be leaving. If I leave sooner than some think I should because I refuse some treatment, you may be mad at me for a while too. We tend to get selfish when our loved ones leave. I don't blame Galen anymore. Please don't blame me, if it comes to that. You may think we had a choice, but we really didn't.
When I was putting the video together, I wanted to save a frame of me holding Nicki when she was little. You've seen the one that I posted above. But that one wasn't my first choice. My first choice was the one below. At first, I wasn't sure about the implications of this photo, but now I think it's right.
Nicki and I have reconnected in a very special way in the past few weeks. When her dad died, I made a promise to Nicki that I would be there for her. That I would try to be a substitute dad to her, as much as I could. I have not kept that promise, but I'm starting to keep it now. The relationship we had when she was a little girl is back big time, and it makes me so happy. Just like in this picture, I'm holding on to her while her dad looks on. One day, I'll hand her back to him.