Update: 10/15/2010. This is the end of a truly awful week. But it was a week that also revealed great love and respect. Rick’s wake was this past Sunday (10/10/10) and thousands (no exaggeration) of people showed up to pay their respects. The line of mourners was continuous from 3:30 to 8:00pm. This number included many kids that Rick coached or who were instructed by “Firefighter Rick.” It was a tough and emotional time for Karen, the kids and all the family.

Rick’s funeral was held on Columbus Day. The Sterling Fire Department (SFD,)  in particular Lt. Tom Kokernak, made sure that Rick had a proper send off. His casket was carried on a black bunting draped caisson/fire truck to St. Richard’s Church from the funeral home. The total distance was approximately 1.5 miles. Just before the procession reached downtown Sterling, the Westford Fire Department Pipers and SFD color guard joined the procession, leading it. Next was a color guard from the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, and a large contingent of Rick’s fellow guards. The procession then passed under the outstretched ladders of two fire ladder trucks, from which a large American flag was hung. At the church, a large contingent of area town firefighters as well as DOC guards was present, as well as representatives from the Knights of Columbus (of which Rick was also a member.) It should be mentioned that along the route to the church, hundreds of people stood with hand-painted signs and small children wearing plastic fire helmets to honor Rick. It was truly touching.

After his funeral, Rick’s casket was carried once again aboard a fire truck on the way to St. John’s Cemetery in Lancaster. Debbie and I were happy that the procession passed our house on Highland Street, where Rick grew up. As was the case en route to the church, there were many people holding signs and many, many young kids wearing fire helmets and/or sobbing. When the procession entered St. John’s Cemetery, it once again passed beneath the towering ladders of two ladder trucks with the large American flag suspended beneath. At the graveside there were hundreds of mourners, as well as many firefighters and DOC guards…and the color guards. The most touching part of the ceremony was when Tom Kokernak presented Rick’s #28 fire helmet to Matt. Oh God how I felt for the kid, as well as for Karen, Abby and Luke. I think we all saw Matt grow into a man from a boy.

I learned this week that although we all felt that Rick belonged to his family first, he truly belonged to the world. The number of people touched by Rick was amazing, and it made me proud that I was privileged to know him. It is going to take a while before Debbie can regain her footing…her grief is so strong. I’m in a haze as a result of his passing from us. I grieve for him as well, but I thank God that He did not make Rick suffer, and that He welcomed Rick with open, loving arms to be with Him.

God bless you Rick. Watch over Karen and your kids, and make your family strong in their time of great grief and stress. Debbie and I love you very much.

UPDATE: 10/6/2010. Unfortunately my brother Rick lost his battle yesterday with a most cruel and cunning enemy. He is now with God and at peace. I cannot explain how incredibly painful it was to watch this once vigorous and athletic man be reduced so quickly to a shell of his former self. But I’m comfortable with the knowledge that somewhere in Heaven that God has asked Rick to help Him by helping others there — a task that Rick will do without hesitation and to the very best of his abilities. And he will continue to make countless more friends in his new home.

God bless you Rick. We miss you more than you could have ever imagined.

[The following is the original post from September 14, 2010.]

As we all know, life is a series of ups and downs. Sometimes, for whatever reason, people experience more downs than ups during their lives. From all indications it’s a random occurrence, and people learn to live with the hand that they’ve been dealt. In the vast majority of these cases the recipient of the less than good luck are just like any other of us. The only thing that separates them from us is luck…and sometimes in the case of health…genetics.

This is the case of my brother-in-law Rick. In his adult life he has had to deal with more than his share of infirmity, starting with the health of his then-infant son Matthew. Matthew was an otherwise healthy one and a half year old baby just before Christmas in 1996. But things were not what they seemed from outward appearances. Little Mattie was diagnosed with stage IV liver cancer, and things drastically changed for Rick and his wife Karen. Their three lives became a whirlwind of doctors and chemotherapy treatments and hospitalizations and surgeries. It was a tough and nerve-wracking time for our entire family.

But with the support of more prayers that could be counted and the skill of the oncologists and surgeons associated with Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA, Matt was saved. In fact, Matt has thrived. He is now a high school freshman and quite a multi-sport athlete. Whether he knows it or not, he truly is a miracle child…and a true joy and blessing to our family.

Now, Rick is a physically tough guy. He’s a firefighter/EMT in the small central Massachusetts community of Sterling where he also lives. He is also a prison guard at MCI, Concord, MA. He has a busy professional career, indeed. He’s also a devoted husband and father. Rick is tirelessly involved in his kid’s many activities. He coaches baseball and football, and if there is a children’s activity in he town, he is more likely than not a volunteer. He is also affectionately known as “Firefighter Rick” to the local grammar school kids. On numerous occasions, he dons his firefighter gear and speaks before the kids, stressing the importance of fire safety. I might be biased because I’ve known him for such a long time, but he’s a great guy and without question a role model in his community.

But for a little more than a year he had been bothered with acid reflux and other indigestion-related discomfort. With his work schedule and the list of volunteer activities, a little agita was not unexpected. He addressed his problem first with over the counter antacids…and when things weren’t getting any better, then with visits to the doctor and an increasing list of more powerful medicines. But nothing seemed to work, so he finally decided to get a second opinion in May. He wasn’t expecting the results of his tests. Nobody in the family was.

On his youngest son Luke’s first communion day, he was diagnosed with late stage esophageal cancer.

Now the past is prologue for Rick and our family. He is now in the position that little Mattie found himself in in 1996. Rick is presently being treated at Dana Farber himself. He finds himself with the same dizzying array of tests and doctors and treatments and procedures. He is presently in the thick of his treatment at Dana Farber, and all we can do is keep our fingers crossed, hope and pray. He knows that it is going to be a tough journey to get well. We all do.

None understand this better than his brother and sister firefighters in Sterling and the grateful members of the community who have recognized his selfless contributions to the kids in their community. The Sterling firefighters have stepped up for Rick in a BIG way. They are engaged in fundraising activities on many different levels — including running a dunk tank at the annual Sterling Fair this past weekend. Several larger fundraising events are planned in the near future, and the activities are summarized at this website:

GIVE. LOVE. FIGHT.

I’m not looking for donations from you…I’m asking for your prayers for my brother Richard W. Maypother, Jr. He has a long fight ahead of him, but he is a fighter and he can win his fight against cancer with our help and prayers. He has a family and so very many friends who care deeply and love him dearly.

Your prayers for Rick will only encourage him to put up the good fight. If he is half the man that Matt is turning out to be (and I know that he is), then he will have no problem defeating this enemy.

So, again, his sister Debbie and I ask you to pray for Rick and for his complete recovery.

May God bless you Rick, and give you the courage, strength and endurance necessary to get back to the things that you love most.