Family, friends rally around T.J.
A heart of gold.
A friend for life.
These are the phrases that have for years been the way I -- and others -- have described longtime friend T.J. Langer, who last Friday was critically injured in a snowmobile accident on Candlewood Lake.
For the past week, his big circle of family and friends has been rallying and praying at his side as he fights for his life.
T.J. suffered a fracture at the base of his skull and sustained brain injuries. He underwent surgery and is recovering hour by hour, day by day.
The outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming, testimony to his character and the love and friendship T.J., 38, has shared with so many people in his life, from his childhood days attending the First Congregational Church in New Milford and his school days as part of NMHS' Class of 1994 (which next month will celebrate its 20th reunion), up to his more recent years as a family man in Danbury.
He is loved by many and known to all as the easy-going, laid back guy whose heartfelt laughter makes you smile when you're in the room with him.
He is the kind-hearted guy who, at a moment's notice, will drop whatever he is doing to help someone in need -- no matter the hour -- and often can't say "no" when he probably should.
He is the go-to guy whose counsel is often sought by friends and family when they have car or boat troubles, for he has logged hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in shops and in driveways tinkering with, building, working on and repairing cars and such -- ever since his hands were big enough to hold a tool.
He is the big kid with a child-like heart who plays hide and seek, gets down on the sidewalk to draw chalk pictures, winds up with sand in his boots in the sand box and slides down the slip-and-slide -- even though it's meant for kids -- because he is a big kid, and enjoys being around children at summer picnics and parties.
He is the guy who most people thought would never grow up, never give up some of his "boy toys" (though they're not all gone) and be seen driving a van, but eventually did to accommodate the needs of his family, his fiancÃ©e Lisa and three children.
He is the dedicated, loving godfather who, two weekends ago, showered his 2-year-old goddaughter with skates and hockey gear at her birthday party because he played ice hockey in high school and he can't wait to teach her how to skate and play on the ice.
He is the invested friend who will sit and listen when you need to talk and show up an hour late to dinner at home because he was helping someone when they needed him.
He is the guy who still calls my mom "Mom" years after we dated and split (although he calls many friends' moms "Mom") and politely reprimanded me not so long ago that I was remiss in not calling him sooner to let him know of certain family matters on my end.
He is a goofy, fun-loving guy who is confident in who he is and enjoys himself wherever he is, albeit dancing at my wedding (though he can't dance), doing a silly spin before releasing the ball at the bowling alley or just getting his hands dirty in the garage or outside.
He is happiest with the simplest things in life, like being around family and friends, and being outdoors on his boat, snowmobiling or fishing.
T.J. is a constant. He has always been there, with an open heart and a smile, for everyone.
Today those who know him are there for him.
Tears have been shed, hugs have been shared and words of comfort have been exchanged with family and friends as we have gathered at the hospital, shared prayers on his caringbridge.org page and on social media, and spoken on the phone.
We have joked that T.J.'s strong will -- more aptly called his stubbornness -- will help his recovery. He'll work hard to get better because he won't want to be stuck in a hospital bed.
It will take time, though, and we all know T.J. likes to take his sweet ol' time with things.
It's still too soon to tell what the future holds for T.J. As of press time, Wednesday was in critical condition and is showing minor improvements, such as "purposeful movement." As of Friday (Feb. 7), he is in stable condition.
It's been a rough week for those closest to T.J. And the accident and his injury have served as a reminder to many of just how precious life is.
As many of us have witnessed all too often in recent years in our community and beyond, in the blink of an eye, tragedy can strike and the people who are important in your life can suffer life-threatening injuries or illnesses or, worse yet, not make it.
Every day is a gift, so live life free of resentment and regret; treasure your relationships; and tell those you love that you love them, whether they are near or far.
And when you see someone's light shine, let the world know about it.
T.J. may not be able to share his thoughts with his family and friends right now, but one thing is certain.
We can all still hear his heart of gold beat and see its light shine.
For more information about T.J.'s recovery, visit www.caringbridge.org and search for his last name. A fund is being set up to help defray medical expenses. See the webpage for details in the coming days.
Deborah Rose may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-355-7324.