Brent and I were at the 2017 Final Four when I met a group of middle-aged guys who told me they’d been going to the Final Four — college basketball’s annual championship weekend — every year for two decades. I told Brent about them, and he raised his eyebrows, one of his goofy trademarks, in excitement.
“That’s gonna be us,” he said.
And he was right. That was gonna be us. As college basketball teammates, we’d sat next to each other on every Division III bench in the Midwest, and as friends we’d already traveled all over the map. We attended the 2018 and 2019 Final Fours, too, and, despite living states apart, sandwiched in other weekend trips.
On each trip, our friend group would stay up late, laughing at old memories and planning new ones, drunk on time we didn’t know we didn’t have.
Brent LeMoine passed away on Wednesday after a yearlong battle with lymphoma. He was 26 years old and the most giving, loyal friend I ever knew.
He was big, famously tall and strong. Too big for anything to harm him. Someone would make a joke at his expense, and he’d grin and shrug it off. I’d literally jump onto his back like a jungle gym as we’d walk to the Dining Hall, and he’d brush me off his 6-foot-5 frame with a wave of his shoulder and a laugh.
It would be easy to fall into the trope of calling him a “mountain of a man,” but he wasn’t. Mountains are rugged; they’re unforgiving. Brent was a tree of a man, rather, a Giving Tree, like the one Shel Silverstein wrote about. Gentle and generous. He’d give you the shirt off his back — “Seriously, take it, it’s fine,” he’d say — even though it’d probably be too big for you.
Other people’s happiness was at the forefront of Brent’s mind, and he was always willing to support others in what would make them happy. If you wanted to go to the concert, he’d accompany you. But actually, if you changed your mind, and staying in and watching the game sounded better, well, it did to him, too. He’d walk you to class, even if it was in the opposite direction of his. He once hosted a massive, campus-wide block party, continuing an annual tradition at our college, losing hundreds of dollars in the process but shrugging that off, too, in favor of his peers celebrating graduation weekend.
He was the type of friend who, if you were stranded on a highway, would have hitchhiked his way there, just so you wouldn’t have to stand by yourself. When I’d announce at midnight on a Tuesday that my schoolwork and procrastination had once again forced me into pulling an all-nighter, Brent would shrug off his plans for sleep and say, sure, he could probably do the same.
He hated to be alone, but he hated even more if you were.
He had a smile as wide as his shoulders and eyes that always seemed eager, and as we entered our mid-20s, he’d slap his arm around you and ask you how you’d been, making sure things were going well in your world.
Brent was resilient. He weathered a devastating personal tragedy a couple of years back and told me about it through some tears as he drove me to the airport. My ride had bailed at the last minute after a weekend reunion, and so he drove me, two hours out of his way on I-80, just so I could catch my flight. He was happy to do it.
In The Giving Tree, the children’s book, a big, benevolent tree gives everything it has — first its leaves, then its apples and branches, and finally it’s trunk and stump — to make a boy it loves happy. Brent wasn’t much different. After he’d given us everything: a ride to the airport here, a shoulder there, plenty of laughs at every stop along the way, Brent’s body became weak in his last months. In our final conversations, Brent asked how my girlfriend was doing, he asked how my work was, and he told me that part of the reason he was looking forward to entering hospice care last week was so that he could build up his strength to see us, his friends, a few more times. He was, again, thinking of us.
Even now, he left us with a gift, a lesson to cherish every moment we get with each other. He left a Brent-sized hole and a Brent-sized reminder to enjoy these times, for they seem infinite, but are not, even for the most selfless of people.
“Some people just get unlucky, Hayes,” Brent told me two weeks ago.
I suppose he’s right. But for those who got to know Brent LeMoine’s love and endless generosity, those who got to share in his laughs, those who got to ceaselessly receive from the Giving Tree, we are the lucky ones.