Weighing heavily on my heart and mind this week is the loss of two of my friends from East Rome High School. Cathie Cagle Wise, class of ’72; and Joel Jones, class of ’76.

Cathie worked for 28 years with Scripps-Howard Cable Co. before working for Ear, Nose, Throat and Allergy of Northwest Georgia. She passed away June 15 after a long battle with cancer. We rallied around her, encouraged, supported and prayed for her during her illness. Throughout those days she had several victories for which she was exceedingly grateful. She was astoundingly grateful for her friends and family as well, and posted often on Facebook her insights and thoughts on things, along with pictures of her grandchildren.

I think Joel graduated from UGA. He was always interested in archeology and that is what his degree was in. For several years he lived and worked in Arizona as an archaeologist and then moved back to Georgia. He worked as an archaeologist in Athens, Georgia. Joel passed away June 17 in Athens. He, too, succumbed to cancer. Joel’s sister-in-law kept me up to date with how Joel was doing throughout his illness. It is she who contacted me to let me know he’d passed away. With her permission I posted on Facebook about Joel’s passing. The response was nothing short of immense, as was the response on Facebook to the news of Cathie’s passing.

Joel had three siblings: Brett, Laura and Russell. Mama taught them in 2nd grade at North Rome Elementary. Joel, Brett and I were in the band so most of my memories of Joel have to do with band. I called our band director, John Carruth, and left a message for him about Joel. He called me and I said, “John, these losses are always tough. It must be difficult for a teacher, especially a band director such as you, since Joel was in the middle of all our activities with the band.” John said, “You are exactly right!”

Cathie and Joel both struggled with cancer. Eventually, they could no longer fight that battle. We never want those whom we love to suffer but even so we hate to lose them. I have often wondered what in the world is in our air and water, or our food, that continues to wreak such havoc with us through this evil monster called cancer.

I once knew a couple, both of whom had cancer. The husband got it first, and was sick for a long while. He was a young man, with two children still at home, when he eventually passed away because of the cancer. His widow got cancer a few years later. She struggled for years and, because of the cancer, eventually passed away. At the time she died, their children were in college at UGA. The couple lived in the same house, of course, so I wonder how it is that they both got cancer. I do not find that coincidental.

There is never anything clever enough that we can say to a bereaved family. However, people will remember that you were there for them, especially during the loss of a loved one. I am very saddened by the loss of these friends. I have a zillion fun memories of both of them. I picture Cathie having fun in the student section with all the gang at an East Rome High School football game. She was so much fun to be with. I recall Joel in his Gladiator band uniform, laughing and having fun in the stands with all of us in the band at an East Rome High School football game. He had a razor sharp wit and was a million laughs.

An indelible part of my high school days, Cathie and Joel were great folks and it was a joy to know them both. Cathie is in heaven right now having fun at a football game. Joel is in heaven right now planning a mischievous prank for the East-West football game. I truly find comfort in all the great memories I have of them, and I hope all their other friends will as well. Heaven now has two more Romans. That is, two more Gladiators. Cathie Cagle Wise. Joel Jones. May they both rest in peace.

Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, a writer, avid cyclist, history enthusiast and ardent reader of Southern fiction. Readers may email her at pamterrellwalker@gmail.com.