Editor's note: This blog was written by Ultradent President & CEO Dirk Jeffs as part of the From the Desk of Dirk Jeffs series.
Nobody really knows what happens after this life, but I recently saw a clip of an interview between Stephen Colbert and Keanu Reeves that I thought was so poignant—and that sums up what I know…and really, what any of us know about what happens after we die.
In it, Stephen Colbert asks Keanu Reeves, “What do you think happens when we die…?”
Keanu takes a deep, thoughtful breath, and in his wisdom replies assuredly, “I know that the ones that love us, will miss us.”
It’s simple. It’s true. It’s one thing I know for sure.
Aside from within Ultradent, I haven’t spoken publicly about something that happened exactly one year ago today, that shook so many of our lives and worlds on a professional and personal level, including mine. But, as I’ve thought about it more, I think it’s important to talk about it openly, because at one time or another all of us will experience it in some capacity.
On February 19th, 2022, I got a call in the middle of night, where I learned that our beloved general manager of Ultradent’s Brazil region (and my dear friend), Antonio Gomes, who happened to be visiting Utah with his lovely wife on business, had suddenly died. We had had a great week of meetings and dinners, and just like that, an unexpected cardiac event took him so fast that it felt difficult to grasp the news.
Of those moments, the word “surreal,” seems to fit best. In fact, I immediately showered and drove through the night to where Antonio and his wife were staying, at the home of our colleague Renato Miotto. I also made plans to get on a plane to Brazil the next day to be with Antonio’s team, whom he adored—and who very much adored him back.
The pain I felt and witnessed in others as the news of his passing spread in those first few hours and days is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Because of his many gifts and how much I enjoyed being around him, I hoped I’d get to work with Antonio for the entire duration of my career. I wanted more time. More time enjoying the brilliance he brought to Ultradent, and more importantly, more time laughing and talking with him. It felt, and still feels unfair.
Antonio had an easy, calm way about him, but he was always the proverbial duck on the water—furiously paddling beneath the surface in order to grow the business and make big things happen, all while keeping a notoriously cool head. It was impressive to watch.
His team and I knew him for his remarkable gift for listening, as well as his immense generosity—which he used (often under the radar) to bless and improve the lives of the people he cared about. This included often giving extra financial support straight out of his pocket if someone he loved found themselves in a pinch. Antonio loved his family, he loved his team, he loved his friends, and he loved Ultradent.
We’re now lucky to have a new Brazil GM in place, and I’m more than confident that Ultradent Brazil’s future is bright and in the best of hands. Finding someone to fill Antonio’s shoes was a huge challenge, and I count finally filling his position as one of our big accomplishments this past year, as I knew it would be difficult.
But on a personal level, just as the character “Red” famously said in The Shawshank Redemption… “I guess I just miss my friend.”
Throughout this difficult time for me, as well as for everyone that knew and loved Antonio, I’ve found myself cycling through the various stages of grief—from denial, to sadness, to anger, to acceptance, and back again.
But I’ve also felt a new determination to try and take what I can learn from this experience and improve my life and the lives of those left behind in Antonio’s wake.
Ultradent’s founder, Dr. Dan Fischer, often humorously ends his lectures by saying, “I’m going to make a prediction, and that prediction is that everyone in this room, at some point, is someday going to be dead.”
It usually elicits a laugh, and it’s Dan’s signature, cheeky way of communicating a variation of things we say all the time like, “Life is short.” It’s funny how those common colloquialisms don’t really hit home until tragedy comes knocking.
I talk a lot about the value of time, and this experience has reinforced my belief and personal core value that it is priceless.
In that light—the first thing that comes to mind in terms of lessons I’ve taken from Antonio’s death, is gratitude.
Late last year, I got to meet my first grandson. To me, he is perfect. I have a beautiful family, friends around the world, and a fulfilling job with big goals that I want to be around to see fulfilled. Time is precious. I’m now even more grateful for mine.
The other thing that comes to mind concerns the people I love. I want them to be around for as long as possible. I’m huge on work/life balance, treating ourselves right, finding ways to lessen stress, and I believe that doing the things that give us the most joy—whether that’s baking, painting, riding your bike, yoga, reading, music, or whatever it may be, can make a huge difference in our ultimate longevity and health. It’s all in the balance and only you know what area of your life might need some special attention.
If all you’re doing is focusing on work, take time for your relationships and self.
If you find yourself in a place where you could use more structure, more accountability, or could benefit from some professional goal setting or therapy to achieve the things you want to achieve—do it. Do it now. As the great poet Mary Oliver said, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
If I could turn back time and extend Antonio’s life, I would do anything to make that happen—but I can’t, so in his honor, I’m taking a personal inventory, and asking myself what I can do to help myself and those around me live longer, fuller lives—making every single day count.
At the end of each of our time here, I hope there’s some sentient part of us that can look back when we can get to wherever our souls end up and say, “Wow, that was awesome.”
I hope Antonio, if possible, felt that way about his—because to everyone that knew him, including me, his life mattered! And to echo Keanu Reeves, we miss Antonio so very much.
Thank you, Antonio, for teaching me so many lessons in life, and in death. Thank you for your irreplaceable time, your care, and your way of being. Thank you for teaching me to re-evaluate what matters most. Thank you for all you did for Ultradent—but most of all, thank you for your friendship.
In loving memory of Antonio Gomes, 1965-2022