I don’t have a copy editor for this personal blog. Please send all typos and corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks! - A
This weekend Liza and I packed up the car and drove to upstate New York from our beloved Providence. It’s not the first time we’ve made the trip. In fact, it’s a route we know pretty well by now, having driven the same tracks to visit my brother Andrew and his family at West Point a few times.
Sunday’s trip wasn’t for something so joyful as that, however. We were driving to a wake.
Last week my family learned that a member of our extended tribe had passed away, abruptly, and surprisingly. Rich was suddenly no longer with us.
I loved him but didn’t tell him that enough before I couldn’t ever. So, a short note about someone good is the best I can do. Please take a walk with me.
Rich is hard to explain. He wasn’t closely related to me. In fact, he wasn’t related to me at all. He was the step-dad of my second-oldest sister’s husband. On paper that sounds tenuous, but it wasn’t. He was a treasured member of the growing group of humans that I’m lucky enough to call my family.
But none of that is why Rich was hard to explain. It was how he acted.
In life, Rich was what everyone claims a passed away loved-one was: kind, caring, patient, and focused on others. But instead of merely fitting those criteria when it came time to draw the curtain over his life, he was a model of regular compassion while he was still with us.
Let me try to explain. Rich was the sort of person who you’d turn around and find helping someone through a door. Or with their jacket. Or helping clean up. Or offering a kind word. Or talking to that person that no one was really excited to chat with, but needed an audience all the same. And he’d do it again, and again, and again.
The only time I can recall Rich ever making a negative comment was back in my early twenties. I was playing bartender for some party my parents were hosting. I had just learned how to mix drinks and was pretty proud of myself. Rich, a man who had a good taste in essentially everything, asked me to make him a drink. I did. He sipped it. “No,” he said.
He wasn’t wrong, looking back.
Rich’s pervasive gentleness and regular compassion made an impact on me. So much so that I used him in conversation as an example of someone I wanted to be like when I grew up.
And I only got him in my life for a decade or so.
I became acquainted with Rich when we first met my sister’s future in-laws in upstate New York, near where we’d circle back later to say goodbye too soon after that first hello. After that, we were in and out of each other’s lives during all that happens in families, weddings, births, arguments, holidays, stress, and good times.
He made it to Liza and my wedding just this June. The pictures from that event, up until now mere artifacts of joy, are now more than that; they mark my last moments with a very good human.
A private person, though. At the wake, a room full of people draped in the trappings of grief and rapid preparation, his two biological sons spoke. They said that their father had been a quiet man, someone who didn’t share his feelings overmuch. That was true.
The pair of fine humans (I got to meet one of them earlier that day, and somehow found myself without something to say for the first time in my life, tongue-tied by an event — death — that I don’t know well and honestly don’t want to better learn) said that they were thankful for the packed room. It helped them understand their father more, they relayed. Seeing all the gathered mourners “helped illuminate” him in “a much brighter light.”
If he was hard to get to know it’s because he didn’t talk about himself very much. This post is an attempt at doing that for him.
I wish I had told him all this when he was still coming ‘round but I can’t. So I’m telling you.
P.S. I just went back through our wedding photos. I could find just one that Rich is in. Here it is, with the man himself in the background: