Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bob Curtis

My friend Bob Curtis died recently. On Sunday I attended a memorial service for him. Bob was diagnosed with cancer in January. In February, after radiation and chemo, he developed complications. He died peacefully at home on March 16.

Early on a website was set up so that his many friends could monitor his progress and express our love and concern to his wife, Linda, and his family. So when we learned he had passed it was not a total surprise. But it was shocking nonetheless. Bob was 63 and appeared to be a vibrant, healthy and happy man. Check that. Not ‘appeared.’ He was a vibrant, healthy and happy man.

I have an intense dislike for funerals. Usually they are pro-forma recitations larded with heavy religious ritual. Rarely do they capture the essence of the person who can no longer speak in his own defense. Memorial services are a little more tolerable, but I find that I resist them too. I don’t need to say my goodbyes. If there is something incomplete in my relationship with the person who is gone I prefer to complete the process privately. It may be interesting to hear what others have to say, but I don’t need to listen in.

Having said this I notice a contradiction. I think it would be great at some point after I die if people get together to celebrate my life and our relationship. The music should be Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.” A funeral is totally unnecessary. There will be ashes and I’ve told Sandra what to do with them. A religious service for me would be inappropriate and laughable. But a celebration of some sort? Not a bad idea.

So if it’s OK for me, why my resistance to attend such occasions for others? The honest answer is I don’t know. But I have a theory. I don’t like to yearn for or live in the past. What’s interesting to me is now, the present. And when I think about memorial services it looks to me like a reason to try and recapture ‘the good old days.’

But I saw in Bob’s memorial service that it doesn’t have to be that way. There was a formal program for about an hour at the beginning. People who were closest to him talked. Each person was personal, brilliant in their expression and appropriate for the occasion. I liked this part.

Then there was a casual lunch and good wine. I liked this part too. And what I liked best was counter to everything I would have guessed going in. It was a chance to see and talk to many people I hadn’t seen in years. Yes, people from the past. It was fun and satisfying to reconnect, albeit superficially and only for a few minutes. Who woulda thunk it?

I didn’t stay for the final part in which there would be a chance for people to talk about Bob and their relationship with him. I’d still rather do that on my own. Had I stayed I would have said that while I knew and had a friendly relationship with Bob during the 1970’s and 80’s when we worked in closely related organizations, I really got to know him later when we had gone our separate ways. I can’t remember exactly how we reconnected, but we did.

After he married Linda Brockbank almost 7 years ago Sandra and I developed a kind of tradition with Linda and Bob. A few times a year we’d have a great meal together, usually at a restaurant we hadn’t been to. And always, wine would be a feature of the event. We all shared a love of special grape juice.

In talking with Linda the other day I realized something I hadn’t articulated to myself before. One of the qualities about Bob that stands out the most for me is his ‘no bullshit’ approach to life. What you see is what you got with him. I really like that.

During his illness, Sandra and I toasted his and Linda’s well being every evening when we first tasted the vino that would grace our table. I think I’ll do the same this evening.


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