High Loft

 

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It has been ten years of mounting loss: my mother, father, marriage, favored Aunts and Uncles with children of their own, and finally, the dearest bachelor Uncle who belonged mostly to me.  The cumulative weight of it all stole my footing, left me imbalanced and tired.

The first thing I did once Uncle Bobby took his leave was make an appointment with the sea: to think, to write, to breathe.

As I write this, I glance at the Horizon of Napatree Point, on the southeastern most tip of Rhode Island.  I hear fog horns, and the clang of ship bells.  The tide is low and so the waves do not pound, but rather lap rhythmically.  I haven’t breathed this easily in ten years.

I was plucked from a Catholic Charities orphanage in Saint Paul, Minnesota at six months old.  Louise and Bill Toole became my parents and brought me home to Rhode Island; the smallest of states which boasts a remarkable 400 miles of coastline.

Serendipity and the sea began for me at a very young age.

My grandparents had a home in Weekapaug, a tiny hamlet of Westerly, just north of Watch Hill. I didn’t know, when I was a girl, what a privilege it was to be by the sea.

Summers vacations were spent running up, down and around my grandparents seven-bedroom, clapboard shingled house on the shore at Weekapaug. It had a long front stairway which led to a sprawling porch a few hundred yards from the ocean.  On a clear day,  you could see Montauk Point.

My days began at the beach and ended tucked in, sunburned and sleepy in a tiny trundle bed, studying the sea glass I collected after dinner from the stretch of rocky shore in front of the house.  Blue, clear, dark olive green, turquoise, and brown. I would roll the smooth, opaque treasures in my tanned fingers as I drifted off to sleep enveloped in crisp, clean white sheets. The sound of waves was like a gentle lullaby.

That family home was sold sixteen years ago, forced by the complications of an aging generation and the next dispersed with their own growing families. The concept of a shared “family” vacation home became impractical. The sale of High Loft was heartbreaking.

I drove by that beautiful place last week, like some Peeping Tom not wanting to be seen, but wanting to see how our home weathered the last sixteen years.  I had done this drive of reminiscence before, but never when the new owners were home. Sure enough, a gentleman walked down the steps to see my stopped car and I felt “caught”.  Rather than move along, I took a chance and rolled down the window.

“Hello, I’m Ellen Toole”.

It took him but a moment to make the connection and he grinned,

“Well, hello there! Would you like to come in and see the place?”

Frank and Clare Toole had owned that marvelous home since the early 1950’s. Their name had not been forgotten.

I parked and walked up those wonderful stairs, as I had so many times, and saw that the home’s name was still in place: “High Loft”.  Rather than go right into the house, I walked immediately to the magnificent deck and was amazed to see that the green and brown wicker rocking chairs so familiar to me had been re-caned to perfection, and the wrought iron furniture of my childhood was still in place. In the center of the deck remained a vertical beam, which serves as the center hold of a circular table, painted hunter green still.

I could almost hear the chatter and laughter of so many summer nights spent on that deck. In my mind’s eye, I pictured my imposing grandmother in a colorful shift dress, and my elegant, sweet grandfather in a seersucker shirt, his wire-framed glasses suggesting dignity.  My mother’s laugh flooded my senses and I could almost see my dad, sipping a martini on the deck of the home he loved the most.

Adults with proper cocktails and the requisite cheese and crackers around 5 p.m.  Cocktail hour was a signal to the kids that dinner would soon follow.

As well,  the presence of Uncle Bobby was sharp.  He would stop there on occasion for a cocktail before heading back to Providence after a beach day in Misquamicut.  Uncle Bobby was an in-law, not a Toole.  But Grandma Barry, Aunt Rita, and he were always welcome and memorable visitors to High Loft.  The Barry’s and Toole’s were a model of melded families.

I entered the house from the back screen door, my unexpected host pleased to hear my rambling narrative of memories.  Each room brought a smile to me, so much of the home completely unchanged in the intervening years.  It was purchased “as is”, and so the kitchen and pantry were a special delight.

I spied an old-fashioned, red-trimmed glass maple syrup server often used for Saturday morning breakfast, and the dishes, with a soft pink floral design, remained unaged. Glasses, shelves of them, were the same as I remembered.

We worked our way upstairs, by the tiniest lavette I’d ever known tucked on the first landing, and then upstairs to the bedrooms which were frozen in time. The same beds, bureaus, mirrors and chairs, refreshed with new coats of paint. While in my time I’d slept in each room but the master, I hastened to my favorite: the first bedroom on the left.

That room had two things going for it: a lethally soft mattress which enfolded even the slightest body and a door which led to a porch.  As children, my brother, various cousins and I would sneak from that porch and climb the shingled roof which hung over the deck.  From that perch the view of the Atlantic Ocean was unparalleled and during cocktail hour you could safely eavesdrop on all adult conversation.  Climbing was taboo, but we rarely got caught.  If we did, it was likely that my dear dad would be sent up to retrieve us.  He would, with a wink and a smile.  It was just the sort of shenanigans that tickled him.

I’m not the first to revisit a childhood home and won’t be the last.  Regardless of any reality I’m missing, my childhood memories at High Loft are sacred.

The current owner was armed with questions about our history there.  I answered as best I could, but have no idea of my accuracy.  I’m a curator of family history, but my memories have a gauzy film; a soft lens which knows the soul of the place better than its bones.

I was called to task recently by an old someone I used to know that one of my innumerable flaws includes being “privileged”.

I would guess they’re right:  an orphaned child from Saint Paul, Minnesota finds her way to a loving family with a magnificent summer home by the sea?

Privileged seems the right word.  In my world privileged equals blessed.

As I walked to the car, the owner asked me to wait a moment and he raced up the steps to return with a piece of stationary featuring a pencil sketch of High Loft.  The sketch was done by my Aunt Jeanne in 1990 and was somehow left behind.  He handed it to me as a gift.  He was the perfect host.

I wasn’t in my old home more than thirty minutes, but I left warmed by the grace of my host and the sureness I have that High Loft is well loved and its’ history, honored.

My visit was an unexpected gift;  a great privilege.

 

Pots and Kettles..,

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And, I fail….

Often, I fall short of my best self; disappoint my positive self-perception. I don’t need to be reminded. It’s fair to say I am my own worst critic.  I’ve spent much of this past week in communion with my flaws, in reaction to a comment about my competitive tennis piece.

Perhaps you’ll indulge me.

A comment from a reader called Pot and Kettle initially made me smile. People who know me, know I have a soft spot for idioms. How clever of a reader of mine to one up me with one?  As I read, it became obvious the commenter was a familiar someone. In cleverly crafted prose, there was the suggestion that in my recent blog I had hoisted myself on my own petard; an idiom marvelously imagined by William Shakespeare.

I was quick to understand that They were the kettle,  and I, the pot.  It was an accusation that despite my public persona, I am a hurtful person.

Suddenly, the reading of comments lost their pleasure and self-doubt grabbed my heart. The Catholic girl in me chafed with guilt at the suggestion that I might be a hypocrite, a phony.

So here’s my first confession:  I recoil at criticism. In writers’ groups, on the tennis court, in the face of my seventeen-year-old daughter, criticism raises in me, first guilt, then instantaneous defense.  I might have become an attorney, so adept am I at swatting away its initial blows.

But here’s the other truth:  part of my mercurial personality comes with the guarantee that once the hot white spotlight of criticism fades, I am likely to ruminate in it, dig and pull at it incessantly to understand its source.  I can say with surety that more often than not criticism settles into a place where I give it serious study.  It is my nature to reflect on the good and bad in me and here is the not so grand:

I can be, in no particular order, judgmental, sarcastic, opinionated, and sometimes clever at cost to others. Let’s add that I might enjoy some gossip and sometimes that swagger I love morphs into an unearned feeling of superiority.

I am guilty in all those things. I have wonderful people in my life who have none of those flaws, save the gossip.  It is my experience that few of us are immune to that temptation.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  All of us walk around in this human skin which makes being our best selves, all the time, uniquely challenging.

However, there is nothing I write that is exaggerated or spun outside my truth. I write from my soul and I do not employ poetic license or seek to make my mark in creative nonfiction.  As a writer, one might call me a personal essayist.  I am not imaginative enough for fiction. The facts within my stories have credence because, to paraphrase the stunning Broadway musical Hamilton, “I was in the room where it happened.”

I do not seek to hurt.  Even in the weakness of my soul, or when anger inhabits my heart, I never take aim at someone’s Achilles.  If you see yourself in my musings and the reflection doesn’t flatter, well then, it’s likely you behaved badly.  It’s also likely that I sought to diffuse, or make amends sometime after the dust had settled.

You will not see Pot and Kettle’s comment on this page.  I suspect the source, but cannot verify. The commenter posted anonymously using a hijacked email address.

Here’s another truth: if I have something to say to you, I will say it with my ‘owned’ voice.  People pretty much know where they stand with me. Want to poke at me, challenge my veracity?  I’m open to discussion and pretty easy to find.

If you have something to say, own it.  And for goodness sakes, my blog is not required reading for anyone.

A final thought: Anonymity is the righteous domain of good deed doers and philanthropists. It’s best left to them.

 

Me and My Hobby….

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I had an old friend who once loved competitive tennis and me.  During his meandering, protracted exit from us, he said in a pique of unexpected anger,

“You #%! @?!  people take your ‘hobby’ too #%! @?! seriously!”

There was purposeful bite in the delivery and the expletives were splendidly explicit. The purpose of the pronouncement was not really to mock competitive tennis, but rather to diminish me.

Diminishment of me sort of became his hobby for a memorable stretch of time. He took that pretty #$%*! seriously.

Every once in a while, the anthology of cruelty he built with words echoes in my brain; sneaks into my frontal lobe despite the good work I’ve done to exorcise it.  That’s the thing about words I guess; powerful, deafening bells that can fade in time, but the echo never really gets unrung.

Words, words, words…. That “sticks and stones” nursery rhyme? Pure poppycock.

I’m nothing if not painfully reflective, and so two years later I might adjust the missive to suit my own voice

“Aren’t you lucky to have a hobby that means so much to you!”

Damn Straight, I am!

I recently returned from the United States Tennis Association forty and over Sectional Championships, held North of the great city of Boston.  With ten incredible ladies well passed the 40-year-old mark, I took my place on indoor tennis courts which baked in their aluminum and steel coverings all day during this relentless August heat wave. No such luxury as air-conditioned indoor courts North of Boston.  I felt like a hot dog at Fenway Park, just sitting on one of those rolling griddles waiting to be plucked and put out of its misery.

And boy was it &#%!? fun!

I admit, USTA competitive tennis can seem a little nutty to the layperson’s eye, and perhaps some of us border on obsessive. But dadgummit, it is a rare joy at our age to compete athletically for something that means anything.  Candidly, it’s been part therapy for me as I have muddled through the last 2 years.   The tennis court is a place of peace from the perseveration of things over which I have no control.

And like love, serious often comes with unadulterated joy.

I am an athlete of the Labrador variety.  As a child,  I would chase or gather any orb in site.  Softball, basketball,  and golf were the choices in my athletic prime.  Tennis was just an entertaining way to while away an afternoon with my friends after the real games were done.

At 42, I turned to tennis when sports of my childhood became more memory than sensible reality.  The ladies and gentleman I play with on USTA teams are a raggedy clan of athletes who find that competing at this stage is worth every groan of lumbar or knee, every piercing pain that shoots through shoulders and elbows.   On the court, we feel young and tend to our aches with a gladiatorial pride that we ache at all; so happy we are to still compete.

I am also mostly Labrador in my everyday life; friendly, engaging, playful and approval oriented.  Once the sports bra and the nearly too short tennis skirt gets wrestled onto my middle-aged body, all bets are off.  When I take the court in a USTA match I am there to do one thing: to win.  I am helped a great deal to that end by an opponent’s bad line call or any hint of mental gamesmanship.  Any whiff of arrogance or unsportsmanlike behavior across the net from me and it’s GAME ON!  Once a match is settled, I revert off the court to my affable self.

I have a wonderful regular woman’s partner whose on court disposition is quite different from mine.  She loves a little chatter with the opposition on side changes and court controversy discomforts her.  Her game face demands peace and focus on that fuzzy yellow ball. She calms my fiery competitive core when it overheats, while I draw grit from her zen-like center when our backs are to the wall.   Accepting each other as we are leads to winning more than losing.

This is not to say my tennis life is all serious business.  Often, USTA matches in regular season are just plain fun.  Locally, I usually know and like my opponents and those matches can seem inconsequential and controversy free.  On those days, I marvel at the lot of we middle aged athletes racing forward and backward, side to side, chasing that fuzzy ball at endless risk of injury which might wreak havoc in our “real” lives. On any match day, a teammate might catch me doing a little salsa step on the court, cuz even when it’s intense, I never forget that it’s fun.

As well, this midlife foray into tennis has brought to my world people I might otherwise never come to know in my regular world.

I have USTA tennis to thank for unexpected friendships with international flavor: Russian, Indian, Moroccan, Japanese, Chinese, German, South African, British and Spanish. I count among my tennis pals: Nurses, teachers, businessmen and women, scientists, attorneys, allied health professionals, and many friends who are chief executives of their families.   They have all added texture and richness to my life off the court.

Hmm.  That’s some serious musing about a ‘hobby’, and maybe more metaphor about life than anything else.

As in life and love, commitment, dedication, investment, enthusiasm and stamina are noble attributes to apply.  The rewards generally reach beyond expectation.

Taking one’s hobby too %&#*! seriously might apply to risking your life to find a Pokemon. Tennis, golf, knitting, writing, and anything that constitutes a “hobby” deserves enthusiastic engagement. Otherwise, what’s the point?

My ladies team advances forward to next weekend’s New England Regional Championships with a shot at a spot to compete in the national USTA Championships late October.

What’s that I hear in the distance?  Hmmm, I think it’s the echo of that swagger I used to have, coming to find me.

Belittle my hobby all you want, but at 54 that calls for some serious %$@!* celebration!

 

 

Sifting….

 

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It has been a month since his death, and friends want to know what life is like for me in a “post-Uncle Bobby” world.

Well, the big stuff is behind me.  Funeral done, the attorney engaged, insurance claim forms filled out and his apartment cleared.   My garage is filled with the big stuff: a bed, chairs, tables, walker and boxes of clothes which will find their way to Goodwill. I held out a wonderful terry cloth bathrobe and flannel shirt to call my own.

The real treasures, however, are inside my home and they cannot be rushed.

What do I do now?

Often, I find myself sifting.

Sitting Indian style on my office floor reaching into boxes with the intent to discard, but instead minutes’ turn to hours and the save pile outperforms the throw away by a wild ratio.  They are too rich, these treasures he brought forward with him through 90 years.  These boxes in which I sift and lose myself inform me further the measure of the man.

Uncle Bobby was a sentimentalist.

There are pictures, so many, of a grandfather I never knew, but am finally coming to know.  Louis Barry died when Uncle Bobby was 14, my mother just 10.  He was handsome and tall and a man of letters, and writing…. reams of writing.  He was a storyteller with a devilish wit.

A letter, typed on the most delicate sheaf of yellowed paper to the Reverend Father Gilfillan dated December 19, 1938, extolls the virtue of straight bourbon over whiskey or mixed drinks,

“Cocktails, a distant relation to both alcohol and whiskey, is ruinous to health and happiness, and mostly consumed by the idle rich, actors, actresses and the great writers.”

Or the letter dated July 12, 1936 to his son,

“Dear Bob,

            How about the warts?  All is quiet in Providence.  Mama, Rita and Louise went to Narragansett Pier today, while I worked.  What is going on at camp?  Are you broke?  Miss you and will send some dough when I can.”

                                                            Love,

                                                                        Daddy

When Uncle Bobby received that letter he was only 12 years old, at the camp in Matunuck, RI that he spoke about wistfully to me 78 years later.  Imagine, “Daddy” taking time for his boy on a hot July day.  I think I would have loved my Grandfather.  He was a sentimentalist, too.

Two years later, there is a note card from Bobby written in cursive,

Dear Mother and Dad,

            I suppose you are waiting for this letter I am sending you.  I suppose you want to know what I do down here and how I like it.”

Uncle Bobby was an anvil even then, dragging himself through the sand with a piece of taffy.  I read and want to say to this 12-year-old boy – “get on with it, already!”

He does in his own time,

” I made friends with the Hunt brothers.  I must say they are the funniest two boys I have ever known.  We went, as we call it, ‘bumming’, and but no luck and had to walk from Bonnet Shores to Wakefield.  I got quite a sunburn on my legs.”

“Bumming” would in due course be called hitchhiking, a little mid-century political correction at play.  12-year-old boys hitchhiking and reporting it to their parents?  There is a beautiful innocence to that.

He closes with this,

            “Please come down to see me on Sunday.  I would be glad of it.”

                                                            Your son, Bobby

            P.S.  please excuse my spelling.

 

Can you imagine Louis and Mary Barry sharing that letter at the dinner table on Kingston Avenue on a steamy July night?  I imagine my blue-eyed, curly dark haired eight-year-old mother hanging on every word of her big brother’s escapades.

Two years later, Louis would pass away. How Uncle Bobby’s heart must have ached at that loss.

The treasures are bottomless.  There are his sisters report cards from Saint Sebastian’s School.  My Aunt Rita was a crackerjack student, and my mom?   Well, she was a little like me and it turns out my daughter; exceled at what she loved (History, English), and struggled at what disinterested her (Math and Science).  This is new information for me.  I assumed my mother was a scholar. I should have known her patience with me as a student was less virtue than empathy.

As I winnow, I open a delicate envelope with a return address from the Bristol, RI Superintendent of Schools.  Uncle Bobby was a lifelong teacher, and I had no idea he had taught anywhere but Pawtucket.  My heart lurches a bit as I read that this Superintendent was not renewing his contract due to unsatisfactory performance.  It was his tenure year and my sweet, sensitive Uncle Bobby was sent packing.

Who saves that sort of rejection?  It was written in 1966 and was still in his possession some 49 years later.  I would have torn it up on the spot, sunk it to the bottom of a river, or burned it.  A letter like that would be destroyed so as not to give it the power to nick at my self-esteem.

Uncle Bobby was smarter than I;  wiser by furloughs.  That letter, co-mingled with letters of love, is a reminder that humility keeps us grounded.  Failures do not define us, but inform us going forward.

A lesson from beyond the grave, I suppose.

The remainder of his treasures await me for another day.

So what am I doing “post Uncle Bobby?”

Sifting through the treasures; uncovering the lessons he left for me.

Farewell, Uncle Bobby

saint sebs

 

 

And they came, a surprising number of them, to say goodbye to a wonderful man. They came to a beautiful stone church nestled in a quiet neighborhood on the East Side of Providence.  A neighborhood whhere the young Robert Barry slid down snow-covered hills and skated on pristine frozen ponds.  Where he passed a long armed wicker basket among the communicants each Sunday morning at 9 am for forty years.  Where he lived the life of a gentleman for 86 of his 90 years.

And we said goodbye with laughter and tears, and finally, with a full military salute as a young officer handed me a perfectly folded American Flag and with extraordinary grace informed me, “On behalf of the President of The United States, we thank Robert L. Barry for service to his country in the Second World War.”

It was a marvelous day.  And here is what I had to say about my dear Uncle Bobby:

“It is good to be home here in a church which meant so very much to the Barry Family.  Built in 1916, Our Grandfather Louis Barry was one of the builders of Saint Sebastian’s.  Robert Barry served as an Usher here for 40 years.

He was, for most of my life, my elusive bachelor uncle. My earliest memories are of a Volkswagen beetle and my wonder that a man so tall could fit in a car so small.  He was a teacher and a veteran and a constant guest at my mother’s dining room table, not a holiday missed. He loved the great writers, and Herman Melville was his favorite.  He was like Ishmael: a man of the Sea.

It was not until the final years of his life, that I came to know the core of him.

Uncle Bobby was, in no particular order, Charming, stubborn, private, witty, sensitive, resolute, exasperating, and sentimental.  He was, above all things, a gentleman and a gentle soul.

His Accountant, Attorney, Financial Advisor and notably, his cousin John Murphy were intimately aware of how very exasperating Uncle Bobby could be.  No decision came quickly, no action moved upon swiftly.  He was careful and cautious.  All things on Uncle Bobby’s time. When he came to Connecticut to live his final year I came to understand this.  Asking Bobby to move in a concrete direction was much like trying to drag an anvil through the sand with a piece of taffy.  Make no mistake, he was captain of his ship til his final breath.

His charm was disarming.  That was his secret sauce and he spread it around liberally. In the great battle he fought with his body this past year, he always had a reserve of charm.  When he passed away, I received notes and calls from the care workers, mostly young women, mostly Hispanic. They spoke not of his death, but of the songs he might sing to distract from the intimacy of his care, the anecdotes he would share while they went about their noble work, or the questions he would ask them about their own lives.  He had the charm of a true gentleman

As for me, this journey with Uncle Bobby was a great gift.  In his suffering, I learned perspective.  In his mounting challenges,  I learned that patience and trust in the God are essential to finding peace.

He wrote in my elementary school autograph book, which I still have, “To Ellen, Miss America, and my very best girlfriend.”  He remains one of the most memorable men I have ever known.”

 

 

Of Memories and Miracles….

The stories of Uncle Bobby I share going forward will be just memory now.  This Monday morning, I struggle to imagine that I have no tasks which will take me to him in the middle of the day.  I feel untethered today, vaguely rudderless.  I miss that cantankerous soul who fed my soul so richly in this last year.  It has been a gift to share him with you.

On Thursday, July 7, I arrived at Hospice late morning aware that he was at the edge of the end.  Tuesday was marked by his restlessness and agitation.  Wednesday, deep, undisturbed sleep.  He did not speak to me at all on Wednesday and I was afraid I might never hear a complaint, directive, or stream of commentary from his mouth again.  The watch had begun, and while his body was present his soul was working its way to the other side. It’s an interior place the dying inhabit, a stark reminder that we are, indeed, born alone and die the same.

He slept most of the day, occasionally calling out for water.  Gone was the irritation and frustration which marked the last two weeks.  Water was his simple request, only expounding once to tell me,

“I could drink the Atlantic Ocean.”

This lover of Melville and the New England Coastline could drink that ocean.  What a thing, that thirst of his.  Only death could quench it.

The restlessness he had finally left behind inhabited me that Thursday.  With so little to attend to, It was hard for me to light while he lay sleeping.  His peacefulness gave me none and I paced the room, walked the halls, sought out anyone at Hospice for conversation.  As the hours ticked by, I finally found a jigsaw puzzle, intending to hunker down with that for as long as we needed.  Plucking end pieces from the box calmed my nerves as though the exercise were some sort of meditation. It helped me breathe, the distracting nothingness of it, and I was grateful.

Uncle Bobby and I had come to know Liz, one of the Chaplains, during his stay.  She is warm, gentle and always approached him with a charming combination of youth and wisdom.  I was relieved when she walked in his room.  We sat on either side of the sleeping Uncle Bobby, and when he woke once for water, I could see that he was comforted by her presence.

We sat for 30 minutes speaking across from him.  Liz cueing me to tell stories of my Uncle, to get a fuller picture of this man she only knows in his fragility.

Then the most curious thing happened.

Without a knock on the closed door of Uncle Bobby’s room, a hospice volunteer walks in with, of all things, a golden retriever named Polly.  Now, I’m all for the concept of “comfort” pets, but honestly, their entrance felt intrusive.  I want to direct her and her good intentions down the hall to some patient not quite so close to dying.  In addition, Uncle Bobby is decidedly not a dog guy and I am armed with a “thanks, but no thanks”.

Before I can get that out, Polly bypasses both Liz and myself and leaps to place her two front paws right on Uncle Bobby’s stomach.  I am sure this will lead to either a pained scream or direct ascendancy to heaven via the Hospice roof.

Instead, Uncle Bobby wakes gently, smiles and with both of his useless, weakened hands, rubs Polly’s furry head for what has to be 4 minutes.  I am stunned.  Polly then gently retreats and before you know it the Hospice volunteer leads her out of the room and Uncle Bobby’s eyes are closed once more.

Liz and I look at each other with bemusement, neither of us quite sure what just transpired, yet return to our quiet conversation.  She is hungry now for stories of Bobby as he was before age and health conspired to bring him to this place.  I share one of my written stories of his life when he was young and gliding across the frozen ponds of his youth.  She is mesmerized, tears streaming down her face, and takes hold of Uncle Bobby’s right hand.  He sleeps on and it occurs to me that just maybe he can hear this story himself.

As I finish my tale, there is a bark from the hallway. The bark of a dog out of place in such a solemn place.  At the sound, Uncle Bobby opens his eyes, leans forward, and speaks clearly for the first time in days.

“What’s the matter, Polly?”

He then clears his congestion riddled throat, looks at both of us, and says,

“I’m tired now, you two can go.”

I lean in close to him,

“You sleep Uncle Bobby, I’ll be right here, it’s fine.”

With that, he bores into me and, with his characteristic sarcasm wrapped in a wink and a smile, says this,

“Get the hell out of here, YOU have things to do!”

The abruptness and strength of that takes me aback.  Liz strokes his arm, says a final word I cannot recall, and backs away from the bed.  I lean in, kiss his forehead and say,

“Ok, I love you.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

He watches me as I gather my things, I wave to him from the door, but he has no strength to wave in return.  His eyes close.

It was 4 PM.  Uncle Bobby passed quietly, without struggle, at 9:20 PM, alone, just as he came into this world 90 years ago.

I returned to Hospice that night, after his final breath, to sit with this man I loved so dearly until the funeral home came for his body.  It was a beautiful, peaceful time for me.  His eyes were open, his face absent the pain and worry of the previous months.  I closed his lids for him and kissed his forehead one last time.  This Friday we will celebrate his life with a Catholic Mass at Saint Sebastian’s Church in the place he loved the most, Providence, Rhode Island.

When that is done, I will begin to find the life he wants for me.  I will try to bring to my new life a modicum of his humility, generosity, and kindness.  I love you, Uncle Bobby.  Thank you for the gift of your journey.