Sunday, March 2, 2008

Four Weeks Ago

A month has passed since BH died. There was a memorial service. We’ve jumped into that dark pit of sorrow and begun to climb back out. We’ve spent time and tears with friends, family, anonymous acquaintances and people we would have never met except for BH. This has been particularly touching.

I guess this experience has made me stronger. It has made the pain of my body more trivial. It has made the care of relationships more powerful. Whether sitting on the plane, cutting back the vegetation in the yard, playing or writing music, these quiet times, BH is still a big part of my thoughts. I don’t know how long this will continue. I’ve seen the children, however, both at the memorial and around town, running and laughing, doing what they do. And the flowers on our tree have bloomed again, as they do every February. So I know life goes on. I just miss the one that is gone. And maybe more I’m just emptied by a disease that destroys the body while trapping the mind. No one deserves that. You. Me. BH. Anyone.

The following is the eulogy I spoke at the memorial service. There were, of course, additions, editorial license, a couple other stories, a tissue break or two. Some of these are just notes to remind me. Other parts I read verbatim. One part is new. But it is true in its essence.

Welcome to everyone. Expression of love to TLW and the children, family, and all the friends who are here and those who can’t be here today.

First, I don’t have any special market, any ownership, any special hold on grief. Yes, I was BH’s good friend, but no better than anyone else. I was his best man at their wedding. But that doesn’t make my relationship any more special than yours. BH touched a lot of people and we all feel the loss of a friend, a colleague, a son, husband and father right to the core. And we all remember when we first heard, via email or phone call, and we had to learn what ALS really means. We’ve all been through this. We can’t deny that it is a life changing experience.

A little history of our friendship.

BH and I became friends working in the kitchen at the dorm in 1982, Washing dishes. Cleaning lettuce. Sadie would call at 6 a.m. She knew the guys who needed to make a few bucks. We were both skinny young dudes wearing jeans and growing their hair. Both English majors. Summer of 1983 we spent the summer living as Princes in the Castle. A beautiful summer. Went to watch shooting stars in August. The Perseids. BH said the clouds would get in the way. It was the Milky Way. We went to the Sierras a couple weeks later. Had a bear come into the camp. BH wrote a poem in his book about the trip. I left for England. We kept in touch. I needed to move to back to Berkeley. We shared an apartment. I brought back post cards for my friends, just copies of paintings I liked. I brought BH a postcard of the Lady of Shallot. We hadn't talked about it. When I went into the room we shared the same poster was on the wall. We laughed.

We were the guys who took that couch from the street. Brought it home on our bicycles. Our apartment had so many roaches. We didn't have beds. Instead, we slept on our back pack matresses and our sleeping bags on the floor. Two skinny rat bastards. I worked at a pasta deli, so we always had food. A year later we bought Mac’s. We connected to each other with 300 baud modems. Do you have any idea how slow that is?

BH and TLW, married, crying at wedding, Love.

I remember when B called me that he had met her. He knew. Many people may have been at the wedding, but others were not. We told the stories of how they met. But what I remember is that while saying their vows, BH couldn’t stop crying. It is hard to express the depth of love more than the actions he exhibited that day, in front of friends, family and his lovely, beautiful bride.

BH just loved being a Dad. He knew so much and wanted to teach the boy and girl. about everything. Chess, rockets, music, bugs, rocks, spiders (he didn’t like those much as the years went by). To be fully empowered to do whatever a person could do. It is one reason he was so strong for so long. To be with his family, watch his children grow.

BH in Space: There are a couple concepts I want to tie together.

First, about BH always being right. TLW can tell you about their ongoing argument about how to position the outside rear view mirrors. BH believed that you shouldn’t see the side of your car, because then you used the mirror more efficiently. I don’t know whether it was because she agreed or it was just easier than listening to him rant, that TLW moved the mirrors outward. Yes, you can see more field of view, but you can’t relate it to the side of your car.

I think of this in relation to BH’s love of model rocketry, Star Trek, of going into space. I, for instance, need to know where I am when I’m driving. So I keep the mirror turned in. It gives me a reference of my truck with all other things. BH didn’t need that reference point. He could exist floating in space. He was his own reference point. Self referential. A solo, unique character who we knew in part, but never all the parts.

Not to say BH was a saint. Did you ever have him go into investigative journalist mode on you? I was involved with the University for a while. I could hear it in his voice. Time to go now, BH.

Something that makes me mad
One thing that bothers me is that he was supposed to remember things. My memory isn’t that great because of a few hospital stays. He was supposed to remind me of things. Now I worry that I won’t even know what I’ve forgotten.

But no matter what I’ve forgotten, I’ve learned even more. I learned how to make yogurt in the water heater closet (that was not good). I’ve learned about bean and cheese burritos. Strength and compassion. It has led me to think more about Love and Brotherhood. Of doing the right thing with no expectation of reward. While I wish I could have been the bay area, it has taught me compassion when nothing else really matters. To be kind. To show love. The rest is details.

This is a little prayer that passed my way.

It is hard to sing of oneness when our world is not complete, when those who once brought wholeness to our life have gone, and naught but memory can fill the emptiness their passing leaves behind. But memory can tell us only what we were, in company with those we loved; it cannot help us find what each of us, alone, must now become. Yet no one is really alone; those who live no more echo still within our thoughts and words, and what they did is part of what we have become.

We do best homage to our dead when we live our lives most fully, even in the shadow of our loss. For each of our lives is worth the life of the whole world in each one is the breath of the Ultimate One. In affirming the One, we affirm the worth of each one whose life, now ended, brought us closer to the source of life, in whose unity no one is alone and every life finds purpose.

So we are here to celebrate BH’s Life. To remember in what ever ways we might this friend of ours. Who was taken too soon. To remember his passions, his family, his strengths. He is a part of each of our lives. And we were all a part of his. I’m going to miss him a lot. And you are going to miss him. And TLW and the kids. We’ll always, as a community of friends, remember to include BH’s family in our lives.

I couple years ago I asked him if he was done yet. BH said “No.” I said “Ok, so Ride it until the wheels fall off” and BH said “Yes.” In the end, the wheels had fallen off. He was strong and brave beyond understanding. And it was just over. It was time to rest. I’ll miss him. You will miss him. But we won’t forget him. That’s for sure.


jmb said...

Thank you for sharing this with us Ronolulu, a fine tribute indeed to your friend.

I hope each of us can handle our end with as much courage as he did. He kept on keeping on, right to the end.

He had such an effect on the readers of his blog, for here we are, a month later, still coming back to touch bases with his little community, to look at the photo of this man who we knew only by his words. But powerful words, words which have touched us all and in some ways changed us.

I'm sure it will be difficult for all his real life friends and family to carry on without him but I hope the good memories you shared with this man will bring you great comfort.
Take care

monicac2 said...

Ron, thank you for sharing those beautiful words with us. And it was you who said, "Ride it till the wheels fall off." I think I will always remember that phrase, its connection to BH, and how he did just that. We can all learn from the bravery and courage that BH showed every step of the way.

It's hard to believe that one month has passed. Please give TLW and BH's children my love from blogland.

RusticateGirl said...

I can't believe it's a month. He will not be forgotten. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Ron, thank you for sharing that beautiful tribute with us. You honoured your friend.

I'm re-reading BH's blog and I've just read the entry from December 9, 2004, in which he wrote about having another MRI.

He wrote: "The machine is quite loud and rhythmic, as I imagine a German disco might sound when playing industrial or techno music. It seemed funny, but I managed not to laugh."

I've had a few MRIs and have compared the sounds to music. I've also had to fight back panic and laughter at various times. Keeping my eyes closed does the trick for me, too.

I have benign positional vertigo. Unlike Brainy, I tend to be fine on my back; mine is triggered when my head is turned or tilted. I can't imagine having to cope with vertigo while having an MRI but I know that, if I hold a position for a while, the vertigo will usually subside, and it sounds like that was the case with BH, too.

I still think of him. Although I was just his blog fan, and not a personal friend, he has influenced me in a positive, meaningful way. My life has been difficult but his writing reminds me to enjoy the good things that I do have. His love of life and for his family comes through so clearly in his writing.


Liz said...


Been away from the computer--laid up for a bit. Loved reading the eulogy. Thank you so much for posting it. For all of us who knew BH only through his blog, your eulogy fills in more gaps in piecing together his history.

You know what I'm missing? Something about his parents. In all the comments from you, Droid, jansenist, and Ratty, there has been nothing about his folks (and were there any other siblings)? How are they doing with all of this? I remember some not-very-kind memories written by BH about his father, but in the end was there peace between them?

Ron--he will never leave you. Be prepared to go through each day with some thought of BH as the years months and years go on. Although I tend to be a very focused person when it comes to work and family, I find that's been the case with me regarding my parents and good friends who have passed on. They are with me every day when I allow my mind to drift, like when I'm driving somewhere, or when I see something I wished I could share, like something marvelous my daughter has said or done. It's never a planned thing. I don't think that any of us are in danger of forgettng about the people we love who are not with us anymore.

Anonymous said...

Liz --

BH's parents and siblings were at the service. I met each of them for the first time, and spoke a little with each. They all struck me as fine people.

Since I had not met them before, and have not been in touch since, I am not in a position to say how they are doing. I did not ask any of them what kinds of communication they had with BH during his final days.


Droid said...

Thanks Liz.

>I remember some not-very-kind memories written by BH about his father, but in the end was there peace between them?

I haven't mentioned that, only because I knew of those memories (BH had mentioned his difficulties to me when we were in high school), but if he had come to a better place with his dad, he hadn't mentioned it to me. That doesn't mean that he didn't, because BH couldn't type more than a couple of words at a time, and listened much more than he talked, over his last many months. But if it had ended without being resolved, I didn't want to cause anyone pain by reminding them of it. I may have mentioned meeting his mother. I remember meeting her 30 years ago, and she was a very nice person. He never mentioned having any serious difficulties at all with her when we were kids. I saw her at the service, too, and talked with her for a time. She still seemed very sweet and kind. She told me that ALS was very much like Alzheimer's disease, but that it affected a different area of the brain. I said that I'd bet anything BH would rather have lost his motor skills, but kept his mental faculties, than the other way 'round, and she agreed. I told her I was very sorry this had happened to her.

Liz said...


You were a very wise friend to BH! Thanks.

Droid said...

>You were a very wise friend to BH! Thanks.

Thanks Liz! It makes me snicker to read that--I know that when we were 15 (I always remember two BH's, the one with the loving wife and family, and the one from when we were 15), he might have called me intelligent (I certainly called him that), but I don't know if he would have let me get away with being called "wise." It seems like humbling praise. But thank you very much.

Droid said...

I watched Steven Hawking on TV with Charlie Rose tonight--it reminded me very much of BH, and not just because of the motor neuron disease. Steven Hawking has intelligence and humour. It was interesting to see. And still that music by the Who keeps coming on my Ipod, and reminding me of BH. "Ladies and Gentlemen, from Shepherd's Bush, London, please welcome: The 'Oo!"

Fi said...

Jsut checking in - still seems right to visit regularly. I miss his posts so much. Thank you for the eulogy and my thoughts are with all his family and friends.
I listened to Big Yellow Taxi again last week - and thought of BH :) and no, we don't know what we got 'til it's gone!