Sometimes the body isn’t strong enough to recover. Sometimes when you’re 97 if one defense goes down other agents of time are let in to do their work.
Humans are very fragile. Strong, but fragile.
I’ve tried several times to write a blog post about CR’s death. The precipitating event was a normal procedure and a normal day, and then a week later it wasn’t normal any more.
CR was an extraordinary human and we had a complicated relationship that lasted 39 years—throughout which we were able to be friends and I was able to participate in the final chapters of his life.
I can’t really write anything more than that in a coherent post.
Dick has lost a friend, father, and mentor; someone with whom he worked on several projects, and discussed some really great ideas with (I know because I was sitting there listening).
If you want to read what I said at the August Memorial Service you can scroll to the end of this post. Dick wrote something short, heartfelt, and funny, which isn’t for me to share. I went the other way.
Even now I look at the clock most days and think I should be leaving to visit CR. Reality gives me a hard kick.
A couple weeks ago Dick and I were watching an episode of one of my favorite shows: “Forged in Fire.” (I think I’m about ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.) I burst out crying because I had just realized I didn’t have any video tape of CR. Nothing I could play to listen to the sound of his voice.
Turns out the cold bitch is really quite a softy.
What Happened After CR Died?
Things happen quickly when someone dies. He was in long-term care at Episcopal Church Homes and when someone dies they like things packed up for the next incoming resident.
Monday morning I called a mover to come on Tuesday. Then I went over to ECH and packed up all of CR’s belongs. By the time I left there the books were boxed and cataloged and all his personal belongings were packed.
I sat on the stripped bed, surrounded by stacks of boxes as tall as I am, and looked out the window. I was waiting for Dick to finish with the legal aspects of wrapping up CR’s time at ECH. He would be driving me home. (I was still not driving after my cataract surgeries.)
I looked out the second story window and saw the large tree that had been CR’s view. If he’d been younger and so inclined he could have stepped from his window into the tree.
I started to draw on a piece of 8.5 x 11 inch bond paper that I’d brought to catalog the books.
Just put one line down after the other.
It’s what I’ve done my whole life.
As I worked I felt the future creep up on me a bit. I slipped out of present moment and thought self-indulgently, “what will I do without him?”
The drawing brought me back into the present moment. And then I started thinking of all the projects I wanted to do going forward. I stitched thoughts of those projects and my sighs of grief into the lines of the sketch. And I realized CR would be with me in those projects.
Eventually Dick came to pick me up, and I would return the next day to handle the movers, but it was this time alone when I was able to come to grips with my grief.
It is a great relief to have told someone that you love him when he is still young enough and present in his mind to take that in. If you wait until someone is 70, depending on the individual, you have actually waited too long.
What You Need To Do Now
Video tape your family, just a little, in normal times, not birthdays and special events, but just on normal days when you are having a chat. It will make it easier, later.
Optional Reading for the Seriously Curious
My Memorial Piece read at CR’s “Celebration of Life” follows.
I think that title of the service rather cloying. I think the real celebration of life was all the days we spent together hashing out what mattered to us, what we thought about everything; all the days we spent living driving to doctor’s appointments, searching for house keys, going out for lunch or dinner, going to the theatre and taking the performances apart afterwards, discussing books and current events, arguing, laughing, sharing our hopes and plans, surviving other hospital stays. These are the things that lock someone in our memories and our lives.
Roz on CR—from the memorial service
I’m going to break from convention here and refer to the Dick Stone as CR from his full name Charles Richard. I am married to his son, who is also named Dick so it becomes confusing whenever I try to talk about them in the same sentence. My mother-in-law Phyllis suggested this to me early on and I’ve followed it to this day.
I found it difficult to condense what I want to share about CR. I had literally decades of conversations, dinners, outings, arguments, errands, hospital visits etc., over the years. To give context to even some of those exchanges would mean we’d be here all day.
Instead I’m going to mention some things with broad strokes, in the hopes that they will trigger your own memories or add to your understanding of CR.
From the time I first met him when I was 23 and dating his son Dick, CR proved himself to be the type of man who was no-nonsense, but easy-going and accommodating in family emergencies of all sizes from being available at the drop of a hat to give your car a jump, to fetching a trailer to pick up his son when Dick landed his glider far afield, to driving me to a running race when Dick didn’t show up, to accompanying me to surgeries, and sitting next to me on the kitchen floor and reading the newspaper to me when I was curled into the fetal position because of intense pain and the coolness of the tile was the only thing that brought comfort. Nothing phased him
He was patient and kind. But he didn’t hover and worry you with being overly solicitous. No amount of time was too long to simply sit. To simply be.
Often it seemed I spent more time with CR than I did with Dick.
And while Dick had been trained by his father to fix cars, it was always CR I queried first when I had car trouble, because I trusted him to not “pooh-pooh” my concerns. He solved problems before they became problems.
Over time we developed a friendship that was frank, often combative and exhausting (I think more for him than for me), and most often fun.
Dick and I spent time with his parents Phyl and CR and family friend Ruth Stewart as a special adventure club of five. We went out to dinner, to the theatre, or simply stopped by the house to make a meal and chat.
CR was appreciative that I ended up taking over the family holiday cooking, putting an end to Phyllis’s “speed-eating-table-clearing-all-go-home-now” method of dining. CR liked that my cooking took the pressure off Phyllis. We all spent long hours chatting at the table, with Dick and me cleaning up afterwards. Our actions gave CR time to do what he did best, sit, listen, and be available.
While he wasn’t a fan of me chauffering him and Phyllis to their doctor appointments he realized that Phyllis thought I was a better driver. That was enough for him. He always looked to make her happy and comfortable, even if it took arguments to get there.
One afternoon in 2016 after Phyl has shooed us away because she wanted to play bingo CR and I returned to his room. We chatted while I sorted and folded his clothing and tidied.
Finally I sat and sketched him as we continued our chat. He turned reflective about marriage. Like many of our chats I took time to record it in my journal while I was sketching.
“Living alone one mind can go off on a tangent and be unproductive. With two you have to battle it out. The great thing about marriage is conflict,” he said, convinced he had it right.
“Then you married the right person,” I replied laughing, because anyone who spent time with the folks was familiar with the sound of Phyllis calling out across their rambler to CR, telling him to do something her way.
“That I did,” was the quick reply. “Just discussing makes for a lot of clarity. The Honeywell people can argue and disagree without being disagreeable. But the toll it took in marriage was high. It was both our faults in not being able to yield gracefully.”
“What you’re really saying is if Phyl had given in earlier it would have been easier?”
Laughing he said, “that’s true.”
As you go through life you make contracts with people around you. How will you behave with each other, how will you support each other. I remember many discussions with CR sitting knee to knee with him in his small basement office, hashing over some issue I was trying to resolve.
Phyllis was always telling me how much Dick was like his dad and how difficult it was to deal with “them.” She did this in front of CR all the time. We always laughed. But I think because they were so similar, and because CR and Dick thought similarly about so much it was easy for me to talk to CR.
I remember one day, early on in my relationship with Dick, sitting in that basement office, CR listened and told me. “Let us know what you need. You’ll always be family, you’re our daughter.” Nothing is as reassuring as when someone tells you that he has your back, especially when you know from numerous examples that he follows up his words by showing up.
CR had immense pride in his mind. He was touched and delighted when, at his retirement celebration from Honeywell, all the young engineers took out squares of astro-turf, painted white, and wore them on their heads with elastic chin straps, in homage to his signature snow white crew cut—a visible show of respect for his work and mind.
For someone who lived his life based on the quality of his mind it frustrated CR that health decisions he’d made (the years of smoking and the failure to follow up his heart operation with additional surgeries) had left the door open to dementia. He hated the feeling of his mind dissolving. But he also had a quick sense of humor.
“I hate it when you’re right,” he would say often, but on one particular day, just after I’d explained why his brain was working the way it was and he’d lost his short term memory, he was emphatic.
“And why is it you understand what’s going on?” he asked.
“It was explained to me, and I’m brighter than the average chipmunk.”
Smiling he said, “We don’t need the commercial.”
When he first learned to use a walker I took him on walks, reminding him to stand up tall within the walker because the better his posture the better his balance.
“Get the spine straight, step into the center of the walker,” I coached as I walked beside him, “I’m not saying all this just to bitch at you about random things.”
CR self-corrected in one small motion and replied, “I would never mistake anything you say as random.”
I doubled over laughing, “In all these years, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” It is so delightful to be simultaneously “insulted” and really seen by someone else. We stood in the hall, and laughed for several minutes before continuing his training.
In all the years I knew him CR never said something gossipy or mean about someone, but he did enjoy being playfully insulting.
I’ve spoken about sketching CR, but one thing you might not realize is what a great life model he was. CR was just vain enough about his physical presence to consider and then hold a pose, even if he was chatting with Dick and I was sitting by listening—because he knew I would sketch.
He would sit up straight, or he would stare out of a window, conscious of the light hitting him in a certain way, creating the image he wanted to present to the world.
He would sit dead still, knowing that the results were better when he held the pose.
Even when CR was in the hospital (which he was able to avoid the last two years of his life) he was happy when I sat by him and sketched for hours. It was something productive we were doing together. If he couldn’t be back home working, then at least we were getting something done together.
CR like Phyl had a great sense of confidence when posing. Their confidence was so strong that they instantly forgave any draftsman’s errors. They would pose again and again. They had a patient belief in me and my ability to get it right. That belief extended to all aspects of my life. That belief has buoyed me up my entire adult life.
Both CR and Phyl offered this same support to so many young people in their lives whether they were relatives, the children of neighborhood friends, or the friends of their children.
CR was also intensely curious about the work that others did.
The fact that people around the world signed up for my online art classes fascinated him. He didn’t understand how it was possible. We talked about my blog and the way readership builds on a new medium which came too late in his life to be of much use to him. But how others used it was of interest.
He asked endless questions about my classes, how Dick and I shot the videos, how I edited the videos. He wanted to know how the students responded to the lessons.
When you showed up to visit him CR immediately asked you what you were working on. Work mattered, how you did your work, and what you were working on.
One day in 2017 when he asked about my current class I explained I was having trouble with some of my drawing students. They weren’t getting it. They wanted to be told the “one” way to do something. They didn’t want to practice, they didn’t want to experiment.
CR’s mind had been flickering out more and more in the previous months. Suddenly perhaps because it was a topic he cared about deeply he was able to talk clearly, succinctly, and pointedly about his view of creativity.
For over 35 minutes we talked and talked. Sometimes finishing each other’s sentences as he explained how important the ability to set intentional goals and test and try was. I’ve never wanted a tape recorder more.
He looked at me engaged, even as he struggled to keep his mind focused.
“That’s what creativity is,” he said, “It never works the first time.”
Then he leaned in closer with that wonderful gleam of excitement in his blue eyes and said, “That’s when it gets fun.”
Two minutes later his mind faded out again. He was confused about where he was and what time of day it was.
He’d been able to be fully present and see his way through a thought to a point that encapsulated his view of life, but now that clarity was gone.
We would have many more conversations before he passed away, but I look back on that day grateful we had this conversation and were able to sync up our views on practice, whether it’s drawing practice or engineering practice.
Throughout those following conversations CR was stubborn and contradictory.
He was formidable until he no longer was.
And then he remained charming and gracious.
CR was also often peevish about the failure of his brain. But he always delighted in understanding that you loved him all the more for something he’d not even thought that important. Something he kept behind the wall of his public face.
If you ever went down into the basement to chat with him it was the private face you got…which aspect of that private face was tailored to your needs.
While most of us might have a memory of him working away isolated in the basement, we all knew he was present for everyone who walked in. He wasn’t less of an advocate than Phyllis, he just expressed his advocacy with his ability to listen, consider, and then help you work to a solution. He didn’t have the volume or the endearing bossy edge of his wife.
And when you went into the basement he was always ready to stop working. He was always ready to listen. But you’d better expect some argument back.
When he listened he had a stillness. He wasn’t preparing snappy comebacks, but actually absorbing what you were saying so that he could reply thoughtfully.
We learn by example.
Watch someone put in the time of a hundred or a thousand kindnesses, the showing up when asked, the sitting and waiting—all without expectation of return. CR knew how to do this and then leave the space around his actions. That’s stillness.
It is rare to meet someone so full of resources with whom you can sit in companionable silences.
Of course, when CR was with Dick they could talk for hours and hours and hours, until Phyl would go downstairs and break them up and tell them to join the company.
Sometimes people believe that people who work hard don’t have fun. But the reality is that people who love their jobs and work hard have defined work as a way to encompass a joyous engagement with life, not an isolation from it. That’s what CR had.
CR loved his family.
He was devoted to his wife and took tender care of her even when he could no longer care for himself.
He enjoyed visiting with his engineering peers. He loved laughing with his neighbors and friends of all generations whenever they would stop by.
When a man lives 97 years you can’t conjure all he was to everyone in a brief remembrance.
A life isn’t simply a collection of bits told at a memorial service. It’s the totality of those bits as they join and show an underlying character.
I’ve told you some of the bits of CR’s character that impacted my daily life, and for which I’m grateful.
Recently late night host Stephen Colbert asked actor Keanu Reeves
S: What do you think happens when we die Keanu Reeves?
Reeves blew out a mouthful of air then said: I know that the ones who love us will miss us.