My dear friend Rick died on April 8, after a short and difficult fight with cancer.
It has been hard to write about, because although we were in touch by Email every single day, he lived in Maine, so I didn’t get to see him a lot. And since we wrote each other every day for years and years, I wasn’t too alarmed when he started complaining about neck and shoulder pain. Though he was not a complainer, we both occasionally griped about the aches and pains of getting older. He was getting medical therapy for the pain, and we both figured it was one of those things that would work itself out.
Sadly, it didn’t work itself out. Suddenly diagnosed at Stage 4, with brain tumors, a lung mass and cancerous lesions on his spine, Rick was taken away from us quickly and way too early. The shock of it was numbing.
We had known each other for so many years that how we met is sort of lost in a brain fog, but I think it happened when he responded to a letter to the editor that I’d written to a magazine. (Way before Email, when people still wrote actual letters and then licked a stamp to send ‘em.) We began an interesting and fruitful correspondence that lasted nearly 40 years. “The stuff of Oscar Wilde,” Rick said in our last phone call.
Aside from being silly and introspective, smart and mostly non-judgmental, Rick was a source of inspiration and information. I could talk to him about buying a home, interest rates, the wisdom of buying a used car that hadn’t been checked out by a mechanic, how to fix a leaky toilet, and when and where to plant flowers and trees. We shared recipes, a love of the 1940s Vic & Sade radio shows, a fondness for Coen Brothers movies, and most of the time we could easily make each other laugh. If we had any disagreements, I don’t remember them, and I’m guessing they were minor.
After many phone calls and letters and Emails, I first met Rick in Boston in 2002 when my friend Kim ran the Boston Marathon. I’d gone with her for moral support, at which I turned out to be useless, because Rick came to our hotel and whisked me away for the day. We walked around Boston for a while, visiting Little Italy and having lunch at the Union Oyster House, and then took a train to Portland where we had a real lobster dinner. (The whole lobster. I wasn’t sure what to do with it!) We picked up his car and made the 3 hour trip back to Boston, where Rick insisted on driving me to my hotel during marathon traffic, when I could easily have walked. It was a wonderful day and I hated for it to end.
The next time I saw him, Rick came to Duluth for a visit. He brought along 4 live lobsters on the plane, and we took them to a friend’s house where Jean was able to wrestle them into a pot of boiling water while I left the room. Rick charmed my old cat Sam, who would go out on the deck with him every morning while Rick smoked his pipe. I took him to see the sights in Duluth, thrilled to have him see all the places and people I’d written about. We took a road trip to Hayward, Wisconsin, where Rick found the cabin where his family had stayed many summers during his boyhood.
On the day I had to have Sam put to sleep, Rick called me to see how I was doing, and spent about 20 minutes listening to me weep on the phone. He was that kind of friend: Patient, kind, and understanding. If you needed a good cry, Rick didn’t try to talk you out of it.
When I bought my home years ago, Rick sent me a box of twigs from his garden, which turned out to include a beautiful lilac bush that is now as tall as my garage, and pink and red peonies, which still bloom every year, perfuming the yard.
The only sad thing about Rick was that he died way too soon. I kept many of his letters and photos and Email messages, though I wish I’d kept them all, though I foolishly thought our friendship would go on forever. But of course, nothing does, no matter how easily we fool ourselves.
I miss Rick’s daily Email message, which always was the start of my day. (He was a morning writer; I wrote at night.) I miss the phone calls. I miss his humor and good advice. I miss the warmth of knowing I could call him with any problem or idea, and he would make time to listen. He was a faithful reader of my blog, even when I wasn’t very faithful to my blog. He left comments; he’d Email suggestions. He was always there.
And now he’s not.
It’s a tough pill to swallow.
I like to imagine Rick is “up there,” wherever that is, with his cats Buster and Chessie, and even smoking a pipe with Sam by his side. It is a comforting thought, and takes some sting out of the loss. His spirit is with us always; with the lilacs, the radio tapes, the peonies, and the million random thoughts of him that occur during the day.
Rest in peace, my dear friend. The world is a bit darker without you in it.