Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Death of a Sterling Man. . .

My son, Colin, called Friday morning, weeping on the phone. His grandpa, my ex-wife's father, had died that morning and Colin had just found out about it a few minutes previous to calling me. This too was a blow to me as well. Richard was someone you figured, or maybe deeply wished to be invincible.

In ones life, you meet a handful of people whose character is. . . I don't know to describe it. . . somehow above the rest of us. Richard was one of those very special people. I do not know of anyone who had an unkind word to say about Richard. I am sure that he was not perfect. I'm sure he was not without fault, but in any respect he was a wonderful man.

Adrianne, my daughter; Colin and Rachael, his girl friend; and Kristine, my ex-wife and I met at the hospital. Richard was still in his bed. I'd never been present for this kind of thing before. I didn't know what to expect. He was in a double room, in the bed by the window. There was a fellow quietly watching TV in the other bed. The curtain was drawn, as a partition between them, but there were no other signs that Richard had expired. Other than the unique stillness about him, he might have been sleeping. . . but he was not. He was gone.

I would not have recognized him, if I had just happened upon him. In his prime he was close to 6 feet tall. At his death he weighed less than 100 lbs. The memories of shared times were too large for the husk before us. . . We all wept and hugged and wept and prayed. The children giving him hugs and kisses. . . gently holding his hand in somber silence for long moments. . . We talked quietly about memories of time together with Richard. He and my son shared birthdays. My son was born in Germany in 1978. We weren't able to call back to the family for a couple of days. He was very tickled when he found out about the very special present of May 9th, 1978. . . . my son and Richard enjoyed one another. They shared much more than just birthdays.

Last summer, Jackie and I rented a cottage on a lake in Michigan. All our family were invited to come up and enjoy the week. Our week last summer was done in imitation and memory of a week Richard gave all his family in 1987. What a glorious week we had. Richard, his wife, all the kids and grand-kids fishing and swimming for the week. What golden memories I have of that week with Richard and his oldest son Eric, fishing maybe 6-8 hours a day in that little rowboat.

I don't know what prompted Richard to rent that cottage on Gun Lake at that time. . . maybe it was a sage attempt to forestall an ominous feeling. . . maybe it was an attempt to disrupt some premonition of a coming train wreck for his family. I don't know, but in the next couple of years three of his four children would divorce. That one last golden week is remembered shining hugely brightly shortly before a terrible season of darkness came into my life. . .

What was it about Richard that set him so high in so many people's memories? He is being buried in dress clothes, but no suit. Richard was not a suit kind of guy. Yes, he owned them. Yes, he wore them when the occasion demanded, but that was not his element. There was no pomp about Richard. He was a basic man, not gold, not platinum, not diamond studded. . . I chose sterling for my description of him. Surely a precious metal, not common, but also not something exclusively for the use of kings. . . Richard drove Fords and Chevys and Buicks. He probably could have afforded them, but no BMWs or Lexus' or Cadillacs were ever found in his garage.

One of his greatest joys was to shop for bargains at the grocery store. This was a passion with Richard, more of a hobby, maybe part game for him, a challenge to find little bargains in the aisles of Krogers, Martins, and Meijers. Every few days he would head out with a handful of coupons and an ad from the paper. He would return a few hours later with his little cargo of treasures. It was a joy for him. He was frugal, but never miserly. It was not out of necessity or greed that he shopped like this. He would about as soon give it all away to his kids or friends as anything else. It was a challenge, like I said a game for him. I'm sure Jean, his wife, probably won't exhaust Richard's room of food stores in the basement for a couple of years or more.

It was simple pleasures like that that brought Richard joy. There was a transparency about Richard that was hugely attractive. You knew where you stood with him. There were no hidden agendas, no secret strategies. He was not a plotter. He wore his heart on his sleeve, if you knew what to look for. He surely wasn't overly emotional in a negative way. Richard loved to laugh. He loved a joke. He smiled most of the time. He surely had his dark days. He fought a life long battle with depression and anxiety, at one point becoming seriously addicted to Valium. He was a proud and strong man. He struggled to quit the Valium without the help of a physician. It was a very dangerous and difficult time for him. Richard cared deeply and therefore worried deeply. He had a tender and wonderful, an easily wounded heart. . .

I could go on and on with memories and stories, but I do not want to just gush with dripping sweetness and cloying maudlin words about Richard. That surely would not fit or do justice to the memory of him, but my son spoke to the shell of what once was Richard, "You taught me how to be a better person. . ." I don't know that I can add any higher praise. I would agree with that. . .

Richard I loved you greatly. . .
You also taught me how to be a better person. . .

Dave Stokely

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