I recently took part in a memoir writing course, hoping it would help me write the memoir I’ve been struggling with – about my life with Bob, my husband who died four years ago June 8th, and grief, and whatever else this book will be when I write it. But I just can’t seem to get the writing down in any way that isn’t jumbled.
I tried to write a submission for critique. The first one wasn’t good. The second attempt wasn’t much better. Overall, it was a painful struggle. When it came time for the critique of my piece – the last of all the submissions – the facilitator didn’t go through my story like she had for the others. She asked questions.
“What was Bob like? From what you’re saying, without saying it, I think we can tell he was intrigued by you when he met you. I think he was introverted, kind and shy.”
But these were conjecture based on what was in between the words. I hadn’t said who he was and in missing that I missed what made him important to me, and to others who knew him.
So I’m going to do my best to tackle this again, and maybe by sharing this I am revealing just a small part of who he was.
Bob fought for his life the entire time I knew him and without complaint. We had a good marriage. We weren’t best friends, we became kindred spirits. We rarely fought each other; we fought for his life together. He had Crohn’s Disease – an often debilitating illness causing so much pain it’s palpable, especially to those who love you the most. We fought the disease one operation after the other until his death. “For better or for worse, in sickness and in health.” And yet, during the 30 years I knew him he never once complained about his lot in life. He barely complained about the excruciating pain until it became unbearable and he would tell me it was time to go to the hospital.
Bob was the most honest person I ever met. Over the past four years I’ve encountered people who are bitter over broken relationships, divorce and deceit. I can tell you without any hesitation that Bob would never do that to me. We actually had this conversation and I remember saying that cheating on someone would be the worst pain you could inflict on them. “That one act can affect another human being’s self-esteem and makes them question their self-worth. It’s better to admit you harbored those feelings and walk away before you acted causing irreparable pain to another human being,” I said. He agreed. I trusted that Bob would never do that and I know he didn’t. He was, as we say in Yiddish, a mensch – a person of integrity and honor.
Bob was analytical and a mediator. He always said “There are three sides to every story, yours, mine and the truth.” He was soft spoken and rarely raised his voice in anger. When he did, people would stop whatever they were doing. They would listen to him as he analyzed the situation, having weighed all the pros and cons before speaking up. In one of his jobs he was asked to be a mediator and in another job he was approached to be a union representative because people knew he would be fair and honest. He proved himself to be fair in all instances and took his job mediating on behalf of others very seriously.
Bob was respected by everyone who knew him. During his last months, his co-workers and supervisors from the automotive parts plant, where Bob was a lead-hand electrician, came to the hospital to talk to him about his return to work. They had decided to put him in charge of their apprentice program because he was so patient and good at teaching those who were in trade training. He was humbled and elated at the opportunity to take on this role, which never happened because he didn’t make it back to work.
At his visitation services grown men came and cried on my shoulder saying how much they would miss him. The day of he was buried, the plant he worked at shut down production at 11:00 a.m. when the funeral began. There’s a sizable financial cost to involved with shutting down a plant, even for a short while and, believe me, this isn’t done for everyone.
Bob was a wonderful father and grandfather. We have a daughter and he had two children from a previous marriage. His daughter has a child, our granddaughter. Bob was an amazing father. His children looked up to him and wanted to make him proud. It wasn’t hard to do that. He was proud of each of them and always let them know this, not with constant praise but by being there to counsel them whenever they had problems. It was dad they often turned to when they were struggling. They knew he’d have the answer they needed to hear. His granddaughter was nine when he was in the hospital those last months. No matter how sick he was, when she came to visit he’d swing his feet over the side of the bed, sit next to her and whisper quietly having a special, private conversation only a grandfather and granddaughter can have. When he died his children were bereft and to this day they all miss him profoundly.
Is this what people need to know if I were to write a memoir? I’m still not sure. But I hope that by giving just a few small insights into who he was, I pay homage to a man who never looked for the limelight, but in his death I hope I honor him with my memories.