agosto 05, 2009

Bob, simply!

I just learned that Uncle Bob’s health has taken a turn for the worse, and he is not expected to make it out of this one. Even as I write this, I don’t know if he is still with us. For his sake, and to alleviate his suffering, I hope his is a short agony and may he go quietly and peacefully to Olam HaBah.

Bob has been sick for a few years, yet I don’t know exactly what´s causing his troubles. It’s just the kind of thing you don´t ask. Because his memory has been failing, I have all along assumed it is Alzheimer’s. Same difference. However, I was fortunate to never have seen him disoriented, or with a blank stare, or in any other state that would indicate to me that he was physically there but that his mind was not. I consider myself blessed because I have only good memories of him. I hope my memories of Bob will somehow help those who love him most overcome the pain of letting go, as I am sure they have been to the gates of hell and back watching his slow and steady decline. I hope I can bring you back memories of better times and help you put behind the harrowing scenes you must have seen during his illness.

Between his living in New York and my growing up in Costa Rica, I saw Bob no more than four or five times during the first 25 years of my life. That all changed as my cousins and siblings began to get married and the opportunities increased to travel and meet. Bob and Rita were particularly good at this, never missing an opportunity to be with the whole mishpocha, regardless of whether the simcha was taking place in beautiful Mexico, tropical Costa Rica, or faraway and mystical Israel. The fact that I spent 9 of the last 19 years living in the U.S. also helped, especially the two year period when I lived in New Jersey and worked in Manhattan.

I will always remember Bob as the funny guy and warm and loving man he was while the lights were still on in his control tower. At well over 6 feet tall, and with a wide-framed and athletic body, he would always greet me with his thunderous voice and give me a bear hug, planting a kiss on my cheek, every time we met. When I was younger and barely spoke any English at all, he would talk to me in that very peculiar NewYoRican Spanish he picked up from his customers in “da Bronx”, spoken with his heavy Nu Yohk accent, and laced with all the off-color and cuss words he knew in Spanish and blamed on the Latino junkies that crowded the street where the family business was located. Being just nine years old the first time I remember ever seeing him, I thought he was the coolest and funniest adult ever.

When I moved to New Jersey in 2002 his mind was already faltering. Rita and my cousins explained that at times he would be disoriented, and warned me that on occasion he would not recognize people. But in spite of the fact that I was not a usual sight for him, he always recognized me. The only time I noticed something amiss was the second time I saw Bob after I had moved to NJ. Upon arriving at Gary’s I was forewarned that Bob wasn´t having a good day. And yet he immediately recognized me. However he did not remember I had moved to the Tri-State area and was puzzled to see me again just a few weeks after I had been at his place. He remembered vividly having seen me that previous time, and realized that 6 or 7 weeks was too long a time for me and my family to still be on vacation in New York, and too short a time for us to be back there again. I guess his mind was working fine, but his memory had betrayed him. Other than that, he was the same funny and loving man I always had known.

Every time we spoke or met, he asked about my Mom and siblings and asked me to give them his warmest regards and love. He was clear that my Dad had passed away just a couple of years before, that my older sister had divorced, and that my younger brother was 30-something and still single. As far as I can recall, he always recognized my wife too. And every single time we spoke he had something nice to say about my father. If all that ain’t presence of mind, I don’t know what is. Mind you, Rita is my late father’s cousin, not Bob. She is also the reason I came to love Bob so much. If he was her Prince Charming long before I was born, if they stayed together and in love for so many years (how common is that nowadays?), and if I love Rita as much as I do, then how could I not come to love Bob? And yet he didn’t need Rita’s help to win my heart, he managed to do that on his own!

The last time I saw Bob was when he and Rita came to Costa Rica, I believe in 2006. He had a really rough time, and yet again I was lucky enough to not have seen him in a bad shape. They stayed at my Mom’s house and I was told he was really disoriented, especially at night, even getting lost within the house and not being able to find the way from the dining room to the living room or to his bedroom. The day I took them to see the apartment complex I was building in the opposite end of town (and the reason I returned to Costa Rica after two years in New Jersey), Rita had a rough time because my pick-up truck is a little too bouncy, a problem that was exacerbated by the poor state in which most of Costa Rica’s streets are. But Bob was there, and other than badly needing to take a leak, he was perfectly fine. And regarding that leak, I should say: who doesn’t? Even I at 44 urgently need to relieve my bladder every time I drive my truck for 45 bouncy minutes crossing town.

I remember how excited Bob was to see what I was doing, which was right up his alley, having devoted almost his entire adult life to the family’s hardware store. Even more so, he was excited because I had finally taken the plunge from salaried executive to businessman and entrepreneur. After the ride back, I was sure he had no desire to ever return to the construction site, but I must admit that “ground transportation” across town in San Jose is not a very good thing for seventy-somethings. Hopefully the next time Rita is here I will own a helicopter (NOT!) or at least a comfortable sedan with lots of legroom and softer shock absorbers.

I could go on for hours talking about Bob, but like his own life, all good things eventually must come to an end. I just hope, as I said before, that his passing is quick and hopefully painless, and that when the time comes to mourn his death, Rita and Gary and Paul and Linda and Cindy and the kids will be able to celebrate his life, putting behind all the painful memories brought on by his disease. I know I will.

And Bob - if there is still time for someone to read this to you – allow me to say three things:

• I love you!

• Bon Voyage!


• Please say hi to my Dad when you see him!
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