A bit of string
13 March 1999
This story was told to me many years ago, so I probably remembered it in a different way from how it happened.
One day around 1984 or so, Bob was in a foul mood -- didn't want to talk to anyone, was rude to people on the phone, and so forth. Several hours later Katy came home and heard him talking in a very calm, serious adult voice to someone. She figured he was on the phone, was relieved that his mood had blown over, and came into the house to find him talking -- in this intelligent, relaxed, and respectful way -- with his baby daughter.
I've always liked this story. Bob was never any good at putting up a false face -- this was at the heart of his grace, the fact that he avoided wearing the masks which people usually wear. I've always respected him greatly for this -- particularly (as this story indicates) for the way he treated his children. Bob's bond with Justine and Jeremy was something I greatly envy, and I hope it's something they'll keep alive in their memories.
Bob died at 1.15 am on March 13, 1999. His condition deteriorated rapidly during the last month of his life, and it was clear by the Monday before his death that his vital systems were shutting down. Breathing had become an enormous effort. His feeding tube, which had developed a kink, was removed and the decision was made not to replace it. He was conscious and alert (though of course not speaking) during his final days, which gave people a chance to say goodbye to him and feel it was really more than just a gesture.
I missed all this. I last saw Bob while he was still at Vancouver General Hospital, desperately trying to fight off a lung infection. At that time, the doctors had worried that his heart couldn't handle the strain for more than a few weeks. He stabilised, and seemed to regain some strength. But not enough to repair the damage left by the vasculitis which immobilised him.
I know it was Bob's own will and determination, and the active support of so many people which kept him going for as long as he did. We will never know what thoughts came to him, what meditations he had, what dreams he experienced, in those 16 months of silence and stillness.
Certainly he felt the love of many people. When he was in serious danger at the Vancouver hospital, one friend managed to get in to see him by claiming to be his "brother from Toronto". Fortunately, when I arrived at the hospital they didn't tell me that I must be an imposter because his brother from Toronto had come the day before, and didn't look a bit like me.
It's funny that most of the stories I can remember about Bob -- this morning in Toronto, a few hours after his death -- have to do with communication. When I lived in England, I used to get peculiar, non-sequitirish faxes from Western Cyclogical (Bob's bike shop business for the previous 20 years) -- stories based on things he'd heard on the radio or read in the New Yorker, written in all italic capitals on an electric typewriter he found in some dump somewhere. Yesterday, as I packed up boxes in preparation for moving house, I found the remnants of a ball of string. Three years ago, Bob sent me a bicycle through the mail. A whole bicycle, in pieces tied together with bits of twine. He used a lot of string, I suppose figuring that if he couldn't make the box stronger, at least he'd ensure that all the pieces would arrive more or less together.