Last night, I received an unusual e-mail from a woman who identified herself as a friend and neighbor of Uncle Bob, who is my dad’s best friend who he has known since his high school days. Dad and Bob reconnected this year because of Ed’s passing after about a three-year hiatus of not speaking, not because of anything bad that had happened between them, but rather because they just let the speed of life get in the way of their friendship. I also became in close contact with him, as we exchanged many e-mails and phone calls to get to know each other over the last few months and to help Bob understand my dad better since so much time had passed since they had last spoken.
The message this woman left was cryptic, and so I told her I was out of the country traveling. She informed me that parking tickets had been piling up on Bob’s car, which alarmed her mother who lives in the same block. She contacted the police, who finally took the calls seriously after about two weeks. They broke into his house and found him in his bed. He had passed away, likely the week of Thanksgiving, and his wife and son were nowhere to be found.
I sobbed when I found out and immediately called her to find out any more information. Since she and her mother are not Bob’s family, there’s little that they could do, and the police needed to find his wife and son. Who knows where they were or if this had anything to do with them.
When I came back to San Francisco in September, my parents and I had a beautiful meal at a nice Vietnamese restaurant with Bob, where we took photos and chatted. The smiles on my dad’s face at the time were so memorable.
That dinner almost never happened because my mom and Bob, being extremely stubborn people, battled over who was going to pay the bill. My mom refused to go if Bob paid since Bob had paid for the last lunch with my dad (sounds stupid, but my mom always wants to give back immediately when someone has done something nice for her), and Bob refused to go if my parents paid. I actually had to call Bob several times to convince him to give in this one time because I wanted this dinner to happen. I said to him, “I’m not sure when the next time I will be back in San Francisco will be, so who knows when ‘next time’ will happen.” He told me afterwards that he really thought about those words I said and decided, life is short. Let’s make this happen. At last minute, he finally gave in and came. And I’m so happy he did.
When we met for dinner that night in September, he presented my parents with a beautiful box of moon cakes from the best bakery in Chinatown since it was Moon Festival, gave me some old maps he saved from his trip to Germany since he knew I was planning a trip there in November, and even presented me with a very unexpected Chinese red envelope containing a considerable three-digit sum of money. “This is for all the years that I didn’t get to see you growing up,” he said. “Don’t tell your parents I gave this to you!” His kindness and extreme generosity rendered me speechless and awestruck.
I had to call my dad today to tell him the news. It’s horrible that I had to be the one to inform him the way I did with the little bits of actual information I had, and his reaction at the time was so painful to hear. This year, my dad lost his son and now his best friend forever. I don’t know how much worse life can get at this point.
I feel broken to hear this news. Bob was really my dad’s only real friend, and probably one of the most caring, loving, and giving people my family has known. He relentlessly reached out to my dad after Ed passed away to know that he was “there” for him and our family, took him out to lunch, and offered to spend a lot of time with him despite caring for his sick mother with Alzheimer’s full time. Bob constantly reiterated how much he cared about my dad to me and directly to my dad, leaving my dad with a bashful red glow on his face. He was not shy to express gratitude for all the nice things my dad has given him over the years and the favors he has paid Bob. What Bob did not give himself credit for, though, were all the amazing things he did for my dad, and the role he played in my dad’s life as his only true friend.
The last time my dad saw Bob was when they went to a model railroad exhibition together on November 23rd in Pleasanton. Those are the last memories my dad has of his dear friend.
I sent Bob a Christmas card before I left for Australia with words of gratitude, letting him know how grateful I am to know that my dad has a friend like him. Life is short, I said, and we need to spend as much time together as possible. Included in the card were photos from our September dinner, with one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen of my dad captured in a photograph, with Bob at his side. It hurts to know now that he was never able to read that card or see those photos I sent.
Maybe now that he is in heaven, he actually does know that I sent him that card and that it was waiting for him in his P.O. box. He would know that I followed up with an e-mail to him, telling him I was traveling in the Southern Hemisphere and hoped he received the little something I sent him. Maybe now, he can look back on the last year of his life and be content in the fact that he was not just able to reconnect with my dad and our family, but also a few other friends the way his neighbor friend told me. Even though I am angry about the situation with his estranged wife and heartless son, I can at least find comfort in the fact that he rekindled important friendships in his life before he passed and know that my parents and I will always have a special place in hearts and minds for the rare and genuine soul that he was to us. Now that he is in a better place, I hope he can finally meet Ed and that they can both visit me in my dreams, perhaps together, so that I can relive what significant and memorable individuals they were in my life on earth.
Uncle Bob, I’ll never forget you and will think of you lovingly and often with my deepest gratitude. Thank you for being a significant part of my dad and family’s life. Our time together on earth has ended, but our happy memories and love for you will continue to live on forever. Death can’t take that away from us.