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I awoke this morning, while the sun was still tucked under cloud cover, hunkered down beneath my blanket. In preparation mode for a day that will include seeing therapy clients and then driving to NJ to be with my friend Janet who is traversing a road, I had back in 1998. She is now part of what I call the ‘non-exclusive club that no one wants to join’. Her beloved husband died yesterday. It was not unexpected since Phil was in the grip of end stage cardiac and kidney disease. He had plummeted and rallied so many times in the past few years and his family and friends had ridden the waves with him. This time felt different. He was just plum tuckered out. Even as he spoke of keepin’ on keepin’ on, we prepared ourselves for the inevitable. It wasn’t a matter of if, but rather when the ride would end. It did, on July 31st at 2:43 pm as he took his last breath by conscious choice. He was surrounded by loved ones who showered him with blessings and immersed him in the sounds of chanting.  I wasn’t there but imagined his spirit rising on sonic sweetness.

A few days earlier, he had asked for a send-off in the form of a going away party at the hospital. Friends gathered in the cafeteria and celebrated Phil’s life. Two computers had been set up, with one in his room, so that he could be a remote guest via Skype. Folks were able to visit in his room in twos.

I saw him that morning on my own since I wanted private time with this man who has been such a pivotal part of my life. I met Phil in the mid-1980’s and he immediately became a family member. When my son turned 14, (after losing his father/my husband at age 11), Phil became his ‘unofficial Big Brother,’ since we had waited for three years, to no avail for someone via the agency itself. In pretty short order, it became apparent that Adam was more than his “Little Bro,” as he sometimes called him. They were linked by a primal bond and soon Adam came to think of Phil as his father. Phil jokingly referred to me as his ‘Baby Mama’. He and his wife Janet were an invaluable part of the village that helped me raise my son as a single parent. I can’t even imagine how I would have done that without him. I could tell when Adam was on the phone with him since he took on a Phil-persona sound. They had the same twisted sense of humor. Phil was a man whose values I wanted to influence Adam. That they did.

Now 30, Adam is about to become a married man. The plan was for Phil and me to walk Adam down the aisle to await his beautiful bride Lauren. I will be doing it solo now, but I am certain that Phil will be there in spirit.

On Saturday, after having visited Phil earlier in the day, I was at the XPoNential Music Festival with friends, some who knew Phil and a few who were only familiar with him from reading my posts over the years, asking for prayers. I think he had no clue how many lives he touched beyond his work as a peer support person, suicide prevention, and mental health educator. Being asked to pray for someone feels like an honor and it connects us in intentional community.

As some of the friends were leaving the event and I was hugging them goodbye, I started to cry since I knew at that moment that it was time to say goodbye to my dear friend who was lying in a hospital bed a mile or so away, breathing on a ventilator with machines beating out the last hours of his life. I began to sob and my friend Clare, who did know Phil, mama-hugged me and said, “I’m so sorry.” Reflexively,  I responded, “It’s not your fault,” to which she answered, “I’m Universally sorry.” I laughed at that and asked if it was “an Episcopal thing.” Among many other gifts and talents, Clare is an Episcopal priest. She said it wasn’t. It just indicated that it was okay to be disgruntled with the Divine Plan. As an Interfaith Minister, I can relate and often do my share of God wrestling.

In my head and heart will remain the image of a man whose sense of humor was reverently irreverent, whose big heart (ironically he died of heart disease) touched many. He expanded beyond a body too limited to contain such a soul.

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Janet, the author, Phil and Gary celebrating at a 4th of July picnic a few years ago.

 

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