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Farewell to my Best Co-Conspirator

June 10th, 2009

Most months since I started writing this column, nearly a decade ago, I poked the final draft under my journalist-husband’s nose and waited quietly while he read it.

He was a gentle editor. Rarely did he change a thing. At worst, he might say “Not your best.” At best, “You nailed it.”

What he brought to the process was not a red pencil but a shared love for life’s ironies. With his sudden passing last month, I lost not only a husband but my best co-conspirator in finding the light side of life.

Garth Bishop, who edits this column for SNP, got it right when he said that in print, and probably in life, Bob served as the perfect foil.

How true that was, from the very beginning of our slightly crazed marriage. We wrote our own vows, mine full of disclaimers about the challenges we’d face raising my two rambunctious young sons from my previous marriage, his full of dewy-eyed optimism.

“There are four places at the dinner table and sneakers in the middle of the living room floor,” mine pointed out.

“For me, it feels natural and warm and right,” countered the man who had never had children.

The reality of married life fell somewhere in between.

First, there was Bob the uber-organized stepdad, who began setting up systems that would replicate the peace and harmony of his bachelor condo. There was the auto-timer, a digital gadget he Velcro’d to his dashboard when the boys were in middle school.

“First 30 minutes of carpooling each week are free,” he said. “After that, you pay minute for minute in chores.”

Then came the movie incentive system. Points for chores, redeemable in movies. And ultimately, the family vacation journaling system, in which any child who could sit still long enough to write would win a Snickers.

It’s not for the ingeniousness of the systems that we remember him. (None of them actually worked.) We remember instead his willingness to laugh at his foiled attempts at perfection.

“I was a little compulsive,” he finally admitted. “I needed to lighten up.”

He did. When our daughter Sarah was born 21 years ago, he dissolved into an adoring goof who wore silly hats, tickled her tummy and held intense conversations with a menagerie of stuffed animals.

But the grandest display of his light, systematic self came in more recent times, when years of Type 2 diabetes began to take their toll with serial hospitalizations and medical procedures. Instead of fuming over unanswered call buttons, he called the nurse’s station on his cell phone. When his leg was amputated below the knee, he threatened to freeze it as evidence and sue an uncooperative insurer but gave it up “because that’s not the way I want to live out my life.” He ultimately referred to the procedure as “an unfortunate weight loss program.”

Although it came too soon, the end came in a way he would have liked – suddenly on a sunny Saturday at home, watching a golf game on TV.

“You gotta wonder what kind of shot he was watching,” whispered one of his newspaper buddies at the calling hours.

I had to smile. It was exactly what Bob would have said.

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