When in grammar school, we learn the dates of birth and death of historical figures every day. From George Washington to John Kennedy and many in between. We also experience a “first death”. In my case it was my grandmother who was my only living grandparent in memory My grandmother died in 1969 at age 81 and she looked like a pioneer women in an old Daguerreotype, tiny, skinny, wan complexion. She owned our house and lived upstairs and her health meant the we took care of her more than she of us. I have some memories but RIP and Godspeed. Nobody my age could possibly die, even my parents, aunts, uncles, friend’s parents..they were the same age as professional baseball players. As I sadly found out that would change. I loved my mother, father, aunts, uncles, mother/father in law, my friends mothers and fathers, my grammar school, high school teachers and coaches, my college teachers. If you added up all these people I think they would total about 50- however I never knew them as peers..they were always “Mr Meskill” or “Mrs Pinto”(2 of at least 50 examples) so their deaths were expected in some sense. At age 65 I only have a handful of friend’s parents alive and no parents, aunts or uncles. I loved them all but they are not the subject of this essay. This essay only refers to people who were my peers, people who would call me “Art” and I would call them “Ray” or “Roberta”, not Mr Hogan or Ms Albergh (2 examples). They are all in my prayers every day when I have a spare time to think and reflect on how I met them, how they influenced me, what was my last interaction with them(and I do remember many of my last interactions), and what was the lesson now that they are gone. Most important though is the understanding that in a finite time period I and everyone I know will be joining them and that we must honor their legacy, as all exited life too soon, with our daily actions and thoughts. Nikita Kruschev, talking about the nuclear war, said “the living will envy the dead”. The fearsome but unknown experience of death is something we all must face yet we know people who have already done it. What have we learned? How can we prepare? How can we take advantage of their experience to take advantage of the time left and ease our passing.
The first to go was my high school classmate Dan(2 months after graduation), who met his fate driving a box truck. He was married to my grammar school mate Deborah, and both were fairly big boned(he being the football center). No sooner than that occurred I heard of the death of Tim, an athletic track athlete who was a policeman and was hit during a traffic stop; I pass a bridge with his name on it as a memorial. My friend Joe, who was just a quiet kid who had a car(a rarity then) succumbed to cancer that some knew for a while(not me). His deterioration was noticeable with an eye patch and pallid skin. My final quickly deceased high school mate was Dennis, a high school teacher(at our school) who took his own life due(I was told)to a failed very young marriage.
All of the sudden I started hearing bad news from my grammar school. David, who threw the football that caused me to run into a parked car and get 13 stitches(that you can see today) had a blood disease. Then all of the sudden a few girls passed which surprised me. Karen, Linda, Coleen and Nancy(and her one year older sister Ann) were all gone in a few years for reasons I don’t know. Soon after Joe, a good pitcher married to my 8th grade classmate Patricia, died in suspicious circumstances on the railroad. I don’t doubt there are others. If you look at the life insurance tables 11% of people born in 1955 are deceased which would mean 8 or 9(as some born in 1954) and I can account for only 6.
On to college and more death. However, I just want to interject there was a lot of life. Every one of these were people I knew, had fun with and respected. The grammar school girls I did not know very well being kind of a “dork” but they all seemed nice and I have only good memories of them all. In college a “rich kid” whose father owned a car dealership had a heart attack and died. A young lady I was fairly friendly with who became a nurse, married and died of a pill overdose at 25; God only knows and it still makes me sad. All of the sudden Dave, Rob Diane, Tom and Sue(in a small plane crash) passed and who knows how many more that I knew that are gone. UConn is a big place and we are all in our 60s now. The biggest death was my friend Jack. He was about 6’7” and played varsity basketball at UConn; I met him October 1973 shooting baskets on a Sunday night at the “old” gym. There are others I met there that I still talk to this day. Jack worked hard, made JV and then varsity and had 14 Division I points..and a scholarship his senior year. We kept in touch and visited each others houses, he even saw me calling bingo once(and I saw his basketball coaching twice). We talked often about life, basketball and business and he worked hard. I talked to him on a Wednesday night(about Danbury girls basketball) and he was gone on Friday from a heart attack. I think of him every day and despite my many problems I am sure he would like to be around to have my problems. A good man.
After college I moved with my friends to Milford in what was the ultimate 22 year old’s party house; a block from the beach, from the basketball court, package store and dive bar in walking distance and we were well received by our neighbors who were suspicious of a house of 22 yr old guys in their beach neighborhood for the summer. There we young families with kids like Brian, Molly, Mark, Elise, Marci,(Barbara and Mario parents in late 30s) Kevin, Brendan, Michelle, Monica and Melissa(Bill and Sue parents in late 30s).…Brian and Michelle gone now..Michelle murdered by opioid addicted son. Sue(cancer) and Mario(heart) gone to by 50 and they are missed every day. They were a great influence on me and I pray for them often. The remaining kids are still around and contributing. Other neighbors were young to in 1978, Mike and Lu(summer from Watertown CT), Tom and Midge(summer from NY) were parents with young families at the time and the men loved to hang out at our house occasionally to watch baseball; Mike and Lu and Midge are gone, and Tom (a strapping private detective) just died of covid. Their kids continue though and I see them at times(they don’t really know me). There are many old people who were not that old then last name Crosby, Conway, McCullough, Keenan, Mcintee, Halpin, and many others who are long gone now(although Ms Crosby used to play bingo up to 2006 or so).
Basketball was a passion and I had an opportunity to play on competitive teams and play with many good players, some college caliber. George(a 6’6” minor league baseball player), Doug (6’7”Dartmouth player), Neil, Mike, Jim (great Upsala player), Paul (ALS victim who played Trinity ), Doug, Mason Mike, Al , Rob and others one by one passed for various reasons, the Dartmouth player at age 20 from an aneurysm(Doug’s sudden death happened 2 weeks before I experienced anaphylactic shock from shellfish..I was going to lay down before I thought of his sudden death and not laying down saved my life) . Recently my friend Mark passed(lung cancer) leaving 5 kids and he was only a year older than me..we talked about old movies only a few months before his passing. The others had various forms of cancer, brain, lymphoma, and others.. Damn. From high school Stan(all state and had 50 pts for Southern in a game)succumbed to Hodgkins and Walter as well. There are many others from the hoop court as well that I did not know as well but still feel their absence.
Tennis was a second passion and I was blessed to play against many good older players who allowed me to compete at a higher level than I deserved when they were 20-30 years older that I was. When I was 28, before I met my wife, I met Bob who was 64. He finished second in the town tournament but needed a 7am partner as his wife needed care. I filled the bill and it was a number of years before I ever beat him. I played him the morning I got married! The last time I saw him he had Alzheimer’s and did not recognize me but he passed in 2005 at 94. With Bob as my teammate we played a tough doubles team of Marty and Bob B in the late 90s but lost. I was friends with their sons but knew them as competitors as they were only about 55 then. Over the past 4 years I have lost them both as well as their friend Leroy, who was the father of my daughter’s teacher. There are some others, Don and Frank that I know of and surely others. They gave me a lifelong skill and Marty turned out to be the coach of both my daughters in high school. RIP and Godspeed to them all.
My high school then had a spate of deaths. Paul ( a good friend who ran track at UConn father of 3), Vin (our salutatorian who did my taxes and we talked a bit about life), Mike (our 1600 SAT guy who worked for Post Office), Neil (who married my grammar school classmate Susan), John (an eclectic MD who rowed at Trinity(about 6’3”) and traveled the world as a pharma researcher and a key player in wonder drug Keytruda) all succumbed to one disease or another (cancer being the most common including Leukemia and brain), then others such as Bill C, Bill G, Clem E, Rich F, John L, Dave M, Tom R, James M, Corey S and a few more..we are up to 21 out of 235 classmates.
Once I started work at 22 I was thrust into a world of 30 and 40 somethings, all young men at the time. Glad handing salespeople, grimy repairmen, stern systems analysts..the rare woman was mature in the office and as a salesman I was encouraged not to be in the office- in 1978 we were not far from “Glengarry Glen Ross” with quotas, yelling managers and threats of firing. As the years went on little by little they started dropping, first Ray my manager and Korean war vet, Norm the repair manager, Pat the office manager, John and Linwood technicians all gone (John in car accident). Vin was our forms sales manager and came to one of our basketball games as his new hire(John) was a college star and on the other team. I remember him being shocked at the quality of play, he thought it would be a bunch of hackers. He was building a garage and it collapsed on him and was in his later 30s. The guy that hired me and his wife both died over the past few years..they were probably 40 in 78 but in 80s now. RIP to them all and probably many more. So many came of age during Korea and Vietnam as communications technicians and now would be amazed by the “Cloud” and “Iphones” and 5G but alas never lived to see these technologies. There are others as well I am sure. RIP and Godspeed to all; I started there a boy of 22 and ended a married man of 31 and all these people were huge influences in my life for 9 years. Also my largest sale and installation was to New Haven Savings Bank, my next employer.
For 10 years I worked at medium sized bank(1988 to 1998), New Haven Savings Bank(long gone) with 28 branches and was hired as the only computer literate person in the bank, from installation and repairs to long term planning..pretty heady stuff for a 32 year old making 25k a year(equal to 56k now). I was hired by Ken (number 2 guy in bank) and Willie (a black man head of operations and maybe my best mentor in hindsight). The President Charlie was a relatively young CPA age 42, and the Chairman of the Board was a jolly rotund man of 60 or so. I spent a lot of time with them, first on the interview process then after hired training and implementing systems. One by one they passed, first Willie (only 42 in 1992) of cancer with a beautiful family and I was very affected, the Bob age 68 in 1993, the Charley in 2002(I was gone from bank in 1998 but kept in touch..he was a very charitable man and he died age 59 and 364 days). He and I were the only bank employees who did 2 New Haven Savings triathlons(1 mi swim, 6.2 run, 25 mi bike the Olympic length) and now that I am 65 I realize how young 59 is. Finally Ken in 2017 at 82, he became President briefly, then retired with a nice wife and 2 kids (and I knew them well as he was also a huge mentor) and we talked by phone at least yearly. So many others gone, Dick, Diane, Jean, Lillian, Roberta and others in Operations, Dick and Bill in Mortgage, Don, Joe, and Miriam in Personnel, Martha, Bert, Maureen in trust and countless managers, assistant managers, and tellers all of whom I dealt with as the computer chief, cook and bottle washer. They all touched my life, both my girls were born when I worked there under their insurance policy, and I often wished I could have worked there forever. RIP and Godspeed to all.
Although I worked at a “fund of funds” Commonfund from 1998 to 2013, the only deaths were a mailroom person (Ron Small) and a couple of husbands of ladies who worked there(Cindy and Debbie). RIP and Godspeed to them all. It was a young and wealthy company and maybe the rich just don’t die. However recently I picked up the Wall St Journal and saw that our ex President, a Princeton football player only a year older than me, died on a Carribean vacation. I used to talk to him often about sports(during the good times) specifiically about Ivy League basketball. Wealth does not shield you as we know nor does fame..he was a favorite guest on CNBC and well known.
As a parent I was blessed to raise a family in a beautiful neighborhood (Laurel Beach) and send them to small parochial schools (St Gabriel and Lauralton Hall). Because of this every single death that occurred was someone I knew(and in most cases well).
In Laurel Beach we had upper middle class legacy families, mostly Irish, with many children about my age. Because I moved there at 32, these older families (most in their early 60s at the time) treated me like an adult and called me by my first name, as I did them, so they also exposed me to sadness when they passed as peers, albeit old enough to be my parents. The Shanleys, Kehoes, Carlsons, Currans were all prominent Irish families who were lively at parties and meetings and were always welcoming. One by one they passed, first the husband, then the wife 5 years later and they will be missed. One exception was the Charbonneau family. The husband David, who I played bocce with, passed in 1990 at a very young age, maybe 30 of a heart attack..he was a mailman. The wife, my age, was a nice lady who was a nurse. I remember her playing tennis when I moved there. 32 years after her husband died she died suddenly of undiagnosed cancer at age 65, leaving 2 adult sons. They were all good parents who taught me a lot about how to comport myself as a husband and father and they will be missed.
We were at St Gabriels school from 1998 to 2011 and to this day it is the place I associate most with home. We had such a wonderful time with so many teachers and other parents that it almost seems like a dream, however when you look back you realize there are some who are not with us anymore. Mrs Dean(1st grade), Mrs. Anderson(3rd grade), Mrs. Croke (phys ed) were teachers of both my daughters and friends but are not around to see how it all turns out.
There were so many wonderful parents who we went to church, sports, musicals and other events with but a few are not around now to see the fruits of their labors. Elaine was a nurse with 3 children, 2 boys and a girl, quiet but very nice and her schedule meant that she was not always there, however she had a twin sister that I sometimes confused her with. She passed of cancer in 2011 and the church was packed. Mrs. Croke has 2 children at school, a bit older and came from a large family that we all knew. In 2010 she succumbed to cancer; damn cancer and again a packed church. Nicole was a parent of 4, a little edgy but nice and a loyal parent. She passed suddenly in 2009 from a heart condition. Dee was a nice quiet mother of 3, including an autistic boy. A church goer she passed in 2015 from a cause I am not sure of, which usually means cancer. Men were certainly not spared. A fine parent named Paul had a long term ailment but kept his spirits up and was a source of inspiration even from a wheelchair until he passed in 2010. A remarkable family from Palestine had 2 young parents and 7 kids. The father Marwan(aka Rocky) was a short stocky guy who worked 7 days a week putting in carpets but always had a ready hello and handshake whenever you saw him. He died suddenly in 2015 of a heart attack. Len had 3 daughters and was a hard working bread truck driver. He had an attractive family but stress got the better of him and he did himself in 2008. Jim had a daughter and was a well known house painter but an accident and it’s aftermath took its tool and he died in 2019.
We were at Lauralton Hall Catholic girls high school from 2009 to 2015 but saw our share of tragedy. Mrs Adams a volleyball mother died in 2014, and Mrs Tanu in 2018. I don’t know the first names as were live in all different towns but we did attend many events with them. I was reacquainted with a person from my youth Dave who was a father in a class with my daughter
He has been in a wheelchair since 2000 or so with MS. I used to sit with him at some events as he was limited in mobility and really enjoyed it. He passed in 2016 finally. Mr. Bisch had an adopted Asian daughter who attended Lauralton and I did not know him but feel his loss. He died in 2017 but was a fellow parent and is missed.
There are so many people I can’t categorize that mean so much to me who have passed; it is incredible how sad I feel. The first I will mention is Liz…you could say she was my first girlfriend although we had only a few relatively chaste dates. We dated for a couple of months at most in 1982 but she was in and out of my life during the next 23 years until she passed in 2005. She was working at the hospital when my first daughter was born and in the room with my wife- unbeknownst to me until walked it. I showed her the incubator where I mentioned she was Mary Elizabeth and she joked “did you name her after me?”(I did not know until her funeral that her full name was Mary Elizabeth). She also said I had better buy flowers (I probably was a cheapskate on our dates) Her sister hired me at my best job Commonfund(she was senior management) and it took a year to put 2 and 2 together when her mother came in and recognized me and I was summoned to her sister’s office. It may very well have saved me during the post 9/11 15% layoffs. She saw the best set I ever played in tennis(I thought that if I died she would only remember me flailing away and psyched myself up to beat a nephew who played college tennis). Her sister had me to a lunch only 6 months before she died and I saw the ravages of cancer and when she died she was playing “You lift me up” which I had bought as a modest Christmas gift. RIP and Godspeed and she never married but touched so many that the Cathedral was filled for her funeral. Liz and I both knew a young lady named Mary, a good friend’s sister who was our common bond, and Mary married a great guy named Richard..a little older but an old school gentleman. A college football star in the Ivy league, his son was also and they the (I believe) father/son all Ivy selection. A father of 3, I did not see him much but did sit at a table with him November 2006 at a dinner, and 2 month later he died of an aneurysm on a bike ride at 61. So sad and both these deaths, only 2 years apart, really affected me. I learned so much and owe so much. There were other uncategorized, Kurt ( a radio station General Manager who bought my house in 1988) was an unreconstructed hippie, married to a Jamaican women(since divorced) who I had many conversations with, including one from Cincinnati in 2014 only 6 months before he died as to how to handle his debts knowing he would not be around to pay. John was my oldest daughter basketball coach in town, a fellow Notre Dame grad with IT background(a bit younger) who had a daughter who was an outstanding athlete and we talked a bit. He passed in 2016 after winning an alderman re election. There are actually many others who I am ashamed I am forgetting now but I just want to give you a blanket remembrance and tell you I was listening. I also want to mention the people who took their own lives; Denis, Beth, Dave, James, Paul, Len, Ann, Jim, Tom and I am sure there were others. My brother in law in Alaska took his life also; as a family member that is tough to deal with. Drugs took my nephew Josh, who is my oldest daughter’s age, and in some ways it is like taking your own life. Some mentioned in essay, some not. I will not judge as all of these were outstanding people who touched my life at some time, some many times.
You may ask “What is the purpose of this essay?” People my age (65) have been blessed to inhabit the earth with people born in the 1874 like Macarthur, Hoover and Churchill and we now see babies of 2021. That is a span of 147 years and they can live to 100. We study history and marvel at events and famous quotes, but we have people in our lives who can give us more relevant and profound and actionable information that we can ever get from the distant past or even the past of our parents age. The people I mentioned, most my age or a little older (a few younger though) have lessons for us, if nothing else how to live AND die. They also give us a known timeframe within which death will occur to us, taking with it all we have known and loved either before or after we pass. At age 65 knowing so many people I know that every few months (or even weeks) for the rest of my life I am going to read of someone I know (maybe well, maybe a teammate, co-worker, co-parent) having died until it is my turn and someone will read of me. My 2 daughters are already older that I was when my father died, and my wife of 35 years now realizes that I have known her far longer than I will know her. In fact that is the same for almost all my friends; as someone said last week, people our age think we are in the “back nine”(golf course)- “heck we are on the 15th hole at least”. I will close with lyrics from what I consider the most haunting love song of I have ever heard.(being 35 years married), “If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell and sung with his wife. The reason our actions MATTER is that there will come a time soon when we will NOT be able to correct them. We should take these words to heart not just to our significant others but to all our friends and even acquaintances Quite simply this is the stuff of life.
“It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we’ll get forty years together
But one day I’ll be gone
Or one day you’ll be gone”