Letters and Diary Non-Fiction posted February 14, 2015


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A sort of memorium

R.I.P. Robert Haigh

by michaelcahill


 

Robert Haigh died recently. By writing that line, I've done a small portion of my job as a writer.
 
Bob, his nickname, drank himself to death. He was in poor health with a myriad of problems, including a pacemaker for his bad heart and a liver that would answer, "yes" to the proverbial question, "what am I, chopped liver?" He did nothing to care for himself, and we, his friends and associates, did all we could to encourage him to seek medical help and live a healthier lifestyle. He didn't listen.
 
My friend, who rented a room to him, found him dead and called me right away. He had never seen a dead body before. For some reason, those who know me consider me the go-to-guy in an emergency. Well, that's another story. In any case, I rushed over and instructed him to call 911. Bob had been dead for hours. Nevertheless, I had my friend help pull the body off the bed so it looked like he attempted to do something other than call me. I put a sheet on the bed and straightened up the room a bit. It was a mess. I know how suspicious sheriffs and detectives can be sometimes and I anticipated a possible grilling of my friend. "Why did you call this guy and not 911, etc." 
 
I interceded in the interviews as often as possible, portraying my friend as distraught over the loss of his friend, and stressed over the discovery of a dead body. Parts of it happened to be right on the money. He certainly was stressed. It worked out and the powers that be were sympathetic.
 
Several hours passed, as is the norm in these cases. Finally, the body was placed on a stretcher, put in the coroner's van and sent on its way for a standard autopsy.
 
I realized watching the van drive away that Bob's story ended right there. He had no contact whatsoever with his family. There had been no arrangements for a funeral or services. Whatever the state of California did with dead people, they would do with Bob.
 
At that point, it hit me that it fell to me as a writer to memorialize Bob in some small way. It didn't fall to me as a nice gesture or a magnanimous act on my part. I realized it fell to me as a responsibility. It was my job to see to it Bob's final chapter didn't read, "and they carted his dead corpse away and everyone sighed in relief". This was the payment I owed for the gift I'd been given. At least, that is the feeling that swept over me.
 
Bob reached the age of 62. He fell short of 63 by a couple months. That made him younger than me by just a tad. Yep, a little pause for me there. He could hold his own in a conversation requiring education and intellect. He didn't want for opinion, he had them and pulled no punches in delivering them. I found him to be somewhat racist and intolerant. I attributed it to upbringing and a reaction to the constant pain he endured from a failing body. I didn't excuse him for it, merely noted the possible sources.
 
He had a sense of humor and could even be pleasant on occasion. He seemed to enjoy cooking and those around him enjoyed having him cook. He appeared to delight in the smiles of those who enjoyed his special meals. Whatever prejudice I suspected him of disappeared at dinnertime. He called the house to dinner regardless of race, color or creed. He enjoyed the smiles in the same way. I imagine one who knew him as a cook would find him to be a pleasant fellow who enjoyed doing for others. It's a picture I can easily conjure of him.
 
There are other pictures as well which aren't so pleasant. I see him groaning and wincing as he walks on worn out knees. It isn't helping that he is drunk and even more unsteady as a result. The alcohol makes him more unpleasant than he normally is. My own ill will towards him makes me unhappy with him and myself as well for having such a negative feeling towards a fellow human being.
 
The groaning and wincing are over for Bob. The drinking and unpleasantness is over too. Most of my negative feelings died when he died. I guess there's a little residual, "damn fool, he didn't have to die, he could've turned it around and lived a lot longer" type thinking remaining. For the most part though, I'm relieved that the pain is finished for him. If you believe that death is the end of life then there is some solace in an end to a painful and unhappy life. If you believe there is a life after this life, pain and sorrow free, then there is room to rejoice for what awaits Bob.
 
I realize in writing this, it is I who have received the most benefit from it. That is the gift, I suppose, being able to spill some words on a page, muddle through them and reach a conclusion that helps me work things out. I hope in doing so I have done Robert Haigh a little justice in the process. He had flaws as do we all, but he had some friends and made an impact while he was here. There are people who will remember and miss him.

Rest in peace, Bob.


 


 


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I was called by my friend, well, actually my boss, pleading with me to rush to his house. He has two board and care facilities one of which I run. One of the clients in the home he runs had passed away. He had no experience with a dead person having never seen one before. He was pretty shaken up. I rushed over. Bob was one of the clients. He was more of a renter who took care of himself. He didn't do a good job. He was an alcoholic with heart trouble among other things. His death was no surprise. It occurred to me watching the coroner's van drive away that if I didn't write something about Bob, then nothing would've ever be written of him. It hit me that it was my obligation to do so. I didn't feel like I had a choice. I think I owe that much for the gift of being able to write. This is just my view for myself. I'm not saying this applies to anyone but me.


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