Sunday, January 29, 2012

Goodbye, Friend

Sunset came on January 20, 2012 for my dear friend Charles Gentry. His obituary is here. On facebook there are scores of pictures and he's hugging someone in almost every one.

My thoughts on my friend:

Charles came into our lives as an exuberant participant in charity events, but I really got to know him when he needed a little help from his friends. After his brain injury he went through therapy and he lived in Tarrytown where only a few things were within walking distance for him. Somehow we fell into a habit of having lunch every month or so. He would bring along a notebook and write down things we talked about. He said his cognitive therapist recommended it as a way to work on memory and such. I know a lot of people were picking him up and taking him to appointments and exercise classes. My contribution to helping him through that time was small. But one thing that struck me is how he didn’t mind asking for help and he made you glad to give it, but he never felt sorry for himself or doubted that he would be able to return the favors one day.

One day we were going to lunch and he told me that he’d had all this time on his hands so he’d decided to clean out his closet and he had a lot of stuff to take to Top Drawer. (A thrift store supporting Project Transitions, a charity we both supported.) I volunteered to borrow my dad’s van and take his stuff to the store on our excursion and told him I thought I’d just bring my dad along for lunch, too. I remember how appreciative he was and how he made my dad feel his gratitude. (Dad also purloined a couple of things, including a large sack of bird seed.) I’m guessing Charles was planning a downsizing and a move to downtown even then. When we all moved to the 360, Charles and other friends and Forrest and I reveled in our ‘neighborhood’ and he never failed to exalt the glories of the downtown lifestyle when we’d go to lunch or we’d be at a party or even when we just randomly bumped into each other. He was living his dream and he always reminded me that we were, too.

We promised to take care of each other. When I found out what had happened to Charles, I initially felt I hadn't done my job. Then I realized that we really had taken care of each other. It’s sad that Charles’ journey went no further but I believe we all contributed to his life after his recovery -- because he let us in to do it. And he contributed to our community and took care of us, too; not least by making us see some true things about life and death.

I have been struck at how many people felt so close to Charles. We invited Charles to events, he and I had lunch dates and he threw parties and invited us. We weren’t the kind of friends who saw each other almost daily (and he had those). But everyone in his orbit has expressed how much they felt he cared for them. Because when we got together he gushed with enthusiasm that we’d met up and that he got to see us and that we were on this earth at the same time and the same place. Which is really what friendship is all about.

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