There’s really no manual on what to do when someone loses a loved one. Should you call or write? What should you say, or better, not say? Are flowers good to send or perhaps a plant? What about dropping off some food?
When you experience a loss first hand, it’s even more confusing. It’s been several years since my Dad passed away. He was sick for three months before he died, so my family had a ramp period to acclimate before his passing. As much as you think you may be prepared for the inevitable, it’s still a shock when the time actually comes. Little preps you for this transition.
My Dad died in the middle of the night and by 9 a.m. my Mom, one of my sisters, and I were at the Collins Funeral Home going through the surreal task of picking out a casket. We were poring through a catalog of options: wooden v. metal, tufted v. plain padding. And the color choices. Yowsa. I remember just staring at the pages and thinking, how can there possibly be so many options? That’s when my phone rang.
At 6 a.m. I had sent a note to my close friends saying that my Dad had died and that I’d soon follow-up with funeral details. I answered the phone. “Mugs, it’s Peter Rosenberg.” Pete is my friend Simon’s dad. Simon and I were friends through four year of Wilton High and another four years at Tufts. Since I was 13, Simon has been one of my closest friends.
I can’t remember when this started, but for a period after college, I developed a bit of a tradition with Simon’s family. On Christmas day, I’d spend the morning with my family opening gifts and then midday, I would mosey across town to see Simon and his extended family, a family whose last names included both Rosenberg and McLoughlin.
I loved Christmases as the Rosenbergs. There was always a flurry of activity going on. People coming and going, spirited political discussions, Louise, Simon’s mother, hovering over something she was cooking up, and two dogs on patrol looking for love and treats throughout the house. There was always a door opening and a new flock of folk coming in, at all time, of all ilks. It was house full of life.
I didn’t see Pete or Louise much after I moved to San Francisco, but that didn’t stop them from sending me a Christmas gift each year from their Chinese antique gallery collection. Each year a note written in Louise’s handwriting explained the background of the piece. They sent me a little something up until the year Louise passed away.
What you see above is just one of the many gifts Pete and Louise generously gave me; it’s a glass pendant that’s painted on the inside. The detail is amazing. My collection from their gallery is quite special and proudly displayed throughout my home.
After Louise passed, my Mom and Dad would overlap with Pete at various Wilton events. It made me smile to learn that my parents would be out with Pete at a neighbor’s wedding or a Wilton function. Pete didn’t travel in the same Irish and Catholic circles that my parents did, so I liked hearing about when their paths intersected.
So in the funeral home that day, I stood holding the phone pleasantly surprised by what Pete had to say. He went on and on about how impressed he was with my Dad’s energy, thoughtfulness, and humor and what an impact my Dad had made on him. Pete wasn’t one to gush, so his endless string of compliments took me aback. How comforting. How thoughtful. Thanks, Pete. I’ll also remember that he was the first person to pick up the phone, call me, and just say, I’m sorry.
And now Pete passed. Unexpectedly. Simon called with the news. Old friends sharing more things than just friendship and school years.
To the Rosenberg and McLoughlin family, I’m sorry for your loss. And quite a loss it is. Pete was quite a presence, in size, in volume, and in spirit. I will always cherish Christmas at the Rosenbergs, as wonderfully odd as that sounds, and I’ll always think of Pete as my first responder.