R.A.B./RIP- 04/10/2020

Yesterday I learned late in the afternoon that one of my closest friends had died the evening before, alone in his Pacific Heights apartment, in circumstances not fully known. He had been battling lung cancer since last summer, enduring months of chemotherapy followed by debilitating radiation; he recently learned that these treatments had not eradicated the murderous cells and that more treatments were necessary to continue living. He was scheduled for a full scan on Monday–tomorrow–with his doctors’ prognosis coming on Thursday. Earlier he had told me, and other friends, that if more radiation was recommended he would refuse treatment. He accepted his condition, was at peace with it, and didn’t want more months of misery.

What we know is that he had a call on Friday at 3:00pm with one of his doctors. I had spoken to him the day before, on Thursday, and we planned to speak again Friday. Earlier in the day on Friday he texted me to say that after two Zoom meetings and then the virtual call with his physician, he would likely be all talked out for the day–breathing was increasing difficult–and that we could talk on Saturday. Saturday never came.

Did he hear bad news from his doctor, news that convinced him to throw in the towel? We’re not exactly sure how the end came. The investigating policeman told the coroner natural causes/probable heart attack. Apparently, according to the person who found him dead in his apartment, all the police really wanted to confirm was that it wasn’t Covid-19. All that person is saying–he’s one of his longest time (fifty years) friends and is 85–is that he found him in the bathroom and “it was ghastly,” and “I won’t describe it.” He said his old friend’s apartment–he lived in the same Pacific Heights apartment with stupendous views of the Bay and out the Gate for the past thirty-six years–was completely organized, nothing out of place, not a dish in the sink, phone positioned in the center of his dining table, and a file with the cremation documentation on his desk.

What’s heartbreaking is the thought of my friend alone, and isolated, due to the coronavirus, from anyone who could possibly have come to aid him, making this fateful decision in loneliness and despair, without any hope, or human comfort. Perhaps it was a heart attack. I want to think so. There’s no way to know. He will be cremated on Monday.

He was the second friend I made after moving to San Francisco, in 2008, and over the years he (together with the first friend I made) have been two of my three closest friendships. On my first Thanksgiving in a new city where I knew no one, he invited me to accompany him to an annual Thanksgiving dinner at Serenity Knolls, a treatment center where my friend had got sober the year before. He valued his sobriety with near religious commitment, and his community of friends at our Cow Hollow men’s group a much loved fellowship: a very special, and lasting bond, for many of us.

Elegant with no pretension, learned with no academic gloss, unfailingly kind, he was a mentor, guide, patient listener, spiritual adviser who doubted the existence of God, sponsor to many, friend to all. I was honored to be included in his own pantheon of closest friends, the others of fifty years or more. He was the only friend to give my then fiancé and I an engagement party. He was steadfast at my side when five years later she ended the marriage. He accepted my anguish with compassion and grace, as all three of my closest friends did, supporting me through a very difficult period,  That they could all be together at my farewell dinner, hosted by my third friend and his wife, is a joy I will always hold close to my heart.

His loss is deeply felt by many.

Today, when going about my routines,  I found myself thinking often, “what would Ray do?” While not a man of great formality, he maintained standards of dress and table manners worth emulating.  I will be sure to always use a sterling napkin ring, and the “good” dishes every day. Why save them, for what? Today is the day I’m living, not some time in the future.


Much love.


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