R is for Robert

I haven’t written about R in months.  Last summer he was at the rehab nursing home, getting stronger and putting on much-needed weight.

He hated it there.

I visited as I could.  It was hard because R’s friend, S, was always there.  Always.  S is homeless and stays with a friend at night but spent his days with R.  S can be a pleasant man but also exhibits signs of mental illness (paranoia and delusions), and several visits in the cramped space of the nursing home were very scary for me.  And R.  I’d pretend to leave and then sneak back into the director’s office to let staff know that S was agitating R, and to please keep a close eye on the situation.  There was no way I could speak directly to R about S because I knew if R had to make a “choice,” he’d choose S over me in his life.

Then against all medical advice, R left the nursing home.  I’d been calling him for several days without getting an answer, and figured it was because he was doing physical therapy or in the dining room or out in the hallway.  I told myself R was safe and getting stronger.

The following Monday I was busing tables at the spaghetti dinner, and in walked R.


I was upset.  Not just because he’d left the nursing home before regaining his strength and weight, but because he hadn’t seen fit to let me know.

I was hurt; I thought we were friends.  But I reminded myself R probably didn’t tell me because he was afraid I’d try talking him out of leaving.  And I probably would have done that.

R looked horrible.  He was weak.  He was ill.

The next week or so I saw him again at the spaghetti dinner.  He said he needed groceries.  I told him Zippy and I could shop after the meal clean-up and then drop them by his house or I could bring them the next morning.  He said the next day would be better.  I told him I’d call before leaving for the store and that he needed to answer the phone to let me know he was there.  I repeated that instruction several times and he agreed.

The next day I called but R never answered the phone.  I continued calling off and on for the next two days.  Then on September 11, R’s birthday, I went by his house with a card and a coffee table book on Italy.  R had told me he wished he could go to Rome and since I knew that wasn’t possible, I wanted him to have a taste of Italy.  He didn’t answer my knock so I wrapped the book in a plastic bag and left it on a chair on his porch.

I didn’t hear from him.  Two days later Zippy drove to R’s house and saw the present still on the porch.  Then R’s neighbor saw Zippy and told him that R and S had taken the train to Toledo to visit R’s cousin.

He and his cousin had been estranged for twenty-five years.  Some family feud surrounding R’s mother’s death.  But R kept talking about his cousin and finally last summer he got over his anxiety and let me track her down.  I talked to her on the phone.  I facilitated that first conversation they had after all those years.  R was very happy to be reconnected with his only surviving family.

R didn’t see fit to let me know he was taking that trip to Toledo.

Again, I was very hurt.  But this time I knew it was R’s decision whether we’d ever be in touch again.  So I let go of the anger and hurt, and focused on the release that came with knowing R didn’t need me in his life.  If he didn’t know me well enough to get that I would never, ever have stopped him from taking that trip to see his cousin, then there really wasn’t anything between us.

In the following months whenever I’d picture his frail body in his filthy home, I’d remind myself that was what he’d chosen.  I’d remind myself I’d offered help and that R was living his own life on his own terms.

I saw R across the dining room one Monday in late October.  He and S were just leaving but I didn’t say hello because I was helping voters figure out their polling places and ID requirements.  I had the election on my mind.

Last night I was busing tables when I saw S.  If you’re still reading, you’ve probably already figured out what comes next.

R died at home on December 20.  He was alone.  He weighed 76 pounds, down from the 102 he weighed when he left the nursing home.  S told me when he found R it looked as if R had gone peacefully.  I’m not inclined to believe much of anything S says, but I’m holding onto that statement.

Right now I’m struggling with so many emotions.  Sadness and anger.  Hurt.  Outrage.  S had my number.  S chose not to call and let me know.  Not only that, S said some hurtful things to me last night.  Zippy keeps reminding me S is mentally ill.  And a dick.  Zippy is right.  Just as he’s correct in pointing out that S was most likely messing with R’s head in those last months.

R was a deeply unhappy person.  He also suffered some mental illness.  But I’m trying to remember him as he was when we first became friends years ago.  He’d talk to me about what Denver was like before all the changes.  He had an incredible memory and described the architecture of old buildings and rattled off names of clubs and restaurants.  He told me he was a jazz singer.  It makes me happy thinking of him singing, especially since I only knew him with the raspy whisper that came after his throat cancer.  Losing his voice seems the cruelest blow, and I believe it was the source of much of his anger.

The last time I visited him in the nursing home we had one of the best conversations in years.  He told me about being a little kid in Toledo watching the old guys playing chess at the tables on the sidewalk and how his grandfather would buy him a penny candy.  He had some good memories and I’m glad he shared them with me.

So what is this huge mass of words I just spewed?  I guess this is my way of sorting through my feelings.  I know I did good things for R and I know he wasn’t a very pleasant person, so I’m not looking for pats on the back or anything like that.  I’m just trying to make sense of my relationship with Robert.  Trying to figure out whether we really were friends or whether I carried all the weight in that department.

I’m guessing it was a little of both.

36 thoughts on “R is for Robert

  1. Oh, Tracy. I hurt for you right now.
    Know this: Even if you carried all the weight in that relationship, it does not alter or diminish what you felt or what you got out of it. R made his choices – they are hard to understand, maybe, but he did choose to let you in, and maybe, just maybe, he knew the end was coming and hoped that if he kept you out for that part, it would be easier for you.
    Many hugs.


    • I know that, too, but it doesn’t always feel like enough. But at this point it is what it is and all I can do is sort through the feelings and remember the good stuff.
      Thank you, Liz.


  2. Geez, Tracy, duh, of course you were friends. You were a very good one and he not so much. But he did give you something, didn’t he? It’s a good thing to keep in mind when the rest of us struggle to understand the value of our difficult relationships.
    You’ve had an unfair share lately, friend. I’m glad you’re muddling through, still hooping in the sunshine and letting us hang out with you.


    • Okay, you made me laugh. Bonus points! But what you said is so true and I need to remember to not get hung up on the what-ifs.
      I guess some of my hurt is that he really didn’t have a lot of interest in me as a person. However, one day at the nursing home he accused me of something and I started crying as I explained to him that he was off-base about my intentions, and he was surprised and embarrassed and apologized over and over. I think that was the first (and maybe only time) he saw me as another human being. Then again, maybe I missed a whole lot of other stuff.
      We’re supposed to get warmer weather this weekend so I hope to get back out in the sunshine with my hoop.
      Thank you, Linda, for being there.


  3. Yes, you were friends, and as always, you were a True Friend.
    Not all friendships are equitable–most often, the joys and pain tend to teeter-totter from one person to the other. You bore the lion’s share of this relationship, and all that it entailed. I’m so sorry about your loss, Tracy, all of it. But I have faith — and take huge comfort — in the fact that when R died, your loving spirit didn’t.
    ((HUGS)) and hoops in the sunshine…xoxoxo


    • You’re very kind, Melodye. I know you understand this stuff so well and I’m grateful you’re there for me. Robert couldn’t allow this kind of friendship but we both did the best we could. Two souls bumping up against each other. I hope he has a less painful journey next lifetime. Zippy said he hopes he’s singing.
      Thanks for the hugs and hoops.


  4. Not much I can say, Tracy. But hugs to you. Despite our best efforts, some people can’t be nudged from their course, no matter where it’s taking them. You reached out as a friend. That’s what matters.


  5. Hugs, Tracy. Having a brother who is mentally ill and a son who struggles with mental illness, I’ve learned something over the years…it’s tough! Loving people with mental illness is like working with them solve a puzzle without all the pieces. You just put it together, and enjoy the view the best you can. And love the puzzle because it was challenging, unique, and pretty…but in the end sometimes it’s hard to not want those darned pieces. Especially…when you seem to have a few from someone else’s puzzle tossed in just to frustrate the whole process.
    His is complete…the best it can be. And you helped him see the big picture. The best he could. Sometimes just working on the puzzle is the best part, even if it’s the hardest.


    • Wow. You spoke so much truth here. I’m going to try hard to enjoy the view of the Robert puzzle as best I can.
      Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights, Kay. You never cease to amaze.


  6. Your beautiful post has my mind reeling in thoughts. Someday, when the time is right, I’d love to hear more about Robert and your friendship with him.
    For now, I’m glad to know his real name. For some reason, every time I read “R” I’d think “Robert.”
    I can see why you cared about him. I’m so sorry he’s gone.


  7. *hugs* You did the best you could, given what you had – that’s what a true friend does. We can’t “get” friendship – we can only give it – and you gave it in spades! Robert was so fortunate to have had you in his life. Sounds like he gave what he could, too. *hugs*


  8. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve been wondering how he was doing. Thanks for letting us know. 😦
    I’m sure that he is happier now and free of health problems and mental illnesses. He can be the person he couldn’t be in life. Hugs!


    • That means an awful lot to me that you were thinking about him, wondering how he was doing. Maybe he felt that attention and care as he finished out his journey.
      I’m grateful he let go because he was in so much pain. Maybe if I listen real hard I’ll hear him singing.


  9. I am very sorry for the pain, and I think it is very smart of you to hold the good memories. You dealing with all of this–the helping, the letting go, the caring, the respecting his decisions all valuable lessons for your children to see.. the kind you can’t tell, you have to show. You also gave R the chance to have a friend, and be a friend.
    he probably did his best.
    sometimes, someone’s best is not very good.
    In the end what matters most is
    how well did you live
    how well did you love
    how well did you learn to let go.


    • Robert did do his best. And I’m grateful he opened up to me as much as he did.
      Yesterday I was thinking about him and could see him perfectly in my mind’s eye. I don’t have any photos and wished right then I could describe him to one of those sketch artists so I’d have a picture. I hope I can hold onto that visual memory for a long time.
      Thank you for all your wise and kind words, Laura.


  10. I was so sad to hear about R and also felt very angry with S while reading this. You created such a vivid impression of R in your posts that I almost feel like I knew him a little.
    I’m glad he was able to share some good memories with you the last time you saw him too – that you had the opportunity to have that moment.


    • I’m sorry I got you riled up about S, too. I’m trying to let that go. I don’t think I’ll be seeing him much anymore, though, as he’s always been negative about the spaghetti dinner so will stay away. But if he is there, I can avoid him.
      I’m so glad my last interaction with Robert was good. I’m trying to find some batteries to put in my little recorder that conked out on me because I think it has Robert stories I dictated into it after leaving the nursing home. He was truly one-of-a-kind.
      Thank you for caring about Robert, Carolyn.


  11. I’m so sorry to hear about R–he certainly was dealt some tough cards, but he had such a good friend, and though maybe he didn’t acknowledge that good friend as much as he could have, her love and care was a blessing in both of their lives.
    Hugs to you, dear Tracy.


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