Death Our Sunshine

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Simply Simon

On Christmas day, I sat up in bed and answered my phone to the sound of my friend and co-worker asking if my boss had talked to me yet. Please, I thought, let me be fired.

"Ronnie died this morning," she said.

I thanked her for letting me know, my muted voice struggling to push past her cascade of apologies for having to tell me. I hung up the phone, and then I bayed.

And I do mean I bayed. Like hounds who had lost their quarry. My life suddenly became one enormous vacuum, a schism bursting open where purpose once sat.

The one position I had on earth where I was not easily replaced was suddenly, horribly, irrevocably obsolete: keep him alive.

Ronnie liked American Dad but--to my dismay--not South Park, although he loved Team America. Ronnie liked Disturbed, especially "Intoxication." Ronnie loved Jonny Cash, and I still get angry when I think about his sister saying right in front of him that Jonny Cash couldn't sing.

Ronnie and I knew better.

Ronnie loved sweets. Ronnie loved country cooking. Ronnie loved pumpkin-flavored yogurt, which I found, at best, dubious.

I bathed Ronnie every night I worked. Sometimes I would drain the tub and refill it just to make sure the temperature was ideal.

I sang to Ronnie constantly. I'm horribly insecure about singing, but Ronnie was the most appreciative audience anyone could ask for. He loved it when I danced. He laughed when I head banged. He was my rock star. And my rock. Period.

Every night I sang "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby" to him. Every night I sang his favorite song, "You Are My Sunshine." Every night I said I needed to learn more of the words. Every night, I ended, "Please don't take my Ronnie away."

Twice, he mustered the strength to sing with me, and that was the only time he saw me cry. He would end every line--"sunshine," "happy," "grey," "dear," "you," "away."

He thought jokes about his condition were funny. I would forget about the whole paralyzed thing, saying, "I'll be right back. Don't move," and he would laugh. "Don't you move, Ronnie!" I would say, and I laughed too.

I laughed a lot. He reminded me how easy it was, no matter what, to just laugh.

Ronnie had the kind of sweetness that could cut through any of life's bitterness. He was some kind of angel on earth. He was always happy to see you. He just looked so glad you were there with him, enjoying his ever-shrinking life. He liked women. He liked violence. He laughed through every episode of Walking Dead. He just loved that show.

When I told Ronnie I thought he was enlightened, he gave me a look only a country boy who loves a silly yankee girl could give, peering at me from the corners of his eyes while I looked at him earnestly, wanting him to know how in awe of him I really was.

I am so profoundly sad. Only the people who knew him well can halfway understand the depth of my grief that the world lost him. Only the people who worked with me can understand the sheer gravity of my personal loss.

I had a cup of coffee that morning and then went to work, four hours early. There was nowhere else to be but there.

As I drove, I listened to the Jonny Cash station I always played for him. I thought the whole world should be crying. I thought the mountains should honor how horrible the loss was to the Universe. And then, very urgently, it began to pour.

I cried for days, on and off. When someone tried to comfort me, saying he wasn't in pain anymore, I looked at them and said, "I'm not crying for Ronnie. I'm crying for us."

It is selfish, and it is true. Ronnie was ready to go. He waited until Christmas for us, like so many of my co-workers kept begging from him: "Just make it to Christmas." We just weren't ready to let go. We're still not.

I watched my co-worker break down on the podium at his memorial service. "Ronnie was all of our sunshine," she said.

I wept the entire service. I was dedicated to it. I kept thinking, "I f*cking came here to cry." I didn't shed a tear at work, aside from when I first walked into the door where his body was still laying. I kept my shit together for the job, the other guys, my co-workers. But I went to that memorial service to cry, damn it. I was so committed to it, I left the end of the service, the ridiculously predictable and dramatic preaching rousing everyone to invest in Jesus, just so I could go outside and cry some more in peace.

Although the tears seem to have stopped, I still plod through my day with a deep sense of meaninglessness. I feel my purpose evaporated when he died. My one utilitatian role vanished into nothing.

I notice the things I never did, that I didn't think of. Every time I think about how we should have watched Tucker and Dale vs Evil together, I want to cry all over again. In that sense, it isn't for me--my tears. There are little joys I keep thinking I neglected to give him, small things that might have made his day that much more enjoyable.

I never learned all of the words to "You are My Sunshine" or "Ring of Fire." I never quite nailed the timing on "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby." I felt so much pressure over how my co-workers looked to me to be expert in making impossible decisions about his care, I forgot to relish the privilege it was to choose how to maximize the potential of his happiness.

From his family, I know he used to wear an Army reserve coat that was too big for him. He was a hustler in marbles. He was engaged to a woman he loved who was significantly older than he. He had a tattoo with his and her initials on his arm.

He was such a beautiful man, and my life without him has gone from a hole to a canyon, a cave to a cavern, a clearing to a desert.

It's just so empty.


Im so sorry Simply!

I feel my purpose evaporated when he died. My one utilitatian role vanished into nothing.

Not true though I know it feels that way. You play a huge role in my life!

There are little joys I keep thinking I neglected to give him, small things that might have made his day that much more enjoyable.

It sounds to me like you gave him A TON of joy, and i hope you dont mind me saying this from knowing you here i know this but after reading this I know it even more now; you make one AMZAZING friend to have!

Last night, i was looking for you to talk to, as i was today because you are an AMAZING friend!

Grief is a process that should never be timed. Cry as much as you need to heal! I know that never being able to cry to when I bayed last night until i was uncontroablly throwing up and you have the right to cry for and grief that dear friend Ronnie the way you need to and however long you need to.

I think putting words in his honor was a great way to do that!

I would hug/hold you and sing Johnny Cash songs to you if I could (and i cant carry a tune in a bucket with handles!)

:hug: :hug: :hug: :hug:


I'm so sorry you lost someone so dear to you. You made his life something special, you both grew together and learnt so much from each other. It will be hard to fill the void he has left, but just remember all the things he has taught you and take those with you and share them with other people and he will live on through you.
Take care of yourself



Oh, wow. So sorry for your loss. :( I imagine you were a joy in his life, just as he was for you. :hug: I like the idea, that he will live through you. I hope that your work situation with him, will bring you knowledge that you can create other situations that you like. Take good care.
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The Albatross

It is hard to deal with grief over the loss of a person who seems to have the ability to bring out my "better/best self". It sounds to me that Ronnie brought out many best things in YOU Simon. They are not gone, all those experiences ... they are there... the compassion, contentiousness, the silly/happy/joy. I'm glad in your opening post you were able to balance the loss with so many examples of these things.

I know well what it is like to lose a client... understand when you say "my job was keeping him alive". It doesn't though sound to me like you forgot much in the way of "relish[ing] the privilege it was to choose how to maximize the potential of his happiness"... though in hindsight, no doubt it may feel that way.

When my friend Chet died in March last year, he had an odd device that recorded his voice and activated whenever you'd flip on the light switch in his dining room. Part of his unique sense of humor and he'd leave messages on it. His last one was, "Smile everybody, love is GREAT." (Or something near that, I'd have to backtrack in my diary to be certain.) It seems to me that the bond you had with Ronnie was loving... and that's a precious gift that we can give to others.

Be gentle and kind with yourself. Reread the many things in your post above and beyond "duty" or the job.


Wow. If they didn't let you write his eulogy, they missed the boat.

He sounds like an amazing person. I'm glad you had the chance to know him, even if only for a little while. And I'm glad you shared a little of him with us. I was just telling someone else that I think "sadness" is the price we pay for caring. Some things are worth the price. Sure sounds like he was. But the price can feel pretty steep, regardless. Sorry for your loss! Which really sounds like it's also the world's loss.
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