Tools and Rituals

I realize I don’t clearly remember the first time I met Stewart. Maybe because from the first time I felt like I’d known him for ages. I think we were introduced by a mutual friend and colleague, and I think we met in the commissary, in the London office building he worked in and I was visiting. Then again, we might have met over a pint at a local.

Unusually, I’m pretty sure we didn’t meet for coffee. Stewart, as he said once, didn’t care at all about coffee – he’d happily drink the worst instant – but he had “tools and rituals” for making tea.

His turn of phrase kept coming to mind as I sat in the chapel participating a different kind of ritual – the kind that involves an officiant describing Stewart’s life in the past tense. His wife widow and three sons in the front row, his father next to them, silent and still, a shallow occasional nod in agreement with some spoken sentiment.

It had been clear from the processional that this wouldn’t be an “ordinary” funeral. The music was straight from Stewart’s playlist – Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance, and bands that, frankly, I’m not cool enough to recognize – which was him to a T. And the funeral announcement had made his preferred dress code clear:

Stewart hated a shirt and tie and only wore them if he was made to so please, if a dinosaur t-shirt makes you smile, jeans and a hoodie is your thing or running gear is your happy place, please do.

There would be no singing “because Stewart would always mutter it was like school assembly, and it’ll be short because he’d much rather everyone had a drink and a giggle.” And there would be an after party.

His passing wasn’t sudden – not that that made it any better. He’d been unwell for years, the initial diagnosis imminently terminal. Once his hair regrew after initial rounds of chemo there were stretches when, unless you knew, you’d have been hard pressed to guess he was ill. (We learned at his memorial that his oncologists were cross with him for taking long runs during treatment, but apparently the doctors had never thought to tell him not to, as “you weren’t supposed to be up to it.”)

Once the pandemic allowed, a small group of us got to occasionally experience what had been his (utterly ridiculous) daily commute going to him to visit. We’d sit at his local and talk over beer, and when he wasn’t up for that anymore we’d sit in his living room and talk. And when he struggled to talk, we’d still sit and talk.

As his condition worsened he and his family ultimately decided that the treatment had more downside than up, and that enough was enough.

From then on it was impossible to even pretend that there was an outcome other than this.

Sitting in a chapel.

Equal parts devastated and angry at the loss of a friend, dead too soon from a disease we must understand and eliminate.

And being utterly, utterly in awe of his partner, who’d navigated his long illness with incredible strength and grace. And struggling to comprehend the impact on his sons, who would navigate the rest of their lives without their father.

Rest in peace, my friend. You are missed.

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