Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | March 17, 2019

“when you get too maudlin”

Are there Irish Handcuffs in Heaven? If there are, Bob Colby will be too pissed that there is indeed a heaven to report back to us here still on the other side.

Our friend Bob Colby died March 13. Bob had cancer, endured horrible treatment, worse side effects, myriad complications, then even more cancer, and died anyway. Fucking cancer don’t care. His sister Kathleen wrote that even while very ill, “he wanted his cable channels, his chair, his weed, and his beer. When he couldn’t enjoy those things, we knew it was time [for hospice]”, where he died a few days later surrounded by his family.

Bob was so smart, so funny, so well read, so opinionated. Anne Lamott’s advice for writers is: “Have one honest, tough, loving friend who will read and mark up your work for you, and bust you on your overwrought bullshit.” Bob Colby was mine. Bob was probably that for lots of people.

You know how to have a rich full life, people have home, have work, and have a third place? Bob is the reason I have my third place, the Brian Boru pub. Brian Boru is a true Irish pub, where all are welcome: along with visitations from the occasional dog or baby, bow-tied wealth managers and lawyers dressed for court clink glasses and talk politics, the stock market, or baseball with aging hippies in paint-spattered Carhartts and the rainbow coalition, the robust, notorious group to which I am proud to belong: The Women of Boru.

In 2011 I was still recently widowed and grieving, an empty-nester alone in the house, just barely starting to peer out from under that looming dark monolith to elicit tendrils of human interaction. I had gone to a funeral, the mom of school friends, and there reconnected with A and her partner, S. I knew they frequented the pub, and on the way home from work I would sometimes stop in, drift through the throngs to see if my friends were there. If so, I stayed to visit on the sunny brick patio. If not, I went on home for another night alone.

One evening I was floating anonymously through the happy hour hubbub of strangers, and some scruffy dude in a jean jacket and baseball hat said, “Hey, aren’t you S & A’s friend?” I allowed that I was. That dude was Bob Colby. He generously introduced me to the gang of regulars that are now my close compatriots and dearest friends. Bob and I started talking, a conversation that lasted the next several years. Bob had strong, expert opinions on many subjects. He was not shy to share his positions loudly and definitively, and if necessary, to debate them with such force of logic that minds were changed. Not his.

Bob Colby also introduced me to the man who would become my new husband. The night I met my future beloved, everyone I knew at the pub was discussing football. Everyone, that is, except my good friend Bob and a man I did not know. I could overhear them having a lively discussion about grammar, of all things. In particular, they were discussing the fine points of ending a sentence with a preposition – a folly up with which I will not put <— a line I lifted from Bob Colby, and I suppose, Winston Churchill. I am always happy to discuss grammar with anyone who will listen, and improper use of the propositional phrase is one of my favorite pet peeves. When editing my work I always go back through and take out half the prepositional phrases, and there are still too many. That night I cocked an ear, sidled up next to Bob, insinuated myself into their conversation, met David, and changed the course of my life.

Bob paid me the best compliment ever, when he commented on my wordy Facebook posts: “When it says Read More, I always click.” Then he ruined it by saying “Except when you get too maudlin.” He followed that with “I always read the whole thing, then decide if it is the M word.”

I looked up the definition to be sure. “Maudlin: self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental, often through drunkenness.” Which makes it ten times funnier that I was writing about our bar.

self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental, often through drunkenness.”the drink made her maudlin” synonyms: sentimental, over-sentimental, emotional, over-emotional, tearful, lachrymose; informal weepy “a bout of maudlin self-pity” — Google dictionary


It’s been a week more trying than most. It’s been a week of fear and pain and sadness and worry, and it’s not over yet. Last night I went down to my local watering hole for a taste of the milk of human kindness, and maybe just a wee dram of that 12 year old Irish whiskey that goes down so smooth and makes the world seem kinder than it is.

I go to the pub to see my friends, have a little spirited after-work conversation, some human contact before going home alone to the cat. I can drink at home – and have! – so when I go to the pub it’s for the people in it. I’m proud to be a regular, and not because of what’s being poured. I spoke just a sentence about my week, my family’s troubles. I was instantly enveloped in hugs. Kisses. Pats and rubs of back and shoulders. Followup texts in the night.

I counted afterwards, because that’s the kind of geek I am, and because it was so amazing to be cared for that way. I got fourteen hugs, from people who really meant it. Who GETS that, in the course of a day? There was more than one “I love you”, reassuring commentary from a nurse who knows, nose nuzzles, kisses on lips and cheeks and forehead, a bit of teasing. Kind questions from someone I dearly love, so kind I had to say “Don’t be so nice to me or I might cry.” He has seen this to be true, so he (kindly) refrained. A hug sandwich, with me in the middle, a girlfriend on either side holding me tight. Who would even ask for such a thing? And yet, I got it. What a gift. It changes the situation not at all, but it surely changes me.

Love and connection. That really is all there is. Scratch the surface of any one of these people and you’ll find their own stories of sadness and pain. There are stories I know and ones too private to share in any bar. Yet there they all were for me, giving the only thing they could, the only thing there is. I am so grateful. Maudlin, yet grateful.

Okay, Bob was right, that is maudlin. That’s what friends are for.

I had been trying unsuccessfully to summon up the courage to visit Bob in hospice. I know all too well it’s important to show up if you can. But every time I thought about it, I couldn’t stop crying, was waiting to feel stronger. Ha. That’s not what strong is. Strong is showing up anyway. For me, the later stages of Bob’s illness brought up a lot of emotions from the last few days and weeks of my late husband Jeff’s life, some of which was very precious, all of which was very, very hard. I had the nerve to text a friend all my supposed reasons I couldn’t go to visit Bob in hospice – many valid, to be sure, but also including, shamefully, “busy week”. It was a busy week, but no. No. We make time for the things that matter – the things we have to do or the things we want to do. The truth was, I wasn’t brave enough to go see Bob in time, and now it’s too late. That part doesn’t matter, or matters only to me; I’m in the outer periphery of Bob’s people. There are many who are more profoundly affected by his death. I don’t need a “sorry for your loss”. I just want to honor my friend by remembering him.

Now of course I regret not showing up to thank him, to talk about all this and more. He would have taunted me, called me maudlin. He would have been right. But there are worse things to be accused of.

You are well loved, Bob Colby. The day you died, we clinked in your honor a tall, clear, nut-brown pint that stood on the bar sweating and untouched. We all cried. All the friends you helped me make at the pub will mourn your loss, tell your stories, lift a glass. You will be long remembered here.

Rest easy, my friend. Or EASILY, as you would doubtless correct me.


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