For Peter

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Peter died last week. It shouldn’t be a shock — he spent the last three years beating back the restrictive clutches of Parkinson’s Disease and the last year and a half in and out of the hospital trying to keep cancer at bay, if never sending it all the way out to sea — and yet it comes crushing. It’s too unfair, too cruel.

His weight was halved, his voice was stolen, and his entire life was unceremoniously heaved out of the classroom and into the ICU. Surely the reward for enduring such a medical onslaught must be freedom, must be a chance to stand over it afterward and laugh, or to explain to his family just how scary it is to be intubated, or to sit in his backyard without dreading another CAT scan. I have to remind myself that however deprived we feel, he is, at least, free from pain, from discomfort, from wondering miserably how much of his life he’ll ever get back.

My mom took such good loving care of him, leading the fight for his health and then for his life and finally for a peaceful death, and, getting him to the right doctors and asking the right questions, she’s the reason his last year of radiation and rehab was spiked with hope and light and love.

Now those of us who knew and loved him get to learn from Peter, the great teacher who always taught by example more than lecture, the artist who never stopped creating.

Let’s remember his wisdom, his perspective, his ability to never let the most important things in life stray out of focus, to see the forest and the trees. Let’s remember his humor, his unfailing readiness to laugh, how he could pierce grief with a joke when you needed it most, how he could see a rock bottom as a starting line. Let’s remember his ability to make art out of everything, to learn from mistakes without wallowing in them, to decide what really matters and pursue it relentlessly, heart first.

He loved my sisters and me and my mom with his whole heart. We never really called him ‘stepdad,’ and he hated the term anyway. He was always just Peter, always his own thing, always ready to listen and to talk, always loving. And for that I’ll always be grateful.

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