Monday, December 18, 2006

The Effect of C

My first memories of C were of him hanging around after work with my co-worker, W. He was her doting husband, and he was always speaking with great enthusiasm about issues having to do with W's work or about their condo on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai. He seemed like a most pleasant chap, very engaging, always smiling, frequently laughing.

Eventually W and I became close friends. We used to go on double dates: W and C with Betty and Child. Who else would think of arranging regular outings with a single mother and her young son? They were Jehovah's Witnesses, and I came to find out that Jehovah's Witnesses were known to be totally non-judgemental. They never spoke of their religion to me, but they lived it, by taking me, a woman who chose to have a child out of wedlock, under their wings, without question or comment. W and C didn't need us, for sure; they had 8 kids and a multitude of grandchildren of their own, most of whom live right here in town.

C had just retired from his highly successful career as a chemist. His fascinating tales of chemistry are probably the reason why my child now prefers science over any other topic or subject. I'll never forget the child's delight when C presented him with his first microscope.

When C found out that I enjoyed trading stocks as a hobby, he set out to share with me his decades of stock market success. Over a period of several months, he imparted his considerable knowledge to me. Then, after all that, his bottom line still rings in my head, loud and clear, "We can sum up everything there is to know about investing in 4 words, just 4 words: Buy cheap; sell dear. That's all you'll ever need to know. Buy cheap; sell dear."

We so missed W and C during those winter months when they escaped to their Molokai retreat. But they were good about staying in touch, calling us regularly, and they came back with unbelievable stories of life on the island, along with Hawaiian outfits, books and toys for my child.

W had breast cancer, and C used his medical and scientific knowledge and resources to help her. As a result, she lived way beyond expectation, stretching out her 6-month prediction to 10 years.

I asked C why he hadn't become a doctor after graduating from medical school. That's when he explained to me that it was an ethical issue. During medical school he had become painfully aware of the power of money, and the pharmaceutical industry, in medicine. He could not devote himself to such a profession. That's the kind of man C was.

During his career as a chemist, he had quit a lucrative job after being asked to participate in a dishonest scheme. He quit on the spot, that day. C was not the kind of man who had to go home and think about what was right. Integrity was his way of life.

W succumbed to cancer two and a half years ago. Everyone who knows C is shocked that he has lasted this long without his childhood sweetheart. He insisted on remaining in the house he had shared with W, taking good care of W's beloved cocker spaniel, Chandler.

I wondered what my relationship with C would be like once W died, but he took care of that. He wanted to set up a schedule for phone calls, so we talked every Monday, without fail, and sometimes on other days too. At first I considered those phone calls to be my opportunity to check on C, to make sure he was OK. Gradually I came to see that C was checking on me as well. We both benefited from knowing that somebody cared, all the time, not just when it was convenient.

C wanted us to try going out on the town as a trio instead of a quartet. Although we did try it once, our vivid memories of W's sweet presence made us unbearably sad.

C had been a great lover and supporter of classical music. He was absolutely outraged that tickets to the thriving local sports events were so much more expensive than symphony tickets, while the struggling symphony so desperately needed the community's financial support. Nearly every time we talked over the past few months he brought this up with renewed passion, and he was always thinking of ideas to help bring in more money to the symphony.

He often spoke of his wish to go to a concert with me. We set up several dates, but he ended up backing out, undoubtedly heartbroken remembering the many concerts he had attended with his dear W. But last summer we finally made it to an outdoor symphony concert.

Interestingly, the concert took place in a venue which C himself had set up many years ago. It was the huge, multi-acre lawn of the chemical company which had been his last employer. C loved to tell the story of how one day he had looked out the window of his office onto the huge green expanse below, and declared, "This is the perfect setting for outdoor symphony concerts!"

Since then, the symphony has been holding concerts there every summer weekend, with thousands of people showing up to enjoy picnic fare while listening to live classical music. C's boss ended up receiving the credit for the idea, but C didn't mind, as long as his beloved symphony was playing there.

After the concert that night I noticed how weak C was, barely able to get out of my car even with my help. He was shaking from the effort, yet he thanked me profusely for taking him, with tears in his eyes.

We continued talking every Monday, and sometimes on other days too, and even though I constantly asked if he needed anything, he always declined. Just once, on an icy, snowy day, he sheepishly asked if I could take his trash container up to his house. After I did it, he thanked me as if I'd saved his very life. So accustomed was he to putting others first, it was unspeakably difficult for him to ask for help.

A few days ago he called me from the hospital. He'd fallen at home and couldn't get up; he'd eventually pulled himself to a phone to call an ambulance. I went to visit him with a stuffed bear wearing a shirt that said, "Get well." He looked terribly ill. He clutched that bear for dear life, again with tears in his eyes.

Today is Monday, my day to talk to C. He didn't answer his phone at the hospital, nor his phone at home. I started to feel sick. I called the home of one of Charles' sons, and the son's wife answered. "C is not well," she said. "He has a living will, so he has to be taken off his respirator today at 2pm. Then, after that, there can be only one more attempt to resuscitate."

C, I wish I could have seen you one more time. I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated knowing you, how important you are to me and how much I'm going to miss you. May your ethical standards, your passion for the arts, your incredible intellect and your loving, giving nature live on in me and in the countless others whose lives were touched by you.


Lisa said...


What a lovely story, yet so sad. I'm so sorry to hear that your friend is so gravely ill. It sounds like the world could definitely use more people like Charles Shera--and yet the world is losing him. God bless his wonderful, honest soul.

Take good care,

Betty said...

Thank you, Lisa. Somehow it makes me feel better to know that you know about Charles. I haven't received any news from his family beyond that fact that he was taken off life support. I'm on pins and needles, waiting for the phone to ring.


Sideways Chica said...

Dear Betty...your loving memories of your time spent with Charles and Wini have touched me deeply. I comment only so that you know that I was here and that I hear your grief...and your love.

Betty said...

Thank you, Teri- I'm so glad you stopped by. I am thinking of you and your very exciting week.


Desiree said...

A very touching and sad post. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Betty said...

Thank you, Desiree. It somehow helps me to share this, especially when comments inform me that others are touched. Every person has a life story which deserves to be told, I think, and I really wanted to tell Charles' story, from my perspective at least.


Kacey said...

A great tribute to your dear friend. I had a high school teacher who was very special to me and I always wanted to contact him to let him know how important he had been in my life. Unfortunately, I put it off for fear of being intrusive in his life and he died without my ever telling him how great he was. Your friend knew what he and his wife meant to you.

Betty said...

Thank you, Kacey. I really do hope that Charles and Wini were aware of their importance to me. Now I want to always try to make my appreciation of people known.

Hugs and Happy Holidays,

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