Jeff has written books before, of course, but his last one will be different. This time, he is writing in the first person about everything he cares about, and writing for everyone he holds most dear. Jeff is living with stage four pancreatic cancer. If he’s lucky, he’ll see the Boston snow melt on his garden next spring, just as it did 38 years ago, when he and his bride moved into their home.
I spent an hour with Jeff yesterday and an hour today at a memorial service for another friend’s father, Richard (Dick) Winslow. Those there to honor Dick’s memory and celebrate his life laughed a lot and cried some as Susan and Kate read from his letters and journals, a beautifully written record a life enthusiastically lived. Two of his four grandsons read their own remembrances, each talking about things he had said, stories he’d told and retold, and lessons he’d tried to help them learn. Afterwards, in the stunning grounds of a house built soon after the first American Winslow stepped off the Mayflower, friends and family all spoke of Dick’s love of words and of his cleverness, curiosity, courtliness and kindness. One speaker, a high school friend of Susan’s, shared her memory of his voice saying the names of his children, Susan, Kate and Henry.
All fathers provide an audio feed for the soundtrack of their children’s lives. Whether the dad is living or dead, this can be off camera commentary, played on a loop as a background hum, or director’s notes: knowing apercu, a shouted STOP! or welcome attaboy.
Susan, Kate and Henry have their father’s spoken words (and believe me, this family loves to talk) and much that he has written. They have the script as well as the prompt. They have the background that actors find so useful when working out their motivation.
Many people in future will benefit from Jeff’s scholarship and his lifetime’s work. His grown daughters will be sustained by his wise and loving audio feed. His twin baby grandsons need the latest manuscript. For them, and all who know and love him, I hope he gets to finish it.