Waldlaw Blog

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Passing of Martin Anderson (10/13/1946-5/6/2010)

This is my third blog post in less than four years to commemorate the passing of a beloved uncle. First, Ben Anderson in July 2006. Next, Alex Hoffmann in November 2009. And now Martin Anderson. None of these passings has been easy. Our uncles are so very special to us, and each loss has been painful in its own way. But honestly, the passing of Uncle Moose -- as we all called him -- is by far the hardest. Moose was a unique and wonderful man. He and I had a special thing going -- a thing that grew out of our discovery that we truly adored each other despite what could have been an unbridgeable chasm of differences. Moose was a decorated Vietnam War veteran, while I grew up protesting the Vietnam War. Moose was a staunch Republican, while I have always been somewhere to the left of the Democratic Party. Moose was a devout Christian, while I am a Jew -- and not a particularly devout one at that. I was the same-sex partner of his beloved niece. What was a man like Martin Anderson supposed to do with that?? Well, what Moose did was to welcome me into his family with open arms; to unhesitatingly teach his children to accept me as their cousin; and, in some ways most amazingly, to take a true interest in my perspective on the world -- to genuinely engage with me and my ideas, and share himself and his ideas with me, so that both of us ended up richer for the effort of trying to understand each other's perspectives. Uncle Moose was a terrific uncle, who loved to show his family a good time. I have such happy memories of boating with him at Big Horn Canyon in Wyoming -- he was the one who taught me to water ski (yes, I managed to grow up on Cape Cod without ever learning how to water ski); our photo albums are filled with shots of him hauling us around behind his boat on floaties of one sort or another; and he is the only person who ever truly launched me -- airborne, on some blow-up thing that looked like a giant purple bat, only to crash down spluttering and laughing in the lake and do it again. Then of course there was the time that he took me and Brooke way back into the canyon to share the spectacular scenery there, then had the motor go out on his boat. He tinkered with the motor for most of the return trip, while Brooke and I rowed as if our lives depended on it, with darkness falling, ending the evening very tired and at least as happy. When our kids were born, Martin said to me "I'm not sure I know how to be a Great Uncle!" and I responded "Are you kidding me?! You're the greatest uncle ever -- you've already been a great uncle to us for years -- you know EXACTLY how to be a great uncle!" That tickled him, and he made sure he lived up to it, showing a devotion to our boys unsurpassed by anyone in the extended family. And then there was Christmas Eve. Every year on Christmas Eve, around dinner time, the phone would ring and it would be Santa calling my sons. Zeke and Oliver would race to the phone, and Moose/Santa would be there -- full of sleigh bells and Ho Ho Ho's -- asking them if they had been good this year, and what they were hoping to get for Christmas, and absolutely convincing them that they really were the most special kids in the universe because NONE of their friends got personal calls from Santa on Christmas Eve. Last year, when Moose's cancer -- and the various treatments used to try to cure it -- had destroyed his throat to the point where he could barely talk, Moose was deeply worried that he wasn't going to be able to make his annual Christmas Eve Santa call to his youngest grandson Alex. Brooke suggested that our boys -- now teenagers, with deepening voices of their own -- could do it for him. So, with Moose and his family in the background, listening on the phone, Zeke and Oliver called little Alex and carried on the Anderson tradition. It was the passing of a torch, and we all knew it. Moose was a warrior. When it became clear a couple of years ago that cancer was going to kill him absent a miracle, he "soldiered up" and fought it with the courage and determination that only a warrior can muster. After weeks of grueling treatment at the Mayo Clinic -- a combination of chemotherapy and radiation at a level that would have brought a weaker man to his knees -- Moose, sick as a dog, said to me "I learned a lesson: it might not be a good idea to tell a medical oncologist that you would rather die from the treatment than from the disease -- I think they might have taken me a bit too seriously!" I could hear the twinkle in his eyes, even through his weak and raspy voice, and knew that our beloved Moose was still there. And that's the hard part. Through everything, through busy lives and hundreds of miles of separation, the knowledge that our beloved Moose was still there really mattered. And now he isn't. And it is making me incredibly sad. Moose was only 63. He had finally retired, after years of hard work, and this should have been his time to fish and play golf and enjoy his beloved wife and kids and grand kids. He was going to travel. We had a date to go fishing on Lake Powell. There was so much left to do. His wife, our aunt Diana, was the most amazing partner to Moose through his long, hard battle against cancer. She fought alongside him for as long as there was a fight to fight; and then she helped him to gracefully lay down his weapons and face the end with dignity. He died peacefully, thanks largely to the constant loving care that she was able to offer him in his final weeks, assisted by their daughter Rich and a loving chorus of family and friends. Diana told me that in his last days on this earth, he started talking about himself in the third person -- barely conscious -- death bed murmurings. "Martin," he said, "it's time to pack your bags." So Uncle Moose has packed his bags. I sincerely hope that he has found a better place. And I sincerely hope that while he's there, he finds my beloved father, and they have a beer together and tell each other stories, since they never met but should have, and since they are two of the best story tellers I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Moose taught me a lot about family, about courage, about loyalty, and about love. I will miss him forever.


  • Beautifully written and well said... He adored you - as do we all...

    By Blogger Richmond, at 8:44 PM  

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