One year ago today, February 27, Paul left this world, following a courageous battle with cancer. My husband and I had visited him just two days earlier. He sat propped up against a pillow on a rollaway cot in his dining room. Orange plastic bottles of pills and a green plastic, 4-week pill box sat on the dining room table. There was a handwritten note on yellow loose-leaf paper that listed each medication, and the date and time he’d last taken it. A hospice nurse was encouraging Paul to take a sip of Coke from a Styrofoam cup. Paul looked confused, and agitated.
But this isn’t how I remember Paul.
Just ten days earlier, we had visited him. There was no rollaway cot, no hospice care. Paul was sitting on his brown leather couch adjacent to the dining room, his legs balancing a laptop that he typed away on, a focused and determined look on his face. He took a few Ruffles potato chips from a cereal bowl on the coffee table, helpful in easing his stomach from the medication, and ate them while he studied the document in front of him. He was working to complete his book, a memoir of his life with cancer.
“I’m going to send you the first chapter and the outline,” he told me after we greeted him. “Tell me if you think it’s any good. I’ve been thinking of publishing it on the blog.”
I remember wondering in that moment why Paul, a strong writer and storyteller who wrote often, would wonder if his writing was any good. I was surprised that he hadn’t posted it to the blog already.
But Paul often asked for my feedback on his writing. Each week, he’d text me about what topic he was posting on the blog that week and would often share some or all of the post with me, sending it to me over email. I had come to think of it as more of a sanity check for him, and a privilege for me in being able to hear his latest story before the rest of the world did. With so much information available, I think a lot of writers, myself included, seek affirmation that what we’re sharing is worthy of a reader’s time and attention. Paul was no different.
Paul, who had traveled the world for decades, who was a senior IT professional at a Fortune 50 company, who had been President of his town’s Council for years, and who’d once run for Congress, was still an everyday writer seeking the approval of readers. And he was seeking that approval because, like many of us writers, he wanted to affect his readers, to provide information that, even for just a few moments, made an impact.
This was what I admired most about Paul. He was humble. I don’t think it was with pointed intention; rather, I think it was because he was genuinely interested in helping and learning from other people. He was a true conversationalist, someone who thoroughly enjoyed the balanced exchange of information that challenges us and helps us grow. He was a talker.
That evening, 10 days before he died, I sat across from Paul in his living room, and we talked. We talked about our predictions for the 2020 Presidential Election. He said he thought Elizabeth Warren had a real shot. We talked about his time in San Francisco, and he offered his thoughts on how he thought the city had changed in the 15 years since he’d lived there. It’s getting so expensive, and crowded, he said. We talked about travel, and our favorite airlines. His: Cathay Pacific. Mine: Lufthansa. And we talked about food. He reminisced about the best meals he’d ever ate, one being at Double Knot in Philadelphia. And he told my husband and I to go to Blackfish BYOB, citing it as the best restaurant in Conshohocken.
When we left his house that evening, it was nearly five hours after we’d arrived. I remember my husband turned to me and said, “That was Paul.” As he was nearing the end of the fight of his life, we’d had the chance to talk to him as if nothing had changed. He was back.
One year later, this is how I remember Paul.