“I’m home,” he said with a grin, his eyes fixed on the panoramic portrait of the view from his family bungalow on Peconic Bay in Laurel. He gestured toward the blue horizon on the photo paper tacked to the hospital room wall opposite his bed.
Those may have been his last words. “I’m home.” Indeed he was. Home. Lying in a bed in the very hospital where he was born 57 years ago, the place to which he had been returned to die. Home. Riverhead, Long Island.
It was Friday night. The ambulette had been late leaving New York City and was stuck in Friday night traffic on the LIE. The journey from Sloan was a long one on a gurney in an ambulette, and he was glad it was over. Especially glad to be home, even if it was in a hospital room, even if the view of the Peconic Bay in front of him was only a photograph. In the end, he was a man of few words.
The day before, on Thursday afternoon in his room at Memorial Sloan Kettering, he was completely lucid and talkative, the ever-articulate Robert D. Pike, Esquire, counsellor-at-law. In the face of his own mortality, he reflected on the possibility of life after death. “I’m an agnostic,” he said. “I don’t really believe in another life. But if there is something more, I’m looking forward to seeing my mother again.” She passed away 13 years ago, but he still held her close. He said he knew, if there was an afterlife, his mom would be “waiting at the top of the stairs with a bottle of kahlua.”
He found out the answer to this question on Mother’s Day, May 9, 2010. In the wee hours of the morning on Mother’s Day this year, Rob left this earth. Where he went I may never know for sure. But if there is something after this, it’s fitting he made the journey on Mother’s Day. It was a special day for him. He had his own Mother’s Day ritual— best described in his own words, in an e-mail he wrote to me after my own mother died in April 2004:
A tough day, in a tough year, no doubt.
I recall that on the day of my mother’s death, I did one of those things that you once called “testosterone drenched.” I had waited by her side, in her living room, with my hand resting lightly upon her until the coroner came. And as he did his duty, I walked out of her death room, out of the house I was raised in, out to the large Maple tree in the back yard, and kicked it.
Like now, for you, there aren’t a heck of a lot of productive things that you can do for her.
You can see her in your mirror, and in the light growing ever brighter in your children’s eyes. You can find her in your work, in your morals, in your eloquence, and from time to time, when you can endure it, in your heart.
It will get easier, slowly. Don’t ever feel guilty about what you did or didn’t do, you are a great daughter.
The feeling will never entirely go away, but there will come a time when it only surfaces on those special days, like Mother’s day.
To deal with that every spring, I go down to her gravesite and leave a very special thing, a full reflection of everything she gave me, with a Pikean twist to boot.
After a quiet conversation, a straightening of the crabgrass, a reflection on how fast time flies and a tear or two, I lean over and place it for the Elements of Nature that are my God.
And I laugh, knowing that sometime, before the sun and ants get to it, someone will wander by the grave of Doris O. Pike and wonder why anyone would leave, on this hallowed, sacred ground, what appears to be a chocolate chip cookie.
You are entering a time of rituals, they are good ones, for they will remind you of a Community beyond politics, beyond the news, in which you are very close to the center.
Find your own ritual at the end of this, and the beginning of the rest of your life, knowing that your are both loved and respected, and that you have the strength to carry on.
Someday, your son Otie, who at three is too young to have lasting memories of his Dad, will see you in the reflection in his mirror. He may not know it, but your visage will be staring back at him. Your brilliant mind will be working in his, your way with words will be evident in his own oration and writing. Genetics. You may not be here to see it, but I believe that somehow, somewhere, you’ll know and appreciate the man he’s destined to become.
Thank you, dear friend. Thank you for your love, your laughter, your music, your amazing intellect, your words of inspiration. Thank you for challenging me, pushing me, and, yes, even arguing with me. Thank you for the bug-eyed grin you had Friday night when you saw the bay on your hospital wall. Thank you, most of all, for being my friend.