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Travels with Derek May 15, 2013

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

When Derek died on July 5—likely of an aneurysm—it was a shock to all of us. He was forty years old. He had a two-year-old son.

He was the son of a couple of our very best friends, two from that group of eight we hung with in DC for so many years until we scattered in three directions.

We couldn’t make it to his memorial service in Phoenix, which was painful to miss. Still, when his parents, Wayne and Sue, sent us a DVD (the service had been held on the stage of one of the city’s theaters, to a packed house), I kept putting off watching.

In September, Tim and I were in Colorado, and we arranged to meet up with Derek’s best friend, Justin. We were three introverts meeting for the first time over beers with loss as our commonality. It took us awhile to warm up—if extrovert Derek had been there, it would have taken no time—but we had a wonderful time together.

By February, I decided I was ready. I snuck a peek at the DVD, immediately knew I should be watching it with Tim, and stopped. I asked him if we could watch it on Valentine’s Day.

It may seem an odd thing to do on Valentine’s Day, but really, it wasn’t. As I wrote to Derek’s friend and family the next day, “I am not really a celebrator of Valentine’s Day in any serious sense, as so many people tend to glorify only a particular type of love on that day (which seems so arbitrary and somehow makes others feel more lonely). But watching this on Valentine’s Day was perfect for me, as it dealt with every kind of love there is. Derek inspired them all.”

Last month, Tim and I headed to Arizona to go birding (as you know) and to visit with Wayne and Sue. Bill and Susan, two more of that original eight and recent immigrants to Utah, met us at Wayne and Sue’s at the end of the week.

It was the first time in twenty-one years all six of us had been together. (Sewa Yoleme, we missed you.)

We spent a lot of time talking about Derek and really celebrating him. It was good for all of us. Before the end of the visit, Wayne and Sue pulled out Derek’s massive collection of pipes, which they’d had an expert go through and sort. Derek was a connoisseur of, among other things, cigars, tobacco, and scotch. Each of us chose a pipe for our very own. Tim’s is Italian; mine’s Irish.

Derek’s parents also offered us some of his ashes to bring home and scatter somewhere important to us. Bill and Susan live in Castle Valley, and Bill already had a particular spot in mind.

I put the Walgreen’s prescription bottle of ashes in the backpack I was carrying onto the plane. It was clearly marked; Sue had written a letter to Derek and taped it to the front:

 3-15-72 to 7-5-12

Dear Derek,

Tim and Indigo are inviting you on this journey to Vermont. We went there when you were 18 months old, so now you will rest in the splendor and beauty. I sent them back with pipes and perhaps they will enjoy a bowl when they sit with you. You are deeply loved.

Mom and Dad

At security, I was randomly pulled out of line to have my hands tested for explosive residue (my first time!). Then, in line, I pulled the ashes out for inspection, and TSA pulled me out of line accordingly. I was impressed—the man working with me made a point of explaining what he was doing and how they simultaneously try to maintain an appropriate level of respect. They tested the bottle, as far as I could tell, the same way the tested my hands—swiping something around the edges that would react to explosive residue. They never opened the bottle.

I met Derek when he was fifteen or sixteen years old; I’m ten years plus a couple of weeks older. He was a 6-foot-5ish gorgeous guy, who looked something like this in high school/college:


This is a painting his parents commissioned after his death:


And this is him on the mantel by my bed:


I don’t yet know where his ashes will end up. For now, it’s nice to have him with us.


1. Craig R. Smith - May 15, 2013

I’m sorry I wasn’t there, too. This is warm and heartbreaking.and quite wonderful.

2. Eulalia Benejam Cobb - May 16, 2013

So sad, these early losses.

3. Helen - May 21, 2013

I can only repeat Craig’s second sentence: this is warm and heartbreaking and quite wonderful.

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