What I did the morning of my birthday...

I wrote this to a Facebook group: Friends of Bob Swindell. I was on a phone list labeled the same. Like a lot of things I write, I wrote it knowing I'd never send (or publish) it. I didn't know any of the people in these groups. From what I can tell, none of Bob's family are in it. I'm not sure why I never sent it. 

Out of love, and respect for Bob and gratitude for his friendship, I decided to "get over myself." So... Here we go.

I miss Bob.

Bob didn't need to take me on as a friend. He had a bunch of friends. He had 2 daughters, an amazing former wife (and friend to the end), grandbabies, his Mom and 4 sisters. A busy enough guy. A couple years after his sister Carol and I divorced, his phone number popped up on my screen. My first thought was "Oh shit! This can't be good." I was right. 

Everybody's favorite, Aunt Myrtle had died. "Aunt Myrtle," 99 times out of 100, was followed by a whispered "turtle" and then some giggles. Giggles as though they had just invented "Myrtle Turtle" for the very first time. The perpetrators always included Myrtle's 85+ year old sister-in-law, Helen. Bob, Carol and the rest's mother.

Within a few minutes of answering and after the sad news, we were laughing hysterically about something Helen (usually called Granny or G!) had done or said. Helen was one of the sharpest and funniest people I've ever known. We were also good buddies. She could talk serious politics one minute and in the next, with stealthy ninja-like prowess, remote control a fart machine. Helen is also the source of a ton of quotes. All of them funny, no matter how many times they are said.

I'm so glad Bob called that day. He didn't have to. But that call said more about Bob than I could say if I wrote a book. I learned big lessons about kindness, friendship and selflessness that day.

We stayed in touch and spoke on the phone or on video-calls from time to time. Now and then I'd get random pictures of Bob's granddaughters doing silly things or just being little cuties. Safe to say - Bob was a great (and proud) Grandpa (and brother, cousin, uncle, son, friend). He was pretty much everybody's favorite.

I can't count the times we'd all gather at their family's cabin in northern Michigan. Cousins, kids, sisters and their families. Canoe trips, late-night conversations by the fire pit - most always including doubled-over cackling laughter. Good food, a beer or two, long rides down the endless northern Michigan dirt roads counting deer. On and on. And always, at some point, Bob stressing the importance of "the legacy." Keeping front and center the importance of family. And keeping the closeness of the family bond going so that all their future generations could share what "we" all had together. 

We were pretty tight when we were brothers in-law. But after the divorce, it didn't seem appropriate or "normal" (for me anyhow) to keep in very close contact. Carol and I didn't have kids, and there really wasn't any reason to keep in touch. We just moved on with life. 

Bob dealt with some hefty health issues. He had a pituitary disorder that caused him to begin growing again - as an adult. It's the same thing Tony Robbins has. Bob was already a big guy but acromegaly made him more so. From what I understand, it eventually morphed into brain cancer. Treatments, remission, recurrence, treatments, remission, recurrence. From the day I met him, Bob had been through a lot. I never heard him complain once. Ever. 

In July 2018, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Bob was somebody I could talk with who knew exactly what the deal was. Cancer wasn't something any of my family had dealt with. It was all new to me.

An early-on conversation with Bob was the source of my saying, "I'm supposed to die of a heart attack. Like all the Payne and Dunbar men before me. Even as far back as the cave-men Paynes! I... I feel like I'm letting them all down!" Laugh laugh laugh. We were both able to find humor in our situations. 

We would laugh and cry but mostly laugh. Or have a deep conversation on a Saturday morning. I've never met a more proud dad or grandpa than Bob. Our conversations always included pictures and stories about his grandbabies. You could hear the love in his voice. And he was always quick to share a story about Granny. Haha... I think of the banter back and forth with Bob and Granny. Both had hearts as big as could be. And they were both hilarious.

Bob eventually went to live at a "nursing home." He explained it to me as a way to completely take the stress off his family and himself. He joked that at his age, he could be the son of any of the others in the place. He wouldn't have to worry about a thing. Everything would be taken care of for him. 

This part is fuzzy to me because it all happened so fast. I think it was a message from Bob's youngest daughter Danielle - but from Bob's phone. She was letting me know that he had had a really rough night. That next morning, Bob had talked with Dani and Jess about people who had a positive influence on him in his life. And he had mentioned me as one of those people. 

I was blown away. Bob was the guy who had had a big influence on ME. I was humbled big-time. I still am. All this just melts me. Even now, 2 years later. 

The next thing I remember, that afternoon, I got a call from Jan (Bob's former wife and still his good friend) letting me know that he was gone. I was shocked. Heartbroken. I still am. 

Just like everybody else who knew Bob,
I think about him often. With a smile and other times (like now) with a tear. He's my friend. Bob isn't gone. He won't ever be. Not by a longshot. It's the legacy. And it won't ever die.

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