It can be especially hard when a dear friend or loved one leaves this world as the holidays are coming on. Those memories of happy times gone by can become two-edged swords as we realize that a big part of life has changed.
My father died this time of year at age 96. He lived a happy, healthy and generous life for which we expressed full-hearted gratitude, but still we felt an emptiness at our year-end family gatherings. The lights on the tree didn’t seem as bright as before. It wasn’t the same without him. That was over 20 years ago, and it still isn’t quite the same. We still miss him.
Earlier this month, Bill Stewart, a good friend and golfing partner to many of us who rotate ourselves around the Northwood Golf Course, was taken from us at age 67. He was stricken but a few weeks ago, and before we got used to that idea, he was gone. On a recent dark, cold, rainy night, we paused to remember Bill at Northwood’s annual Paella Party, and we all agreed that the weather was just right for how we felt about Bill being no longer with us.
Bill came from North Dakota, where he graduated from college. After a career with FedEx, he retired to western Sonoma County and played a lot of golf and tennis. He was a good athlete and tough to beat, but he didn’t make you feel like a failure for losing to him.
“Wow, what a good shot that was,” he would say to his opponent. Then he would go and hit a better one.
To Bill, friendship and good feeling seemed more important than who won the game, which, of course, it is, though many of us forget it.
One day some 12 years ago, Bill met Carol Cowley on the first tee at the Northwood course. They became a devoted couple with many interests in common, including golf, tennis, traveling and winters in the desert. Carol is one of the four strong, athletic and good-natured Loomis sisters, whose father was a builder along the lower Russian River. These four are a solid team, all for one and one for all, and they all welcomed Bill into their family.
“He was just a really good guy,” is what they say about him.
They appreciate Bill’s “childlike inquisitiveness.”
“He had a way of drawing out the entire story of people he had just met,” Barbara (Loomis) DeCarly said. They appreciate that he called Carol his “angel” as she tended to him during difficult days. And they appreciate that he retained his sense of humor right to the end. Yep, a really good guy.
A special sadness is that Carol and Bill would have been married on the first tee at Northwood if his illness had allowed it. That’s just a heart breaker.
Bill’s passing brings forth a question I’ve pondered a long time: Why do bad things happen to good people?
Some years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner gave us a book that deals with that old, impossible question. The book delves into the biblical story of Job, a good and righteous man who suffers all manner of afflictions, including the loss of his flocks and fields and his entire family. Kushner doesn’t say why such things happen, but from his own experience he tells us that when they do happen, we are given a choice to make — a choice between embracing inconsolable bitterness or doing what we can to accept and pull through our confusion and grief.
Kushner speaks wisdom. May we who mourn Bill Stewart be given strength to choose the better way and may we stick together in friendship, as Bill would want us to do.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.