HEWLETT, New York, USA - My brother-in-law Bill Kearney died Monday, after a valiant battle with cancer. I'm not sure I would have the courage to handle all the treatments, procedures, chemicals and various indignities that went along with that fight.
When I saw Bill last summer, he was still in good spirits, despite pain, and was fun to be with in a short visit. At a restaurant, while perusing the healthy side of the menu, he finally opted for a seafood dish that would make a cardiologist weak in the knees.
"I'm a cancer patient," he said. "I think I get to eat what I want."
Bill Kearney, summer 2008
There are brother-in-laws and there are brother-in-laws, but Bill was the best. When I was in college at Villanova in the mid-60s, he put up with my unannounced, drop-in visits to visit with he and my sister Anne (and escape my dorm room). It was during one of those visits that he offered up a nugget about education that set me on a course I stayed with, the course that made my life what it is.
I was on the verge of dropping out of Villanova University and while he understood why I wanted to leave, he told me - as only a older brother-in-law can do - that whatever I did, I had to get a four-year college degree. Where it was from, what major I took were irrelevant.
"Get the degree. It's what you need to open the door for a job."
And five or six years later, when I was in California, married with one child and struggling to get my four-year college degree, out of the blue he and Anne sent me a check for $100 for books. At the time, $100 was more than I could make in two weeks of working part time at the Napa Register newspaper. It kept our fragile home economy going - and gave an incredible boost to my resolve to finish up at Sonoma State University.
With Anne and Bill last summer
The memories of all the years - all the visits - are like a flood today.
Just last week, I was telling my amigo Chon (in Arroyo Seco Mexico), about Bill. Chon was marveling at how tightly I was able to pack my bodega (garage) with surfboards, stoves, tools, and everything else. I relayed to Chon (as best I could in Spanish) that my brother-in-law Bill had taught me how to pack 40 years ago, when I arrived in his driveway in a old VW van, a wife, baby and black cat, all stuffed in. We were headed for California and barely had room to sit in the van.
By the time Bill got done, we could sleep inside comfortably.
So many memories. But only one regret comes to mind this morning, thought doubtless others are likely to surface.
I have always loved to go to the ocean, and as a young teen, whenever I visited in the summer, it frequently fell to Bill to be my chauffeur and companion to head to Rockaway Beach or one of the other spots near Hewlett. On one visit, Bill had made some arrangements to go out fishing on a tour boat, but he said I had my choice: we could go fishing or swimming at the beach.
Like any indulged young teenage child, I chose the beach and to this day, I can remember that I knew Bill really wanted to go fishing and that the crowds and sand and salt were a distant second choice, for him.
But he did not let on at all that he was disappointed. Instead, we had a rollicking day in the surf. I remember the sunburn from that day, too.
Bill died with much of his family around him and I think will be remembered fondly by all who ever knew him.
And there's no doubt he zipped straight to heaven, where with any luck there is great fishing, golf, and he can watch major league baseball and NY Giants football, while eating all the seafood he wants, without concern.
RIP Bill Kearney, you are missed already.