my best friend Bob

I know we all have that one friend. The one that calls you at 2 in the morning with a problem, knowing that you’ll listen until you fall asleep with the receiver, only waking to the loud bland tone. The one that will walk across a field of 5’ snow drifts to light your pilot light.  Or drop everything to unplug your toilet. The one that when you are so scared and you hurt so badly, that will hold you, comfort you and tell you they’ll always be there for you, always. That’s my Bob. That’s my best friend Bob.

Ours was the most natural and easiest of friendships.  I was 24 when we met at Grand and Toy. I was recently separated and had returned to Edmonton. Bob was in the process of getting his divorce. I have always been drawn to people who have an incredible sense of humor. This was definitely one of Bob’s greatest gifts. His comebacks. So I thought maybe he’d like to go with me to my divorce class and learn about how hard it would be moving forward from this catastrophic loss. He said sure, why not?

And so began what has become a lifelong relationship. We became each other’s dates to parties and events and both felt safe enough to just have fun and enjoy our new-found freedom. I know our bond solidified as we grew to share our deepest secrets, our wishes for the future and our wildest dreams. We were really, in exactly the same place then. It was serendipitous.

Bob had so many fabulous traits – he was very mischievous.  He was caring, honest, pure, loyal to a fault, a great lover of life. He was enthralled with his daughters. They were like the honey to the bee. I was truly taken by his sense of priorities given that he was still a young man and could easily have shirked them for some passing fancy. The girls spent a lot of time with us.

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Here’s the thing about my Bob. He was 100% trustworthy. His word meant everything. He had integrity and character and he always followed through with his promises to me. This never wavered in all the time I have known him. What you saw is what you got. A person with very definite opinions. A champion for the rights of children and I mean – no one ever hurts an innocent child. A believer in doing the right thing and holding others accountable for their behavior. It reminded me of my father, who was absolutely similar to Bob in that way.

We spoke a lot about what he wanted for us gathered here today:

“Bob, your Eulogy, what do you want me to say?”

“Tell them everything Wendy. Actually, don’t do that. No one will ever speak to you again. Well, maybe some of them might. But a lot of them won’t.  I won’t be there to cover for you. This is the most important thing sweetie.  I did absolutely everything I could to be exactly what my father wasn’t. My girls are my legacy. I think it all turned out well, don’t you?

“Are you kidding Bob? After everything you and I have been through, you did win the lottery. You won the love lottery. You have exactly everything that meant anything to you in this home, at this moment. Your girls. Your grandkids. You are incredibly blessed.”

“I love my girls more than anything. I tried to spoil them as much as I could. I am very happy being their daddy. They are my everything. I am luckiest man on earth to have the two most beautiful daughters, inside and out.  Nothing else matters when you have great kids. Wendy, thank you for making me believe it could come true. I am so grateful for you helping me believe that they would come back someday.”

~~~~~

Those are the recorded words of one of my last conversations with my friend Bob.  After the blessing of his friendship for over 33 years, I felt like his story wasn’t over. Like I was being cheated out of many more years of spontaneous laughter and stories we would write and share together. Just growing old and complaining about our health.

Sharing our kid and grandkid stories over a coffee. Laughing. Yeah – I do feel cheated.  Death has a way of forcing you to feel so many emotions all at once, until you can part the marsh and wade through the muddy water to shore.

Bob was born Robert Charles Arthur Ferguson, to Helen Maller Ferguson on September 17th, 1953. As you can well imagine, Bobby was a handsome baby, filled with lots of love to share. The Fergusons were a typically large Catholic family, growing up in their faith, with many mouths to feed and siblings who maintained strong bonds, taking care of each other over the years. Bob was the second born of 4 boys and 3 girls; Barry was the oldest (or Bay as Bob was able to pronounce as a tot), then came twins Doug and Charlene – all born in Edmonton. Henry came next, born in Oshawa, Ontario. After the family returned to Edmonton, sister Kelly arrived and finally wee Tracy, the baby of the Ferguson family.

Growing up, Bob was very well liked and was never at a loss for things to do, making friends very easily both in school and his professional life.  He did well in class, was a Boy Scout and enjoyed a variety of sports. After a failed attempt at learning to fish, Bob was given a full set of orange and black hockey equipment where he dove in face first into the sport as one of the participants of the Wellington Park Community League Mites.  He just knew he was headed for fame and fortune as a hockey superstar.  He also took up downhill skiing after receiving ski equipment for Christmas. It also became something he so loved to do.

During his time at St. Francis Xavier High School, Bob was active in high school basketball and football and he had his own attractive cheerleading squad. It was there he met his first wife Diane and when he graduated, moved on to work for ITT Grinnell Systems and then as a Loans Office with Scotiabank in Slave Lake.

In 1977, Bob fell hard for a pretty young woman named Shirley Hooper.  He was 24 and she just 20 when he proposed to her in April, 1978. Bob had just accepted a job at Grand and Toy, Ltd. and was settling into his large sales territory. On April 8th, 1979, their first child Lisa Jo Ferguson was born. Bob would always tell me this was the happiest moment of his life.  When Bob was 27, their second child, Tammie Leigh Ferguson was born on May 12th, 1981. Again, Bob would always tell me this was the happiest moment of his life. You can see where this is going. His love for both girls was powerful and indistinguishable.  A lifelong love affair with his daughters began and they truly have been the source of all his pride, joy and strength.

Over time, I grew to see that his priorities, given how hard he fought to keep the girls, were unchanging. He was going to see to it that Lisa and Tammie would not be casualties in a divorce he did not want.  That is all water under the bridge now and I know that that period of time, was the most difficult of his life short of his health challenges and of course, facing his imminent death.

In the months prior to his passing, we spoke at great length about those years.  Having to leave his girls. he told me, was the hardest piece of dying for him. Sharing these fears only further sealed our bond and our promise to always be there for each other. Then for Bob. Now for his girls.

I had the incredible privilege of spending time with his daughters who I fell in love with so many years ago. Then they were just sweet little girls – both under 7. Lisa, so demure and quiet. Soft spoken and observant. A true girly girl. She would watch my every move and always return my smile and hug. Tammie, the precocious one, who admitted that for every time she asked me when I would marry her dad, he would give her a quarter.  She was a pistol – lots and lots of questions! So much fun to be with. Bob and I spent many visits in the park, at West Ed on the rides and shopping for treats, like Cabbage Patch Dolls. I still remember the baby powder smell of the diapers. Who couldn’t adore these little Ferguson creatures? What special little living souls of Bob’s enormous heart.

Our duo became a trio when I told John, another friend at Grand and Toy, that Bob was looking for a roommate. The three us became inseparable and were seriously having the time of our lives in the eighties.  Lots of Club Malibu, where Bob was an evening bartender, lots of dancing and some great movies and dinner dates. Truly, we spent all our spare time together. With John being openly gay, Bob was introduced to a whole new world of tolerance, compassionate and understanding for issues he likely never gave a second thought to before. John recently came out to see Bob and was able to thank him for being his friend. Remember, this was the late 80’s, so this remarkably loving  friendship of opposites, truly Oscar and Felix, spoke strongly of how we all wish all people could truly be. John has been a great comfort for me during this time and is sad not to be here. There were many other Grand and Toy friends that loved Bob so much; Les and Estelle, Ray and Joanie, Dennis and BJ, Ron, Val and Bryan. So many laughs with this crew!!!

After Grand and Toy, Bob moved on to the Brick Warehouse, where he was the top saleman – which involves dedication and is no easy feat. He was very proud of that. I remember him working so hard during those times and his joy to meet and make new friends. Then on to McLachlan Mitchell Homes where his success again multiplied and he found himself buying and selling and moving up with every home he purchased. It was an exciting time for him.

I came to know all of Bob’s quirks and views of life. These habits of his were etched in stone, not easy to shift and became known to me as Bobisms. I will share a few with you – perhaps you know these to be true or maybe he’s shared them with you?

1)      No food can compare to a well-made hamburger.  If you can get it with lots of ketchup, all the better.  When Bob came to visit me in Idaho, we spent every night getting take out at Snow Bunny Drive Inn. It is advertised as home of the road kill patty melt and Bob absolutely loved their burgers and fries. He would defer to that hamburger over a home cooked meal at every opportunity even purchasing t-shirts to bring back for the girls and himself to advertise his favorite culinary experience.   This Christmas, he requested a new t-shirt to wear this year as apparently, he’d worn his out.  Seriously, I have never eaten that many hamburgers before or since that visit.

2)      Pass on the veggies. If you are going to serve them, then please separate them. That way, I can decide what I want to eat and leave what might not be overly thrilled with. When I had Bob over for dinner the first time at my Millwood’s apartment, I made him a well-rounded meal with mixed vegetables. I received the crash course in vegetable separation and eating food clockwise, around the plate. Better still Wendy, you don’t need to make veggies for me. Hilarious.

3)      He had very specific junk food preferences too.  Pepsi not Coke. Large Tim Hortons Coffee with double cream. McDonalds sausage McMuffin – no egg but lots of ketchup. Make sure it’s muffin, not a bagel. Arby’s value meal roast beef with cheese. “Don’t forget the horsey sauce. It’s the only one without the onion bun. I hate onion buns.” He would remind. So gross. “Dill pickle chips please – they are better than salt and vinegar. Lately the chip factories are using too much vinegar so I’ve had to switch.” “Cheetos are awesome – don’t eat too many of my Cheetos,” he would scold me, “They’re mine. I know you have your eyes on them.” “Bob, why are you throwing away all these jujubes?”, I would ask him. “I can’t stand the orange and yellow ones. They’re gross.”  I would get him some ripple potato chips: “Can you bring the dip too Wendy?”  If there was no dip made and I offered to make it, his response would be,  “No you can’t. Only Lisa knows how to get the onion bits out. I’ll wait until Lisa gets home.” So funny.  The best part of it all was its predictability. If you hit the mark, the smile was enormous and the love overflowed.

4)      Wendy, if a guy’s eyebrows grow together, don’t trust them. I can’t tell you why. Just don’t trust em.

5)      Helping me fold my laundry. You’re never gonna get a date wearing Hanes underwear. Those are butch panties. Only lesbians wear those. How did he know that? What is the matter with you Wendy? Get rid of these things. No Hanes underwear. Ever.

Unfortunately, Bob was to encounter an incredibly serious health scare. A brain aneurysm that ruptured would statistically gave a person very poor odds of surviving.  Not Bob. I remember hearing of this and falling to me knees. Being so far away from my friend and unable to do anything to make it better.

The challenges of this were immense. He could no longer concentrate for long periods of time. His memory suffered a lot. He was tired and sometimes confused. The flip side was he was able to use this as an excuse for not returning your phone call or forgetting your birthday. He was crafty.

It was at this point that Bob had to reevaluate his entire way of life and career and in that, decided to simplify things, move out to where his girls were living and be a very present father and grandfather. It was enormously challenging for someone used to great achievements to retire, but his health and survival would depend on that change. Looking back, what a gift this decision was given that he has left us so young. His grandchildren have come to know him very well and have solid memories and bonds that they will hold in their hearts for the rest of their lives. You can never take the investment of time and love away when you create such beautiful memories. All kids want is your time and Bob knew that.

Death came to Bob several times over his life and he fought it valiantly. I truly believe that his love for his daughters is what has kept him here with them as long as he could control his destiny.  He was going to win this battle. He was defiant and determined. I was absolutely amazed at his strength and resolve.  The mere fact that he fought death until his last days shows his incredible will to live and his deep love and appreciation for his life.

In the end, it is the small things you remember, the little imperfections that make that person perfect for you.  Although I am extremely sad, I am feeling grateful. Grateful that Bob was able to die as he wished, in Lisa’s care, in her home and with his family. I am grateful that we all shared those special moments watching movies, endless reruns of Last Man Standing (which he loved) and purging on an endless supply of Bob’s favorite junk food all over his queen size bed between the naps. I am grateful Bob was finally able to stay awake with Lisa and finish the ending of the Beverly Hillbillies. We watched it repeated and as simple as it sounds, he could never make it through the film. That made me happy.

I am grateful that he met all his grandchildren. That he knew them personally and intimately and cared for them very deeply. He was surrounded by his things that mattered to him. He was able to spend Christmas with Lisa and Tammie and enjoyed all the usual laughter and goings on in a home bustling with busy children. He got to attend hockey games and school concerts and go out on a few trips to Tim Hortons as long as he held his strength.

I was grateful he has the best home care available and a charge nurse named Lisa Elliott who monitored every moment of his care, diligently and meticulously noting each event and medication dose. Bob never once doubted her commitment or her instruction to do what he needed to do to live as long as he could. Both Lisa and Tammie showered him, dressed him and told the truth to the home health nurses when he would lie to them. Comical. That’s Bob.

Bob didn’t have the best of luck all through his life. His health put him through a lot of stress during the past decade. But what others may have viewed as misfortune was actually his trump card. He believed that every day he was writing his legacy. He knew he was richer than most everyone he knew, because his children would run to his arms, even when his hands were empty.

16426167_10154028826720670_3684222391631314552_nHe lived in such a way, that his children define him as a man of kindness, compassion and love, with a heart that bloomed as it gave. He knew, his greatest contribution would never be what he did in his life, but who he raised.  He moved through his relationships with his kids without judgement, only praise. Ever optimistic. So, as Lisa and Tammie, their beloveds and their children continue to move through life, they will remember him as a man of fairness, caring and integrity with this sentence forever in their minds, “As long as you don’t hurt my girls!”

Love never dies. To love someone so deeply that the grief of that loss absolutely breaks your heart, is the sign you loved hard and you loved well. How incredibly blessed I was to cross paths with this beautiful heart, my friend Bob.

Our last conversation ended the same as every one we’d ever had –

“I love you sweetie.”

“I love you too Bob.”      I love you too.

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