Pain is just something we all learn in different ways to endure; in theory we use it to appreciate the joy, but the likelihood of me being typical rarely is reality. This week I am struggling to accept that someone I love is truly gone. How I reached 50 years and never truly suffered a loss makes me either very stunted in my emotional circle of those I care about or lucky. Most close to me know that I have been estranged from my birth family for many years and while I have no regrets, it has meant that my children and I have been lucky enough to have a family of friends that we have experienced life with , whom we have chosen. Choosing a family may mean that allegiances are voluntary, but the bonds are very strong because members commit knowing your short comings and committing to love that clearly means work and genuine acceptance. I meant Carson Randolph Heil III, when I was seven years old and our parents were dedicated members of the Lions Club and we ended up thrown together frequently, staying out of the adult’s way and immediately recognizing a kindred spirit in one another. We were instant friends and 43 years later, he evolved into my husband’s best friend and the dearest Uncle our five children had.
My journey down the Randy highway was shared with two other friends, self-proclaimed as Randy’s three wives; Sharon and Dap ( Diana). If you knew how often we got strange looks as we introduced ourselves as his “sister wives” during the past year of constant hospital stays and doctor’s appointment. I am not at all certain UPenn Medical Center has recovered from our unique presence at Randy’s bedside and the laughter constantly disrupting the morose environment of ICU. Last year we all spent countless days by his bedside, waiting for him to be awake after a rare and experimental double valve bovine replacement surgery. In May of 2018, as the only retired and available sister-wife, I was in Philly every other day and read novel after novel to a comatose Randy, washed his hair and gave him manicures. The nurses laughed when I showed up with an old school Ipod filled with 80’s and 90’s music and asked that he be plugged in whenever he had no visitors. Although my hubby Keith was “officially” his medical decision maker (insulting the three ladies), we each had a role. Sharon was in charge of explaining medical conditions and options, Dap was the goddess of keeping his 80 year old Mother Judy in the circle of knowledge, and I was his regular connection to the world. That June when he was well enough to leave the hospital, he discussed his sudden inability to get the soundtrack to Pretty in Pink out of his head and a strange penchant for Nora Roberts novels.
During his stay in the hospital all five of our children were very concerned about Uncle Randy, in addition to Di’s son CJ and Shar’s kids Lauren and Cooper. Ironically, Randy who had no siblings, or children of his own, was truly the favorite uncle of all eight of our kids. In our house, no birthday, graduation or wedding could be considered without Uncle Randy in attendance. Regardless of the occasion, with our kids- if Uncle Randy was there, everyone was spending the night because outrageous partying was going to happen. He was who they all felt comfortable confessing things, knowing he’d love them and keep their secrets. Our adult kids have memories of doing shots of Patron with him, endless nights of singing and dancing, sharing joints and waiting for Uncle Randy’s approval of a new girlfriend or boyfriend. He was the Uncle no one doubted loved them and the one Mom worried would get her kids arrested if not monitored. When I had a business trip that I could not avoid during the week my youngest was to move into his college apartment, Uncle Randy drove to Delaware to be my surrogate. My soul sister Tricia helped and Keith was there, but Quinn was insistent only Uncle Randy could set him up. My colleagues on my work trip laughed as I got texts, pics and videos repeatedly of my husband and my very gay best friend drinking tequila and dancing around our local watering holes in my absence.
It’s hard to put into words what it was to be loved and valued by Carson Randolph Heil. He was incredibly sarcastic every day, all day. God, when we’d be faced with strangers, the critique of their fashion choices and hairstyles, would leave us sore from constant gut-clenching laughter. Yet, introduce Randy at a party with a room of strangers and within hours, he was the center of everyone’s attention. He knew their names and everything about them. We would get invited to events and had come to understand that we were invited as a couple, but there was always an expected “us, plus one”. We were repeatedly invited to Halloween events because people looked forward to our costumes for three. Even Randy’s doctors, in the last two years, too numerous to count, came to expect that an appointment with him included any combination of his three sister wives, and my hubby, Randy’s self-proclaimed BFF. We were a prime time comedy in the face of interactions that would have left others hopeless. And that captures the general sentiment of a friendship that lasted almost 5 decades- there is nothing in life that feels better than knowing you are not alone. That people who truly get you; who love you because you are the person you were, the person you are and believe it possible that you can become whatever, without worry that you would ever face life solitary.
Keith and I left for a one year trip across the country last August and have talked and texted with Randy several times a week. We made personalized video snippets for Randy almost weekly, telling him where we were, showing something we had seen or just sharing a good laugh. He would occasionally try going off the grid, which meant that a message from our dog was sent and that always lured him out of his communication funk. The Sunday before his death we had face-timed with him while we attended our first San Francisco Gay Pride parade and although frustrated because he was dealing with an infection in one of his new valves, the three of us laughed our heads off as we sent pictures of naked parade participants and outrageous fashion statements in the legendary event. He also sent me a text pointing out that I was starting to look a little bit too much like an Eddie Bauer middle aged model and that hiking boots were in no way a cute fashion statement. He was glad we would be headed back his way in October because he needed to take me to shopping so I could stop looking like a lesbian with a hairband fetish. It was our typical diatribe where I encouraged him to try not to be the guy whose life revolved around his cats and he told Keith that he knew I was not his real love, that eventually he would wake up and realize Randy was his true destiny.
Randy was never one to spare his feelings or opinions on anything. He drove us all a little crazy at time with his nonchalant attitude on his health- although he did give up smoking last summer when they gave him no choice. He was crazy private and very few realized how hard things had become with the myriad of secondary issues following open heart surgery. He truly hated being hospitalized and quite often was the worst patient ever. One of the longest days of my life was sitting with him awake, but intubated. He felt so helpless, unable to communicate and I was equally feeling out of control, unsure of what he wanted or needed. Two control freaks- we giggled even as tears ran down our frustrated faces. I remember calling Di, who was working at the time and just crying uncontrollably because it was so awful to watch this vibrant human be so incapacitated. Since going on the road, the ladies ( Di & Sharon), as well as some other close friends, helped him and Mom Judy (now 82) deal with a series of complications and hospital stints.
The morning of his death on July 4th, we had made him and Diana a special July 4th video where we sent messages of missing them as we looked over the pacific northwest and he had shared it with his Mom Judy- laughing about our ridiculous behaviors. I am grateful that perhaps his last moments on earth involved laughter that we brought to him. I am angry that I did not get to say “ I love you” one more time because for the thousands of times we said it to one another- I am not sure I said it enough. In reality, I love, truly love, very few humans and I am not happy that one of mine has been taken away. Never having had this feeling before, I am not sure what I do with it. I wish I had some kind of higher power faith and belief that we’d meet again, but I just don’t. I am hoping to be surprised and find when I take my last breath that he has rented a party bus in heaven, handing out shots and designing angel wings. It feels grossly unfair that so many horrible, terrible people in the world go on and this larger than life, sarcastic, jolly drunk of an amazing human is not around to make us celebrate existing and sharing his unwavering love. He sent me a video last month for my birthday with a quote from Bridget Bardot, which I swear I now consider one of my greatest gifts. In it he said, “ I love you- Happy Birthday Lady. It’s sad to grow old, but it’s nice to ripen.” People say the pain gets better, but I am not at all sure, I believe that. At least it is a reminder that you should live life fully and love deeply. He is “my person” and I will do my best to live up to the life he had yet to finish. Be at peace Carson Randolph.