Watching My Friend Die: The Honest Death of Bob Schwartz by Mark Hare. ACTA Publications (Chicago, 2005) 143 pp., $9.95.
Sometimes death is thrust upon us like a great bolt of lightning, leaving little time to react before it strikes.
In the case of Bob Schwartz, his death was a slow, heart-wrenching one that good friend Mark Hare has tried to describe in great detail in his book, Watching My Friend Die: The Honest Death of Bob Schwartz. Schwartz lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in November 1998, about 22 months after he was diagnosed in January 1997.
For anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer, this book can really hit close to home, and in many ways brings to mind the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, which also details the loss of a loved one and their “love of life” that seems to make others more comfortable in their final days.
Hare, a columnist for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, does an excellent job of capturing the wide range of emotions someone goes through while watching a loved one’s health slip away. But more importantly, he details how one man handles his final days of his earthly life.
Like all people, Bob Schwartz loved life and had a fear of death. He wanted the comfort of knowing he mattered to people in this world and, like everyone, didn’t want to die alone. Through Hare’s book, we learn just how important Schwartz was to so many people, young and old.
Schwartz was a teacher, a musician, an assistant hockey coach at Rochester’s McQuaid Jesuit High School and most importantly, a father, a husband and a friend to many. He was an “every man” who loved life and sought to live it to the fullest.
Hare talks about how Schwartz died “the wrong way.” Instead of just letting death come and take him away, Schwartz fought death and tried to squeeze out every ounce of life he could.
“I know I’m dying, but I don’t want to help the process along,” Schwartz told Hare one day in his final weeks.
For Hare, who had only dealt with Hollywood-type deaths or losing older relatives such as a grandparent, it was difficult to handle the death of someone close to his own age, like Schwartz.
“He held on when there seemed to be no reason,” Hare wrote, “when it appeared he was just selfishly imposing his preferences on his family. But there was nothing selfish about Bob.”
Catholics have a term for the bond they share called the “communion of saints.” While we like to think we have our own relationship with God, we really all are together with him whether we are living or deceased. Schwartz is part of that community.
Among the many people he touched were some students at McQuaid — one who’s grandfather was also battling cancer and another who, stirred by a speech Schwartz gave, came forth and admitted he was battling bipolar disorder.
The subtitle of Hare’s book, The Honest Death of Bob Schwartz, explains exactly what the author does — provide an honest look at the death of someone close to him.
William S. Paxton, who grew up in St. Louis Parish in Pittsford, is a freelance writer and editor from Canandaigua.