When the ladies at her retirement home asked my 94-year-old mother, “What was your son-in-law like?” she answered, “Every Jewish mother’s dread.” I grew up in 1950s middle class Long Island suburbia. My parents defined themselves as progressive liberal Democrats and Jewish atheists. They were pragmatic people — worked hard, saved, put their children first. In 1979, I brought Philip into their world – immediately, a square peg in a round hole. Philip spoke of spiritual longings; my parents looked puzzled. He spoke of finding his calling as a poet and astrologer; my parents probed for a career with an income and retirement plan. Philip described his father’s fall from bank president to felon after embezzling funds; my parents grew quiet. Philip insisted love was more important than financial security; my parents blanched. I was married for 37 years to a man who meant no harm, who loved life and exuded joy while being committedly idealistic and infuriatingly opinionated. He worked off his own set of rules, thereby setting many people’s teeth on edge.
Forever seeking beauty and poetry, he lived intensely, was funny, quirky, endearing, and impossible.
Philip once stepped into a circle of British chain-swinging motorcycle hoodlums and broke up the brawl with the intensity of his voice. He sat at water’s edge, nose to nose with an alligator, insisting that the mini-dinosaur that terrorized me was his pal. We were initiated into Sufism and uninitiated when Philip felt too restricted. Unconventional as can be, he consistently refused medical treatment — in the end, spending three months failing to save his life in a fasting retreat in the mountains of Costa Rica. He drove many people crazy and was loved deeply by a special few. Forever seeking beauty and poetry, he lived intensely, was funny, quirky, endearing, and impossible.
Philip and I traveled, explored, and ventured in many directions outwardly and spiritually. Sometimes now, I grow dark thinking — what did it all amount to other than his all too early death and his abandoning me in a life I could no longer love or understand? In better moments I am infinitely grateful for the crazy richness of my life with him. He was a brilliant and complicated man in search of his place on the planet, my beloved husband, friend, lover, and spiritual partner. I have just completed writing Life with an Impossible Person; A Memoir of Love and Loss. It celebrates an unconventional life well lived and shares our journey toward Philip’s unconventional death. It also depicts my search for identity in a solo life, learning to live with radical change and radical absence. Philip’s dreams, longings, and values changed and enhanced my life while he was alive; he continues to color and inspire who I am becoming as I learn to carry on without him.