How is it even possible to sum up 33 years of life with a person? It isn’t. This is the merest sketch of a relationship so profound, so entirely unexpected and serendipitous it defies easy description.
When I first met Tom, I was 16 and my mother had just told me in a ride home from boarding school that they were getting married. This came as a bit of a shock and not one that pleased me. So, for a good few years, Tom had a surly, know it all teenager with low self-esteem on his hands, which is not pretty.
The miracle is that he didn’t abandon me no matter how hard I tried to push him away (mostly through a campaign of passive resistance in the form of The Eternal Sulk). Nor, crucially, did he put up with all my b.s.
In other words, he modeled something of which I had little experience: boundaries. I did not respond well at first. But eventually he won me over through sheer relentless generosity and goodwill.
I cannot list all of his generous acts without taking up the rest of the service, but one moment stands out because it seems so ‘Tom’ as I knew him and also marks the time when I began to trust him.
At a particularly low emotional ebb at college after directing a particularly grueling show, and after having applied for then rejected the opportunity out of fear of going to study art in Italy, Tom and my mother took me out to brunch. Out of nowhere, Tom said: So, do you want to go to Florence after all? And I said, surprised by my own answer, Yes! My mother attempted to interject with some practical concerns but Tom said, “No, it’s OK, we can handle it. She should go.”
I did go and that year changed my life in many ways. I had never left the U.S. before and was able to travel throughout Europe, learn photography and experience a whole new world, which was something of course that Tom was passionate about doing himself.
While I had had achievements before I met Tom, in many ways my world was very small. His presence in my life expanded it in so many ways, I cannot conceive of where I would be now without him.
I will fast forward to the recent past for time’s sake. When I finished my PhD in 2009 on how theatre can be an act of philosophy, he and my mother both read it – a miracle in and of itself. But Tom went even a step further and read the philosophers cited in my thesis in order not only to understand my work more but also to allow these ideas to affect his own already considerable spiritual/philosophical journey.
And of all the places we met, this in adulthood was probably the most profound. As anyone who knows Tom knows, this was one of his most special gifts, the ability to hear, listen and really see you. Even if there were conflicts initially – and we did have conflicts – that was not the end of the conversation. He would make the extra effort to understand before judging.
On every level, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, this was deeply important. It’s such a rare gift to have anyone in your life ever that you feel really gets you and it’s even more rare for that person to be a step-parent.
And of course emotionally the most important role he played in my life was as a father. While I spent many years resenting this, in the end I loved him for it. I had so wanted my own father to play this role, but he simply could not. Somewhere along the road to accepting this, I accepted Tom. Had he ever abandoned me along the way, I don’t think that would have ever happened.
I am so honored that I was there when Tom died and was in the room to feel the waves and waves of loving energy come towards me from the foot of his bed, so strong it almost moved me backwards. But I am so sad I could not tell him when he was still conscious how much I loved him back.
But because some part of me believes he is here with us now, I will say here: I love you, Tom. I know you are with me in my heart even as I rail against your absence from your chair in the study.
No one else would try to read French post-structuralists and buy me a stuffed lion named Harold to greet me in my bedroom after my second marriage began to unravel. No one can ever replace you.
But go well.
I know only this and that is that you are free. This knowledge gives me great comfort and joy as you did in life and do even now. You are off the wheel of suffering because you did the hardest thing of all: you lived a good life as a real human being.
Thank you for showing us how it’s done and thank you to the Universe for the great good fortune of you.