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When I was in my mid 20’s my mother passed away. She had been diagnosed with cancer a few years earlier, had gone through the operations, chemo, and radiation, but it had comer back with a vengeance. By then she was tired of the conventional fight, tried alternative medicines which did little or nothing, and one night, while I was in a tech/preview for my first big role in a big play, she was rushed to the hospital. I called her before curtain, she told me she was strong, and I told her I would be there right after the show. But when I called the hospital after the performance to say I was on my way my father told me she had passed away. I didn’t get to say goodbye.

For months afterwards I would have dreams of my mother. In the dreams she was always wrapped in sheet like a mummy, her eyes closed, her arms outstretched, as she slowly chased me through our darkened, empty family home of the time. Her mouth was open as if she were moaning, but no sound came out as she shuffled along, her hands clutching the air behind me as I fled down moonlit hallway after shadowed hallway, through room after room. I didn’t know why she was chasing me night after night, but assumed it was because I hadn’t been there for her in those last moments. She was angry, I thought, and was haunting her son who had abandoned her.

This went on for months.

Finally, one night in my dream I said to myself “Wait - this is my mother. My Mother. She wouldn’t do anything to harm me.” So I stopped running, turned, and faced her. She came at me, her face a silent, tortured scream, and when she reached me she put her arms around me and gave me one last hug. I hadn’t been there when she passed, so this was our actual goodbye. I put my arms around her, hugged her as tight as I could, and after that I didn’t have a dream about her chasing me again.

I bring this up because last night I had a similar experience about someone else I knew and loved, and who I didn’t get to say goodbye to.

When Bruce Barthol passed away I was busy running around, in and out of town, working on shows as usual. I spoke to him on the phone, but didn’t focus on visiting him. I was still trying to get information on which hospice he was in when I heard he’d been moved home, and was trying to find a time to go there when he passed.

Last night I dreamed I was at the Mime Troupe building in the Mission District of San Francisco. I’m downstairs in the studio, casually talking to some interns about the history of the Troupe, when behind me someone enters the front door. I turn, and there stands Bruce. He’s close to the age he was when I first met him, so maybe early 40’s, his black hair a little longer than later, jeans and a faded-at-the-edges black leather blazer. He smiles and says hi, and that he just wanted to drop by because he was going on a trip. He didn’t think he was coming back, and he’d already taken leave of everyone else, but we had missed each other, so he’d come to say bye before he took off.

We stepped outside of the studio, and just outside the door was an old station wagon packed to brimming with suitcases and musical instruments. He’d parked it facing the wrong way on the street in front of the Troupe because he didn’t feel like pulling a u-turn because fuck it he was only going to be there a few minutes. He said he was going on an adventure, but he really wasn’t sure where. He was a bit puzzled by this, and said he couldn’t quite remember who he was going to meet up with or why - some friend of a friend’s wife or something, he said - but he wasn’t coming back.

Through all of this I knew what had happened. I knew he passed away months ago, but he didn’t. As far as he knew he was going on trip, knew he wasn’t returning, and just wanted to say he liked our time together before he left. I didn’t say anything about his death, and was just glad to see him one more time, so alive and cooly excited about the new episode. As he walked around the car, giving it one last check to make sure he had everything, he told me he’d been approached by Look Magazine to explore the people, experiences, and music of the world. So he’d gotten a camera and was going to spend the rest of his time considering everything, getting to know folks, all the while playing his music wherever he could.

He didn’t know Look Magazine had gone out of business back in the 70’s, just as he didn’t know he’d passed away, and I didn’t tell him. This was his afterlife adventure, and he’d taken a moment to say bye to me before it started.

He came around to the driver-side of the car - which remember was on the sidewalk side because he’d parked the wrong way on the street - opened the door and stuck out his hand to shake mine. I took his hand, shook it, let go, then stepped in, put my arms around him, and cried as I hugged him. He was a little surprised at first by my tears, gruffly chuckled, and hugged me back.

He didn’t know, but I knew, and I was so happy for him, but sad for myself.

I told him I loved him, and would always miss him, but I didn’t want to seem overly sad and in any way bring down his excitement about going wherever he was going. We stood there for a moment, then he got into his overpacked car, started it up, gave me a little wave, and was gone. He didn’t drive away, he was just… gone.

That was Bruce’s farewell to me, and I can’t stop crying about it. I will always be grateful he took time to say bye.

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