According to the History Channel Website, ‘The Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos), is a Mexican holiday where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration.’
Later today, I will spend time at a Dia de los Muertos celebration in a town that I now call home in central Florida. In Crescent City, a celebration of this holiday will take place in the center of town with live music food and festivities. I look forward to being part of this observance where I can honor so many family members that have passed.
Last Saturday presented the second anniversary of my husband Rich’s passing so this occasion is especially fitting. My intention last Saturday was to share the talk I gave at Rich’s Celebration of Life, but at the time, I could not find a copy. During this past week, while going through some files I found one, and now, without further delay, I share what I recounted at Rich’s own day of honor on a January day in 2022 in its entirety. I apologize for the length of this post, but he deserves the extra world count.
‘Rich always told me that in the event of his passing, not to have one of those sad and dreadful funerals, but to have a party instead, so that is why we are here today to celebrate a life well-lived.
I’m going to take a moment to remember Rich. I won’t ask anyone to speak afterward, but we will raise a toast instead and recall him amongst ourselves.
Rich grew up in the city of Newark, NJ. At age 7 he was essentially on his own due to a family situation and life wasn’t easy. This made him very independent and self-reliant. He believed people were responsible for their success, or lack there of. He was tough on others but tougher on himself.
We met 28 years ago when we were both active in the art show circuit. He was the unofficial roadie for an older Fine Artist who became our matchmaker. At every show Frank (Hulick) would say to me when we all met, “And you know Rich.” On our first official date, we ate at an Italian restaurant (of course we were in Jersey). One of my sister-in-law Gigi’s favorite stories is that during that dinner, Rich pitched his union’s generous health benefit plan like he was recruiting me. This became a holiday story classic over the years, one that got funnier with each retelling. That night we talked so long the wait staff swept around us were stacking chairs by the time we left.
Our wedding in 1996 took place on a paddle boat on the Manasquan River and we lived for 25 years at the Jersey Shore, a place that would always remain special to Rich. Despite its reputation as a tough place to live, no one ever seems to leave New Jersey so when we announced we were moving no one believed us.
January 30th marks the two year anniversary of our move her to Osprey Cove. Like so many who’ve found this oasis, we were escaping the crowds, high taxes and cold climate of the North. Rich enjoyed meeting people from all over the country here in our community, but also got beyond the gates to get to know the locals often heading downtown to crab off the public docks and chat with locals and visitors. He said that once he’d asked the guys at Knuckleheads bait shop down by the river if he could be a local and was told only if he would get rid of that damn Yankee accent. He was thrilled, but that wasn’t going to happen.
Because in so many ways Rich was the quintessential “Jersey Guy”. He was down to earth, direct, fun-loving, someone who said what he meant and meant what he said. Although he had the Irish gift of gab, he was always ready to listen or lend a hand to help. Many say that his personality filled the room. You often heard him before you saw him.
He hated texting. He always wanted to talk with people and if I hadn’t been in touch with someone in a while he’d hijack my phone, dial and hand me the phone. I often didn’t know with whom I’d soon be speaking
He loved to entertain back home and here and in our short time in his new kitchen, he was happy to use his culinary skills. I often referred to him as Richie Ramsay due to his Gordon Ramsay temperament in the kitchen. When Rich was cooking I’d warn others to stay out of the way, and all would be okay.
Our first Christmas here, I ordered lobsters to arrive the night before Christmas Eve. When they arrived, one appeared to be deceased and the other just hanging on. In true Richie Ramsay fashion, he tossed the dead lobster in to the woods out back in a rage while I tried to reach someone at Maine Lobster Direct. Not getting anywhere, I began to troll their Facebook page until they finally messaged me and asked for a photo of the dead lobster. I wondered how they could tell if it was still moving from a picture. I told them it had been discarded and they finally said they’d send two more lobsters by New Years Eve. In the meantime, Rich had managed to retrieve the discarded lobster. Upon sniffing it he declared, “I can still use this.” So we had a lot of lobster that holiday.
He was a talented award-winning duck and shore bird carver and looked forward to the big decoy show in Tuckerton, NJ each September. We actually spent time at that show this past September while up visiting friends at the Jersey Shore to celebrate our 25th anniversary. After his passing, a good friend called me and noted how unusual it was the everyone just seemed to be in town that weekend. Our neighbors and friends and family. He loved being back there and seeing so many people who mattered so much to him.
He was a good friend to so many and I still get calls, messages and cards from people who have grappled with his passing. He served his country as a Navy Corpsman and later as the Bar Chairman for one of the most active American Legion Posts in NJ (at the Jersey Shore of course). It was a demanding position, but he enjoyed it.
He was a loving husband and friend, protective and supportive of me as a wife, artist and writer. His presence is greatly missed by myself and others. He really enjoyed his time here in Osprey Cove and I am sorry he didn’t have more. Next week he celebrates a birthday so let’s drink a toast to Rich who I’m sure is smiling down on us right now.’
Here’s to recalling the good times. Wishing you all good memories and a happy week ahead.