Richard Thompson

“Are you ready?” “Noooo!”

 

12240983_10153147885930759_2523822966300738895_o
Thank you to the lovely Dr. Anita Auerbach for allowing me to share her eulogy for Richard Thompson.  Her words met me where I was at.  And for that I am grateful.                                

EULOGY for RICHARD THOMPSON

For some reason the brightest stars always seem to burn too briefly. Life in the end, as portrayed in a popular Jimi Hendrix song “is the blink of an eye.”

Richard Thompson came into my life very late in his. There began between us a series of meetings in which no topic was off-limits, no emotion, no thought was unspeakable. We smiled, we cried and we told stories to each other. But so often we laughed, particularly Richard laughed, guffawed really, when we reviewed some of his own comic strips and caricatures!! It was as if he was there at their inception again when he knew finally he had gotten it right. For sure, we spoke of the frustrations giving birth to these portraits: the many drawings crumbled, and comic strip concepts torn up, the garbage cans kicked to the other side of the room, the all-nighters, the half-nighters and the no-nighters!

But all of this faded away in his laughter. And this is what I want to impart to you: the extraordinary capacity of this man to retain a sense of humor, a sense of the wry and absurd, even for his own situation: the juxtaposition of his enormous talent trapped in a body that had become so frail and incapacitated, and yet the still huge capacity for laughter and delight. It was a nobility of spirit I have rarely seen, and it was ennobling just to be in the presence of it.

How did he do it? Well he didn’t do it alone and he knew it: “My girls” he would say, “my girls”. His darling wife Amy with whom he found both physical and emotional support, his daughter Emma whose antics on the elevated manhole cover in their neighborhood served as his inspiration for Cul de Sac, and his daughter Charlotte with whose quiet, gentleness of spirit he most closely identified. And Rudy, his trusted aide, whose warmth and strength combined to keep things moving and safe. Visits from his father and brother. And his remarkable colleagues, some of whom you have heard from today, were so sustaining: Nick Galifianakis, Bono Mitchell, Pete Doctor to name just a few whose frequent visits created such anticipation and delight. And when Pete dropped off the director’s cut of his brilliant movie animation Inside Out (in which Richard is mentioned in the credits) and a baseball cap of the same name, Richard proudly bestowed on me the video to view, but he never took off the cap!

I asked Richard once when I was meeting with him now at home, as it was clear we were very near the end, “Are you ready?” “Noooo!” was his response. “What more do you want to do?” I asked. He pointed to his favorite caricature of Beethoven behind him and said simply “Art”.  Later that same day, as I stood with Nick outside the Thompson home, he said to me ”You know who that is in there [referring to Richard]? That’s Beethoven.”

We lost Richard shortly after that. But in the end, his was a death with dignity. Why? Because he died in character. Amy made sure of that. He died the way he lived: at home, surrounded by loved ones, all of the enormously prolific art of his career, and even by the characters of Cul de Sac – scenery designed and built by Amy for the play she wrote, directed and produced in bringing the comic strip to the stage.

Astronomy teaches us that there are stars we now see whose light reaches the earth even after they themselves have disintegrated. And so too for us can Richard’s bright, funny, shining memory, the extraordinary reservoir of art and talent that flowed from his hands and his heart,  light our world even after he has long passed from it.

Amy, Emma and Charlotte, know for yourselves that the difficulties of his last days, from which this was his only exit, will someday begin to fade so that time heals much of the pain and all that remains is the beauty of the memories, and the love, always the love.

Eleanor Roosevelt in eulogy of her husband Franklin (FDR) said:

“They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind. In those whom they have blessed,they live a life again.”

‘So let us not cry because it is over; let’s smile because it happened.’

Surely a spirit so strong as Richard’s can endure in the hearts of those he leaves behind, so that in the words of a favorite poem:

The tide recedes but leaves behind
bright seashells on the sand

The sun goes down but gentle warmth
still lingers on the land

The music stops and yet it lingers on
in sweet refrain:

For every joy that passes
something beautiful remains.

(author unknown)

Godspeed, Richard Thompson. Peace be with you. You did all that you could do. Your family who were like friends and friends who were like family, your colleagues and many supporters did all that they could do. Thank you for all you did for all of us. We will miss you but we will celebrate your life for the gift it was in ours.

 Dr. Anita Auerbach
26 August 2016
National Press Club
Washington, D.C.

So many words. So few words.

LI LB 2016 0312

My friend Richard Thompson died yesterday.

Steven George Artley's photo.

 

Richard had been suffering with Parkinson’s Disease for years. The past few years had been as awful as you can imagine. Richard’s body was twisted and turned and frozen into contortions you can only imagine if you’ve seen them before.

I want to write about Richard, but it’s too soon.  Richard was special to the world and special to me and that kind of description requires careful thought and even more careful writing.

But this is just a blog.

This is just where I go to share things I hope will help others….or, in many cases, help me.

The journey to the end with Richard has been a mish mash of extreme emotions and more emotions piled on top.  From anger and more anger to frustration, resignation and pure sadness, each trip to Richard’s house has been a reminder that life sucks.

I’m sure another person could write that same sentence and end up with life being beautiful – and I know life is beautiful – but it sucks. At least sometimes.

I became part of the cartooning community in 2010.  I worked on the comic strip that ended up being published for a year while it was either officially or unofficially in development with the syndicate.

During that year, I became fast friends – more like sisters – with my wonderful (understatement!!!) editor, Amy Lago.


And, after the strip began publication,  I met a lovely cadre of local, long-distance and international cartoonists who were SO DAMN DIFFERENT than the lawyers I was used to and with whom I was comfortable.

When I first entered the cartooning world, I was still entrenched in a day job related to law and disability.

Disability was familiar territory for me since I had practiced disability law for two decades and worked in the field for longer than that.  I was confident of my perspectives, opinions and judgments as they related to disability issues.

Contrast that with the world of cartooning where I felt like the odd man out.

I loved the other cartoonists and believe many of them liked and/or loved me too.

But the other cartoonists were real artists, most having worked in or been trained in drawing. I had never taken a class or read a book on art. I knew nothing.

And there I was, learning to draw little by little.  I was starting from scratch. My cartoon had become syndicated not for its pitiful sketches, but for the writing.  I knew how to write.

When I met Richard for the first time, my confidence was at an all time artist low. I couldn’t draw and the process of learning – while my work was being published – was S.L.O.W.

I met Richard at Baltimore Comic Con, introduced by the lovely Mike Rhode.  In short order I met Chris Sparks and Nicky G and Bono and Amy T. (the other Amy) and a host of other sexy, smart, unceasingly silly clowns.  I got pulled into that world and gladly accepted the seat that was always saved for me.

    

 

And then, of course, Rudy, the Pill Whisperer, came along…and, well, let’s just say Rudy and RT should have had a reality show.

Let’s just say it would have been très real.

More on Rudy later.

Richard reminded me of so many of the men I had been in love with over the years. Wicked smart and equally stubborn and ridiculously cute.  I remember meeting Richard and thinking immediately that I would have dated him in a different lifetime.

There were so many things I wanted to say to Richard, but we were never alone long enough to talk.

And talking to Richard was laborious.

Richard lost his ability to speak easily early on.

Waiting for his slow whispers meant deep conversation was halted, at best.

Plus, there were always caregivers and friends and family around whenever I was with Richard and so I could only play the part of visitor, friend and random entertainment-provider.

So I just brought food.

Cause everyone likes the person who brings food.

But I really wanted to talk to Richard.

I wanted to tell Richard that I understood what he was going through more than he knew….even though, of course, I couldn’t really know.

I wanted to ask him what he wanted most of all and tell him he could have anything he wanted…that we would try to make anything he wanted happen.

I wanted to know if he could hang in there long enough to be showered with our love, respect and friendship.

I wanted to tell him that I would have traded places with him in a second so that he could live the life he loved and I could finally be helpful in a meaningful way.

There is so much to say about Richard and the importance of our friendship.

I can’t say it yet.

I’m just too sad.

And I’m working hard to not let the way-too-early deaths of two cartoon world friends in one week mess too much with my head.

I don’t understand death, but I don’t want to fight it.

Perhaps more cogently articulated, I don’t understand how to live life joyfully while accepting the inevitability of death.

Perhaps I just haven’t found the right book to explain it to me.

I wish I had been able to tell Richard more often, more loudly, more assertively and more insistently that his life changed mine in important ways.

But we were never alone enough for that kind of conversation.

But it did.

His life changed mine.

In important and lovely and cruel ways.

And I hope to hell he’s running around (even though he’s not really the running around kind) in heaven, free from his body on earth and free of pain.  I hope he’s eating everything in sight and laughing, laughing, laughing.

I hope the library in Heaven is really excellent and that they give him the old fashioned kind of library card, not a fingerprint or chip-driven card.

 

Bono Mitchell's photo.

I hope he’s happy in amounts outnumbering the immense amounts of happiness he gave to others.

I am sad in those amounts.

I miss you, RT.

xoxoxo, d