Eulogy Delivered June 20, 2012, Golders Green Memorial Park, London, U.K.*note from the author: I have never before posted a public blog on my personal family; I hope you agree the inspirational story of the life and death of my brother-in-law, Ray, is a worthy exception.
To be born a Simone (nee Garcia) is a rare privilege. The rest of us, we all quickly learn, do not simply befriend or even marry someone in this family. Rather, one gets inducted into this clan who, like modern Musketeers, are all for one and one for all.
I learned that right away during my introduction to Dinah, the family’s legendary matriarch. She ended our first ever conversation about David with: “Just wait ‘til you meet my other son, Ray-mond.”
Well, Dinah, no one can ever say you didn’t prepare me. And right through to his last days at the North London Hospice, my sweet, sweet brother–in-law continued what I’ve been calling Ray Simone’s Great Adventure.
Somehow, defying the doctors’ timetable, Ray fought his way out of the fog of the war, the one he’d been waging against end stage liver disease. From what might have been his final sleep, he suddenly sat up and asked for a roast beef sandwich, an ice-cold beer and a cell phone.
Then for hours, which turned into days, Ray entertained us with stories, Monty Python impressions and his wry humor, some of it at my expense I’m extremely proud to say. I believe Ray mustered his strength not just to tell, but to show the ones he loved it will be okay; we are supposed to laugh again.
Dinah was right. Ray was amazing in so many ways, not the least his courage and humanity and grace. I will confirm that in the 22 years Ray has been my brother-in-law, I never once heard him feel sorry for himself or ever limit himself because of the obstacles he faced… like being legally blind. In fact, I routinely forgot he was blind and I bet a lot of people did as well. Now just think about that for a moment: you fall, you get up and you have detached retinas; you are going blind and you’re only four years old.
As most of us know, the little English boy who loved Howdy Doody traveled by ship with his parents to Boston, Massachusetts where he became the first patient to undergo laser surgery which restored 25 per cent of vision in one eye. That’s not very much, but it turned out to be just enough so that years later he could check out a young Danish chick and call home to report: “her legs are fantastic.”
As all of us have seen, Birgitte “completed” Ray who in turn set out to give her the moon and stars, and fill their lives with a fantastic constellation of friends and of course, the most sparkly part of his universe: Jake and Nikita.
Now his constellation also includes some of his rock heroes: Keith Moon, the drummer of The Who and Marc Boland of T Rex reside here at Golders Green, a sign post of those challenging times, an era so long ago.
[A few others are also at Golders Green: T.S. Eliot, Rudyard Kipling and Sigmund Freud. If he’s nearby, I bet he’s having a field day with our colorful little clan.]
As the unofficial family biographer, I always felt I had a few blanks to fill in — until the past few days as many of Ray’s lifelong friends came to visit… Daniel, Johnny, Dave and of course all the Martins. Martin Lee is going to speak later; I hope he shares the story of how Ray joined his rock band at age 14 after answering an ad in the Jewish Chronicle that Dinah happened to see.
[It was the job of Ray’s dad, Sydney, to drive him to meet his potential bandmate. Of course, Sydney brought along some instructions which included: Ray can’t see, so he won’t be able to carry equipment. If the rehearsal area is up a flight of steps, he won’t be able to navigate them on his own.
As young Martin listened to the list of what Ray wouldn’t be able to do, he thought to himself: I wonder what this kid will be able to do? As Martin Lee tells the story today, as soon as Ray picked up a guitar, he had his answer — and a dear friend for over 40 years. ]
Music was everything to Ray and he was able to pass on to Jake and Nikita not just the joy of music, but the respect and discipline that goes with its creation. Ray couldn’t drive, but he walked his children to school every day. Ray was never going to be a traditional soccer dad, but he built a music studio behind the house where the family magic would happen. Today, Nikita plays drums and piano; Jake is an accomplished bass player now heading off to the prestigious Brighton Institute of Modern Music.
[to Jake and Nikita] Your dad was so proud of you. We are all so proud of both of you. I hope you know that all of us who have been around to multiply your family’s joy are now here to help divide your sorrow.
As Jake has often said, Ray was the “cool Dad” and theirs was the house where everyone wanted to hang out.
Here’s a secret: we all thought Ray was cool, even when he was crazy/besotted with his Birgitte. How awesome was it to watch Ray and Birgitte build a great life together. As a team they weren’t just creative, they were daring launching a successful merchandising firm.
[looks at watch] And right about now, Ray’d be making fun of my American accent, ready to take the mickey, as he would say, because my tribute is getting way too long, soppy and boring.
Ray will have to understand that today I need to have the last word… for Birgitte, Nikita and Jake who loved and adored Ray through sickness and in health and everything in between. [to the family] Although you saw way too much illness in your young lives, your good times together are indelible for me… starting at our wedding where Ray picked Birgitte up off the ground, literally swept her off her feet. I choose to think about those moments… along with all your great times with us in America… and Crete, the little piece of paradise Ray built to share with your friends and Dinah.
As a brother-in-law, Ray was often wonderful, occasionally exasperating, sometimes maddening and I wouldn’t have it any other way. At the core, he was always caring to me, to Benjamin and Kimberley and to Dinah. His bond with David was unbreakable despite their very different journeys.
In one of their last conversations, David and Ray were reflecting on their lives when Ray said, “I didn’t expect it to be so hard.” David was shocked and upset to hear this. Why? Again, Ray just never complained.
No one could ever argue that Ray faced more than a fair share of obstacles in his life, along with some old-fashioned bad luck. Of all the four year olds around the world who trip and fall, how many become blind. Of the millions of teens who experiment with drugs, what percentage really wind up addicted. Of all the addicts who get clean and sober and build a new life, how many get stalked decades later by a silent assassin whose name is Hepatitis C.
Still, if you asked Ray, he’d tell you he was the luckiest man to have benefited from the miracles of modern medicine… to have his sight partially restored, to have a successful liver transplant over a decade ago in a hospital where the guy in the next bed didn’t survive the week. He’d tell you how lucky he was to attend Dinah’s 92 birthday party. To have Birgitte by his side beyond the call of duty. How lucky to see Nikita at the top of her classes, and Jake wowing his way through every audition.
In his “bonus” years, Ray got to prepare his children to have a wonderful life, even though it will never feel like enough. I, for one, can’t believe we won’t see him tomorrow. But I think Ray at this point would tell us “seeing” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He’d remind us that if we close our eyes and dream his dreams for us, we’ll be able to feel him — feel his love, forever.
If you are an eligible candidate, please register as an organ donor. And please support the North London Hospice where my brother-in-law received outstanding compassionate care and comfort from a medical staff of angels supported by their team of indefatigable volunteers. North London Hospice 47 Woodside Avenue London N12 8TT or www.northlondonhospice.org