Underlying Conditions

Lew Geer

Today, Saturday, February 27, 202, was the online memorial for Lew Geer, the partner of my close friend Nancy Dahl. He and Nancy had been together 22 years, and for both of them it was – and they often said it out loud to anyone within earshot – “the love of my life.” Lew died of Covid the day before Valentine’s Day in the hospital in Santa Fe, alone as so many have. But blessedly Nancy was able to visit him a few days earlier. I saw a photo of her, fully suited up, sitting on the bed, and it is clear that neither her hazmat gear nor his tangle of oxygen tubes and IVs could stop the love and adoration that flowed between them.

He was 74 and was living with a treatable kind of leukemia. A recent lab workup showed that he was doing well, and could continue to live a fairly normal life. And his “normal,” as I heard at the memorial today, was packed full of generosity, curiosity and fun. Of course I knew from my own friendship with him what a wonderful, loving person he was. He had lived in Japan and we sometimes carried on mock conversations in Japanese, he way better than me! In so-called retirement, he was on boards and contributed to projects that were very worthy but unlikely to attract the support needed. He took up petanque  (google it!), played chess, made cherry pies, doted on children and grandchildren, and kept his many friendships well nurtured. His zest for life never waned.  

Mr. Incredible leaves the cancer center after successful treatment for leukemia, 2019.

But hearing his relatives and friends tell stories revealed for me so much more. His son John, whose (handsome) resemblance to his father took my breath away, spoke first. In his beautiful and loving tribute to Lew, a father he adored, he told of moments when he recognized in himself those precious inherited gifts of humor, sensitivity and courage. I knew Lew was a devoted grandpa but to hear his granddaughter Sophie describe their relationship made it so real. He was always there for her, she said, in little and big ways. Her voice was strong and she was determined that we all know the Lew that she knew, what it felt like to be his granddaughter, recipient of so much love, so much pride and support.

And friends chimed in. I knew Lew had a wicked sense of humor, but sending a “Fart Ninja” toy to a friend for his birthday? I knew he was a devoted friend, but I didn’t realize he kept in touch with many dating back to high school and college days, some of whom decided to follow him to Santa Fe. I knew he was generous – I myself had received hefty slices of his pies – but I did not know the story a middle aged man told on the screen today. Ten years ago he had lost both his jobs in one week and was destitute. Lew had taken him in, fed him, supported him, helped him get back on his feet. “I lived with Lew for a year. I was so lucky. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Lew.” The man didn’t say a lot; he was overcome with emotion, remembering the kindness of Lew. Lew’s definition of generosity, I realized, went way beyond a slice of pie. A close friend who had some serious health issues, told of the time that Lew gave her a ride to an appointment. When she got into his car, he turned to her and said, looking at her with those incredible eyes, straight from his heart, “You are a good person.” That was all. It meant the world to her.

One of the most heartfelt thank yous came from Lew’s son-in-law James who credited Lew with giving him permission to be himself, free from constraints, expectations and conventions. Lew lived that mantra and all of us near him were inspired to be our true selves, too.

And so I’m thinking about underlying conditions, and how afraid of them we are. Oh, no, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma! These are weaknesses, frailties that make us more vulnerable to Covid. They are underlying conditions that threaten us.

And of course, medically speaking, Lew had one — Leukemia. But it is not fair to stop there. He had “underlying conditions” of a spectacular nature! He had the courage to be himself. He had curiosity that was insatiable. He had generosity that never quit. He had love that flowed unchecked. And he had a sense of humor worthy of a sixth grader. These are Lew’s underlying conditions. Far from hiding or regretting them, he enjoyed each one to the fullest, and so did we.  So next time you hear “underlying conditions” think of all the great ones, the special ones, the ones that make us who we are, and thank Lew.  

Lew was a believer in being yourself….and he had many wonderful selves!

30 thoughts on “Underlying Conditions”

  1. Your writing touched me and had I known Lew, I believe he would have indelibly touched me as well. Thank you for sharing your friendship. It was comforting to me. Sept 26, 202, I lost my younger brother, Peter, to Glioblastoma (brain cancer). Peter would have delighted in the words of your friendship bond with Lew.
    Gratitude to you, Eleonor

    1. Thank you, Eleonor, for responding to my memories of Lew. I know gioblastoma well, actually have two friends living with it. It is a horrible disease and I’m so sorry it took Peter.

  2. Lucy, I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes, again, reading your description of Lew’s life and legacy as shared by family and friends during the memorial so beautifully designed and presented by his devoted family. You have succinctly captured the many stories and experiences contributed about Lew, his loving character and loyalty to all he knew and cared for, as well as the deep and loving connection he and Nancy shared over the 20+ years they were together. Thank you

    1. I saw you, Jean, on the zoom screen, and sent you warmest wishes from my heart to yours. I was hoping my post could be an encouragement for others to join in. So thank you for adding your words about Lew and Nancy — a wonderful man and a spectacular couple.

  3. Thank you especially for this one Lucy. Sharing Lew’s many “underlying conditions” reminds us all that tomorrow is not promised, while today can be everything.

  4. Thank you Lucy. Your words were beautiful and heartfelt. A remarkable man who modeled what it means to be fully human and yes he had great “underlying conditions”.

  5. Lucy I love your honoring of Lew’s memory by making his life story as your March Blog. What a tribute. In addition, I LOVE your definition of “underlying conditions.” I have been having fun thinking about what my friends and family’s underlying conditions are!!! Thank you!

  6. Lucy thank you for sharing this. I was fortunate to meet and be with Lew several years ago, sadly only for a brief time. It was in that time I was blessed to experience his gentle, fun loving, and caring spirit. I came to know Lew a bit more from all that was shared at the memorial service. His presence remains with me.

  7. Lucy,
    Thanks for your thoughtful tribute to your friend Lew. Your writing helped me re-experience memories of several close friends I have lost this year.

  8. Thank you, as perhaps only a great mediator could do, for giving us the other side of a tragedy; the thoughts and words to get us through heart breaking experiences.

    1. What a lovely thing to say, Larry. I really appreciate that. And how interesting to think that is a function of a mediator…rings true for me.

      1. Well said Larry! Touching and heartfelt tribute Lucy.
        Take care,

  9. I just lost a very close good friend, sister, in Feb. due to Pulmonary Fibrosis. Her lungs just quit filtering oxygen and she couldnt breathe, energy low, but she said when I talked to her 2 days before, that she was ready to go. She had made peace. She had had a couple of small strokes during the summer, along with other problems, and had recovered then her PF came in and she couldnt handle it anymore. I had wanted to go visit her in Arizona last summer, but since everything was shut down, I didnt go. I miss her so much. We were friends from the 60’s when she and husb. and kids moved to Santa Fe.

    1. Hi Linda — I am so sorry. These losses are so painful, especially when they are so “close to home.” Thank you for writing.

  10. The burden of life’s difficulties on many fronts is getting heavier. Stay well my friend.

  11. thank you, Lucy. I love the reframing of our underlying conditions. I may have to write a poem about underlying conditions. I didn’t know your friend, but your loving descriptions stay in my mind,

    1. Thanks, Susan. I’d love to see the Underlying Conditions poem. You’re welcome to post it right here, if you want. Take care, hope you’re safe and relatively sane….

  12. Hi Lucy, Once again your writing goes to the HEART of the matter. Thank you for your loving, kind and uplifting memorial for a person who was all that to so many of us. My heart goes out to sweet, playful Nancy, his partner in many adventures. His spirit will go on. Love endures.

    1. So good to hear from you, Jan. Nancy sent the post to family and I hope that they see how many people loved them both!

  13. One of the most impressive aspects of this most impressive man, was his ability to connect with men. I mean REALLY connect. Those men who spoke about their friendships and his influences brought tears to my eyes. What their words told me about Lew were the qualities he had. Those we hope all men would have. The ability to hug, man to man, to listen, to be kind and gentle, to be funny, patient, to care for and care deeply about others, to make a difference in lives, to have compassion. And his compassion wasn’t cloying but rather light, genuine, even sometimes funny, and yet THAT is the gift – to know and understand another without pretense, just naturally.
    Thank you to all the men that stepped forward to share, and son John, handsome and full of integrity (and light).
    All that from Lew….boy he was somethin’.

    1. Thank you, Dyanna, you are so right and you say it so well. You identified a special gift that Lew shared with the men in his life, and we could see the power of that gift in all the men who spoke.

  14. Lucy –
    Thank you for your kind remembrance of Lew, and for your kind comments about your friend Nancy. Lew and I were close friends at Yale, and we spent a great, mad mid-course year off from college in New York, where we’d both grown up, he not far from the Metropolitan Museum and me in Harlem’s projects. We stayed in sporadic touch over the years, and we visited one another in Boston, where I now teach, and Santa Fe. He and Nancy once took me to an incredible Native gathering where my understanding of deep-rooted American culture increased immeasurably. They were truly in love. He was understated, funny, and a great, proud, and loving father. I took great spiritual and motivational inspiration from him over many decades. A year later, I miss his friendship even more – COVID has been very cruel to friendships. Thank you for bringing us his authenticity, humor, and deep caring for others through your kind words.

    1. Thank you so much, Ted, for writing. Your memories are so vivid and remind me of how beloved and special Lew was. I’m so glad you had that friendship. It’s been more than a year now without Lew and he is missed as much today.

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